[sixties-l] Re. sleeping democracy --Constitutional origins
From: Ted Morgan (email@example.com)
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Passing this along apropos of this on-going discussion...
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Who were the 35 Framers of the Constitution? Jerry Fresia describes
them in his book "TOWARD AN AMERICAN REVOLUTION":
Abraham Baldwin of Georgia
He was a wealthy lawyer who possessed a few thousand dollars worth
of public securities. He wanted the Senate to be composed of men of
property so that they could check the House of Representatives which
was apt to be composed of men of less substantial wealth and
therefore closer to the common people.
Gunning Bedford of Delaware
He was the son of a "substantial land owner," a lawyer, and was
eventually elected governor of his state. He was in favor of a more
democratic Constitution than the one we have now which he felt
checked the "Representatives of the People" more than was necessary.
William Blount of North Carolina
He was born into a substantial planting family and was very deeply
involved in land speculation. He enslaved human beings.
Pierce Butler of South Carolina
He enslaved thirty-one human beings. He also was a stockholder and
director of the first United States bank. He felt that no
congressional representatives should be directly elected by the
people, that the Senate ought to represent property, and that
slavery ought to be protected. He was responsible for the
Constitution's fugitive slave law and he also "warmly urged the
justice and necessity of regarding wealth in the apportionment of
George Clymer of Pennsylvania
He possessed a large fortune, held public securities, and helped
create the Bank of Pennsylvania. He believed that "a representative
of the people is appointed to think for and not with his
constituents." And later as a member of Congress "he showed a total
disregard to the opinions of his constituents when opposed to the
matured decisions of his own mind."
John Dickinson of Delaware
He was a member of one of the established landed families of the
South, a lawyer, and he married into one of the wealthiest
commercial families in Philadelphia. He wanted a monarchy and
refused to sign the Declaration of Independence. He seems to have
constantly worried about the "dangerous influence of those
multitudes without property & without principle."
Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut
He was the most successful lawyer Connecticut had yet known with a
fortune "quite uncommonly large." He held public securities and
invested in the Hartford Bank and the Hartford Broadcloth Mill. He
was also regarded, perhaps more than any other member at the
Convention, as someone who feared "levelling democracy." He argued
that voting be limited to those who paid taxes. Regarding slavery he
said, "As slaves multiply so fast...it is cheaper to raise than
import them....[But] let us not intermeddle. As population
increases; poor laborers will be so plenty as to render slaves
Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania
He was a printer, scientist, author, diplomat and land speculator
who had accumulated a "considerable" fortune. More than anyone at
the convention, he was sympathetic to meaningful self-government.
Because of this he was known to have serious doubts about the
Constitution but signed it anyway. Charles L. Mee, Jr., in The
Genius of the People, states, "Franklin disliked the document,
thinking it cheated democracy."
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts
He was a Harvard graduate and a merchant with a considerable estate.
In reference to the political unrest at the time of the Convention,
he complained that "The evils we experience flow from the excess of
democracy." He did not want any members of the new national
government to be elected by popular vote, having been taught the
"danger of the levelling spirit." Although he was quite active at
the Convention, Gerry had numerous objections to the final draft and
he refused to sign it.
Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts
He was a successful merchant who was involved in land speculation on
a large scale. He expressed what was then the general attitude about
the one chamber that was popularly elected (given the restricted
franchise) when he said, "All agree that a check on the legislative
branch is necessary." He was sympathetic to monarchy and during the
Convention secretly wrote to European royalty in hope of involving
someone with royal blood in governing the United States.
Alexander Hamilton of New York
He was an eminent lawyer who perhaps more than any other delegate
was responsible for organizing the Convention, and later, as
Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington, for
implementing the Constitution and institutionalizing its relation to
the private economy. He greatly admired monarchy and time and again
emphasized the need to check "the amazing violence and turbulence of
the democratic spirit." Hamilton believed that government ought to
be an instrument in the hands of creditors, financiers, and bankers.
When he later sought to create a national bank, he said that it
would help unite "the interest and credit of the rich individuals
with those of the state."15 His statement at the Convention
concerning the relationship between government, the rich, and the
poor deserves to be quoted at length because it represents what was
then a very common attitude among elites:
All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The
first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people.
The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and
however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not
true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom
judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a
distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the
unsteadiness of the Second....Can a democratic assembly who annually
revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue
the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the
imprudence of democracy....It is admitted that you cannot have a
good executive upon a democratic plan.16
William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut
He was a wealthy and successful lawyer and graduate of Yale who
refused to help in the War of Independence because he could not
"conscientiously" take up arms against England. Clinton Rossiter
describes him as "the nearest thing to an aristocrat in mind and
manner that Connecticut had managed to produce in its 150 years." He
was one of the few northerners at the Convention who simply did not
worry about slavery or the slave trade.
Rufus King of Massachusetts
He was born into and married into wealthy families, was a Harvard
graduate, and had extensive mercantile and other business interests.
