Independence Day 2011 dawns amid a resurgence of interest in our nation’s Founding Fathers. “Tea party” conservatives in particular like to invoke them as an inspiration. Yet while it is certainly possible to find writings by individual founders that adhere closely to modern right-wing principles, this group of mostly white Anglo-Saxon Protestant property owners had profoundly differing opinions about governance — differing not only among themselves but often from the views of today’s conservatives.

Those who believe the founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation, for example, should consult the writings of the deist Thomas Jefferson or note the appalling views of Boston patriot Samuel Adams, who thought religious tolerance should apply to everyone except Catholics. Benjamin Franklin’s views on taxation and private property would sound downright Marxist if Karl Marx hadn’t been born after they were written. All the men quoted below signed the Declaration of Independence 235 years ago today.

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