"Educate Young and Old: For Liberty" - As Timely Today as When Originally Made
If only a single idea could be said to have been held in common by all of The Founders, none would have a better claim to this distinction than the idea that sound information and education constitute the essential and best foundation upon which to build securely and enduringly--for The Individual and for the people as a whole, for the nation. The writings of The Founders are filled with appeals and admonitions to make sure of a fair future for Liberty in America through widest possible use of sound information and education; and John Adams was second to none in this regard. An especially impressive appeal of this character was made by him as part of a 1765 writing: "A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law" which was first published as a series of essays in the Boston Gazette. Its value lies, in part, in its enduring quality--valuable in every year and generation and as pertinent today as when first published. This is so true, and its message is so important to the well-being of Man's Freedom from Government-over-Man in America today and in the future, that an extended quotation is believed to be justified. First he assumed to be true then a favorable situation which, it must be admitted, does not exist in America today:
"Let us presume, what is in fact true, that the spirit of liberty is as ardent as ever among the body of the nation, though a few individuals may be corrupted. . . ."
True today as to independence from foreign rule, it is not true today regarding Individual Liberty: Freedom from Government-over-Man. This melancholy fact of deterioration of the situation of Free Man in America only serves to make more important the main part of his message:
"Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government . . ."
After thus expressing the key idea, he continued by directing attention to one of the main areas of knowledge which should be fostered and inculcated:
"Let us read and recollect and impress upon our souls the views and ends of our own more immediate forefathers, in exchanging their native country for a dreary, inhospitable wilderness. Let us examine into the nature of that power, and the cruelty of that oppression, which drove them from their homes. Recollect their amazing fortitude, their bitter sufferings,--the hunger, the nakedness, the cold, which they patiently endured--the severe labors of clearing their grounds, building their houses, raising their provisions, amidst dangers from wild beasts and savage men, before they had time or money or materials for commerce. Recollect the civil and religious principles and hopes and expectations which constantly supported and carried them through all hardships with patience and resignation."
After this invitation to relive the harsh realities of those days in our imaginations, with emphasis however upon the sustaining things of the mind and heart and soul, he reached the key word, "liberty":
"Let us recollect it was liberty, the hope of liberty for themselves and us and ours, which conquered all discouragements, dangers, and trials. In such researches as these, let us all in our several departments cheerfully engage,--but especially the proper patrons and supporters of law, learning, and religion!"
By "learning" he referred not only to formal education but to all knowledge-gaining, in all its facets by all possible means. Then he focused attention upon the group which, in New England especially, was in that time--as before and later--so potently influential in helping to develop, nurture and propagate the ideas of "Liberty and Independence": Independence from foreign rule and Liberty of Man against Government-over-Man. This was the clergy. He appealed to them as follows:
"Let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear the danger of thraldom to our consciences from ignorance, extreme poverty, and dependence, in short, from civil and political slavery. Let us see delineated before us the true map of man. Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God,--that consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness --and that God Almighty has promulgated from heaven, liberty, peace, and good-will to man!"
By "slavery" he of course meant, in part, subjection to tyrannous rule by a British king and Parliament. Here Adams was not urging the clergy to do something new for their group--some of them had been doing this for generations in America. Instead, he was emphasizing the need of more of the clergy to participate in this educational program in support of "Liberty and Independence" and all of them to give more attention to this cause, so crucially important to freedom of religion. He then called upon the Bar--the profession which was expected to take the lead actively in the fight and which, in every generation, is obligated to do so morally as well as otherwise; partly today because every member of the Bar--like every judge and other public official--is sworn to support the Constitution--necessarily in its true and original meaning (per page 194, ante) as intended by those who framed and adopted the initial instrument and later each of its amendments. He continued:
"Let the bar proclaim, 'the laws, the rights, the generous plan of power' delivered down from remote antiquity,--inform the world of the mighty struggles and numberless sacrifices made by our ancestors in defence of freedom . . ."
Next he came to the leading group in the realm of formal education, the colleges:
"Let the colleges join their harmony in the same delightful concert. Let every declamation turn upon the beauty of liberty and virtue, and the deformity, turpitude, and malignity, of slavery and vice [meaning mainly governmental evils from the standpoint of Free Man]. Let the public disputations become researches into the grounds and nature and ends of government, and the means of preserving the good and demolishing the evil. Let the dialogues, and all the exercises, become the instruments of impressing on the tender mind, and of spreading and distributing far and wide, the ideas of right and the sensations of freedom. In a word, let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing."
He continued by warning of Britain's plan to enslave American colonists through the Stamp Act and other such measures; then continued:
"These are not the vapors of a melancholy mind, nor the effusions of envy, disappointed ambition, nor of a spirit of opposition to government, but the emanations of a heart that burns for its country's welfare. No one of any feeling, born and educated in this once happy country, can consider the numerous distresses, the gross indignities, the barbarous ignorance, the haughty usurpations, that we have reason to fear are meditating for ourselves, our children, our neighbors, in short, for all our countrymen and all their posterity, without the utmost agonies of heart and many tears."
The distinguished clergyman, Jonathan Mayhew, was mentioned expressly by Adams with praise for his valuable writings in support of the cause of Man's freedom in America.
This message has great significance today for all parts of American society because of the pressing need at present for sound information and education, to the end that Individual Liberty may be made and kept secure under constitutionally limited government--respected in practice and preserved in full integrity for the sake of the present generation as well as for the benefit of Posterity, for whom the present generation is merely temporary trustee.
It is only through living the principles which The Founders lived, and serving the ideals which they served, that in each generation any and every American can, in truth, render all honor to The Founders.
Could they return to the American scene now and speak a word of warning in behalf of the cause of Individual Liberty, they would perhaps be satisfied to repeat the remark of Dr. Joseph Warren--President of the Massachusetts Congress and a Major General, killed in action at Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775--in his oration in Boston on March 5, 1775 (the anniversary of the "Boston Massacre" by British troops). His words were in effect addressed to every American of every generation, faced with the never-ending need for Friends of Liberty to be faithful, vigilant and active in support of the institutions and principles which are essential to Liberty's well-being:
"Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of . . . On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves."
To any who seek to condemn, if not to defame, The Founders for alleged mistakes, an appropriate answer would be the one hurled by Samuel Adams at detractors of "our ancestors" who proffered "excuses" for their errors (essay, Boston Gazette, 1771):
"But we want no excuse for any supposed mistakes of our ancestors. Let us first see it prov'd that they were mistakes. 'Till then we must hold ourselves obliged to them for sentiments transmitted to us so worthy of their character, and so important to our security: . . ." (Emphasis added.)
It is of interest to note here a remark of President John Quincy Adams in his First Inaugural Address, after reciting the felicitous situation of the American people under the Constitution's governmental system:
"To admit that this picture has its shades is but to say that it is still the condition of men upon earth. From evil--physical, moral, and political--it is not our claim to be exempt."
A particularly misleading and effective but most unfair and entirely unsound technique used in criticizing The Founders merits stressing here: comparison of their ideas and handiwork with a false standard of theoretical perfection--never existing in the world then, or before, or since; also unsoundly comparing their ideas and handiwork with developments of a later period instead of using the only sound comparison: what had been known in the Old World throughout history. The error and unsoundness involved in such false comparisons is too obvious to need more than mere mention in order to make clear the fallacy involved.
