Mill and U.S. Constitution None Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2791 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: American History

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] By the beginning of the Civil War, there were over four million slaves in the U.S. And this institution was more profitable than ever. Even after it was officially destroyed in 1865, it continued in everything but name, usually in the form of sharecropping and tenant farming in the South that left most blacks in absolute poverty.

Although Thomas Jefferson was in Paris at the time the Constitution was written, he was on the whole skeptical of granting too much power to the central government, and politically skilled enough to rally Western farmers to join an Antifederalist coalition with the Southern planters in the 1790s. Jefferson was always a paradoxical character, given his deep hostility to banks, factories and corporations, but at the same time a defender of slavery and states' rights. Even so, he realized that the country under the Articles of Confederation was powerless to defend itself, pay its debts, negotiate commercial treaties or even keep the Mississippi River open to American navigation. Clearly something would have to be done, but only in such a way that the new federal government would never become strong enough to threaten slavery. Northern merchants and commercial interests wanted a new Navigation Act that would protect American shipping and trade, and the Southern leaders were prepared to grant this power as long as their special requirements were also met. Like Jefferson, they had also concluded that even though a strong central government was a great potential danger to slavery "the creation of such fiscal and military powers was essential" (Van Cleve 113).

Northern states were already moving to abolish slavery, either immediately of gradually, although it lingered in New York and New Jersey into the 1830s. Even their most openly antislavery delegates at the Convention, including Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, avoided any mention of using the powers of the new federal government against it. That would have ended the Union before it even began (Van Cleve 109). In return for agreeing to the commerce clause of the Constitution, the Southern planters received the three-fifths clause, that allowed them to count their slaves as 60% of a white person and gave them that many more seats in the House of Representatives had the federal formula been restricted to the voting (i.e. white) population alone. In addition, Congress was forbidden to close the African slave trade until 1808 and the Northern states were bound by the fugitive slave clause to return any escaped 'persons bound to service' to their owners (Van Cleve 114).

Ratification of the Constitution proved very difficult and in the end it would not have been approved at all had James Madison and Alexander Hamilton not agreed to add a Bill of Rights. Western farmers and the frontier and backcountry regions of every state strongly opposed it as an elitist and undemocratic document, while most "gentleman of property" in the North and South worked hard for ratification (Main 7). White small farmers were the backbone of the Antifederalists in every part of the country and were heavily influenced by radical, democratic 'Commonwealth' writers of the 17th and 18th Centuries like Thomas Gordon, James Harrington and John Trenchard, who distrusted wealthy elites and concentrated political and economic power. This strain of populism ran deep in American politics and culture, as expressed by "Democritus" in Massachusetts who wrote that that the rich and powerful looked "upon their inferiors as their property" (Main 10). Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and other Democratic Republicans -- as they came to be called in the 1790s -- also favored this ideology of democracy in the U.S. being based on small-property owners. In Virginia, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York, a clear majority of the ratifying conventions opposed the Constitution, while North Carolina and Rhode Island refused to ratify it unless the Bill of Rights was added (Main 221). Wealthy planters, merchants, manufacturers and commercial farmers favored ratification, and also controlled most of the press at that time, shutting out the Antifederalists almost everywhere.

In the debates at the Constitutional Convention, George Washington did not speak at all but simply presided as a symbol, and all the delegates were well-aware that he would be the first president under the new arrangements. Privately, he opposed slavery and endorses Hamilton's plans to industrialize the country, which both believed would gradually make slavery extinct and obsolete. Southerners believed this as well, which is why they opposed the Federalists, and later their Whig and Republican successors, who kept attempting to pass the same plans whenever they controlled the White House. Since the majority of the population consisted of small farmers who had been hostile to the Constitution, Hamilton opposed democracy and would have preferred a Senate and President elected for life and chosen by me "preeminent in ability and virtue" (Kaplan 80). He controlled the Electoral College to ensure the election of Washington, with John Adams as vice president, although the latter never particularly liked or trusted him (Kaplan 81). Hamilton always opposed the French Revolution, particularly the Jacobin-Terror phase that Jefferson and his party supported enthusiastically, and always looked to Britain as an economic model and trading partner. As Treasury Secretary, he had the federal government assume all debts from the Revolutionary War, which he argued would promote trade and manufacturing, called for a protective tariff for industry and a new Bank of the United States modeled on the Bank of England (Kaplan 91). Over the next 200 years, the Whigs and then the Republican Party continued Hamilton's policies of using the national government to support large corporate and financial interests, although there were always labor and populist opponents of these policies as well -- including today's OWS movement.

After the Civil War, the power of Wall Street and industrial capitalism increased greatly in the political and economic life of the United States, which is why small farmers, organized labor and the federal government used taxation and regulation of commerce in an attempt to control and stabilize the economy. Most of these controls over capitalism were put in place during the Progressive Era of 1900-20 and the New Deal of the 1930s. A generation later, during the Great Society of the 1960s, the federal government also moved aggressively to guarantee civil and voting rights to minorities. In general, the OWS is the descendant of the Progressives and New Dealers, and is supported by organized labor, while the conservatives are funded by corporate interests. Since the conservative majority on the Supreme Court passed the Citizens United decision, Wall Street and large corporations are permitted to give almost unlimited sums to politicians and political parties. Almost all of the Framers of the Constitution would have regarded this as massive corruption, while the Antifederalists would have considered it a sign of aristocracy or oligarchy, designed to destroy the liberties of the common people. Although conservatives regard money as another form of 'free speech' that seems only to be a paper-thin justification for the wealthy and large corporations to buy politicians and favorable legislation from Washington, and this is exactly what OWS is protesting against. On the other hand, the Tea Party conservatives appear in part to be descendants of the same Southern interests that feared that a strong federal government would 'interfere' in slavery and segregation. These tend to combine with the economic conservatives in opposition to federal 'interference' with capitalism, although in reality they never seem to oppose federal support and subsidies for large capitalist interests.

WORKS CITED

Dahl, Robert Alan. How Democratic is the American Constitution? Yale University Press, 2003.

Kaplan, Lawrence. S. Alexander Hamilton: Ambivalent Anglophile. Scholarly Resources, Inc., 2002.

Main, Jackson Turner. The Antifederalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1781-1788. University of North… [END OF PREVIEW]

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