A New Birth of Freedom

AUGUST 22, 2010 4:13PM

Is the U.S. Constitution Truly Democratic?

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    The Signing of the US Constitution

      Many of us assume that the U.S. Constitution is the greatest written exemplar of democratic rights ever devised by the mind of man. Many of us revere it with a sort of admiration and awe bordering on religious spiritualism and superstitition, despite the fact that it once prohibited blacks, women and men without property from voting or running for office.

   When you read the nitty-gritty history of the Constitution, you realize the degree to which anti-democratic forces and individuals influenced the end-result. Indeed, the majority of America's political and economic problems, within the past 200 years, are a direct result of the historic triumph of these anti-democratic forces of reaction, elitism and conservatism at the Constitutional Convention.

     Which anti-Democratic faction am I speaking of? The Federalist Party. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federalist_Party.

     The Federalists represented, for the most part, the northeastern anglophile financial and mercantile elite of this nation. They were also supported by the slave-owning Plantation Elite, represented by Madison and George Washington (although Washington tried to stay neutral in the Jeffersonian-Hamiltonian disputeand Madison later had a change of heart and sided with Jefferson). They were led by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and John Adams. These folks believed in a strong centralized government that worked hand-in-hand with banks to develop a highly centralized and competitive capitalist system.  They were unsympathetic and hostile to the poor and adopted policies that had a disproportionately negative impact upon the poor and middle classes, than upon the wealthy and well-to-do. These policies led to Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiskey_Rebellion. Most importantly, they were staunchly opposed to a Bill of Rights and fought, desperately, to prevent its enactment. Later, when the radical Federalist, John Adams was President, he imposed the Alien and Sedition Acts, the first major attack on Civil Rights and Free Speech our young nation faced. Without the Bill of Rights he had so fervently fought against, who knows what the ultimate results would have been? Horrible, no doubt.

     Whereas the Articles of Confederation only wanted a national militia for national defense, such as that which Switzerland had (and which has always worked for Switzerland, even when surrounded by the Nazis), the Federalists wanted a vast standing army, one that could be used abroad, even at the risk of turning us into an imperial power. Many, such as Hamilton, actually wanted us to replace Britain as the world's preeminent empire and saw his revisions to the Constitution as being the legal prerequisites for such an eventuality.

     Throughout this time the only meaningful opponent of the Federalists were Thomas Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists. Rather than espouse the interests of the banking-merchant-shipping-Plantation elite, Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists supported the interests of common yeoman farmers. He was a major supporter of the French Revolution and despite his hypocritical holding of slaves, once remarked that "the tree of liberty can only be watered with the blood of tyrants: it is a natural manure." Such a man was marked-out as enemy #1 by the elitist Federalists, but they never managed to ruin him like they did so many other Anti-Federalist champions of equality, like Sam Adams and Patrick Henry (who were always sidelined by the wealthy Federalist elite; even today, you can discern a person's political and class-position, by ascertaining how they view Sam Adams and Patrick Henry--elitists always have and always will despise them).  It was through the Jeffersonian and later, Jacksonian, Democrats that the rights of the common man were truly advanced throughout the latter 18th and first half of the 19th century. Besides Jefferson, the only Anti-Federalist Founding Father to become President was James Monroe. He ushered in the "Era of Good Feelings," marked by rising political and socioeconomic equality. The Anti-Federalists were also known for their rabid hostility to the British Empire, the British Economy and the British Class System. They all supported the War of 1812, whereas the elitist anglophile Federalists did not.

     How were the Federalists anti-Democratic? If one reads their chief manifesto, the Federalist Papers, specifically, Federalist #10, one sees that their chief fear is not, as is commonly assumed, the re-emergence of a monarch like George III or the emergence of a dictator or tyrant, but the emergence of solid, cohesive democratic majorities that could threaten the financial and proprietary interests of the nation's economic elite. Clever lawyers, they phrase these concerns within the rhetoric and terminology of "minoritarian rights" in the face of a passionate and unruly "majority," but when one reads Federalist No. 10 in its entirety, as well as numerous other essays in the Federalist, in their entirety, the implication is clear. They don't want poor people to influence elections and the law.

     Various quotations from Federalist No.10 prove my point. Madison states that "measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party (the rich), but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority (the poor)" (emphasis added). Madison sees class-politics and the emerging of class-based factions as being dangerous to the wealthy of the nation.

    He says that [l]iberty is to faction what air is to fire, without which it instantly expires...the diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to uniformity of interest. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties for acquiring property immediately results, and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views...the latent causes of faction are thus sown into the nature of man..."

     He states that the "most common and durable source of factions, has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed the distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors and those who are debtors fall under a like discrimination...the regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation..."

     Further, he states that "the apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property, is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality, yet there is perhaps no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to the predominant party, to trample on the rules of justice....When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion...the rights of other citizens. TO secure private rights against the danger of such a faction...is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed."

     Madison then comes up with numerous ways in which the elite can nullify the influence of common-folk majorities upon economic legislation. He proposes not only the separation of powers, but also a very large and diverse nation, which would allow the elite to divide people on the basis of background and interest against eachother. He also proposes an electoral college, a vast geographic territory with diverse economic interests, a large number of states, which would act like firewalls of sorts, preventing popular political movements from spreading like wildfire across the nation. He says these things will divide and present obstacles to mass movements, so as to make large mass movements or "faction" impracticable. He says it is crucial to limit the power of the poor and common in a republic, because democracies "have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention, have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."

     By doing these things, the Elite will thus be able to prevent "...an abolition of debts, the equal distribution of property or any other improper or wicked project..." By reading the Federalist Papers, one can see the true fears and hatreds of the Federalists and the reasons they made our government the way it is. Now you know why its so hard to have a Third Party or Civil Rights Movement in this country. Now you know why its so hard to have Health Care Reform, meaningful social security reform, education reform, or any other type of progressive reform. The system has been rigged, from the very beginning, to ensure that Progressive Causes and the Interests of the Common Folk fizzle away and wither on the vine, unable to meaningfully influence national legislation and policy. The Federalist tells you the exact ways they proposed to nullify the influence of popular dissent and angry majorities. History sadly shows us how successful these policies have been.

      In sum, the Bill of Rights and Article Four are probably the only parts of the Constitution that were aimed at helping the common folk, as they were the brainchild of the Anti-Federalists. The first three Articles, though, were intended as anti-Democratic instruments of elitist republicanism, where elections were to serve as nothing more than a sieve to cool-off and harmlessly dissipate popular agitation and upheaval, without detrimentally impacting the economic interests of the Elite.

     How can the major problems our country faces be solved with an instrument, a tool, which has been so biased and construed against the interests of common folk from its very inception? A document which is at odds with the principles and spirit of the Declaration of Independence? How can we cherish and revere, in a state of almost religious awe, a document that is permeated with these class-based prejudices and bias? The Founders were not unanimous in their beliefs on liberty, freedom and equality. They were not all heroes of liberty and champions of freedom. Many of the laws and institutions they handed down to us are just as flawed and anti-democratic as they were. Federalist No. 10 is just an example. There are many others.

     Yes, we must uphold, protect and defend the Constitution. But it is a living, breathing document. Progressives must mold and shape it in such a way that it more truly reflects and furthers the interests of the common man. When conservatives say they are literalists and/or strict constructionists, what they truly mean is that they support the inherent system of class-bias present in the first 3 articles of the Constitution and the rationale behind them, as shown in the Federalist Papers.

