By Christiane Warren, Ph.D.
Contemporary voices who demand that the Federal government should actively guarantees everyone’s democratic equality in access as well as quality of outcome, fail to grasp the original purpose and design of the U.S. Constitution. Written in response to the shortcomings of the preceding Articles of Confederation, the Constitution needs to be seen as a charter, an assignment of power and authority. [i] To establish a “more perfect union,” the founders’ task was to determine the inter-connectedness of authorities and responsibilities assigned to the Federal government and to the American people. The founders informed by enlightened social contract theory and Adam Smith’s views on free enterprise designed the United States as a representative republican confederacy of independent states. The Constitution grounded in the Lockean classical liberalism ideals was the contract that protected individual freedom and private property.[ii]
The Federal government’s authority is received by those it governs, and its primary responsibility to them remains the protection of individuals’ freedom from government overreach and to ensure their safety in the furtherance of private enterprise. The Constitution reflects the founders’ resistance to Britain’s mercantilist trade policies and to governmental control through taxation and legislation. Thus, they created an economic and legislative structure that asserted the primacy of private property rights as the foundation for personal freedom as Madison asserts.[iii] Contemporary scholars such as Cost afford the founders to have the foresight of creating a system that paved the way for capitalism.[iv]
To achieve their goal, the authors of the Constitution identified the existence of factions as the greatest threat to freedom and the rule of law. James Madison saw factions leading to power imbalances which in turn may lead to instability and even insurrection.[v] John Adams saw factional divisions as being tied to economic status and warned against the danger of majority rule; the dominion of the masses.[vi] In response, as Constitutional scholar Grimes asserts, Adams needs to be credited with developing the solution, through his introduction of a representative balance achieved in the form of “mixed government.” [vii]
The complex structure of check and balances embodied in the three branches of government was designed to protect the confederate structure of the new nation and enabled leadership to protect the people from majority rule as Hamilton affirms.[viii] The success of this system is predicated on the acceptance of all sides in the basic fairness of the Constitutional compact and is put in practice when all parties abide by the established laws and procedures, including those that allow for revisions when deemed necessary. The body politic succeeds as a national enterprise when all of its people and their representatives follow the established procedures and rules of civility in a confrontation and accept the outcome.[ix]
Thus, in today’s volatile societal discourse all Americans will be best served to recall the uniquely American success story of justice guaranteed by the Constitutional contract between government and the American as established by the nation’s founders.
[i] Bruce P. Frohnen & George W. Carey, The Framer’s Constitution, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016), p. 81.
[ii] Edling, Max M. Chapter editor: “A Mongrel Kind of Government” in Peter Thompson and Peter S. Onuf. British America and the Early United States. ( University of Virginia Press Stable, 2013), p.153.
[iv] Jay Cost, “The Business of Society – Capitalism, Socialism, and the American Founding,” American Enterprise Institute, p.3.
[v] James Madison, Federalist Papers #10, The Avalon Project, https://www.avalon.yale.law.edu/18th_century/fed10.asp
[vi] The Works of John Adams, edited by Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), vol. VI, p.68.
[vii] Alan Pendleton Grimes, American Political Thought, (Lanham, MD: American University Press, 1983), p.111.
[viii] Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers #9, The Avalon Project, https://www.avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed09.asp
[ix] Adam White, “A republic, if we can keep it,” American Enterprise Institute (2/4/2020) https://www.aei.org/articles/a-republic-if-we-cankeep-it/
The works of John Adams, edited by Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), vol. VI, p. 57.
Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: The Bellnap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.
Cost, Jay. “The Business of Society – Capitalism, Socialism, and the American Founding.” American Enterprise Institute, 5/2020. https://www.aei.org
Edling, Max M. Chapter editor: “A Mongrel Kind of Government” in Peter Thompson and Peter S. Onuf. British America and the Early United States. University of Virginia Press Stable, 2013. http://www.jstor.com/stable/j.ctt6
RICHARD A. EPSTEIN. The Classical Liberal Constitution. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 2014.
FROHNEN, BRUCE P., and GEORGE W. CAREY. “The Framers’ Constitution” In Constitutional Morality and the Rise of Quasi-Law, 243-86. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 2016. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvjnrsvf.11.
Grimes, Alan Pendleton. American Political Thought. Revised Edition, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983.
Hamilton, Alexander. The Federalist Papers #9. The Avalon Project.https://www.avalon.law.yale.edu18th_century/fed09.asp
Hamilton, Alexander. The Federalist Papers #51. The Avalon Project.https://www.avalon.law.yale.edu18th_century/fed51.asp
Keller, Morton. America’s Three Regimes – A New Political History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Madison, James. The Federalist Papers #10. The Avalon Project.https://www.avalon.law.yale.edu18th_century/fed10.asp
Madison, James. The Federalist Papers #39. The Avalon Project.https://www.avalon.law.yale.edu18th_century/fed39.asp
Madison, James. The Federalist Papers #45. The Avalon Project.https://www.avalon.law.yale.edu18th_century/fed45.asp
Madison, James. The Federalist Papers #47. The Avalon Project. https://www.avalon.law.yale.edu18th_century/fed47.asp
Madison, James. “Property.” 1792. From Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, ed., The Founders’ Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 1:598-99.]
Maggs, Gregory E. A Concise Guide to the to the Federalist Papers as a Source of the Original Meaning of the United States Constitution. George Washington University Law School, 2007.
White, Adam J. “A republic, if we can keep it.” American Enterprise Institute, 2/4/2020. https://www.aei.org/articles
More About the Author:
Guest author, Dr. Christiane Warren, Senior Consultant atAnna J Cooper Education AdvocacyRecognized for producing growth and cultivating success in the career and education space, Dr. Warren has served as tenured faculty, department chair and academic dean for entire divisions and in the Academic Affairs office at both 2-and-4 year institutions in NJ and NY. Read more about Dr. Warren here.