It is a tremendously important and never-ending problem for the self-governing American people to be not only adequately informed but ever alert and vigorously active in forestalling whenever possible, and combating whenever necessary, any and all threats to Individual Liberty and to its supporting system of constitutionally limited government. In this connection, it is essential to keep in mind that the greatest danger lies in the subtle and gradual, or piecemeal, approach of danger--by which the foundations are gradually eroded rather than by open and outright assault; accompanied by harsh attacks upon all who seek to alert the people to such danger whenever it threatens. This was stressed by Samuel Adams--always in the forefront, as a firebrand patriot, in the fight for Liberty and Independence, for the rights of Free Man through Freedom from Goverument-over-Man--in an essay published in 1771 in the Boston Gazette, signed "Candidus" (quoted exactly as in original text, including emphasis):
"If the liberties of America are ever compleatly ruined, of which in my opinion there is now the utmost danger, it will in all probability be the consequence of a mistaken notion of prudence, which leads men to acquiesce in measures of the most destructive tendency for the sake of present ease. When designs are form'd to rase the very foundation of a free government, those few who are to erect their grandeur and fortunes upon the general ruin, will employ every art to sooth the devoted people into a state of indolence, inattention and security, which is forever the fore-runner of slavery-- They are alarmed at nothing so much, as attempts to awaken the people to jealousy and watchfulness; and it has been an old game played over and over again, to hold up the men who would rouse their fellow citizens and countrymen to a sense of their real danger, and spirit them to the most zealous activity in the use of all proper means for the preservation of the public liberty, as 'pretended patriots,' 'intemperate politicians,' rash, hotheaded men, Incendiaries, wretched desperadoes, who, as was said of the best of men, would turn the world upside down, or have done it already."
These remarks pertained to internal dangers to Individual Liberty equally as much as to external dangers in that day, then involving potentially the values inherent in the approaching Twin Revolution of 1776 (discussed at pages 132-136, ante). These internal dangers to Individual Liberty are ever present, potentially or actually in greater or lesser degree, in every generation--from year to year and day to day. This 1771 warning by Samuel Adams constitutes also one of his most salutary admonitions to Posterity.
The historical records are replete with expressions of The Founders' profound concern for the enduring safety of the God-given, unalien-able rights of future generations in America--time without end, for the preservation of Posterity's just heritage of Individual Liberty: Freedom of Man from Government-over-Man, under a securely functioning system of constitutionally limited government to be in practice inviolate in its full integrity. This concern of all of The Founders, indeed of all their fellow leaders and of their fellow Americans in general, was soundly reflected in 1774 in "Resolutions of Committee for the Province of Pennsylvania" which constituted "Instructions from the Committee to the Representatives in Assembly" of Pennsylvania as drafted by John Dickinson, a signer of the Constitution and distinguished in other respects as a leader in the period 1774-1787. These resolutions contained the following stirring appeal, to be always solicitous of moral obligation stemming from the fact that, in any period, the living generation is only temporary trustee of the just heritage of Posterity (emphasis per original):
"Honour, justice and humanity call upon us to hold, and to transmit to our posterity, that liberty, which we received from our ancestors. It is not our duty to leave wealth to our children: but it is our duty, to leave liberty to them. No infamy, iniquity, or cruelty, can exceed our own, if we, born and educated in a country of freedom, intitled to its blessings, and knowing their value, pusillanimously deserting the post assigned to us by Divine Providence, surrender succeeding generations to a condition of wretchedness, from which no human efforts, in all probability, will be sufficient to extricate them; the experience of all states mournfully demonstrating to us, that when arbitrary power has been established over them, even the wisest and bravest nations, that ever flourished, have, in a few years, degenerated into abject and wretched vassals."
It was in this sense, in part, that Washington referred to the American people--meaning those of each and every generationt in his previously-noted statement in his First Inaugural Address (referring to the form of a Republic as "the Republican model of Government"):
". . . the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." (Emphasis Washington's.)
This indicates the double burden of responsibility of each generation of Americans, according to the thinking of The Founders, as the trustee of "the republican model of government" not only for American Posterity but for all other peoples of future generations--for whom The Founders intended the American "experiment" to be a model: to serve as the Light of Liberty which could inspire other peoples as an ideal and goal and to which they could turn for sound guidance whenever any people, of any country, might feel so inclined in the course of their own self-development governmentally; without any attempt by America, of course, to impel--to "pressure" any people in this connection.
Embracing All Rights--Not Merely Things Material
The Founders considered the right to property to be subordinate, and a supporting right in relation, to The Individual's God-given, un-alienable rights; as discussed in Part I, under Principle 10. (Note the especially pertinent quotation of John Adams on page xviii.) As the main, material support of all of Man's rights, the right to property was rated by them as being of great importance--essential to the enjoyment and security of all rights. This was true of all of The Founders and their fellow leaders as well as of their fellow countrymen in general--notably those who were in the forefront of the fight for "Liberty and Independence," especially for Freedom from Government-over-Man, but not possessed of great wealth, such as Samuel Adams. His writings, for example, contain numerous, pertinent essays published in newspapers prior to 1776.
Furthermore, the thinking of The Founders and of their fellow Americans did not limit the meaning of the word "property" so as to apply merely to things material: physical things. They considered that Man's rights in general--separate and apart from material possessions--were also an extremely important, if not the most valuable, part of his property; that Man has not only a right to property but a property in his rights. This general line of thought--reflecting truly American thinking of that day, of The Founders second to none--was never expressed more soundly and clearly than in the essay on "Property" by Madison published in The National Gazette (one of a series of essays by him on various topics so published) on March 29, 1792. Brief but comprehensive in presenting this characteristically American viewpoint, the full text of the essay deserves consideration here (emphasis Madison's). Note that the expression "excess of liberty" refers to license.
"This term in its particular application means 'that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.'
"In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.
"In the former sense, a man's land, or merchandize, or money is called his property.
"In the latter sense, a man has property in his opinions and the free communication of them.
"He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.
"He has property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.
"He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.
"In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.
"Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties or his possessions.
"Where there is an excess of liberty, the effect is the same, tho' from an opposite cause.
"Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.
"According to this standard of merit, the praise of affording a just security to property, should be sparingly bestowed on a government which, however scrupulously guarding the possessions of individuals, does not protect them in the enjoyment and communication of their opinions, in which they have an equal, and in the estimation of some, a more valuable property.
"More sparingly should this praise be allowed to a government, where a man's religious rights are violated by penalties, or lettered by tests, or taxed by a hierarchy. Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and inalienable right. To guard a man's house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man's conscience which is more sacred than his castle, or to withold from it that debt of protection, for which the public faith is pledged, by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact.
'That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest. A magistrate issuing warrants to a press gang, would be in his proper functions in Turkey or Indostan, under appellations proverbial of the most compleat despotism.
"That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where arbitrary restrictions, exemptions, and monopolies deny to part of its citizens that free use of their faculties, and free choice of their occupations, which not only constitute their property in the general sense of the word; but are the means of acquiring property strictly so called. What must be the spirit of legislation where a manufacturer of linen cloth is forbidden to bury his own child in a linen shroud, in order to favour his neighbour who manufactures woolen cloth; where the manufacturer and wearer of woolen cloth are again forbidden the economical use of buttons of that material, in favor of the manufacturer of buttons of other materials.*
"A just security to property is not afforded by that government under which unequal taxes oppress one species of property and reward another species: where arbitrary taxes invade the domestic sanctuaries of the rich, and excessive taxes grind the faces of the poor; where the keenness and competitions of want are deemed an insufficient spur to labor, and taxes are again applied by an unfeeling policy, as another spur; in violation of that sacred property, which Heaven, in decreeing man to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, kindly reserved to him, in the small repose that could be spared from the supply of his necessities.
"If there be a government then which prides itself on maintaining the inviolability of property; which provides that none shall be taken directly even for public use without indemnification to the owner, and yet directly violates the property which individuals have in their opinions, their religion, their persons, and their faculties; nay more, which indirectly violates their property, in their actual possessions, in the labor that acquires their daily subsistence, and in the hallowed remnant of time which ought to relieve their fatigues and soothe their cares, the inference will have been anticipated, that such a government is not a pattern for the United States.