I am an ardent supporter of the Constitution. I believe it represents the last, best hope of man. It is the greatest document in our nation and I will defend it, and its principles, to the death. However, I believe it is a living and breathing document. I believe that the best parts of the Constitution are represented by the Anti-Federalist contributions, namely, the Bill of Rights, which serve to balanace against the elitist import of the first part of the document. This balance has worked to help our nation and has made progress a gradual and peaceful process in our history, and has served to ensure that progress in America has come about without the violence and turmoil, anarchy and bloodshed we see in so many other places of the world. That said, we must not be above calling another Constitutional Convention, if things like Campaign Finance and Corporate money have weakened the "seperation of powers" aspects of the first part of the Constitution, such that they no longer act as a firewall against unified power, because the branches can all be unified by way of PAC money and contributions.

These are all interesting issues and I, for one, do not know where I stand, ultimately. My opinions on the issue change daily...

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Are you delusional? They were for ending slavery. The southern states were the ones who opposed it.
You can't reduce it down to one party like the Federalists. John Adams was violently opposed to slavery. Few of the founding fathers trusted Alexander Hamilton who was basically a Rothschild banking shill. Madison penned a lot of our documents based on rights granted in state constitutions like Jeffersons. As for Jefferson, he was a Libertarian to the point of considering anarchy, but saying it wasnt possible in a large society. States rights started with him. Are these men saints? No one is claiming they werent flawed in various ways. Jeffersons slaves. Only that what they started altered the planet, and was the foundation of modern rights of religions, speech and press. And yes, Alien and Sedition Adams imposed was a contradiction.
Okay, there aren't many comments [yet], but the dialog of the interpretation of The Constitution is part of the process.

Thornville, the rich folk in the south favored slavery. The poor folk did not. We didnt hear their debates at the Constitutional Convention, but the southern anti-Federalists were all anti-Slavery on economic grounds: it cheapened the economic value of white labor and made white yeoman farmer agricultural production more expensive and unsustainable. In this sense, the slave plantations were like Wal-Mart and put all the small mom/pop competition out of business.

You are delusional if you think the southern states had uniform, homogenized economic and political interests. Yes, many northern elites were against slavery. This was due to ethical concerns, as well as fear that the southern planters would acquire too much economic and political power over the north as a result. This is shown by the northern preference for re-settlement of freedmen in Africa, rather than letting them stay in America. They were concerned with the domestic political/economic situation far more than the ethical one, even though they, like clever politicians, articulated their public stances on abolition in purely ethical terms.
Joy--I agree and thanks!
One mans delusion is another mans epiphany. I do believe the birth of a nation has been summed up quite concisely in 15 paragraphs right here unless of course, Mr Leadencocker, you prefer D W Griffiths version.
Thornville-the "spirit" of democracy to which you refer comes from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, not the mechanical clauses of the first three articles of the Constitution, which deal with seperation of powers, the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Lincoln based his entire philosophy of freedom and messianic democracy on the Declaration. Read the book by Garry Wills, "Lincoln at Gettysburg." Its excellent.
LOL. Thanks, Jack. DW Griffith was a moral monstrosity. He and others like him were the dupes of southern economic elites who bastardized the writings of Jefferson, so that they could become an even greater economic elite than those in Boston, NYC and Philadelphia, regardless of the human bondage that would entail.
There is an entire school of left-wing legal thought, called "Critical Legal Studies," which critiques the US Constitution and many of the assumptions both liberals and conservatives have about it.

LOL, hey, I was just citing No. 10 with breathless admiration! Heh...

Madison was not a leader in the Federalist party, despite his being author of some of the Federalist Papers. He was actually Team Jefferson by the time the party split came ("I have abandoned Col. Hamilton. Or rather, he has abandoned me"). He ate crow, quietly, on some meaningful Hamilton issues after the War of 1812, which suggested to him rather *plainly* that a Jeffersonian vision needed to be leavened with pragmatism.

Hamilton's argument against the Bill of Rights, while I disagree with it STRONGLY, was actually quite reasonable and not hostile or fascist in the slightest. It was a perfectly intelligent and sincere judgment call (that I think he blew). The argument goes basically that if you enumerate SOME rights that the people have, you're throwing the rest to the wolves, and that the gummint will naturally assume that anything that isn't on The List is fair game. In fact, this is pretty much what has happened. While I believe that the BoR is a stone that breaks the teeth of That Which Eats Everything (and a VERY reasonable case could be made for this being what has happened in fact as well), I can't in good conscience claim that the HYPOTHESIS that having no BoR would reserve more rights to the people was disingenuous. And, hell, Hamilton may have been right. Can't prove it one way or t'other.

Back to No. 10 and the Federalist Papers in general, though, I think it is worth noting that a great concern at the time (and should be one today as well) was avoiding BOTH tyranny of the majority AND tyranny of the minority.

Personally, I think John Adams was a bit of a nutjob (heh heh, and his 2d cousin Sam Adams...who imagined an America that was akin to...wait for it...THIS! IS! SPARTA!...I kid you not), but the Alien and Sedition Act wasn't his brain-child. It was Congress's. Adams agonized over whether or not to sign it, because he was pretty clear on that it was unconstitutional. He caved, and he shouldn't have -- but it was not part of some Federalist or John Adams plot.

Hamilton, BTW, thought John Adams was more or less a certifiable moron and wrote about it at length (functionally destroying the Federalists in the process).

The founding fathers dealt with some issues that remain true today, and some that were very much of their time. They were struggling to create a more free, more fair, and more open society -- Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson alike. If you want an advocate for the poor, Hamilton's actually your man more than the others ;) . People don't recognize that any more, but it was Hamilton who twigged to the social mobility inherent in capitalism and industrialization, for all its dangers and abuses. Jefferson would love you *thismuch* (from a distance) and give you a vote, and I adore him to pieces, but in his vision, there was a place for everyone -- because everyone was In His Place. Bears remembering.
I think you are anything but 'delusional' here in your excellent essay. I soaked in your thoughts and am off to read the Federalist Papers as soon as I am done commenting. At first blush, it seems you have presented a strong case of why things are so difficult to change for the benefit of the common man. The rich have always ruled and the only times, which are few, when progress has been made is when someone, Teddy R. for example, took on the upper class-in his case, the robber barons. This 200+year old basic disagreement is now swinging back toward the Federalist's basic way of thinking and ruling with the support of many common men and women who have the same hatred of the poor that they apparently did. Very thoughtful presentation and I appreciated it. Thanks for the post.
there is no democracy in the constitution, neither word nor deed. thx for pointing this out, i get tired of being the only unbrainwashed little boy watching the emperor's parade.
Kate---Alexander Hamilton was a disengenuous political sphinx who had ambitions of setting himself up as a military dictator. He was working with Aaron Burr on this, until they got into a fight over it, leading to the famous duel. Wikipedia doesn't mention it, but various books do. Wiki places the whole blame on Burr for the dictatorship conspiracy, which got him arrested and convicted of treason, causing him to leave the nation.

John Adams is also reputed to have heard Hamilton vocally endorse the concept of military dictatorship. Adams may have had reservations, but he ultimately acted in accordance with his primary beliefs. Any debate or conflict between his primary and secondary beliefs were reconciled in favor of the former over the latter.

Hamilton was a self-made man but favored nobility and aristocracy. Jefferson was a blue-blood patrician who favored radical egalitarianism. Dialectical ironies are the nature of history. Guilt and compensatory pathology, no doubt played a part in bringing these ironies about.

I do not think that Hamilton's economic policy led to egalitarianism. It led to hierarchy and an increasingly rigid economic class system. Money-lending, debt and wage-slavery have trumped self-sufficiency, economic independence and a community of equals. The Great Depression and the current financial crisis are Hamilton's greatest legacy to our country.
Al Loomis--thanks for the support and for letting me know that I am also not alone!
Kate---I never thought that Arg by Hamilton about the Bill of Rights was a good one. It sounds pretextual, as if he is using antifederalist rhetoric to accomplish a most Federalist of ends.

