Hundreds of books have been written about the Greek influences on the founding of the United States. Most of the founding fathers had studied ancient Greek texts which drew inspiration about morals, ethics and a sense of independence.
Dr. Joe Wolverton II points out that “all our Founding Fathers believed that history was a precursor of the future. In the annals of history they believed they could find the key to inoculating America against the diseases that infected and destroyed past societies.”
He notes that the founding fathers “greatly admired Lycurgus, the lawgiver of Sparta. Lycurgus lived in the 9th century B.C. and reformed the entire Spartan commonwealth. His most important reform was the establishment of a senate equal in authority with the monarchy in matters of great importance.”
Another Greek famed for his reform of the law was Solon, adds Wolverton. Born in Athens about 638 B.C., Solon achieved glory as one of the “Seven Sages of Greece.” Around 590 B.C., he was given the task of reforming the Athenian constitution. Solon’s improvements included the right of trial by jury and the division of society into several bodies that would balance and check each other in governing Athens.
Historian and professor Carl J. Richard, notes that from Herodotus and Plutarch, the founders learned the story of the Persian War, the near miraculous victory of the tiny Greek republics over the seemingly invincible Persian empire.
“From this tale, the founders learned that it was possible for a collection of small republics to defeat a centralized monarchical empire in a war for survival. This was a crucial lesson because the founders faced just such a power in the Revolutionary War,” he adds.
The American Revolution, based on natural rights and natural laws, was a revolution begun thousands of years earlier by the great Greek thinkers in the tiny city of Athens.
Barbara Ward in her Faith and Freedom says that America’s Founders were directly influenced by the Greek view of natural law: “The country gentlemen of Virginia were versed in the classical tradition and derived from it their sense of law. Some of the leading spirits in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence were keen students of the idea of natural law, which was in part a harking back to the ancient tradition of the Greeks, to the idea of dike—eternal law—lying at the foundation of the universe.”
F. A. Hayek, in The Constitution of Liberty, traces the very concept of the rule of law to the Greeks as well. But such should be expected. If the Greeks advocated natural law they would also advocate the rule of such law. This is what Aristotle meant when he said “it is more proper that the law should govern than any of the citizens.”
But perhaps the most moving tribute to the contribution ancient Greece made to the ideas that shaped American Independence and western democracy came from former president Barack Obama.
It was no coincidence that he chose to visit Athens during his last foreign trip as president in November 2016.
He said that with his visit he wanted to express his gratitude for all that Greece — “this small, great world” — has given to humanity through the ages.
“Our hearts have been moved by the tragedies of Aeschylus and Euripides. Our minds have been opened by the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides. Our understanding of the world and our place in it has been expanded by Socrates and Aristotle”, Obama said.
When he visited the Parthenon, “this symbol of western democracy,” he stressed that “our ideals about democracy our notions of citizenship, our notions of rule of law, began to develop.”
“When you visit a site like this, not only do you get a better understanding of Greece and western culture but you’re also sending a signal of the continuity that exists between what happened here with the speeches of Pericles and what happened with our founding fathers. It is a very important job for the president of the United States to send a signal to the world that their culture, their traditions, their heritage, their monuments are something of value. And are precious. And we have learned from them.”