It was John Adams who noted that "men in general, in every society, who are wholly destitute of property, are also little too acquainted with public affairs for a right judgment, and too dependent upon other men to have a will of their own."1 This shared attitude guided the Founding Fathers in their establishment of what has become America's modern day political system. When today's modern day student is asked just what sort of system that was, it seems the answer is always "democracy." In reality, the House of Representatives is the nearest idea in accordance with a system of democracy that this country would ever reach.2 Washington, Adams, and Jefferson were the wealth and success of their time, and coincidentally, it was these same men that fashioned a structure in which wealth and success were the ultimate judges of where power was to fall. The Founding Fathers did not seek democratic reform, but rather sought personal gain in the form of ultimate power.
The Founding Fathers did not seek democratic form partially due to a fear of democracy. It was their belief that "democracy, unchecked rule by the masses, is sure to bring arbitrary redistribution of property, destroying the very essence of liberty."3 Jefferson especially feared the label of "democrat," and it can be seen in American books of the time that "democrat" was a "swear-word, by which persons were designated against their will, usually falsely, like persons falsely called communists today."4 Ideas of democracy are most like to occur among the "oppressed and discontented, disinherited aristocracy, and the rising middle class."5 Democracy does not appeal to a privileged class whose privileges are ever increasing.6
On the subject of power, Adams stated that it "naturally grows...because human passion are insatiable. But that power alone can grow which already is too great; that which is unchecked; that which has no equal power to control it."7 Without a government of the people yet established, who could possibly be the group of people to control the unchecked, wealthy Founding Fathers? While determining how best to devise America's system of government, the Founding Fathers were responsible to keep their own power under control and to keep themselves in check. Though the concept of equality was completely void in this temporary establishment, the logic necessary for personal advancement was entirely present.
The Founding Fathers not only overshadowed the masses of the country financially, but also intellectually. There is little debate among modern critics that arguments that occurred over the crafting of the Constitution were acted out on an intellectual level far above that of today's politics.8 A yeoman farmer who had only the Bible to read over the duration of his life would not stand a chance against these dually powerful men. Their obvious advantages allowed the Founding Fathers to easily operate the puppet of the new government with little resistance and to manipulate its citizens, even modern day citizens, into assuming that the Fathers had only the citizens' best interests in mind.
The Founding Fathers placed themselves in places of power to protect their own interests for two main reasons. These reasons provide an answer as to the reason for their action and a reason for the thought process surrounding those actions. However, the reasons do little to morally justify the Founding Fathers quest for ultimate power, ruling a country with only their personal finances in mind.
The first reason was their complete lack of faith in mankind, or rather mankind themselves excluded. Though they did not believe in man, they embraced a political system to control him.9 A New England clergyman named Jeremy Belknap wrote in a letter to a friend that though he believed the government should originate from the people, the people must "be taught...that they are not able to govern themselves.10 According to the Fathers, man was capable of...
Bibliography: Koch, Adrienne. Power, Morals, and the Founding Fathers: Essays in the Interpretation of the American Enlightenment. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1961.
Hofstadter, Richard. The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948.
Maier, Pauline. American Scripture and the Making of the Declaration of Independence. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.
Palmer, Robert Roswell. The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1964.
Vidal, Gore. Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
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