The British lack a Bill of Rights as well as a written constitution. They now have the worst safeguards on individual rights among any state in Europe. The Germans, French and Italians all have greater safeguards on individual liberty, from encroachments both private and public. The British haven't been at the forefront of democracy and human rights in 50 years and we are close behind.

We have, like the English (and the Romans and Athenians before them), sacrificed our rights and freedoms upon an altar of imperialism, wealth and war.
I have never known any man that knew half of what you do about politics Rw. I have said it before but let me say it just one more time Rw for president, on second thought emperor. Thank you for clarifying just what a treacherous little piece of $!^* Alexander Hamilton was you forgot to mention that he was also a coward that's why he lost the duel he was frozen with fear and urinating in his pants. It should be Burrs picture on the 10$ bill for saving us from Hamilton.
Jack. Emperor? lol. Silliness aside, I am more interested in ideas right now and finding kindred spirits. Politics is best left for one in his mid 40s after he gets more wisdom and knowledge. Youngsters in politics, too often, want to "be somebody" rather than "do something." That's the problem in America. Lots of "organization kids" and technocrats running the show, getting involved early, learning the ropes, but never asking the important questions, never moving us in the right directions. In the words of James MacGregor Burns, we have too many transactional leaders and not enough transformational ones.
Dr. Spudman--Thanks for your generous comments and erudite commentary. Many people jump-the-gun and emote against me when they read an argument like the one presented above. Its good to know there are objective folks here in salon that can discuss more than the "carnivore's dilemma." lol
Thank you. I like playing around on this site and do it a lot. I have done many political posts on other sites and some here. I can only do so many before I start having depression problems. Your political posts are mind-expanding for me to read. I appreciate the work you do on them and the vast knowledge you have on the subject. I would really like to read your thoughts on union rise and fall and the history of the child labor laws. I believe I am an expert in one area of American history which is American Education but doing a post on that is like dispensing sleeping pills.
Hey RW! Oh, I agree absolutely that Hamilton's argument on the BoR is wrong, wronger, wrongest -- not that it was ill-intentioned, but ain't nobody can prove that in either direction. Alas, one cannot mind-read Hamilton, nor anyone else, living or dead. Jefferson was convinced that Hamilton was a speculator and a profiteer, for example, and that he was using the Bank of the United States to enrich himself. Upon Jeffy's ascension to the Presidency, JOB #1 was for his hand-picked Treasury Secretary (a firm Jeffersonian, obviously) to TEAR UP the T. Dept.'s records and find the shenanigans.

Gallatin found not only that not a single penny had been misappropriated (nor was unaccounted for), but informed Jefferson that Hamilton's construction was "the most perfect system ever devised by man" and begged Jefferson to leave it untouched. Jefferson ignored this feedback and simply let the issue die (and the BUS to expire). Madison quietly restored it after the War of 1812, having reconsidered the purity of his ideological stance in the face of, um, reality.

And, needless to say, Hamilton died in massive debt. He did not profit from his endeavors. His goal was not money; it was glory. And that, by his own words, could only be achieved by contributing to the public good. He cited this repeatedly (oh, VERY repeatedly, Hamilton being Hamilton) as the key factor that would keep public servants vested in performing for the greater good. He was wrong in this, but he believed it -- and it worked on him, however much he succeeded or failed in practice.

I make NO ARGUMENT against that imperialism, wealth, and war have sucked out the marrow of our nation, both in terms of its social fabric and also its damned RESOURCES. I agree with this WHOLEHEARTEDLY. And, AND, I agree that Hamiltonian arguments are an integral part of what has brought us to this pass. However, I contend that it is a MISUSE of Hamiltonian argumentation to do so. Hamilton was dealing with a different time and a different set of circumstances than what we have now. One of the great risks THEN was that we would allow ourselves to be so weak that we would simply be eaten. In my view, Hamilton wanted us to live to keep up the fight. He stated directly that his goal in the ("these") United States was to "vindicate the honor of the human race" -- in opposition to the predatory practices of Europe.

Further, I agree that (to indulge in yet more mind-reading), Hamilton was more authoritarian by temperament than I am or like.

That Hamilton wanted to be a military dictator was very likely a slander (although again, as always, who knows what was in his heart). He was on the record for warning about the rise of a military dicatator during the initial chaos of the French Revolution (unlike Jefferson, for example, who regarded that bloodbath with blithe approbation) and consistent in his firm opposition to the one that did indeed arise, per his predictions. Although he was accused, frequently, of wanting to be a Caesar, he was utterly relentless in condemning Caesar. I don't think the Hamilton-wanted-to-be-a-military-dictator trope flies. And while I love John Adams very much in terms of sincerity and some integral contributions (NOT the repellant A&S Act, heh, more like defending the Boston Massacre redcoats -- successfully! -- in a court of law), I don't think he's a reliable source for something like that. He, simply, hated Hamilton, and the feeling was *quite* mutual. (Much more to say on that, but I already run longer than anyone can really justify in a comments section -- for which, apologies!!!!)

Aaron Burr, that scum-sucking pig ("politics is fun and profitable" -- oh, he'd fit in today just FINE), was assuredly not the genesis of nor responsible for the conspiracy for which Jefferson hauled him up on treason charges. James Wilkinson, more like. And Hamilton unquestionably WAS approached about taking on the role that Burr eventually played. An approach that Hamilton ignored.

Hamilton had been agitating against Burr as a dangerous man since just about forever. One could get very, very tired reading Hamiltonian correspondence (Hamilton would not SHUT UP on ANYTHING) on just how awful Burr was going back to Revolutionary War days (Burr sided with the Conway Cabal). They were not fighting over the Empire of the West conspiracy. Hamilton did not bite on that. Hamilton simply hated Burr to his marrow. When he supported Jefferson over Burr in that *interesting* election, the basis of his argument was along the lines of, I despise Jefferson's principles, but at least he has some.

It is worth noting that Hamilton, while he was present at the Constitutional Convention, had approximately zero impact upon its formulation. His main contribution was an impassioned speech in favor of a President for Life. TECHNICALLY, he was correct in that a PfL, being ELECTED, would conform to the logical principles of Republicanism (not today's party, of course, but that of a Republic). But OMG, could anything more make me want to drive a stake into my eye??? Heh, my view was shared, fortunately, and his idea died aborning.

Hamilton's contribution in terms of the Constitution is in that finding that the "flex" of all its open-ended non-determinism is something that we could work with (the "necessary and proper" interpretation). This is very much a double-edged sword.

My defense of Hamilton personally, and his point of view, is distinct from my view of the ABUSE of his ideas. He was a pragmatist, not a sphinx (ye gods, the man had NO filter between brain and mouth -- a genuine manic). Hamilton was dealing not just with general issues but also a specific time and set of circumstances.

To argue against myself (oh, why not), there is a great deal of merit in fighting Hamilton, irrespective of what he actually did or intended. His prescriptions for a struggling up-and-comer nation with massive, organized, well-funded predators all 'round (not even to mention the Natives) are simply not suitable to be applied without context to where we are now. His THINKING and his REASONING remain applicable -- but his specific remedies do not, because our circumstances have changed in almost every way imaginable.

Re: the infamous duel, there's no need to get kinky about it. Hamilton had been pissing on Burr for DECADES. The pretext Burr finally settled upon (after it was clear that Jefferson had excommunicated him and that there was no future for him with the Anti-Federalists, and then Burr discovered that if he wanted an in with the Federalists, he was being blocked by a VERY opposed Hamilton) was a newspaper report based on a mid-transit-opened letter (common at the time) of someone who had been present at a dinner where Hamilton, typically, got drunk and went off on a protracted -- VERY protracted -- harangue about Burr, concluding his remarks that he could make an "even more despicable" charge against Burr but without clarifying such. Somehow history has transformed this into an imputation that Burr was sleeping with his daughter Theodosia. To which I say: huh? Why would Burr bother? He, like Hamilton ;) , was sleeping with everyone else anyway.

