|'We coulda set up a monarchy,|
you know, but we didn't'
(first published in North State Journal 11/8/17)
A young person said this recently:
“The Founders were all white privileged men”
To which the answer was: “Yes. And your point is?”
“They wrote the Constitution to protect their interests. It was stacked for rich white men from the beginning.”
Which is also mostly true at the time.
“Do you know what the ‘true’ Miracle was in Philadelphia in that hot summer of 1787?” he was asked.
The real miracle was that they did not establish a kingdom or an oligarchy forever. Which they very easily could have done and some, including Alexander Hamilton, wanted to see done.
The Founders turned to the writings of John Locke and other classical liberal thinkers not only to set the predicate for the Constitution with the immortal words “all men are created equal” in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in 1776, but also to pour the concrete foundation of our country with principles to establish the first free democratic republic which has been copied the world over to set people free for the last 228 years.
Our Founders had every power at their disposal to set up a parliamentary government to serve a king. But they didn’t. George Washington voluntarily retired to his farm and distillery at Mount Vernon and set the paradigm for citizen-politicians ever since.
Our Founders had every power at their disposal to set up an oligarchical form of government similar to the ancient Greeks in Athens. The “rich white privileged men” in Philadelphia didn’t have to mention equality for everyone or free speech, religion, press, assembly or the right to petition the government for anyone else but members of the oligarchy, but they did.
Instead of 100 percent serving their own narrow interests, they fought tooth-and-nail over provisions in the Constitution to enable a free flow of commerce and trade, a strong centralized national defense and individual freedoms and liberties unlike the world had ever seen before. Their aversion to total concentration of power in the hands of King George III led them to go to the other end of the spectrum to set up a system of government that does its darndest to frustrate and prevent capricious actions on the part of a president or even small groups of one faction or the other in the U.S. Senate versus the U.S. House.
Granted, many rights were restricted to landed gentry early in our history. But the other part of the “Miracle” in Philadelphia is that they set up a means to amend and change the very Constitution they ratified so that over time, the new republic could grow and adapt to where we are today.
I had the opportunity to speak to the government of Estonia in 1995 after they declared freedom from Soviet Union dictatorship in 1990.
We were told to bring a suitable gift to give to the leader of the parliament as a gesture of friendship. I bought a copy of James Madison’s “Notes on The Constitution,” which had been kept private in his and wife Dolley’s hands for 51 years after ratification of the Constitution and only published after the fourth president passed away.
Upon opening the gift, the leader of the Estonian parliament literally broke down in tears.
“You Americans don’t realize how special your Constitution is to us or any other nation now freed from the Soviet Union,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to have a free democratic republic here in Estonia as Mr. Madison and the other Founders did in America long ago.”
The United States may not be perfect today in your opinion. The U.S. Constitution was not perfect in its original form either. But we all owe it to each other to keep working on the American Experiment until everyone can be proud to say they are American.
They gave us a gift. It is worth preserving.