The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action


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1. Introduction

It might have been successful if the townspeople had had any real supply of weapons. As that initial protest receded, radical priests roused the peasants in the countryside with a much more egalitarian program, which was not supported by the towns, and the movement was brutally suppressed by the government. The revolutionary coalition ranged from conservatives on the right, who hoped to emerge as leaders in a Protestant revolution that would maintain many of the inequalities of the old order; through those libertarian-equalitarians of the middle, curiously described as Levellers because they wished to eliminate social and legal distinctions based on birth; to the religious, communist, egalitarian Diggers and Jesus-men on the extreme left.

Oliver Cromwell first compromised with the right wing of the coalition, and after his death further compromises resulted in a return of the monarchy. Thus was frustrated not only the egalitarianism of the smaller groups on the left, but also the equalitarian views of the much larger group of revolutionaries in the center. Under such circumstances, a large part of the American population came to perceive their rights as Englishmen in terms of a liberal Whig worldview.

As recent writers such as J. Pocock have emphasized, this worldview went back at least as far as Machiavelli and Florentine republicanism. Indicative of some of the unresolved tensions in this outlook was an agrarian orientation manifested in Jefferson and later Jeffersonian leaders.

Constitution & Federalism

For the better part of a century, the American colonials disputed the unresolved equalitarian questions of the English Revolution. The meetings of the Revolutionary Congress took place within the context of a continuing debate in America, focused around greater popular representation for both western settlements and emerging urban groups in an increasingly stratified society. One of the major differences was with respect to property.

While some radicals argued for popular political participation regardless of property qualifications, others suggested that the best way to achieve this was to distribute property to those who lacked it. More moderate leaders such as John Adams argued for a balanced republican government that would reflect the several orders of society.

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The Revolutionary movement was not monolithic. The draft for the Articles of Confederation, authored by John Dickinson, gave wide-ranging powers to the Congress. The Congress deadlocked on the draft of the Articles in the summer of , although it did pass a Declaration, whose wording sought to maximize agreement within the Revolutionary coalition. In an unstable military situation, Congress had to flee ahead of the British army and did not complete the Articles of Confederation until November of The Articles were then sent to the state legislatures for ratification.

Thomas Burke had altered the Dickinson draft by inserting what became Article Two: Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled [emphasis added].

Ten years later an attempt was made to add that phrase to what became the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, but it was defeated. The debate over that small phrase, however, demonstrated two distinctly different conceptions of the proper relationship between the central government and the state governments. The Articles were not ratified until early in , only after the large states had agreed to renounce their claims to vast tracts of land in the West.

Under the exigencies of war, both the Declaration as a philosophy and the Articles as an instrument of government represented minimal positions reflecting the maximum agreement possible in a coalition whose first task was to win the military struggle. Given the deep differences about the nature of government, the debate had only been postponed until a more opportune time. During , in the darkest days of the war, with the nation ravaged by inflationary paper money, some of the more extreme nationalists in the Congress and the army sought a central government verging on a military dictatorship.

Despite the failure of such extremists, more moderate advocates of balanced government wanted to reopen the debate, while even some advocates of the Articles began to realize t he need for revision. There is not space here to detail the many ways in which the military struggle, the new state constitutions, and the subsequent development of state governments changed the nature of American society during and after the war.

The number of Loyalists who fled, most never to return, was a larger percentage of the total population than in almost any of the allegedly more radical modern revolutions. Moreover, the turnover of elites in the American polity was far and away greater than in any of the modern revolutions of this century. A study of the Russian Revolution, for example, found that 10 years after the event, the elite turnover was only 50 percent.


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In the American case, however, only slightly more than 20 percent survived the transition to the new order: the political turnover averaged 77 percent, ranging from 50 percent in some states to percent in others. In this sense, the American Revolution was perhaps the most radical revolution for which we have any real data.

The evidence assembled by James K. Martin in Men in Rebellion: Higher Government Leaders and the Coming of the American Revolution, contrasts starkly with claims by neoconservatives about the conservative and consensus nature of the Revolution. In , while reassessing policy, the British government asked many of its intellectuals what ought to be done about the rebellious colonies. All of this could not but raise questions in the minds of men who believed in the liberal, republican, Whig worldview.

This is not to deny that there were some major accomplishments under the Articles, especially considering the war and the subsequent economic recession.

Constitutional Convention for U.S. History Classes

It is simply a mistake, however, to suggest that the absence of a stronger central government meant less government. The new men in the state legislatures were legislating with a vengeance!


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  7. The actions in the states raised great concern among advocates of balanced government. Inflationary paper money, restrictions on trade, and lack of protection for contracts were all distinctly unlibertarian products of legislatures during this period. To this should be added meddling by foreign governments and the seeming inability of other nations to take the American government seriously.

    The alternatives were not, as we perceive from a perspective of years, either the Articles, perhaps with some amendments, or the eventual Constitution. Some still thought monarchy or a dictatorship might be necessary. In , for example, no less than the president of the Congress, Nathaniel Gorham, was involved in negotiations with Baron von Steuben to invite Prince Henry of Prussia, the brother of Frederick the Great, to rule in America. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights, like the Declaration of Independence or Articles of Confederation, consisted of a number of compromises. At least these could be debated and decided upon without the exigencies of war and the need to first develop state constitutions.

    In addition, as Aptheker notes, the Constitution guaranteed much greater freedom of religion than the states many of which kept religious qualifications well into the l9th century. For all its failures, the Constitution remains after years one of the great protectors of property rights in human history.

    As such, it was not a betrayal of the principles of as much as an effort to reopen the debate of that period, freed of the pressure of war. It represented a compromise reflecting one version of the idea of a balanced government to protect property rights as essential to the enjoyment of more broadly defined human rights. The Constitution was a balance between monarchy and military despotism on the one hand and extreme majoritarian populism on the other.

    Whatever the corruption and abuse of rights at the national level, throughout our history the worse abuses have been, and remain, at the state and local levels. The Progressive movement at the turn of the century, for example, was in a way a response to the increasing state economic regulation that was preventing the creation of national markets.

    To do business on a national scale, you had to buy all of the state legislatures, and the lower you descended, the less likely the politicians were to stay bought. And does anyone really believe that the southern states would have moved willingly away from slavery and later segregation by law? The great growth of government in the last several decades has been at these levels, not at the federal. Since the administration of Richard Nixon, there has been an effort to return power to the states.

    But like the era of the Articles of Confederation, this has meant more government, not less. We now have 50 states competing in a more or less mercantilist struggle for advancement. In my state of Florida, the ex-governor, now Senator Bob Graham, conducted his own foreign policy with Latin America, and legislative committees junket in Asia with the aim of promoting economic development.

    A growth-management plan initiated in Oregon several years ago was developed by consultants from Florida.

    America under the Articles of Confederation, 1783-1789

    The threat to human liberty and property rights, especially at the state and local levels, is as great now as it was in the s. Yet it is the Constitution that checks this corruption and keeps the politicians from achieving their nefarious ends. Reason may mislead us. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past. The New Jersey Plan had better safeguards against tyranny of government, while the Virginia Plan suffered from potential tyranny of the masses.

    Theme 2.

    Constitutionalism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

    If men were angels, no government would be necessary. The second theme contained in the Federalist was the unambiguous observation that human nature is immutable, and strong societies cannot be built upon the chimera that good virtues alone will sustain them. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Federalist no. It is its natural manure.

    If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

    John R. Vile

    But less described are the differing qualities of the House and Senate chambers in Congress. Each chamber reflected the unique characteristics of the passions most likely to be invoked by their rules for representation: The attributes of the House of Representatives, for example, originated from its direct election, more frequent accountability, and larger size, giving it a populist personality more oriented toward short-tem goals.

    To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. Pamphlet after pamphlet described how citizen virtues could not be relied upon for political and economic stability. And as each Paper was published, another reasoned essay explained how the pitfalls of ancient Greece and Rome were becoming manifest in the new nation. Worse still, history taught that there was no panacea to reverse the tendency of the masses to splinter into contentious factions motivated by passion; nor was the poisonous possibility of heavy-handed tyranny to be easily avoided.

    So as the Federalist explained, the only hope was to be found in a Constitution that checked those very same deficiencies that destroyed the excessive democracies of Athens and the despotic Caesars of imperial Rome. To reach property that has escaped taxation, a state may tax estates of decedents for a period prior to death and grant proportionate deductions for all prior taxes that the personal representative can prove to have been paid.

    As a state may provide in advance that taxes will bear interest from the time they become due, it may with equal validity stipulate that taxes which have become delinquent will bear interest from the time the delinquency commenced. Further, a state may adopt new remedies for the collection of taxes and apply these remedies to taxes already delinquent. The requirements of due process are fulfilled by a statute which, in conjunction with affording an opportunity to be heard, provides for the forfeiture of titles to land for failure to list and pay taxes thereon for certain specified years.

    Sufficiency and Manner of Giving Notice. Whether statutorily required notice is sufficient may vary with the circumstances. Thus, where a taxpayer was not legally competent, no guardian had been appointed and town officials were aware of these facts, notice of a foreclosure was defective, even though the tax delinquency was mailed to her, published in local papers, and posted in the town post office.

    Sufficiency of Remedy. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has been held to require that when a state or local governmental body, or a private body exercising delegated power, takes private property it must provide just compensation and take only for a public purpose. Applicable principles are discussed under the Fifth Amendment.

    The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action
    The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action
    The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action
    The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action
    The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action
    The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action

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