Burr was gunning for Hamilton. Hamilton had given him grounds (mouthy SOB) but neither sought nor wanted the duel.

Hamilton's rhetoric, like Jefferson's, leaves itself wide open to misappropriation. That doesn't mean that either of them was wrong or bad. It just means they were good writers, highly intelligent and sincere, with some ZIP ;) . They were both dedicated to the common good. They just can't solve all our problems if they are interpreted literally, either of them. And actually, interpreted literally, they both *cause* considerable problems. I still love and respect them both and could not do without them. I am admittedly a sucker for high intelligence + sincerity.
Kate, I actually do know what Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson and all the rest were thinking in the deepest recesses of their heart, because I watched the musical 1776 and they conveyed this to me in song. 8)
LOLOL, I love that musical. I made my son watch it. He said, "Hm. John Adams singing. That's pretty much how I expected it would go."
The GOP is right about one thing. The United States has always been a republic, not a democracy.

The important thing about the United States is that there's always been a tension between the elite rulers and the rest of the population. There's been a slow and uneven progress towards democratization of our society, and there's always the potential to regress rather than progress, as we've demonstrated many times.

If you read the post I'm in the process of writing now, you might agree with me that I believe that we're in a particularly important period of our history, and what we do today and in the near term future will have the most profound implications for the American society for many generations to come.

But thank you very much for this incredibly well researched and well presented article.
Thanks ONL. I appreciate your comments and insight. I fear we are regressing, like Rome after the Gracchi or Spartacus. I hope I'm not right.

I look forward to reading and commenting on your piece when it is finished!
I too am *all over* ONL's new piece and will be reading and commenting it shortly! I so much want people to be thinking and talking about these things.

Above all, I believe that The People (for all our liabilities) MUST and SHOULD remain engaged.

THEY (the power elites) do not want this. They want us arguing about each others' hairstyles.

Your (RW's) reference to Spartacus is EXACTLY on-point for my concerns...and what I fear most. How I love Spartacus -- and yet, his rebellion signaled the end of the Roman REPUBLIC and the dawn of its IMPERIUM. Just like the French Revolution and Napoleon. I don't want this for us. I don't, I don't. I want something controlled, not something anarchic that is subsequently controlled through a fascist imposition. I am very likely holding humanity (in the person of Americans) to a standard higher than we can reasonably achieve, but I'm not going to stop hoping for it. Sometimes we manage to DO better than we ARE. And then we rise to it ex post facto -- sometimes, for a while.

America has a MASSIVE population. This population has its roots in pretty much EVERY culture the world has produced, major or minor (not quite all, but I won't get perfectionistic). The results are exactly what one would predict: we are dead average.

I have a serious manifest destiny/exceptionalism problem, and I freely admit it. I believe that our AVERAGENESS is the root of our responsibility. We cannot fail. We cannot. We have no right to fail. We disgrace humanity if we do. And I love humanity, and I love America.
Kate--Check out my 2 articles here on the French Revolution, Napoleon and the Jacobins. They are metaphors for our present situation.
I love a good history lesson!

I'm in complete agreement with you that we need a new Constitution, but if we called upon our current leaders to write one it would probably be far worse than the one we currently have.

Before we have another Constitutional Convention we need another Revolution.
Kemstone---You may be right, but I really hope it doesn't come to that. What we need to do now are perhaps create Committees of Correspondence, to see if we are delusional about what is going on, or if we are actually onto something here. How many out there actually agree with us? If more than 1/3 do, then the problem may actually be bigger than any of us dared to imagine.

Committees of Correspondence Rw? Please elaborate.

This is what the Founders did in the 1770s. We get progressives together in every state and we have them meet. Then we have them exchange formal messages with eachother, discussing the nature of the political problems within our state and nation, but mostly locally focused. We need to see, quantify, verify the nature of the current probs. Otherwise, we are nothing more than angry crackpots in the wilderness. lol
Great post. The Constitution wasn't about democracy. The Constitution was about making sure a bunch of hick farmers didn't take over the state assemblies. The Founding Fathers were extremely open about this. One of my favorite books of all times was Jerry Fresia's TOWARDS AN AMERICAN REVOLUTION: EXPOSING THE CONSTITUTION AND OTHER ILLUSIONS. Of course my favorite book is Christopher Hitchens' MISSIONARY POSITION about Mother Teresa.
Thanks for the support, doc. I will check out those books. I am now reading 2 books by Harvard Political Scientist, Robert Dahl, about the Constitution and Democracy in the US. He says the US Constitution is not very democratic and that no country has ever voluntarily adopted our system of government. None.
Although I am nowhere near the league you and your commenters are in this incredible post RW, I've always found disputes in history when I read and those disputes always point back to the moronic history lessons we were brain-washed with the first day we attended school all the way through the last day, hence "The U.S. democracy and the Constitution is the will of God and the only true democracy."

It worries me that people in the U.S. don't learn more "truth" in our history and our politics, rather they accept the comfort of what's been shoved down their ignorant throats, finding it much less difficult to deal with the status quo than to learn and fight for something better.

Your progressive thinking is right on (and yes "groovy" to age myself). A lot of discontent with your views, I would imagine, will be from those who see documents such as the Constitution as indelible documents, so sacrosanct that to change them would be sheer blasphemy.

I say it's time for change, if, as you worry, it's not too late. The elitists have done a remarkable job in convincing a large volume of people that their lives are "good."
Boomer-I totally agree. American nationalism is almost entirely ideological, which is unique in the world, since most nations' nationalism is based on a common language, ethnicity, race, language, etc...Our is purely "of the mind."

As such, indoctrination begins at a young age. And nothing is met so sharply or with greater hostility than heresy. Its one thing to be against democracy. The ACLU will go to the mat for you and support you if you are a Nazi. But if you love Democracy and question the unquestioned assumption that our nation and constitutution are truly democratic, then you set-yourself-up for the greatest ridicule and scorn and not even the most articulate of ACLU lawyers will back you up.
It's an interesting analysis. I'll have to ponder the labeling of the movement against the Bill of Rights abstracted as anti-Democratic. In fact, I usually regard it the other way around, that the Bill of Rights is (deliberately) anti-Democratic. (It would seem odd if both sides were anti-Democratic, but I suppose that's also possible.)

The reason I think the Bill of Rights anti-Democratic is that it is the chief block against the Tyranny of the Majority. And in modern times, oddly, it's common folk who need that protection. Though I grant you that the historical situation of the time was different. (I've listened to some but not all of the Federalist Papers on audiobook, so I have familiarity with these but not the kind of detailed knowledge that comes from careful study. They're fascinating but the language is very thick and I find it a bit like reading Shakespeare. In fact, having read Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet in high school, and even having loved them, I think I could have done without one of them if it had meant more time to read and absorb something like the Federalist Papers.)

Oddly, I think the truth of the modern world is that the masses they feared so much back then seem to be easily bought now and so they had little to fear. I base this not on a partisan view of who's in power (with the other party being evil) but on the general observation that we probably all agree on that in modern elections the outcome is usually a simple function of how many advertising dollars is poured into a particular district as opposed to a function of how powerful a speaker someone is or how thoughtful their policies are. The result is a system where Corporatism is the enemy (having unlimited funds, thanks to Citizens United) and in which rights may have little relevance at all in the federal arena. For the most part, rights just protect the little guy from being randomly menaced by the powers that be. Rights have not seriously stopped torture, wiretapping, an unpopular war, etc. When the majority wants something, and it wants something when advertising tells it, it gets it.

