Our Founding Fathers subscribed to and advocated an enlightened yet limited government, one that vigorously promotes political freedom and economic opportunity, one that anticipates and nurtures the unlimited potential and private energies of the individual.
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Unfortunately for the British—and fortunately for America—the generation that emerged to lead the colonies into independence was one of the most remarkable group of men in history—sensible, broad-minded, courageous, unusually well educated, gifted in a variety of ways, mature, and long-sighted, sometimes lit by flashes of genius. It is rare indeed for a nation to have at its summit a group so variously gifted as Washington and Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Adams. And what was particularly providential was the way in which their strengths and weaknesses compensated each other, so that the group as a whole was infinitely more formidable than the sum of its parts. They were the Enlightenment made flesh…. Great events in history are determined by all kinds of factors, but the most important single one is always the quality of the people in charge; and never was this principle more convincingly demonstrated than in the struggle for American independence.
—excerpted from Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People (1997: 127-8)