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Chapter 3
The Writing and Ratification of the American Constitution1

The Constitution of the United States begins with the words, “We the people of the United States...”. The Constitution was written in the name of the people, all of the people. But the fifty-five, white, male aristocrats (the founders) who participated in the Constitutional Convention in 1787 were, as a body, very unrepresentative of the great body of American people who were mainly craftspeople and farmers.

As members of the aristocratic class, the education, beliefs, ideals, and goals of the founders were very similar, and their views were very unrepresentative of the people as a whole. While our modern politicians publicly blush or fume and privately wink at the notion of class, a social stratum sharing basic economic, political, or cultural characteristics, and having the same social position, the founders did not. They believed in class. They believed that the main purpose of government was to resolve the opposing interests of different classes of people. They believed that the differing economic and social classes were the natural order of things or the result of God’s will. They believed that their being in their aristocratic stations in life was a natural or God ordained right. They considered themselves to be superior to and the betters of the great sea of common folk around them. Many of them loathed and feared the masses. Some among the aristocrats even believed the masses were placed there for their use like cows and chickens.

Those among the aristocrats who were the most strongly motivated, who pushed the hardest for a convention, who came to the Convention the most prepared, who participated most actively at the Convention, who got the most of what they wanted written into their Constitution, and who worked the hardest to get the Convention’s resulting constitution ratified were the most extreme in their views against the rising tide of democracy at the state level resulting from ideas learned and embraced by the great body of people during the Revolutionary War.

Although the founders debated long and hard over the details of the government they were designing—which branch should hold what powers, what should be the balance of power between state governments and the federal government, etc.—they were in tune with each other as to their ultimate goals for their government in the making.

Some of their goals would as a matter of course benefit all of the people. As the British made their exit at the end of the Revolutionary War, we needed a government to fill the vacuum, and quickly, else there would be anarchy. The first government that was created, The Articles of Confederation, was too weak and rigid to achieve its necessary ends. A stronger central power was needed to regulate trade among the states and with foreign nations, to make treaties with foreign nations, and to manage the expansion into western lands.

But none of these needs were more pressing and central in the minds of the founders than one other danger: the increasing expression of democratic ideals among the common people and their increasing power within the state legislatures.

Economic depression had followed in the wake of the Revolutionary War. There was little money to pay bills. Banks were foreclosing on the mortgages of large numbers of poor farmers and others. Debtors were being imprisoned.

Increasingly populated by non-aristocratic members, the state legislatures responded with legislative relief in the form of printed paper money with which to pay debts and by permitting delayed repayment of debt. These actions were directly opposed to the economic interests of the aristocratic class. And other state legislative actions defended the people and attacked the aristocracy even more directly.

Minor uprisings of the populace had even occurred here and there. The final straw that struck terror in the hearts of the aristocracy was an uprising in Massachusetts called Shays’s Rebellion. It was put down soon and easily enough, but it possibly did more to harden and unify the will of the aristocracy and to get the Constitutional Convention started than any other event.

The aristocrats in general and the founders in particular spoke frequently among themselves about our need to prepare for our common defense against foreign threats and, almost always in the same breath, to put down internal insurrection and rebellion. While reading about these times, one finds oneself wondering the obvious: With the thought of internal rebellion looming so large and frequently in their minds, why were the founders and other aristocrats not led to question the fairness, justice, and morality of the social, political, and legal conditions that the aristocracy had imposed on the common people? But they did not. They knew themselves to be right and their order to be correct. The people, stirred up by new, democratic ideas spread during the war, simply needed to be put back into their proper place.

Along with preparing for our common defense, regulating commerce, and managing our westward expansion, the principal ends of the Convention were to crush the increasing power of the people, to permanently suppress democracy, and to ensure the continuance of a political and economic order favorable to the aristocratic class. While they genuinely worked hard to create a new constitution for a nation, the founders never lost sight of their second principal goal: to take care of number one, the aristocratic class. They wanted a democracy of elites so-to-speak within government, but they wanted that democracy to extend no further.

They ‘foresaw’ that in time relatively few people would own almost everything while most people would be landless and poor, and they wanted to protect the “rights” of the wealthy few against the many poor. They saw this inevitable result as stemming from their own talent, merit, and superiority. They failed to recognize or admit, at least publicly, that their traditional body of unjust law and their unjust public and private institutions might have anything to do with such extremely unbalanced distributions of wealth. They did not recognize or admit that what they called foresight might merely be the fruit of their own actions and that other actions and different institutions might bring a different result. The founders worked hard to protect the aristocrats against those from whom they had taken and to whom they had done injury. This was their idea of a “balanced” government and society. They spoke and wrote lofty words, but this was their bottom line.

Although speaking frankly among themselves, the founders and other aristocrats worked hard before, during, and after the Convention to carefully craft their words and documents and to guard their true intent from the common people. And when promoting their completed constitution they employed every kind of distortion, lie, and manipulation. After all, by hook or by crook they had to somehow get ratified a document that worked against the common people’s best interests.

 

The goals were clear, but the way to achieve these goals was less clear. Although not equally wealthy, the members of the Convention were all aristocrats in their thinking and of like mind as to the ends of their endeavor, but they were less united as to the means.

One group among the founders, the nationalists, wanted to take sovereignty away from the unruly state governments and to take power away from the people by creating a new, powerful, sovereign, national government. There was much apprehension among some other members of the Convention, the federalists, about creating a powerful, sovereign, national government after our having so recently escaped the clutches of the overly authoritarian British government. They wanted what we already had in the Articles of Confederation: a federal government, that is, an association of sovereign states. But they wanted to strengthen it.

There was also the matter of the Convention’s mandate from the Confederate congress, which was to suggest to congress amendments to The Articles of Confederation that would render the Confederation more sufficient to its task. They had no mandate at all to bypass the Confederation entirely and create a whole new government. But this was never the intent of the nationalists at the Convention.

The nationalists won their way and the members of the Convention proceeded to step all over their mandate. As we shall see later, this is not the only legality, not to mention morality, that the members of the Convention tossed aside in their will to achieve their secret goals behind locked doors. “The people” were kept ignorant about the true nature and purpose of the constitution and government that was being created in their name.

 

Perhaps the greatest blessings for America and its people as a whole resulting from the Constitution is the internal structure of the government. The founders created a government with powers divided and balanced among three branches: the legislative, the judicial, and the executive. Each branch stood independently of the others, and each branch was assigned enumerated, i.e., listed, powers (as opposed to general, sweeping powers), some of which served as checks on the powers of the other branches.

Some among the founders believed that there were only three fundamental types of government—monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy (which most of them held in disdain)—and that a balance of these three types should be included within the government they were creating. In the founders’ minds the executive branch represented the monarchal aspect and within the legislative branch the senate represented the aristocratic aspect and the house of representatives represented the democratic aspect.

While that which is good about the internal structure of the government that these men created had something to do with their ideals, philosophies, and interpretations of history, as much if not most of that good resulted from their distrust of each other’s motives and words and from their interest in looking after themselves and their home regions.

The members of the Convention were divided against each other in several ways such as those for a sovereign national government versus those for sovereign state governments, North versus South, those for versus those against slavery, commercial and trade interests versus plantation interests, large states versus small states, those states that had claims to much western land versus those states that did not, and those whose wealth was mainly in the form of land versus those whose wealth was mainly in other forms. (We may, however, safely rule out rich versus poor. The poor were not present at the Convention. The Convention was a huddle of wealthy and wealth-favoring men.)

There was much haggling and horse trading over issues such as these: Should there be one or two legislative bodies? Should representation in the house and senate be as equal states versus representation by population, wealth, or land ownership? Which branch of the government should hold the power of the purse? How extensive and powerful should be the judicial? Should there be a single executive or two? Should the executive have a council? What should be the qualifications for and terms of the various offices? Who may have the power of the veto over what? And should powers be enumerated versus being granted in a general, sweeping form? As mentioned earlier, there was much disagreement over a sovereign national government versus a federal government of sovereign states and over the division of powers between the national and the state governments.

