Question: What is missing from the Constitution?
It's weird how the media, especially the History Channel and related, have been focusing on the Washington Administration and the fight between Hamilton and Jefferson, because I've spent the last several years thinking about them too. It's like our collective Zeitgeist is looking for the cause of an illness. It turns out we have the equivalent of a tick bite. Something that started small and soon infected the whole country. The fact is that Jefferson, the architect of our vision of who we are from the Declaration of Independence, and Hamilton, architect of our federal and economic system with Jefferson's friend Madison, started fighting like School-children while serving our First President George Washington. With the result that two parties were created who have been busy sabotaging and fighting each other off and on ever since.
Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" [declaration_transcript]
The fight was actually fought at two levels. Among the elites it was a fight over "assumption" and gradually morphed into other fights as the people involved tried to recruit support from ordinary citizens. The Jeffersonians called themselves Republicans and claimed to be defending democracy. The Federalists wanted a strong Federal Government and were focused on the USA having a strong economic system. Jefferson allegedly wanted an "agrarian society."
Hamilton's vision was Union and the constitution. He wanted a strong Federal Government that could develop itself into a stable economy and defend itself. Hamilton's party came to be known as the Federalists.
But Jefferson mischaracterized the Federalists as wanting a Monarchy. And the Federalists made it sound like the Republicans were Jacobins trying to impose Direct Democracy. The elites feared direct democracy. And even the Federalists feared actual monarchy. Their initial differences were small. The Federalists were centered on the growing centralized cities. The Republicans were centered on the frontiers and countryside. The Towns in New England gravitated to the Republican cause too. Hamilton's vision was mostly an urban vision of industry and technological advance. But both these people had a pretty much similar vision even with regard to slavery. Both wanted to end slavery. It could have been done. The North had slaves too in the 1790s. New York:
"Slavery was important economically, both in New York City and in agricultural areas. In 1799, the legislature passed a law for gradual abolition. It declared children of slaves born after July 4, 1799 to be legally free, but the children had to serve an extended period of indentured servitude: to the age of 28 for males and to 25 for females. Slaves born before that date were redefined as indentured servants but essentially continued as slaves for life."
That the south didn't end slavery was more tied to their social hierarchy and plantation aristocracy than the ideals of the Founders or party politics. That we never arrived at the "mixed system" that Madison talked of in Federalist 39. The Genteel Aristocrats of the Republicans never completely accepted the raucus and non-deferential politics of their followers. The South was culturally attached to it's nobility. That was true for Jefferson, who hated open conflict with people and thus preferred to fight via proxies. And it was true for George Washington, whose attachment to the Federalists was in part driven by his believing that citizens should know their place, respect their elders and if they don't like a set of policies vote differently in the next election. It was also true for Madison and even more so for subsequent leaders of the aristocratic elite from the South (and North to a degree too). And the reason was the conflict between plantation style government and "politan" or democratic town government. For example, Madison, despite opposing Hamilton's centralizing policies, never fully backed the "Democratic Societies" that he helped spark the creation of because:
"He could not accept intense localism. Southerners, especially influential Virginians, had been unacquainted with the raucous and sometimes unruly democracy of town meetings." [page 334 of "Washington's Circle"]
They also crafted a constitution that explicitly left out even reference to terms like "metropolitans", "towns" or local government. In the South the Constitution would reflect their existing State and County hierarchy. A hierarchy where Judges were virtually kings, and the legislators dominated by planters. Elites from the North secretly admired this framework because it gave the elites veto power over local government. For:
"They Framed the Constitution from an idealized reverence for representative government. In their world, government was made orderly by educated elites who wielded authority wisely and were appreciated by their inferiors." [Washington's Circle pg 334]
And the Northerners, being of equally upper class origins were perfectly happy to leave principles of local rule, local representation and local government out of the Mix. They supported Hamilton's vision of a powerful Federal Government because:
"The effort to install idealized, deferential democracy on the nation exasperated New Englanders who were well acquainted with the temper and tone of the town meeting. [Aristocratic] New Englanders accordingly opposed high levels of such "democracy" in representative government, and they became high Federalists for reasons other than affinity with Alexander Hamilton's economic programs." [ibid page 334]
Aristocrats, North and South were inclined to see:
"The People were indeed a great beast, they said, and when newspapers became virulent and popular opposition violent, even some southerners gradually agreed." [ibid page 334]
Some Southerners, including George Washington, felt the same way. This is part of the reason that the House of Representatives was designed in a way that made gerrymandering and other abuses easy. And why the Senate represented the States in a way that gives as much power to states with small populations as to giant states or great cities with populations that dwarf them.
If Hamilton was like Dr. Frankenstein crafting the constitution out of his dream of a strong country that could defend itself and be wealthy. A lot of the parts came from his Igor Madison whose idealized version of democracy led to a government with all the internal fighting of a New England Town Meeting, but failing to adequately adjudicate the interests of towns and cities.
Answer: What is missing from the Constitution is the Assembly
When Jefferson, Madison, Washington and the High Federalists up north, supported Hamilton's version of Federalism they were doing so because they'd seen the kitchen and they didn't like the rough and tumble of politics that actually considers all views. They had envisioned democracy as being idealized, genteel and people as knowing their place. But they were soon to find that the idea that, even in the south the common folks knew their place and were content to be slaves, or serfs, poor white trash or overseers, or to live in poverty while toiling for masters -- was an illusion. What was missing from the Constitution was respect for the right of people to local democracy. They heard the declaration and realized that by "all the people" it implied hair dressers and horse drivers, pile drivers and even servants; Even Black servants. And once the cat was out of the closet the federalists/Republicans and their descendent organizations were never going to put it back in the closet. Even the people living on a plantation have an inalienable right to be governed with "consent of the governed". Those rights are our unalienable rights. Not just the rights of the Right people. What is missing from the constitution is the enfranchisement of people in their settlements. The expansion of democracy at the local level. The plantation, the factory, those are all governments too.
Anyway, this is a piece of a larger narrative, but I wanted to share it with you today.
Happy July Fourth from our imperfectly constituted country.
To this day conservatives quote these authors as if they were God. And they were brilliant.
Sources and Further Reading
- Washington's Circle:
- Further reading on our current financial mess: