The Knowledge of the Founders

Topics: United States Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, United States Pages: 11 (4003 words) Published: October 18, 2012
Luckily, the Founders were remarkably well-read. The philosophies of great minds like Polybius (Greek political philosopher, mixed form of government and checks and balances), Cicero (philosopher, Natural Law), Thomas Hooker (Natural Law; also, he wrote Connecticut's state constitution, which was one of the modern world's first written constitutions and was a primary influence upon our own Constitution), Montesquieu (political philosopher, Separation of Powers), Sir Edward Coke (legal philosopher), Sir William Blackstone (Natural Law; Ten Commandments), John Locke (Natural law), Adam Smith (economic philosopher, Founder of Capitalism), and Jesus influenced the Founders profoundly. The Founders studied Polybius, whose written works provided a theoretical account of the development of society and government. Polybius saw the history of government as falling into a recurring cycle by which kingship inevitably gave way to successive stages of tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and anarchy, at which point a strong leader would merge and establish himself as king, thus starting the cycle over again. The only hope of breaking the cycle, Polybius maintained, lay in a "mixed" form of government (mixed elements) and certainly not in a pure democracy. The Founders read Adam Smith's groundbreaking and insightful work "The Wealth of Nations," which was published in 1776, and which influenced their decision to embrace and implement capitalism as a means to distribute goods and services within our nation. The Founders also were well-read in the books of the Old Testament. Even though some Founders didn't subscribe to any Christian denomination, the teachings of Jesus and the works of the Old Testament were very held in high regard and with great respect by all. In fact, even though their backgrounds were widely diverse, the fundamental beliefs of the Founders were virtually identical.

What are the principles embedded in the Constitution?

Basically our founding principles can be summarized as follows: A free people living in a civil society, working in self-interested cooperatives, and a government operating within the limits of its authority, promote more prosperity, opportunity and happiness for more people than any alternative ever devised by man.

1. Natural Law - The delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 believed that certain human liberties are so fundamental to one's existence that they must come from our Creator. If that is the case, then no government can take them away. This is the foundation for the Bill of Rights.

2. Individual Liberty - Remembering the injustices that the King of Great Britain had imposed upon them, the colonists were adamant about protecting the individual rights of the people. They added the Bill of Rights as the first ten amendments to the Constitution in order to protect those God-given rights from any constraints or denial by the government.

3. Federalism - Most of the delegates to the convention were reluctant to form a national government that would take power from the states. At the same time, they recognized a need for a stronger national government that would provide defense against foreign aggressors and resolve disputes between the states; therefore, they instituted a government structure called federalism that assigned specific powers to the national government and left all remaining powers with the states. The system drafted at the Convention and adopted and ratified by the States (after the addition of the Bill of Rights, and specifically here, the Tenth Amendment) left the bulk of jurisdictional power to the individual states.

4. Limited Government - The careful drafting of the Constitution reflected the Framers' intent to limit the ability of the federal government to exercise any more power than the citizens (aka, the States) agreed to give it. With the powers of government strictly limited, citizens could be free to pursue...
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