[sixties-l] Re. sleeping democracy --Constitutional origins

From: Ted Morgan (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: 12/30/00

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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 representation." 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 useless." 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 misled." 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: PNEWS-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU 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 democracy. 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 less. Molly McGrath (608) 213-3314

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