He was also a large holder of government securities and was later
director of the first United States bank. King argued in favor of a
strong unimpeachable executive and urged that the judiciary be
permitted to check the political tendencies of common people whom he
felt would use legislatures to attack the privilege of property
owners. He was responsible for the clause which prevented any state
from passing any law "impairing the obligation of contracts." This
clause greatly helped the rich, as we shall see.
John Langdon of New Hampshire
He was "uniformly prosperous" and a "man of great wealth and
pressing commercial interests," the "leading merchant" from
Portsmouth. He was a large creditor of the new government (the third
largest holder of public securities among all the Framers) and a
strong supporter of a national bank.
James Madison of Virginia
He was a descendant of one of the old landed families, studied law
at Princeton, and at one time enslaved 116 human beings. He has been
called the "most active of all the moving spirits of the new
government." For this reason he is acknowledged as the "Father" of
the Constitution. He greatly feared that the majority of people with
little or no property would take away the property of the few who
held quite a bit. He very much liked the Constitution because he
believed that it would check the majority from establishing "paper
money," the "abolition of debts," an "equal division of property,"
or other "wicked projects." And in general it would prevent the
majority from "discovering their own strength" and from acting "in
union with each other." His defense of the Constitution in
Federalist No. 10, found in the Appendix, is the most concise and
clearest example of the political thought that undergirds our
political institutions. Because his role in the design of the
Constitution was so central, I shall quote him frequently; his
political thought weighs heavily upon us today.
Luther Martin of Maryland
He was a successful lawyer and graduate of Princeton, but his
fortune was never large. He enslaved "only" six human beings. He was
in sympathy with poor debtors generally and argued that the
government ought to protect the debtor against the "wealthy creditor
and the moneyed man" in times of crisis. He refused to sign the
Constitution, given its protection of creditors, and fought hard
against its ratification.
George Mason of Virginia
He was a speculator in land, owning some 75,000 acres. He also owned
$50,000 worth of other personal property and he enslaved 300 human
beings. Like many large slaveowners, he feared a strong national
government and a standing army. He was a strong proponent of the
right of individuals to own property without government
interference. Given the lack of a Bill of Rights and the strong
central power sanctioned by the Constitution, Mason feared that the
new system would result in "monarchy or a tyrannical aristocracy";
he refused to sign it. Mason is a classic example of a Framer for
whom "rights" meant the protection of private power and privilege.
Mason did not object to the anti-democratic features of the
Constitution, rather he objected to the fact that a national
government might someday interfere with his individual freedom as a
property owner, that is, his "rights."
John Francis Mercer of Maryland
He enslaved six human beings. He also held a moderate amount of
public securities. He stated that "the people cannot know and judge
of the characters of candidates. The worst possible choice will be
made." He left the Convention early, and strongly opposed the
ratification of the Constitution.
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania
He was a lawyer who was born into the landed aristocracy of New
York. A rich man, he helped establish the Bank of North America. He
was "an aristocrat to the core," once stating that "there never was,
nor ever will be a civilized Society without an Aristocracy." He
believed that common people were incapable of self-government and
that poor people would sell their votes. He argued, "Give the votes
to people who have no property, and they will sell them to the rich
who will be able to buy them." Voting should be restricted to
property owners. He shaped the Constitution more than most men at
the Convention (he made 173 speeches, more than anyone) and was
responsible for the style in which it was written.
William Patterson of New Jersey
He was a lawyer, graduate of Princeton, and attorney general of New
Jersey who was born in Ireland. He resisted the creation of a strong
central government and left the Convention early.
Charles Pinckney of South Carolina
A successful lawyer, and a considerable landowner, he enslaved
fifty-two human beings. Taking the side of the creditor against the
debtor, he had been among the Congressmen who were critical of the
Articles of Confederation and sought the creation of a centralized
national government. At twenty-nine, he was the youngest member of
the Convention. He believed that members of government ought to "be
possessed of competent property to make them independent &
respectable." He wrote to Madison before the Constitution was
ratified, "Are you not...abundantly impressed that the theoretical
nonsense of an election of Congress by the people in the first
instance is clearly and practically wrong, that it will in the end
be the means of bringing our councils into contempt?"
General Charles C. Pinckney of South Carolina
A successful lawyer who worked for the merchants of Charlestown, he
was also a large landowner in Charleston, and he enslaved human
beings. He felt that the Senate ought to represent the "wealth of
the country," that members of the government ought to hold property,
and according to Clinton, believed in the need "for stiff measures
to restrain the urges of arrant democracy."
Edmund Randolph of Virginia
He was a successful lawyer who owned 7,000 acres of land. He
enslaved nearly 200 human beings. He held considerable public
securities. He believed that the problems confronting the United
States at the time were due to the "turbulence and follies of
democracy." The new Constitution, therefore, ought to check popular
will. He thought that the best way of doing this would be to create
a independent Senate composed of relatively few rich men.
George Read of Delaware
A successful lawyer who "lived in the style of the colonial gentry,"
enslaved human beings, and was a signer of the Declaration of
Independence. He was in favor of doing away with states and wanted
the President to be elected for life and have absolute veto power.