I was recently reading at Wikipedia that Robert Michels had opined “any political system eventually evolves into an oligarchy.” (Something said by Old New Lefty in a recent blog post had led me to wander Wikipedia that day, so thanks to him for that.)

It seems at least possible that what you say is true about the intent of these people and yet that the stabilizing power that they constructed actually benefited the common people at least as much as it did the elite. I think the relevance of Robert Michels' observation is that the rich have the luxury of understanding the rules, whatever they may be, and ultimately their understanding of the rules comes to dominate the rules themselves. (See my blog post The Elusive Nature of Fairness for more thoughts on that effect.)

I agree with you that the Constitution needs to be a living, breathing document. I mostly agree with you the system is broken. I very much disagree that a Second Constitutional Convention could ever work—I think that would backfire in profound ways.
So Kent, you think that the system is broken and that it doesn't work, but you don't want to try and fix it? Of course, a new Constitutional Convention would have to come, necessarily, after a re-booting, of sorts, such that nasty viruses and malware and such would be deleted from the system, if you know what I mean...
This is a good book on why the US Senate should be done away with. It is written by some highly influential political scientists. Basically, it was only created to make nice-nice with small states, who would otherwise have refused to ratify Constitution.

The result is that today, states that make up less than 15% of the total population of the US have more than 60% of the votes in the US Senate and are able to bring all debate to a stand-still. Rather than represent local, parochial interests (which they do, rather easily, for about 10-15 minutes a day, and even then, that's overkill), all their free time is spent representing large corporate interests and engaging in pork-barrel politics. It makes me sick. Anyway, check out this book. I read it in the bathroom throughout the course of a single week!!!

I didn't say I don't want to fix things. I mean I think that a Constitutional Convention is the wrong device. It is necessarily small and so will imply an elite who will almost surely be connected by power and will be well-paid to manipulate the outcome. Even if a ratification process ensues, it will be heavily subject to corporate advertising and will risk an all-or-nothing failure or success. By contrast, the amendment process, while it is slow and cumbersome, is more robust against mistake. One of the few virtues of the original system is its plodding nature, and I trust that more than I trust a Constitutional Convention process.
Kent---How was it that the Founders were able to limit British pro-Monarchist sentiment at the first Constitutional Convention? Something happened, a big event, that allowed them to have more control over the debate...
Kate, Sparta may have been the only truly egalitarian society in recorded history although they practiced eugenics, slavery and homogenized brutality amongst themselves if you could survive all that to become a Spartan you were subservient to no man including your own kings. Personally I find the Spartans terribly romantic in a “what does not kill me makes me stronger” way, it was their legacy not the vertigo inducing dialectics and debilitating unrestricted mercantilism of Athens that gave rise to the Armies of Alexander sweeping across the known world.Western civilization owes the global predominance it still holds today to the Spartans we should never be dismissive of them.

In school I remember being taught that the American system of government was inspired by a combination of Athenian democracy and the Roman republic. In retrospect Athens never really had a coherent democracy it was a tower of Babel ruled by a greed driven mob of competing merchants, in fact it was the closest thing to a working system of anarchy that the world has ever seen until the the Spartans came along. The Roman republics life was perhaps even more fleeting than a humans with the Gauls to the north and Africa to the south Rome needed every available sword just to defend itself. This reality facilitated its administrative beneficence toward its soldier farmer inhabitants. No sooner was the smoke billowing across the Mediterranean from the sacked city of Sparta than the oligarchy resorted to its time honored tricks of dispossession of land and concentration of the wealth and when Tiberius Gracchus objected he was murdered. With him died the Roman Republic. The whole thing lasted only as long as the Punic wars.

In the above post Rw has skillfully laid out the motivations and conflicting ideologies that gave rise to America. Contrary to the nonsense that we allow to be inculcated by our educational system into young minds generation upon generation, the founding fathers of this country by no means spoke in unison. Although Americans may well be the children of Israel, Mose’s did not descend horned and white haired from Mt Sinai clutching the constitution for the adoring crowds. If you believe the constitution is still relevant then I believe you should be wearing leotards and knickers with high buckle shoes toped with a white ponytail wig. Dressed like this I suggest you go down to either Harlem or Watts and announce that you are there to collect your slaves.

The earth is careening out of control with 7 billion passengers and in light of the most recent corporate sponsored disaster in the gulf I am reminded of a line by Jim Morrison: “dead presidents corpse in the drivers car the engine runs on glue and tar”. Should our current leadership rewrite the constitution? The only thing our current leadership needs to be writing is their wills they are corporate shills one and all the sooner we are rid of them the better and at this point the same go’s for the mainstream media. Do not kid yourself there is not that much time left. The damage that the multinational corporations are doing to our environment in the name of their God Mammon may be irreversible never mind their squandering of finite resources and their idiotic attempts to create world order based on their own avarice. Somebody needs to gain control of this vehicle and Committees of Correspondence chosen from web sites like OS throughout the internet sounds like a real good place to start otherwise Bon Voyage enjoy your trip to oblivion.
Obviously sacked city of Sparta should read sacked city of Carthage. As long as I am here I think I’ll vote: Rw, Kent Pitman, and Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall for OS’s representatives in a Committee of Correspondence.
RW, the division line was at that time along national boundaries. And for all there may have been some broad differences in political philosophy, there is evidence of a genuine desire to build a nation of laws that could function for the general good. The division now is between the corporatists and the individuals, and there is too much information and study, too much real science, too much global knowledge, too many investments to leave it to chance as one might have done before. The new world was speculated upon by the monarch, but it was in many ways surely an unknown. Its potential was unrealized, its raw resources unknown (and even if known, not realizable in the lifetime of the parties involved). Almost everything about the equation has changed. The stakes are too personal, too cynical. The degree to which smoke an mirrors dominates the game is too great. The studied skill of billions of dollars worth of lobbyists would characterize the process. It would not be about good and sustainable laws for a known population, seeking the common good of 350 million diverse Americans. It would be a war to define the populace as having been more narrow, to define the troublesome lot as outsiders, to assure that those who have sought power before are silenced. It would not be pretty and would not be accessible and would not be just. Better to go point by point, incrementally, winning some and losing some because the world has grown too cynically personal and there are too few selfless patriots. I know there exist selfless souls even today, but they would not be allowed in, I'm quite sure. They are a danger to those who have power now, and power doesn't yield itself in a friendly fashion for the good of the many.
Kent---huh? I don't think you are getting what I am saying. A big event in American history began in 1776 that was a necessary precursor to the Constitutional Convention. Do you remember what this was? This event ensured that both American and British Torries had no say at the convention. Sure, there were torries in America prior to 1776 and they were very very powerful. But there were very few after this event. This wasn't because of "national differences," as 1/3 of Americans were torrie. Want to know why they had no influence?

Let's just say that one must "clean house" before one can "purchase new furniture."

Your incremental approach may not work these days, due to the total level of control the wealthy have over the nation. Its basically "game over" for democracy in America. Obama is the biggest sell out around. No wonder the bigwigs chose him over Hillary. They knew they could "handle him." He was so interested in being the first black president, he would kiss whatever corporate ass was needed to get to the White House.

In times such as these, incrementalism may work. But hasn't the left been fighting an incrementalist rear-guard action for 30 years, one that has resulted in nothing but failure? The Democratic Party is totally owned by Big Business. The DLC is the cell, set up by big business, that now runs the show. They are fiscal conservatives and social liberals. The GOP is run by fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. Ergo, in both parties, the agenda of big business prevails.

What do we do, if after numerous efforts at incrementalist economic change, we fail, even though we have clear majorities on our side? What happens if, after numerous attempts, we are done-in, like the Gracchi? What options would then be left to us? Emigration?

