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...