Did the American Constitution embody the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence? The prima facie answer would be yes. Looking deeper and remembering that during the Age of Empires the world ran on money, force of arms and enlightened self-interest, that the answer is now it depended on who you were. Application of the occasional Machaivellian twist to some of the Founding Fathers decisions will be used to support this view point..
The Declaration of Independence said that “men were entitled as a Creator given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. And that as long as a government did not infringe upon these it could have the obedience of the people. The document was influenced by philosophers such as Montesquieu and Thomas Paine - notably his “Common Sense”. The famous phrase “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was inspired by the “Second Treaties on Government” writen by the English jurist Locke. Although in Locke’s version, the last word was one more in keeping with reality than revolutionary rhetoric it was “property”..
In 1787 representatives of the 13 states met in Philadelphia to revise the articles of confederation. These representatives were mostly from towns on or near the coast and also ranked amongst the financially successful of the time. Indeed 40 out of the 55 were owed money by the treasury department. Instead they created a new totally new national government And the democratic society that Americans had fought for on the War of Independence was to shortly become an elitist capitalistic republic..
So what was wrong with the Confederation and also the colonial system they had just broken away from ?.
Madison said, referring to the Confederation, "A government which relies on thirteen independent sovereignties for the means of its existence, is a solecism in theory and a mere nullity in practice" cited by Mitchell(1975).
Under British rule the founding fathers had seen the effects where any one branch of a government managed to wield too much power and wanted they to create a system where such ministerial abuse would be impossible. Contrasting this was how to balance the freedom of the citizen from interference from central government while maintaining a system that protected the rights of minorities from an abuse of majority rule in a republican structure without exposing the government to the dangers of mob rule..
The delegates considered that the states of the Confederation were too democratic; in that political experience was open to all. The states body politic saw nothing wrong with interfering with the economy if it benefited the members of said body politic. This complicated trade. The British economist Adam Smith had argued that “as wealth increased in scope, government would have to perform still greater services on behalf of the propertied class.”.
From a commercial point of view there was no standardised currency with states issuing their own paper money subject to fluctuating exchange values. The state legislative was run for the benefit of each state first and then other members of the Confederation. Added to this was the militancy of the often heavily indebted agrarian class who had taken to disrupting sales of foreclosed lands, freeing their peers from debtors prison and the occasional food riot. The most famous of these incidents being Shays Rebellion..
The delegates at Philadelphia decided to design a new system. According to one Maryland delegate 21 out of 55 initially favoured some form of monarchy but that would never get past popular opinion. The writings of Montesquieu on the separation of powers (that he mistakenly saw in the British government) inspired the Philadelphia convention to adopt a structure where the national executive, legislative and judiciary where totally separate. No one branch of government could act without the co-operation of another. Also the division of power was such that no branch could expand its authority without infringing on that of another branch thus encountering fierce resistance. In Madison’s words, cited by Leas(1983) p36, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition”..
Then within the federal government power was diffused vertically by the people granting certain powers to the state and others on to the national government. National power would be checked by State power and vice versa. With the people holding ultimate power over both..
Apart from the fact the people could not apply this ultimate power. Only the house of Representatives was democratically appointed by the people. Ousting a senator would require control of that states legislative when that senator came due for re-election. By putting political time locks into the system national politicians were immune to the immediate demands of the electorate..
This diffusion of power was to prevent the corruption of the system by majorities seeking to impose a new social, economic or political order based on the whims of the day. It would be impossible for one group to seize all the reigns of power and tyrannise the minorities..
But who was this minority that the delegates claimed they were protecting from the majority in this new system of government? Native Indians, Negroes and women had little or no legal personality. That leaves us with only one minority the Rich. Charles Beard writing in 1913 regarded the entire Constitution as the acts of the rich elite protecting their interests. Simpson (1978) p39..
The constitution was to come at a cost and this was set out on September 17 1787 in The Letter of Transmittal of The Constitution that “individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest”.
There was no bill of rights within the original Constitution. And although the people knew about costs they were not going to provide a blank cheque regarding their liberties . One argument offered, for this omission was that civil rights were reserved to the people so were outside the control of any government. The other, voiced at the Philadelphia convention was that such documents start “all men are created equal” where quite clearly some were not - most noticeably Negroes and native Indians - and that including this hypocrisy in the Constitution was not a particularly good idea..
The constitution and its implementation created various classes of free people.
Males with sufficient wealth to be eligible for a job in the legislature. e.g. $7000 of wealth in South Carolina or $1000 in New Jersey. (vote).
Males meeting the property qualification. (vote).
All other males - about a third of the male population (no vote).
Women - who were not regarded highly “the intrigues of courtesans and mistresses can threaten the safety of the state” - Hamilton in the Federalist papers (no vote).
Indentured servants (no vote).
The reasoning behind the property qualification being that a landed man was relativity secure and could be more civic minded than those who’s every labour was to acquire their own land. The elitist view to this is that such men would be more in favour of maintaining the status-quo that benefited them and their peers..
The constitution was accepted but not by the people as a whole but by their representatives. These were elected delegates again drawn mostly from the more affluent members of society. There was no secret ballot, voting was oral and often the conferences were often hard to get to. The electorate had neither the time, information or learning to follow the political debate and felt that whom ever they voted for would not represent their best interests. The disenfranchised had neither a vote nor a voice..
Ten amendments were quickly added to the now accepted Constitution forming a bill of rights. The people wanted some rights spelt out in black & white and many states made it effectively a condition of their ratification of the Constitution. There were too many implied powers and grey areas for many of the electorates liking. As James Madison pointed out in the Federalist #51 “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind of the necessity of auxiliary precautions”. “The delegates gave nothing to the popular interests; rather - as with the Bill of Rights - they reluctantly made concessions under the threat of democratic rebellion.-Parenti(1980) p158. For instance the right of Habeas Corpus can be suspended under a number of broadly defined conditions.
Angered by an excise tax imposed on whiskey in 1791 by the federal government, farmers in the western counties of Pennsylvania engaged in a series of attacks on excise agents. The tariff effectively eliminated any profit by the farmers from the sale or barter of an important cash crop, and became the lightning rod for a wide variety of grievances by the settlers of the region against the federal government. - Claypoole's Daily Advertiser August 11, 1794 Washington assembled an army of 13000 using militia from adjoining states to quash the Whisky Rebellion. In the end, a dozen or so men were arrested, tried at Philadelphia then released after pardons by Washington..
Armed revolt against oppressive taxes imposed by a remote government. Had anything really changed for we the people
Информация о тексте