Personally, your approach reminds me of that endorsed by Neville Chamberlain in 1938.
Kent--the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. You fear the man more than he fears you. This is why he wins.
I'm sad to say I don't have much to offer you on this one RW, you are much better versed on the Constitution than I. I've thought for a long time it is essentially a political football... More or less ignored by both the Dems and Repubs, but invoked anytime one or the other wants to demonize the other side.

You're definitely right it would be great for progressives to get a chance to mold and renew it (I think Jefferson wanted a new consitutional convention every 20 to 30 years)... Sadly, I don't think too many progressives would be able to have much input in the political climate we face today in this country... Even if such a convention took place.
Rated. Great article. My only complaint would be your referring to people, who ascribe to the modern liberal political position, as "progressives". I am so disheartened that the Beck's, Limbaugh's, and Hannity's of this world, have managed to turn "liberal" into a four letter epithet... LIBS.

Can't we just call ourselves progressive liberals, and be proud of our liberal heritage?

The conservative right-wing in America, has taken the liberal to progressive name change, and turned it into a talking point - a very effective one, I might add. We need to reclaim it... with pride. Thomas Paine, the man largely responsible for the "United States of America", was both very "liberal" and "progressive", by today's standards.
Illuminator--The attack on the word "liberal" was actually begun by those on the left, particularly socialists and populists, who saw liberals as representing a dilluted, pro-establishment, Bourgeois variety of progressivism. In 1789 the working and middle classes were united against the aristocracy, but by the time of the failed revolutions of 1848/1849, the middle classes sided with the nobility against the working folk. It was at this time that the radical left began to oppose the word "liberal."

While this consciousness of establishment liberal hypocrisy was common in Europe, it did not reach true flowering in the US until, perhaps, the 1960s. The song by socialist folk singer Phil Ochs, "Love me I'm a Liberal," underscores this awareness.


Throughout the 20th Century, Establishment Liberals from the Ivy Leagues have put token progress in areas like race, religious and gender above economic progress, because they wish to co-0pt the leaders of these groups and use them to subjugate (a) other countries and (b) our own populace. Having a diverse leadership class in America only aids your imperial crusade abroad. It does not make you more egalitarian. It just makes you a more demographically inclusive plutocracy.

By the time of the Emperor Tiberius, Rome allowed non-Italians to become Citizens and hold seats in the Senate. Gauls, Africans, Jews, Germans, Carthaginians, Syrians, Persians, Greeks, etc...That being said, Rome's increasing ethnic tolerance didn't translate into less bloodshed or oppression, did it?
Sean--we need to increase the heat on the right and temper the steel, so to speak, before we have a new convention. We aren't there yet in terms of having the proper national consciousness. We need a 20 year, co-ordinated national education campaign to unify and link the working classes with a unified vanguard of leftist intellectuals. It worked once and it can work again.
Saying the constitution is a living document is like saying the rules of scrabble are up to interpretation and revision. It's fracking heresy and you know it.
You can't have scrabble without the sacred rules of scrabble!
Sure there were some ideas that needed work and polishing, to include that slavery bit, but you start carving things off butchering it for the sake of one political agenda over the others will lead to anarchy and madness.
No one who believes in the constitution is going to allow that, to include everyone who has sworn to uphold and defend it with their very lives.
No system lasts forever without corruption infiltrating every aspect of it. No matter how nobly conceived or perfected, Jefferson was right.
The answer is either live with it and elect decent leaders or stage an illegal revolution and prepare to pay the consequences in blood of such a bold manuver.
Everything else is just idle talk.
I love a good history lesson. Thanks for the heads-up, Stellaa!
Doug. You seem to have some pretty strong legal beliefs. I am a lawyer, but since you are so passionate and clearly well-informed, I will treat you like a fellow colleague at Bar.

Do you truly believe in strict documentational/legal stasis? I.e., do you think that what is written cannot be interpreted? Mind you, none of the founders had this in mind. We are a commonlaw system, based on Britain. The entire CONCEPT of the commonlaw system, if you read your history, is to interpret and reinterpret documents and judicial decisions based on changing circumstances. It is messy, much messier than Continental Statutory Code-styles (i.e., Code Naloleon) but affords far more flexibility.

Many of the original aspects of the Constitution have been overturned, and many of these you would agree with:

1. Slavery

2. Property holding requirements for voting (here, 95% of white men in America would not be able to vote today; Most of Glenn Beck's followers would be disenfranchised. So much for strict construction)

3. Racial prerequisites to federal voting (blacks and Native Americans)

4. Gender prerequisites to federal voting

5. Racial prerequisites to holding federal office (blacks and Native Americans)

6. Gender prerequisites to holding federal office

7. Racial and gender prerequisites to holding and voting per State office (here, federal law is made applicable to the States by way of the incorporation clauses of the 14th Amendment)

8. The whole concept of Judicial Review of Executive and Senatorial decisions was not written into the Constitution, but came about through political precedent, by way of Marbury vs. Madison in early 1800s

9. Precedent is the nature of the Anglo-American legal system.
Folks who try to preserve the basis of the Anglo-American legal system by arguing against the commonlaw basis of precedent and living, breathing law are irrational and contradictory, because this is the essence of said system.

Its like saying you want to preserve the Oceans, but be against the existence of water.
Doug. Your scrabble analogy is flawed. Scrabble is a closed-game. Its players are set, defined. There is complete information. All possible problems are anticipated in the rules. Ergo, the rules are all you need there. In the legal system, the proper analogy would be to the Rules of Civil Procedure or the Rules of Evidence. These are basically game-rules, how you run a trial, admit things into evidence, the time period you have to respond to certain pleadings, amend pleadings and the like. These rules are clearly analogous to the rules of Scrabble.

However, the Constitution is vastly different. You are dealing with God Given rights. If economic or political situations alter, such that rights are infringed upon, the Constitution must be flexible enough to protect one's rights. Clearly you see the need for this?

Corporations do. This is how they are now able to have 1st Amendment Protection, which you, as a conservative, might possibly agree with. This isn't in the Constitution, but is it legal?
The Supreme Court has also said that Companies can, because of treaties, infringe on our rights to a jury trial and force us to waive our rights to American law at all. This violates the Constitution and is wrong. Do you agree with this?
Sure you make some fancy points about revision, but in reality we all know the truth here.

The evil forces of communisim are at work in your brain. It's clearly evident in your not so veiled references to populist ideas.

Let's look at the reality here for a second. First off, slavery was a bad idea from the outset but I'm all for bringing it back now, under a new name and with different parameters based on economic class instead of race. It's not that bad as long as you have well regulated slave masters, just ask all the corporate conglomerates.

Women shouldn't have the right to vote. Then again neither should men. Voting should have never been a right, it should be paid for, just like in good old greece. If you own nothing, why should you get to say what happens? You're a prole and unworthy to excersice franchise.

Of course there's also the idea that the majority rules. Brittish common law allowed for all sorts of cool things like white guys owning and running things.

As a rich white guy that sits well with me, as I'd then be in charge without having to worry about women, minorites and poor people getting in my way.

You crazy communists are all the same, you hate us elite because we're cooler than you. I assure you though, we'll win in the end. We're richer and we have better ads.
Doug---I'm glad you're showing your true colors, such as support for owning people, bringing back the property requirement for voting. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, I am Dee-lighted that you said these things. It only proves my point about the enemy.

Most Glenn Beckers agree with you, at least the well-healed ones do that are leading the Tea Party. I met many of these rich fucks in lawschool and they subscribed to a school of thought called anarcho-capitalism.