John Rutledge of South Carolina
He was a very successful lawyer who also owned five plantations. He
enslaved twenty-six human beings. He said that the defects of
democracy have been found "arbitrary, severe, and destructive." We
see in Rutledge a clear expression of the notion that the general
welfare is, in essence, economic development and accumulation. With
regard to the issue of objections to slavery, he stated: "Religion &
humanity had nothing to do with this question. Interest alone is the
governing principle with Nations. The true question at present is
whether the Southern states shall or shall not be parties to the
Union. If the Northern States consult their interests they will not
oppose the increase of Slaves which will increase the commodities of
which they will become the carriers."
Roger Herman of Connecticut
He was a shoemaker, storekeeper, farmer who rose from poverty to
affluence and he also owned public securities. A signer of the
Declaration and drafter of the Articles of Confederation, Sherman
was not terribly enthusiastic about a strong national government.
But nor was he enthusiastic about popular sovereignty. He said, "The
people immediately should have as little to do as may be about the
government. They want information and are constantly liable to be
Caleb Strong of Massachusetts
He was a lawyer and Harvard graduate. He owned public securities and
seems to have accumulated considerable wealth. He was in favor of
more frequent congressional elections than what the Constitution
eventually mandated. He left the Convention early and went home.
George Washington of Virginia
As we have noted, by several accounts Washington was the richest man
in the United States and he enslaved hundreds of human beings. He
made only one speech at the Convention and seems to have had no
particular theory of government. He distrusted popular democratic
tendencies and viewed criticism of the government, as Beard notes,
as "akin to sedition." He also feared the growth of urban
populations, stating that "The tumultuous populace of large cities
are ever to be dreaded. Their indiscriminate violence prostates for
the time all public authority."
Hugh Williamson of North Carolina
Educated as a medical doctor, he inherited a great trading
operation. He also speculated in land and owned public securities.
He wrote Madison following the Convention that he thought an
"efficient federal government" would in the end contribute to the
increase in value of his land. He sided with creditors against
debtors in his state. At the Convention he was generally in favor of
shifting power away from the states toward the national level.
James Wilson of Pennsylvania
Born in Scotland, he was a successful lawyer whose clients were
primarily "merchants and men of affairs." He was one of the
directors of the Bank of North America. He was involved in the
corrupt Georgia Land Company and held shares "to the amount of at
least one million acres." He later became a member of the Supreme
Court. He was apprehensive, as were most of his colleagues, about
the opportunity that common people would have to express themselves
politically though legislatures. But he also believed that the
judiciary would be a sufficient check on popular will. He,
therefore, was in favor of more popular participation in the
selection of government officials (popular election of the President
and the Senate) than the Constitution permitted.
Subject: [PNEWS] Our Revolution and Constitution To:
The Constitution was intended to ensure that only an elite few would
be in charge of this government and those same few would also be in
charge of the economy. This is as Michael Parenti says, a "democracy
for the few." And, it is the founding fathers and their
Constitituion that ensures that this is so. We do not live in a
This is a system where terror and repression predominates here and
abroad. It is due in large part to the concentration of corporate
power. The Constitution and glorification thereof, does nothing if
not inhibit our objections to this concentration of power.
One of the Founders, John Adams, believed that "Men in general...who
are wholly destitute of property, are also too little acquainted
with public affairs to form a right judgment, and too dependent on
other men to have a will of their own." [Eric Foner, Tom Paine and
Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976)]
Whenever the "Framers" of the Constitution used the language, "the
people" they meant only property owning people. These were the
"people" who were to have limited participation in the government
through the House of Representatives. These people were not even the
richest and thus were considered the "middle classes." And, everyone
below this property owning middle class were women, or people of
color, indentured servants, and other people with NO property. They
were "people in the first instance" as Charles Pinckney called them,
or the majority, was simply "nonsense" and "wrong."
"Political expression by these groups was not permitted and as we
shall note, the Constitution was purposefully made to be
anti-majoritarian in several ways. Representatives were to be of and
among "the better people" who would have a material stake in
society, who would be less given to some common impulse of passion,
and who" [Toward an American Revolution - Exposing the Constitution
and other Illusions - Jerry Fresia, South End Press]
"......the Constitution protects the power of the more powerful. It
does this because the Framers believed that it was the right of a
few "better" people to own and control much of the earth's
resources. And it does this because the Framers believed that the
lives of women, people of color, and the poor ought to be defined in
terms of the desires and interests of the rich. Resistance to this
tyranny, from the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 to the revolutionary
leaders of today who are genuinely committed to directing meager
resources to the majority poor in the Third World, are and have been
brutally repressed because the national army created by the
Constitution is directed by that document to preserve these
relationships of disparity." [IBID]
Likewise, the Electoral College which came out of the establishment
of a U.S. Constitution was not democratizing; it was to the
contrary, designed to reenforce the establishment and maintenance of
power by an elite ruling class. It was nothing more and nothing
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