What Became of the Orginal Constitution?

Americans who revere the Constitution as their ironclad guarantee of personal freedom might be interested to learn that when the Constitution was ratified in 1789 many notable citizens regarded it as an insidious plot to deprive the people of their liberties.

George Mason, for one, though an active delegate in the Constitutional Convention from day one, refused to sign the document on the grounds that the kind of government it created would evolve into a “corrupt oppressive aristocracy.”

Delegate Benjamin Franklin signed it, though he had his doubts, and so did Thomas Jefferson, who at the time was serving as ambassador to France.

While the Convention was still in session, a series of “observations on the proposed Constitution, for the United States of America, clearly showing it to be a complete system of aristocracy and tyranny and destructive of the rights and liberties of the people,” appeared in various New York newspapers. The observations were subsequently published in book form as
The Anti-Federalist Papers.

It took much retorting on the part of delegates Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, in articles likewise appearing in New York newspapers to make the case that the new Constitution (the flawed Articles of Confederation being the old one) assured “nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.” These articles were later published under the title of The Federalist Papers.

The raging quarrel between Anti-Federalist and Federalists, however, was not about basic principles, but one of degree. Neither faction sought to form a hereditary ruling aristocracy, like the kind from which they had just liberated themselves, and even less a populist regime, a “mere democracy,” in which the “inferior classes,” would rule by dint of their numbers. The compromise reached was a constitutional republic, a sort of noblesse oblige, of upper class citizens. Senators were to be elected by state legislatures and the President and Vice-president by an electoral college of learned men, ”gray beards,” selected by the states. Only members of the House of Representatives were to be elected by popular vote, and, as determined by state laws, only literate, white male, property owners were qualified to vote, in ten of the thirteen states. New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania granted voting writes to literate black property owners, but these were virtually nonexistent. Men both black and white, literate or not, who owned no property were disenfranchised, as were all women, slaves and Indians, a good 85 percent of the population. The “We the People” in the Preamble clearly didn’t mean all of the people.

It should further be noted that the lion’s share of the power was vested on the Congress. Fearful of the rise of an monarch, the role of the President and Vice-President role was purposely limited, and the judiciary is hardly mentioned.

Fast forward to 2010 and we find that the Republic envisioned by the Founding Fathers is no more. The President and Senators are now elected by popular vote. Congress has evolved into a sort of hereditary aristocracy whose members have made public office their life-time careers. The Chief Executive has usurped much of the power of Congress and become increasingly more like a monarch. The Supreme Court similarly has assumed legislative and morphed into an exclusive aristocracy of Harvard and Yale Law School graduates.

Then there’s the rampant populism fueled by ignorant, shallow thinking, fast talking, fear-mongering TV talk-show hosts, the “rife democracy run amuck.” And rather than setting their misguided constituents straight, rather than lead, elected officials pander to them for easy votes. The few true statesmen in the nation, meanwhile, take refuge in think tanks, where they talk to each other and write learned articles and books that few read.

Had the signatories of the Constitution foreseen what would become of their Republic, it’s not unreasonable to assume that some would have advocated rejoining the mother country as a Commonwealth.

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