In any event, you have dropped the gauntlet and I take your challenge. You may win, for now. But look at Vietnam and Iraq. Money will only get you so far. But it also dulls your imagination, brilliance and creativity, which will be your undoing as well as your inhuman lack of morality. You wish to disenfranchise the poor. Your free-trade, laissez-faire policies will lead 90% of this country to impoverishment and into the arms of the Left. As in the famous Prisoner's Dilemma Game, by engaging in the short-sighted pursuit of your own self-interest, you invariably destroy yourself.

You cannot win this country if 90% of the nation is opposed to you, minus South Africa style Apartheid. However, judging from your post, you probably agree with this.

I look forward to doing battle with you and your type in the future. And the future is closer than you think. If this recession gets worse, and all indicators show that it will, left and right will become entangled in a great death-struggle for the life, future and soul of this nation. It is a conflict I am looking forward to with great anticipation. I shall meet you on the battlefield, friend...
I'd like to see proof that Madison was speaking in code. Your assignment of meaning seems arbitrary.
Sometimes majority and minority mean what they mean, and property refers to the property of any person who owns property....which, given the abundance of available property at that time...doesn't necessarily mean only the property of the wealthy.

However, perhaps proof exists.
I have to agree with Jack and Spud, you've done an excellent job of explaining the in's and out's of the constitution and and thank God for the Bill of Rights. I'm going back over this again, but you've done a bang-up job my man, and I will be back to read you again!
Paul---Read Federalist No. 10 and tell me what you think. Also, read Federalist nos. 17, 18, 51, 60, 63. He is indirect, but at times, such as through the DIRECT QUOTES I utilize above, quite obvious about what he is getting at. Read these and then we can debate the merits of my argument.

I also suggest you read Chapter 4 of Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States." He discusses the Constitutional Convention along these lines at great length and says the War for Independence was a means of distracting people from the desire for economic equality (which was pushing them into Appalachia and away from the thumbs of their northeastern urban masters)

Scanner---Thanks for the support!
Paul---Speaking in code? Those are DIRECT QUOTES dude
Direct quotes, but with your appendage of meaning. I didn't see the parentheses in the original. I don't buy for a moment the idea majority meant poor, minority meant the wealthy.

It could mean a religious majority dictating "belief." To Madison, as well as others, the definition of "property" encompassed more than real estate.

I don't see anything about Federalist 10 that doesn't align with discussions of property rights in general, real estate and otherwise, and the differences in function between pure and representative democracy, the latter which Madison uses as synonymous with republic. Pure democracy would have been a logistical nightmare in horse and buggy days, not to mention the problems of momentarily inflamed public sentiment, etc.

The issues of debtors, creditors and "equal distribution" of property also isn't automatically an argument about classes. It seems more the idea that in a direct democracy the majority could vote to negate personal debt, or other rights of property holders. Credit is a function of markets, and if it could be arbitrarily negated, then markets would suffer from an unwillingness to issue credit. If property isn't secure, or can be assigned as a theory of equality, then why bother working to gain it, or more of it?

I don't deny there was ample support for the idea of a form of elitist rule at that time, but I don't see it in #10. I do see it in the way the Senate functioned/functions, though.

In 10 I see an argument about political/economic function in a large society that isn't out of line with others that preceded Madison.
Paul, I think its pretty clear that Madison is discussing class in Federalist No. 10. He is discussing poor, unruly majorities. The mob. The rabble. The works of the Founders are replete with these concerns.

You are right, this idea also manifested itself in the Senate, as way to dilute the influence of the House, which they saw as being more prone to the influence of the "rabble." This is why they had the Senate be appointed by State Legislatures. It wasn't until the early 20th century that we had directly elected Senators.

Madison isn't discussing what we would call "pure democracy" and its differences with a representational republic in the style Edmund Burke so often wrote about, although this is the establishment interpretation I was taught in school. The examples Madison cites in other areas of the Federalist as being "extreme versions" of Democracy, such as those from Greece were representational republics as well. The only difference was that they had more broadly extended the franchise and suffered class conflict as a result. Madison doesn't want this to happen in the US.

Your argument about credit and debt is clever obfuscation. Clearly, when a majority votes to abolish debt, they are not voting to abolish commercial loans for venture capital. They are voting to abolish the shackles of predatory lending that have so often ensnared the common folk throughout history. Why would the majority have an interest in commercial debt that doesn't concern them? Further, there is an inherent CLASS COMPONENT to consumer debt. Can't you see this? Poor folk not being able to afford the basic aspects of life and going into debt as a result? Look at the West Virginia Coal miners in the late 19th century, indentured servants, folks today going into debt for medical care through credit cards. Same old story.

Anyway, it is obvious that Madison is discussing class in Federalist 10. You are just trying to white-wash it.
I got through a lot of the comments but I don't have the historical background for this kind of detail. I will comment on the post, though:

We didn't start out with a literate population. Please keep that in mind. Some of the elitism you're talking about may be more intellectual elitism than material elitism. Given the overall education levels in the U.S. now, regardless of how much cynicism you may have about it, circumstances have changed enough that we're no longer in an analogous position where are general population is concerned.

I suspect (but don't know) that Hamilton, as a self-made man, thought that the status quo offered sufficient opportunity for economic advancement (his own experience being the evidence) and that easier, violent redistribution of wealth (like was happening in France) would be conducive neither to justice nor to wealth creation. Those may have been valid worries.

We're currently dealing with something altogether different in the United States. For one thing, we're protecting inherited wealth, which may not be what Hamilton had in mind. For another, the levels of inequality we're now seeing have gotten insane. (See my post entitled "1-Alligator.") For a third, wealth redistribution upward has reached concentrated levels that are interfering with wealth creation, and that ultimately may be our biggest problem. (I have a post about that too, my very first on OS.)

I'm not sure what the solution should look like. My primary worry is that those with the most resources currently are most able and most inclined to manipulate media activities affecting elections - there may not be a feasible way to limit this any more, particularly given the Supreme Court's recent decision to let corporations hijack the election process.
"Clearly, when a majority votes to abolish debt, they are not voting to abolish commercial loans for venture capital. They are voting to abolish the shackles of predatory lending that have so often ensnared the common folk throughout history."

"Clearly?" No doubt you also divined that was what Madison meant, but wouldn't or couldn't write down in plain English.

Okay, you go right on ahead and keep believing in your extreme talent for reading more than was written. That "credit" means predatory lending...in the same way majority means the poor, and minority means the rich.

Credit does have a class component, but that doesn't mean the idea of credit is about class. It's about......credit! It can be used for the good or, as we know, the bad. It can be used by the wealthy, and by the middling merchants. So that means it's about predatory lending and elitist control. For sure. I can FEEL it when I read #10!

After all, it's not like there are volumes of writings on the function of credit in lifting the lower classes, or on ideas of how to restrain majority impulses from violating the contractual rights of the minority.
No, the Enlightenment and Liberal Philosophy was about how to wrest control from monarchs for the sake of the plutocrats. They just coded their language so the riff-raff would surrender to the sinister plot.

I'm just trying to whitewash the Grand Conspiracy by refusing to read far more than Madison wrote.

Maybe you're right. After all, I'm no Glenn Beck
What is the point of all this...?

You started with a critique of the Constitution as a democratic document and then digressed into a biographical examination of its authors.

What are the ideas in the document you want to challenge.

I'll throw out one possibility: the commerce clause, which has acted as the basis for a whole canon of precedent establishing corporations as individuals, in fact, as individual with special rights that no other class of individuals possess.
By the by, ALL the framers would probably find the vast majority of the subsequent precedent mentioned above to be abhorrent and against the grain of what they had in mind. (Hamilton might like some of it, but then he was a real ponce.) None of them were what we would call "capitalists" today, a member of a global investment class with unprecedented power and accumulated wealth. Their version of capitalism was minor and meek compared to ours.
Boko---LOL. I intended it to be a critique of the underlying class bias inherent at Constitutional Convention, but some turned it into a biographical debate. That being said, some of the folks at the convention had specific ideas about the masses and these ideas did work their way into our system of government.

