Thursday, September 29, 2016

From the New Republic: The Founding Fathers’ Power Grab - A new book argues that the Constitution was designed to make the United States less democratic—and to enrich the framers.

It's not a new allegation.

The Book is titled: The Framer's Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution.

- Click here for the review.


In his impressive new book, The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution, Bancroft Prize-winning legal historian Michael J. Klarman seeks to understand why the Framers produced such an undemocratic plan in the first place, and how they managed to get it approved over strong opposition in the state conventions. At the risk of oversimplifying—the book comes in at more than 800 pages—Klarman argues that the Constitution is undemocratic because it was designed to protect wealthy merchants and landowners from the redistributive tendencies of popular government. “The Constitution was,” he writes, “a conservative counterrevolution against what leading American statesmen regarded as the irresponsible economic measures enacted by a majority of state legislatures in the mid-1780s.” More specifically, “the Constitution was designed in part to block legislation for tax and debt relief.”
How was the Constitution adopted in spite of vigorous and cogent objections from its democracy-loving critics? Klarman argues that the Federalists essentially cheated and strong-armed their way to ratification. The book seems intended as a bracing antidote to the phenomenon that Klarman has elsewhere labeled “constitutional idolatry,” his term for “our misguided tendency to blindly worship the Constitution” and the men who wrote it.
The idea that the Constitution was really about money is not new, although it has lost favor in recent decades to “ideological” interpretations that focus on the Framers’ moral worldview and political goals. Klarman draws the core of his argument from Woody Holton’s 2007 Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, which was inspired in turn by one of the great history books of the 20th century, Charles A. Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913). Roughly stated, these books argue that during the period after the Revolutionary War most state constitutions were highly democratic, at least for the era. At the same time, the country was suffering a post-war financial crisis that was ruinous to artisans and small farmers. Not surprisingly, common people began to use their new political influence to create economic policies that were favorable to themselves (and disadvantageous to creditors and wealthy citizens), such as inflationary monetary policy and progressive taxation. The Constitution, according to the economic interpretation, was the 1 percent’s revenge, a countermeasure designed to undermine the democratic governments in the states, thereby returning power to wealthy elites and insulating them from popular opinion.

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