When the dust settled, representation in the house would be by population as counted by a periodic census. Representation in the senate would be as equal states, and its members would be selected by the state legislatures. There would be a single executive whom the electorate would not elect and whom they might have to suffer a second term. The executive could veto legislation but be overruled by a 2/3 vote of both the house and the senate. The house would hold the purse, but the senate could pilfer it. Judges were to be selected by the president and approved by the senate. So long as they behaved themselves judges could sit until their last gasping breath and dead neuron. The powers of each branch were enumerated, and some limits of their powers were enumerated as well. Enumerated limits were also slapped on the states; they were chopped off at the knees but still allowed to hobble around on the stumps. In a census, a slave would be counted as 3/5 of a person. It would be nearly impossible to amend the Constitution and then only by those who populate the seats of government, which is to say, only by the wealthy. There was no bill of rights.

 

The participation in government allowed to the general populace was minimal. The president was elected by the voting of “electors” selected by the state legislatures. Senators were chosen by the state legislatures. Judges were and still are appointed to the Supreme Court by the president. Only the elite few participated directly in any of these processes.

The general populace was only allowed to vote for representatives for the house of representatives. The times, places, and manner of electing representatives were left up to the state legislatures. Generally, the states limited the franchise, the right to vote, to the participation of that minority of the population called “free men” which for all practical purposes meant white men. Women and slaves were excluded. But even all white men weren’t considered good enough by various elements in the political processes of the states. Greater insurance of a correct result was thought to be needed. The possession of various amounts of land or wealth was usually required, and being a member of a particular religion was sometimes required.

(Throughout our history roadblocks such as poll taxes, literacy tests, registration at distant places and awkward times, just plain bullying and beatings, and vote tampering have been used to prevent the “wrong” persons from voting or their votes from being counted. The “wrong” persons of course meant people of color, poor people, or people with a different view than “ours.” Only educated, wealthy, white men could manage to jump through all the hoops. And, let us not forget, even they mostly just selected a name from a preselected, short list handed to them from on high.)

Over a long period of time the franchise (and the right to actually have one’s vote counted) was reluctantly granted to poor white men, women, and racial and ethnic minorities that then over the years participated in exercises in futility as they tried to get their elected ‘representatives’ to really represent them and government to include their will. It has always been the case that the elected ‘representatives’ represent themselves and their wealthy clients first and the electorate and the nation as a whole last. As the franchise was expanded, power, true power, was shifted away from anything of significance that the electorate could hope to affect and behind an ever-increasing labyrinth of complexity and secrecy within government or shifted entirely out of government into the ever more powerful private corporations and the ever-present American aristocracy.

 

One issue debated at the Convention was the granting to government of broad, “sweeping” powers versus the granting only of enumerated powers and limits on power. Mostly enumerated powers were granted, but three very important sweeping powers found their way into the completed constitution.

One such phrase is “necessary and proper.” It occurs in the context of an enumerated power giving congress the power to make all laws necessary and proper to exercise all of its other powers enumerated in the Constitution. Another such phrase is “general welfare.” In the taxation clause congress is given the power to collect taxes to, among other things, provide for the general welfare. Another phrase, the “supreme law” phrase, made the Constitution the supreme law of the land.

The exact meaning of these phrases has been debated by Americans at the Convention, during the ratifying conventions, and ever since. Some say they merely grant the power to permit the execution of the enumerated powers. Others say that they are new, sweeping powers that stand in their own right. Whatever the arguments, through perpetual congressional reinterpretation of the meaning of these phrases and judicial reinterpretation of the meaning of the entire Constitution, the federal government has used them to ever increase its power until today its power is greatly expanded from its early days. These processes have also made it possible for the Constitution to still work in a nation that is radically different from and infinitely more complex than it was at the time that the Constitution was written.

