In the past century, there has been a growing debate as to the motives of the founders of the republic and as a result the nature of our constitution. While Marxist analysts such as Charles Beard contended that the founders were wealthy elite that ultimately created a conservative document intended to weaken the poor popular majority, other scholars like John Roche believed that the fathers had no such agenda and they were working purely to reconcile states’ interests. Pluralists, such as Hofstadter, believed that the constitutional insistence of checks and balances intended to create a slow political process in which no interest can completely win and oppress other interests over a long period of time. While the scholars, Beard and Roche, make a strong defense of their opposing argument, it appears, based on the constitutional document and historical analysis that Hofstadter provided a more accurate portrayal of the founding fathers and their purpose in framing the various pieces of the Constitution.
The men who wrote the constitution came from a particular background of wealthy and politically elite people and as a result one of their main concerns in the newly developing nation was the protection of their property. Under the Articles of Confederation, there was no guaranteed right of property and the economy was becoming a mess as there was no power to keep it controlled. Charles Beard states in his document, “They were anxious above everything else to safeguard the rights of private property against any leveling tendencies on the part of the propertyless masses.”
In a country where the majority rules, the wealthy few became vulnerable to possibility of the poor population taking their belongings. Beard believes evidence of this can be seen throughout the Constitution, such as the Contract and Commerce clause which both limit state powers and allow Congress to regulate trading and property rights. The second piece of evidence is that certain branches of the government, the Senate, President, and Supreme Court, are not directly elected by the people.
John P. Roche suggests that the framing of the Constitution was essentially a democratic process involving the unification of the state, political, and economic interests of the nation. Roche recognizes that the framers were an elite, but he is careful to point out that they were a political elite dedicated for the most part to creating an efficient and at the same time controlled national government that would be able to overcome the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. The framers were not an organized few dedicated to particular notions of political or economic beliefs beyond the need to create a national government that would be capable of uniting the disparate interests of the state. When the Constitutionalists decided to challenge the Confederation, they used the methods of political legitimacy. The 3/5 compromise allowed more representation of the lower population in the house of representatives and the bill of rights was formed in order to ensure state rights and check the central government. Roche believes the bicameral legislation of the constitution was effective at producing pluralism.
Finally, the last theory of what the founding fathers intended for the purpose of the Constitution to be was to create a balanced government that followed the philosophy of checks and balance which derived from the Enlightenment ideals of Montesquieu. In “The Founding Fathers: An Age of Realism,” Hofstadter argues that the agenda of the founding fathers was not only to ensure the rights of property for the wealthy elite, but also for the poorer masses. “Most of them would probably have admitted that the rich, unrestrained, would also plunder the poor.” The purpose of the Constitution was to create a government that allowed both the elite and individuals to maintain their rights and opportunities in the nation. The framing made sure to include legislation that aided the wealthy but also pieces that helped represent the larger population.
The contract and commerce clauses protected property rights and strengthened the central government, but then the Bill of Rights and the House of Representatives gave power to the states and the poor majority. In addition, while the President can veto bills, Congress has the chance to override the veto with a 2/3 majority. The Senate, representing states, and the House of Representatives provide involvement for the majority in the Constitution, while the President and Supreme Court are chosen by the minority and provide protection for the smaller group of individuals. The founding fathers made sure to include checks and balances when they developed the Constitution in order to ensure a fair government where one group does not hold the most power.
Both Beard and Roche have contrasting views on what the purpose was of the founding fathers in their framing of the Constitution, but both are ultimately flawed as it is wrong to say that their agenda was limited to selfish greed or altruism for the majority. The real agenda, as Hofstadter explains, was to form a balanced government that ensures the basic rights for both the majority and minority, allowing the wealthy and the poor to be represented and protected under the branches of the government and legislation through a system of checks and balances.
Courtney from Study Moose
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