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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Profit Essay

The question which stands before is whether the Founding Fathers were democratic reformers. It is an excruciating and complicated task to come to a conclusion upon this inquisition. To find this answer it can be readily simplified by taking a look at two contending arguments found inscribed in the book Taking Sides: Clashing Views in United States History. In the text lies the position of Howard Zinn and John P. Roche who are great historians; one writes controversially and radically, and the other writes in conformity to government, and conservatively. The position of Howard Zinn is that the founding fathers were not what they have been illustrated to be. That is that they were not concerned with democracy but were really just concerned in their prosperity, in their property, their money, and their freedom, but not concerned with the peoples liberties. Freedom was a new word at the time, which many knew little of, it was but the elite who had an understanding of this sort of philanthropy. “What was not made clear-it was a time when the language of freedom was new and its reality untested-was the shakiness of anyone’s liberty when entrusted to a government of the rich and powerful(Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States P. 99).”

John P. Roche dedicates his attention to the giving the founding fathers their veil of liberators and democratic reformers, and depicts them as gentlemen of good nature, and of having the highest intrinsic values; he portrays them as benevolent wise men, which based the constitution on the needs of the people. “They were first and foremost superb democratic politicians…they were committed (perhaps willy-nilly) to working within the democratic framework, within a universe of public approval (Wikispaces.com, Taking Sides Issue Seven: Were the Founding Fathers Democratic Reformers, P. 3)”. Between the two representations of the issue in question, the more persuading argument 10is towards Howard Zinn who viewed the founding fathers to not have been democratic reformers. The Founding Fathers were not democratic reformers; rather they were an elite group of men who came up with the Constitution to find compromise “between the slave holding interest of the south and the money interest of north” (Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States P. 98)”, their true motives for uniting the thirteen states was to create a vast market for commerce and not to create a democracy.

The Founding Fathers always depicted the majority of men as ignorant and irresponsible. For them to be democratic reformers they would have needed to add literacy and education as necessary for the creation of a democracy in the writings of the Constitution. Instead they persisted to argue that the populous was ignorant, “…Federalist Paper #63 argued the necessity of a “well-constructed Senate” as “sometimes necessary as defence to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions” Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States P. 98)” rather than adding that citizenry should be educated and informed so that they would be able to take part in the democratic processes of political and economic policy making, therefore they were not democratic reformers. John P. Roche tends to be overly conservative, to actually make a compelling argument, and Howard Zinn might appear to be radical but he is factual and presents both sides to an argument and does not rely solely on emotions and in his political idealism as does Roche. Howard Zinn gives the more profound argument.

Howard Zinn rather than making statements based on nationalism or patriotism brings up logical inferences and although it is impossible to give an unbiased approach to the question, Zinn gives the less bias approach of the two. When he presents his reasoning he tends to bring up both sides to an argument, one at least opposed to what he wants to represent and one at least supportive of what he is more in favor to represent.  As when he mentions Robert E. Browns point that the Constitution omitted the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the Declaration of Independence to “life, liberty, or property” to the Constitution, he presents the acknowledgement that people did have property, but stands to say that it was misleading to make this statement for only 3 percent of the population had enough land to be considered wealthy (Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States P. 98). On the other hand John P. Roche presents most of his views by using words such as “national interest”, “public approbation”, and always tends to give reason to why some of the things they did that were not democratic were indeed democratic.

Although the drafting and signing of the constitution was held in secrecy, according to Roche, “They were practical politicians in a democratic society”(Wikispaces.com, Taking Sides Issue Seven: Were the Founding Fathers Democratic Reformers, P. 8). The Founding Fathers did not have it in their interests to be democratic reformers. They had in their interests to create a new nation which would create a certain order to keep the nation’s wealth in the hands of a few and to maintain their privileges, “Charles Beard warned us that government-including the government of the United States-are not neutral, that they represent the dominant economic interests, and their constitutions are intended to serve their interests” (Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States P. 98).

The Founding Fathers were afraid of a majority faction and opted for a Republican form of government to keep the country divided so that the populace could not come to the same conclusion and unite to fight against the tyranny of the minority, they had to make it possible for the existence of minority factions to prevent from a future insurrection. This can be noted in Federalist Paper #10 in which James Madison makes the following statement, “it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other…The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states” ( Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States P. 97). They also had to make the Constitution appealing to the people. It needed to give a few rights and liberties to the citizenry to keep a revolution from arising from the monopolization of wealth that they were creating. It needed a Bill of Rights, “The Constitution became even more acceptable to the public at large after the first congress, responding to criticism, passed a series of amendments known as the Bill of Rights” Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United State, P. 99).

They needed soldiers for the revolution; they had to appeal to the people, they used the words freedom, liberty and equality to get them to fight. It is has been the history of revolution through the ages that a few educated men can persuade a majority to fight for liberty or for a common goal and after the revolution is over they put into place a government for their own privilege. The United States has not been the exception. They used the same pretexts as the revolutionaries of anytime to create a society after their own image based on their principles, privileges and their ruling ideas, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force” (Marx, Karl, The German Ideology, P. 64). Their ideas were not ideas for the founding of a democracy. “Still the mythology around the Founding Fathers persists. To say, as one historian (Bernard Bailyn) has done recently “the destruction of privilege and the creation of a political system that demanded its leaders the responsible and humane use of power were their highest aspirations” is to ignore what really happened in the America of those these Founding Fathers”( Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States P. 101)”

Zinn then states that the Founding Fathers wanted to create a balance between the forces which were dominant to that time, and not a balance “between slaves and masters, property less and property holder, Indians and white ( Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States P. 101).” His arguments continue to be reinforced by bringing into account many different views from other historians and by presenting documents from that time and by bringing into account the writings of the Founding Fathers themselves. He clearly reinforces the argument that the founding fathers were not democratic reformers. In reading both sides of the argument one can acquire an unbiased approach to the question, yet it is impossible to remain without any sort of bias, to be working class or being wealthy will play in the outcome of any given men’s stance to the question. The level of education that a person may have acquired will also depend on his view, and also his or her susceptibility to what stands as a norm will also give his reasoning a bias approach. Just as well as a person’s idealism being it political, economic or social or even of the combined three will not allow an unbiased standpoint from him/her.

Howard Zinn makes the most compelling argument, his answer to the question holds the most validity in the two clashing responses, it is brought upon with great historical anecdotes, it is fairly easy to find the historic facts that he represents in his outlook of the issue; and it is the more logical of the two. Zinn does not speak with emotions of nationalistic fervor, or political idealism, nor does he stay compelled to the narrowness of a one sided argument, but looks upon both sides. “As Brown says about Revolutionary America, “practically everybody was interested in the protection of property” because so many Americans owned property” (A People’s History of the United States P. 98). His response to Robert E. Brown (Charles Beard and the Constitution), who is a critic to Beards approach was, “However, this is misleading. True, there were many property owners. But some people had much more than others…Jackson Main found that one-third of the population in the Revolutionary period were small farmers, while 3 percent of the population had truly large holdings and could be considered wealthy (A People’s History of the United States p. 98).”

The people of the Americas did not fight a revolution for their freedom, not for equality, they fought the revolution of the elite, they won them a political victory, handed them the wealth of the nation. The slaveholders of the South found compromise with the money interest of the North and the Founding Fathers were able to create the great market of commerce they envisioned when they came to the conclusion for independence from Great Britain. The People of America in that time fought a Revolution for the Founding Fathers who were not democratic reformers.


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