 

Turning to the issue of the Constitution’s lack of a bill of rights, the nationalists argued adamantly that the Constitution inherently protected the rights of the people, and a bill of enumerated rights was not needed. This is interesting in view of the fact that the Constitution specifically enumerates several protections and includes other measures that, while they applied to everyone, were of particular advantage or intense personal interest to the founders and other aristocrats.

Their constitution protected the right to private property of which they and their class held a great deal. And they expected their future aristocratic generations to hold a great deal more. It prevented interference by government in the obligation of private contracts, that, at least when dealing with the poor, were almost always obscenely favorable to the rich. It forbade states from issuing paper money insuring that the large and many sums owed to the wealthy would be paid in sound money. It forbade states from passing bills of attainder, which declare someone guilty of an offense without a trial and which was at times used against the wealthy for their unjust and ruthless practices. It forbade ex post facto laws, which makes something illegal and also provides punishment for those who did it before it was made illegal, something that was at times used within state legislatures against the more ruthless among the wealthy when their past evil actions came to light. The new government would pay the state and federal war and other debts that by this time had been mostly bought from the poor war veterans and others for pennies on the dollar by wealthy speculators including some of the members of the Convention. The inclusion of the payment of the public debt would also entice the many holders of the debt into ratifying the Constitution.

One may agree with all of these protections and measures. But we should not overlook that these protections and measures and others of central interest and benefit to the founders and other aristocrats found their way into the constitution while others of equal or greater importance like the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the right to a speedy and fair trial, and the right to a trial by jury of one’s peers were strongly opposed and in the end excluded from their constitution.

Some of the legislation passed by the state legislatures against the interests of the aristocratic class was unsound and even foolish. But there was much other foolish legislation that happened to be of no particular interest to the aristocrats for which they saw no need to include protections against in the constitution that they wrote.

Fearing too much opposition and the possible failure to get their constitution ratified, the nationalists yielded somewhat and promised to add a bill of rights after the Constitution was ratified. (After ratification of the Constitution, to ward off an increasing call for even stronger measures, the congress of the new national government passed a watered down version of a bill of rights containing deliberately vague terminology and omitting certain key phrases.)

 

The founders had a profound dilemma. How does one create a constitution for a new government that illegally annihilates the existing government, favors the wealthy class, and suppresses the budding democracy of a people, and then get that government and those people to ratify it?

And, besides exceeding the Convention’s mandate, there was another nasty legal matter to sidestep. Changes to the Articles of Confederation required the unanimous approval of all of the thirteen states participating in the Confederation congress. The founders believed that their constitution would never survive such a demanding requirement. No problem; they simply wrote their own requirements for ratification of the constitution right into the constitution. Their constitution would be ratified and their new government born if only nine of the thirteen states ratified it, and, to bypass both congress and the state legislatures, which the founders felt certain would not ratify the constitution, ratification would be done within special state conventions.

By years of unceasing labor and sheer force of will, a small group of aristocrats, the nationalists, had managed to win a convention against much resistance, set the agenda for that convention, and gain most of their way throughout the convention. Now it was time to present their constitution to congress. Rather than trying to get congress to ratify the constitution, the convention resolved to simply lay their constitution before congress imploring that it be sent to the states for ratification. What would congress do with their new constitution? Would their good fortune continue?

Conveniently, several of the writers of the constitution were also members of the Confederation congress. Thus, several of those who wrote the constitution also sat in the congress that was to pass judgment on it. Further, like the writers of the constitution, the other members of congress were of the aristocratic class. This group of like-minded men may and did have their differences of opinion as to the means, but in large measure they agreed upon their ends.

Even with much commonality of interest, the supporters of the new constitution could not achieve the unanimity sufficient unanimity to present a united front to the states. There were those in congress who still irritatingly clung to such issues as legality, federalism, and a bill of rights. Rather than reveal the degree of division among themselves, the congress handed the constitution to the states without comment.

