Radical Democratic Thoughts for President’s Day
By S. Brian Willson (February 15, 2016)
In his second presidential term, George Washington declared that emergence of “democratic societies” severely threatened the peace of the new republic. Shocked over the emerging dissent over his tax policy, he proclaimed that democratic societies were nothing but “self-created bodies, forming themselves into permanent censors” operating “under the shade of night” who expressed “absurd” and “arrogant” attacks on the acts of Congress whose members, as representatives of the people, have “undergone the most deliberate and solemn discussion . . . the sense of their constituents . . . to form their will into laws for the government of the whole”.
Thus, as a political-economic document, the Constitution reveals a genuine fear and distrust of the political tendencies of common people, i.e., “factions,” or what Madison described in Federalist Paper #10 (November 22, 1787) as the dangers of an “unjust and interested majority,” i.e., the large number of unpropertied citizens.
The final document articulated a strong national govt, assuring that westward expansion by White Europeans would be protected from Indian resistance by a national army. “Opening” of western lands for “development” would dramatically enhance their value, financially benefitting land speculators including many of the vested delegates, including the wealthiest investor – George Washington.
Under protection of the new Constitution, throughout the 1790s, the majority of landless men in Virginia had already safely moved west of the Appalachians, and by 1820, the trans-Appalachian population had grown from about 350,000 to more than two million.
Founding Father John Jay held a vision that “the people who own the country ought to govern it.” . This referred, of course, to those who owned land, slaves, and commercial enterprises. Jay believed that the upper classes “were the better kind of people,” those “who are orderly and industrious, who are content with their situation and not uneasy in their circumstances.” Jay himself was from a family of wealthy merchants and government officials in New York City, and served as a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses, including a term as president. He was chief justice of the first Supreme Court from 1789 to 1795.
Thus our “Founding Fathers” reflected an extraordinary anti-majoritarian, i.e., explicitly ANTI-DEMOCRATIC bias. This explains the Constitutional theme of preserving private property and commercial enterprises, controlled by a small minority, ultimately at the expense of human freedom and the health of the Commons.
Only 39 men, or 70 percent, of the Convention’s original 55 attendees, signed the document, and many of those were slaveholders. In the end, it was adopted by just 13 states by a vote of fewer than 2,000, carefully selected, male delegates.
It is important to recognize that the Constitution was never submitted to the public for ratification. Since no direct popular vote was even attempted, it is impossible to know what the popular sentiment was.