Fear of the majority and of the Sons of Liberty. This may have been a legitimate fear. But today, these checks and balances have hindered progressive reform.
Boko---legislator biography is key for an understanding of intent, and legislative intent is key for an understanding of the purpose behind a law, no?
I hope the Founders would be against the current state of affairs. But as somebody who has worked on numerous political campaigns and on Capital Hill for 2 different Congressmen/Senators, I can tell you that much of what they say is self-serving.

How do we know that when the Founders spoke of meritocracy, they just weren't blowing sunshine up the asses of the common folk? In their personal letters, we often see opposing sentiments and dislike of the common rabble as dirty, uneducated, uncouth.

Sal--you are right about educational distinctions being greater, but might that not just be glaze for underlying class prejudice? I mean, the rich are always looking for factors to justify their need to distinguish and justify their sepparation from the poor. Yesterday it was education. Today its Brooks Brothers ties. Tomorrow its expensive, healthy organic food.
Boko--the commerce clause is but one part of it. Their newfound "rights" have been read into a synthesized reading of the 1st, 5th, 4th and 14th amendments, as well as an expanded reading of both the contracts AND commerce clause.

They are not born of nature, but of state grant and state charter. Their rights must inherently be less than those of men. Even less than those of animals, methinks. They are sub-state entities with supra-state power, like the Church in medieval Europe.
In the 1770's/80's, there wasn't a whole lot of recent track record of citizens running countries. Democracy in any form was rare. Literacy in terms of being well-informed and being knowledgible about ideas made sense as a concern even if not as an all-encompassing one. There may have been similarities but it wasn't the same thing.
Sal--you are right. Democracy was new. But DeTocqueville points out, in Democracy in America, that America had the highest literacy rates on earth during the late 18th and early 19th century, partly due to the high-protestant emphasis on education (by high protestant I mean Episcopal, Lutheran, Calvinist/Presbyterian, which are to be distinguished from the ostracized, low-protestant Methodists and Baptists; High Protestants were the established churches of protestant European nations; low protestants were the revolutionary branch-offs that protested the established protestant faiths; these were charismatic and tended to be anti-intellectual and emotional to a degree...)

In any event, we were highly educated back then. Much more so than France or England. Yet this class prejudice remained. I am just saying, as Howard Zinn said, that class prejudice was all-encompassing.

Why else did they make laws forbidding poor whites from fraternizing with slaves after the Nat Turner uprising? They didnt want poor folk to unify. That's why they had all the race-laws. They wanted to drive a wedge between poor whites and blacks so they couldn't create a united front against established authority.
I'm not arguing about the race fraternizing laws - that was straight class warfare. However, Nat Turner is later than Hamilton et al by quite a bit, so he's irrelevant to this discussion.

There may have been more class issues than I'm acknowledging (but fewer than you are). We had popular vote, we had no royalty or nobility, and these were both deliberate. The other point to make I suppose is that there wouldn't have been a sizeable middle class because we were pre-industrial. The growth of the middle class is partially due to high wages in working occupations. Henry Ford used to boast about how highly paid his workers were, a complete about-face from anything we see in industry today. He had high wages and high productivity, which is absolutely not a coincidence. Also, of course, some of it is due to the GI Bill and the huge rise in the college-educated population in America in the aftermath of WWII as a result. That led to huge economic growth; actually, around the time that college costs escalated to be out of reach of an awful lot of people (and federal aid decreased to help) is about the time that real income leveled off - the early mid-seventies, around the end of Nixon/beginning of Ford - and that may not be a coincidence either.

One thing that drives me nuts, and I may eventually figure out a way to post about it, is that sound fiscal decisions are based on a pair of questions:

1. How much will it cost us if we do this?
2. How much will it cost us if we DON'T do this?

It's amazing to me how many people forget to ask the second question.
Sal, I agree with you on all the other issues, re: the need for economic reform.

I made an error saying it was Nat Turner's Uprising. I was actually refering to the NY Slave Insurrection of 1741. There were others like this throughout the south and Carribean.
It is hard for a person with a limited education to properly argue point here. I can give my opinion. We have a major confusion as to the nature of the country that the constitution established here, it is not a democracy but a representative republic and was designed to expand the power of the individual as circumstance allowed. While I agree whole heartedly with the positions that state that the founders were biased by gender and race and even ethnicity those things were not necessarily to keep those groups down in perpetuity, only as a way to accept the realities of that time. Education was lacking, poverty was rampant and the fear that someone would try to exploit these things led them to try and put a check in place until such time as the average citizen could make a wise choice. They were all raised under the rigid class strictures of England and that they were imperfect in their beliefs may have been easy to see in hindsight but these men were authoring a document that was intended to wipe that out. No one knew how to do that. So they did the best they could under their circumstances. They were also forced by reality to make concessions to some who were less egalitarian in their outlook. When we examine the constitution under the current knowledge and the popular beliefs we are ignoring the fact that we weren't there and we are not educated or raised as those men were. Compromises were made to ensure the unity of the colonies and the hope was that we would rectify this after we had obtained independence. That they failed to allow for the fact that so many would be seduced by wealth and power is a shame but hardly evidence of malice. The wealthy and powerful, for the most part, behaved here exactly as they did in every other country. They were determined to make sure that they kept that power and wealth and pass it along to their progeny.
Bobbott---You are absolutely right. And because of their foresight in granting me Freedom of Speech in the Bill of Rights, as well as the right for the people to amend the Constitution, we can discuss these issues peacefully and try to reach a consensus as civilized citizens, in order to make a more perfect union and perfected constitutional framework.
brilliant analysis. although I would suggest that you are merely observing that even at the birth of our country there was a Right and a Left and that they had similar structure to the current one. but its very interesting to actually attempt to determine individual elements of the constitution as Right or Left. such a thing is rarely done, I congratulate you on that. its true that the Right has various subterfuges and codewords for its true concerns. seems like the same cannot be said of the Left. but the Left does have its own flaws, because unchecked/unleashed it can creep into socialism or vigilante justice, and there are many historical cases of this to be aware of.
is there any mention of democracy in the constitution? no.

is there any way for ordinary people to direct law, plan, or policy? no.

was it the intent of the writers to restrict franchise to white men of property? yes.

one more question, have you heard of 'doublethink? you have to answer that, i'm guessing 'no.'
Al Loomis. You are right. I am just reminding people. We need to re-learn things every 5 years in Modern America. We forget much and remember nothing
VZN--thanks! Not all socialism is bad, though. Look at Social Democracy as practiced in Western Europe and Scandinavia and in its East Asian variant in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
The constitution was written by a small percentage of the public, white male property owners, it didn’t do much if anything to take into consideration the best interest of the majority of the public. Once they debated it in their conventions most of the states ratified it without input from the public. The exception was Rhode Island, which put it to a vote directly to the people. This wasn’t as much of an exception as it may seem though; the debate on the constitution indicates they were demonized by many in the other states and the public in Rhode Island was under excessive pressure to vote for ratification. The modest improvements since then came slowly and as the result of large grass roots movements; despite the fact that the credit was often given to politicians that enacted legislation as a result of pressure from below.

The constitution and this government isn’t nearly as democratic as it has been made out to be and this won’t change until the grass roots movements stand up for change; then if they let them the ruling class will steal the credit again and try to roll the changes back.

Also the Federalists may have been against official slavery as indicated by the first respondent however they were not interested in the rights of the working class; they almost certainly favored a state of virtual slavery since they believed it would suit the purposes of the wealthy better.
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