The proponents of the constitution, in particular the nationalists, had much going for them. They had been debating and pressing their views for years. They knew their arguments well. Their leaders were at the Constitutional Convention, and they were members of congress. They could present a much more united front than the opposition. The conventions were populated by people selected by the state legislatures. These people were not unlike the founders themselves and shared many if not all of the same views. These were the economic and political movers and shakers of their times. They were well versed in the ways of political intrigue and manipulation. The conventions took place in the better areas of eastern, coastal cities far away from the poor, rural, and western people (which is to say the vast majority of the American population) that mostly opposed the constitution. They also owned most of the then existing newspapers.

As if this wasn’t sufficient advantage, the proponents of the constitution had a bag of dirty tricks that would have been the envy of our modern politicians. They moved swiftly, pressing for ratification before the opposition had time to raise an adequate opposition and before most of the population had time to even read the constitution. What newspapers they didn’t own they pressured into not printing opposing views. They even managed to get some postmasters to stall the delivery of the opposition’s mail.

Throughout the years preceding the occurrence of the state ratifying conventions those who favored a strong, sovereign national government were called by the name nationalists. Those who favored a federal government and sovereign state governments were popularly known by the name federalists, whom the general population most favored. Before the Constitutional Convention had even concluded, the nationalists published a newspaper article calling themselves the federalists and the opposition by the name anti-federalists whom the nationalists-turned-federalists painted as British-loving enemies of liberty.

The now-federalists used every kind of distortion and lie to portray their constitution as a benign document that made limited, insignificant changes. They tried to claim that the constitution created a federal government, not national at all. One made the claim that the constitution was “purely democratical.” At times they got physical. In Pennsylvania the federalists were in the majority but lacked the necessary quorum, so they got a mob to drag enough anti-federalists to the convention to conduct a vote.

It has been estimated that in several states the majority of the people, sometimes the vast majority, was against ratification of the constitution. But these people did not have access to and, therefore, could not participate in the conventions. The tiny portion of the whole American population that qualified to vote for delegates to the conventions and who voted for anti-ratification delegates were often betrayed by their delegates when the delegates voted for ratification. Remember, even the supposedly anti-federalist and anti-ratification leaders of the day were usually from among the wealthier people of their various locales. Foreshadowing the actions of representatives that would come to populate the new government in the making, when push came to shove they had more loyalty to their pocketbooks than to their constituents.

 

These are the circumstances under which and the methods by which the aristocrats convened and conducted their Constitutional Convention. And these are the circumstances under which and the methods by which the aristocratic minority shoved its constitution down the throats of the American people.

 

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Beyond Plutocracy - Direct Democracy for America    www.BeyondPlutocracy.com
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Footnote

1  After completing the first draft of this book, focusing principally on the biological male dominance hierarchy, its cultural expression (the authoritarian state and plutocracy), our particular American expression of dominance and plutocracy, and offering a solution for the problem, it seemed that something was lacking. The work needed a closer look at American constitutional history than my aging memory could supply. I needed to brush up. As with the books used by the schools I attended during my youth, most of the works that I perused concerning revolutionary and constitutional times seemed rather too worshipful of “our forefathers” and their constitution. And they missed what I believe to be the most central and important point. Then I discovered (and I now recommend to everyone) The Making of the American Constitution by Merrill Jensen, 191 pgs., copyright 1964, published by the D. Van Nostrand Company, Princeton, New Jersey. Merrill Jensen’s lucid discussion resonated deeply with my lifelong thoughts. Within his broad and professional discussion I felt that I was seeing my more narrowly focused views about dominance and plutocracy, though certainly not my terminology, expressed in terms of the time and actions of the founders. From The Making and other works I relearned in part and in part learned anew the principal events of the time and culled certain lists such as the conditions that brought the founders together, the issues that divided them, the several advantages the nationalists-turned-federalists had and took during ratification, and the often questionable means they used to achieve their often questionable ends.  1