Historians traditionally depicted the framers of the Constitution as great liberals, defenders of the rights of man, and the creators of a democratic society. But beginning in the early 20th century, revisionists began to challenge this view of the framers. Some historians, led by Charles Beard argued that the Constitutional Convention was dominated by an elite and that the Constitution itself is an instrument written to protect elite interests. As you examine the following primary source documents consider what it indicates about the framers - were they democrats or elitists?
As you read the following documents, pay close attention to what
is being said and how each document might be used to defend or refute
the following statement. Be sure to note the source of each document
- often who is speaking is as important as what is being said.
The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second year by the People of the Several States.
The Senate of the United States shall be composed by two senators from each state, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six years, and each senator shall have one vote.
Source: Constitution, Article I, section 9
No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no person holding any office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the consent of Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatsoever, from any King, Prince, or foreign states.
Source: Constitution, Article IV, section 4
The United States shall guarantee to every state in this Union a Republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.
Source: Constitution, Article VI, section 9
[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any office of public Trust under the United States.
Source: Constitution, Article II, section 1
The Executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the Term of four years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term, be elected, as follows:
Each state shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress... The electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for two persons... the Votes shall be counted. The Person having the greatest number of votes shall be President, if such a number shall be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed...
Source: Constitution, Article I, section 2
Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned to the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a number of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, and three-fifths of all other persons.
Source: Constitution, Article IV, section 2
No person held to Service or Labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on the claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.
Source: Constitution, Article III, section 1
The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the Supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in office.
Source: Constitution, Article I, section 9
The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless
when in classes of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require
No bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.
No capitation, or other direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.
No tax or duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any state.
Source: Gouverneur Morris
The time is not distant, when this country shall abound with mechanics [artisans] and manufacturers [industrial workers] who will receive bread from their employers. Will such men be the secure and faithful guardians of liberty?... Children do not vote. Why? Because they want [lack] prudence, because they have no will of their own. The ignorant and dependent can be as little trusted with the public interest.
Source: Constitution, Article I, section 8
The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect Taxes, duties,
and imposts, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence...
To regulate commerce with foreign nations...
To coin money, regulate the value thereof...
To raise and support Armies...
To provide for the calling forth of the militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions...
Source: John Jay
The natural aristocracy...are defenders of the worthy, the better sort of people, who are orderly and industrious, who are content with their situations and not uneasy in their circumstances... [There is a fear that] republican equality which deadens the motives of industry, and places Demerit on a footing with Virtue... The proper amount of inequality and natural distinctions should be recognized. Is there no distinction of character? Surely persons possessed of knowledge, judgment, information, integrity, and having extensive connections, are not to be classed with persons void of reputation or character."
Source: Constitution, Article I, section 8
Congress has the power to... make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States...
Source: Constitution, Article VI
This Constitution, and laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, shall be the Supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary withstanding.
Source: Bill of Rights, Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Source: Melancton Smith
The knowledge necessary for the representative of a free people not only comprehends extensive political and commercial information, such as is acquired by men of refined education, who have leisure to attain to high degrees of improvement, but it should also comprehend that kind of acquaintance with the common concerns and occupations of the people, which men of the middling class of life are, in general, more competent to than those of a superior class. To understand the true commercial interests of a country, not only requires just ideas of the general commerce of the world, but also, and principally, a knowledge of the productions of your own country... I am convinced that the government is so constituted that the representatives will generally be composed of the first class in the community, which I shall distinguish by the name of the natural aristocracy of the country...
Source: Abraham Yates
The influence of the great [among the ordinary people] is too evident to be denied... The people are too apt to yield an implicit assent to the opinions of those characters whose abilities are held in the highest esteem, and to those in whose integrity and patriotism they can confide, not considering that the love of domination is generally in proportion to talents, abilities, and superior requirements."
Source: Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #10
But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divided them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation....
A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage of paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it, in the same proportion that such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district than an entire State...
Source: from Charles Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, 1913
A majority of the members [of the Constitutional convention] were lawyers
Most of the members came from towns, on or near the coast...
Not one member represented in his immediate and personal economic interests the small farming or mechanic [artisan] classes.
The overwhelming majority of the members [of the Constitutional convention],
at least five-sixths, were immediately, directly, and personally interested
in the outcome of their labors at Philadelphia, and were to a greater or
lesser extent economic beneficiaries from the adoption of the Constitution.
[Of the 54 delegates:]
40 were holders of public securities (holders of Continental and state debt)
24 were creditors (lenders of money)
15 were southern slaveholders
14 were involved in land speculation
11 were involved in manufacturing, commerce, and shipping
Source: Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #35
The idea of an actual representation of all classes of the people is altogether visionary. Unless it were expressly provided for in the Constitution that each different occupation should send one or more members, the thing would never take place in practice. Mechanics and manufacturers will always be inclined, with few exceptions, to give their votes to merchants in preference to persons of their own professions or trades. Those discerning citizens are well aware that the mechanic and manufacturing arts furnish the materials of mercantile enterprise and industry. Many of them are, indeed, connected with the operations of commerce. They know that the merchant is their natural patron and friend; they are aware that however great the confidence they may justly feel in their own good sense, their interests can more effectually be promoted by the merchant than by themselves. They are sensible that their habits in life have not been such as to give them those acquired endowments, without which in a deliberative assembly the greatest natural abilities are for the most part useless; and that the influence and weight of the superior acquirements of the merchants render them more equal to a contest with any spirit which might happen to infuse itself into the public councils, unfriendly to the manufacturing and trading interests... [A]rtisans and manufactures will commonly be disposed to bestow their votes upon the merchants whom they recommend. We must therefore consider merchants as the natural representatives of all these classes of the community.
With regard to the learned professions, little need be observed; they truly form no distinct interest in society, and according to their situation and talents, will be indiscriminately be the objects of the confidence and choice of each other and of other parts of the community... They will feel a neutrality to the rivalships between different branches of industry, and... thus more likely to be an impartial arbiter among the diverse interests of the society...
Source: Amos Singletary
These lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men, that talk so finely and gloss over matters so smoothly, to make us poor illiterate people swallow down the pill, expect to get into Congress themselves. They expect to be managers of the Constitution, and to get all the power and money into their own hands. And then they will swallow up all those little folks, and the states, like the great Leviathan...
Source: Map of the Ratification of the new Constitution, Divine, p. 193
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