"If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments."
As the foregoing indicates--and as proved by the discussion of the Twelve Basic American Principles in Part I, especially Principle 10--the traditional American philosophy considers that the right to material property is only a small but important part of The Individual's over-all rights; and that the higher things of life--those intangible reflections of Man's spiritual, moral and intellectual being--are infinitely superior in value if they could be considered separately. This philosophy is, however, an indivisible whole. It recognizes, further, that the desire for material property is merely one of Man's driving urges, or chief motivations; also that it is, in truth, most valuable and helpful to Man when harnessed in the service of his ideals and higher aspirations, as discussed for instance in Part II (page 209) in connection with Individual Enterprise in its ethical, moral and social aspects.
A part of the particular value today of the above-quoted essay by Madison on "Property" is that it highlights the core-concept of the traditional American philosophy in such a way as to expose the fallacy in modern attempts to make it appear that there is something inherently antithetical in the right to material property in relation to what are referred to as "human rights." There can be no such thing as "human rights" which are different from the traditional American philosophy's God-given, unalienable rights and their supporting rights, including the right to material property--always accompanied by correlative duties, as discussed earlier. The definition and discussion of the Twelve Basic American Principles, in Part I of this study-guide, are believed to demonstrate adequately the inescapably inter-related nature of this entire group of rights, including the right to material property, as understood and accepted by The Founders and their fellow Americans. If, indeed, the so-called "human rights" were in any respect different from, and in conflict with, The Individual's God-given, unalienable rights and the supporting rights, then there would be no room in the American philosophy for such "human rights." This is all the more true to the extent that so-called "human rights" are an integral part of any Government-over-Man philosophy and system--the antithesis of the traditional American philosophy and system.
No conclusion appears more clearly and impressively, it is believed, even from consideration merely of the limited material presented in this study-guide, than the idea that--from the viewpoint of this philosophy--the economic is subordinate to higher values not only in such comparative rating but also among Man's motivating influences. Assuredly any adequate examination of pertinent historical materials proves this to be unquestionably true of the thinking of the entire generation in America of the period 1776-1787 and, second to none, of The Founders as a group. They rated their economic interests and security as secondary to their ideals in seeking "Liberty and Independence"--a truth which is highlighted, for example, by the Declaration of Independence, especially its closing words: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." The record proves they meant it, and equally the almost-naked, ever-hungry and shoeless men at Valley Forge who stained the snow with bleeding feet, yet fought on.
Among the writings which make this truth apparent is The Federalist, partly through its making clear the fundamental goals--chief of all the security of Man's God-given, unalienable rights--which were intended to be served by the constitutional system as discussed in detail in this volume's essays. This assumes that these essays are read with adequate understanding: with scholarly competence and intellectual honesty--free from warping bias stemming from a desire to undermine respect for this philosophy, The Founders and their handiwork.
Some have nevertheless so grossly misread The Federalist, for example, as to contend that Madison's discussion in number 10 of the relationship of property to political factions shows that he considered the economic to be the most influential--even determinative--factor among Man's motivations. Nothing could be further from the truth as to Madison's own thinking, or as to his representation of the nature of the American philosophy, in his writings in general (for instance, the above-quoted essay) as well as in his report--jointly with Hamilton and Jay--in The Federalist of the thinking of the Framing Convention. This applies equally to Hamilton and all The Founders.
In one widely-known, still widely-disseminated, writing by a prominent educator in the present generation, for example, it is asserted that Hamilton, like Madison, clearly believed in the economic interpretation of history. This 1937 writing praised, as being brilliant, the 1913 book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, by the historian Dr. Charles A. Beard, who was on the faculty of Columbia University in 1913. In Beard's book, as generally understood and widely condemned by many leaders in various walks of life in the period following its publication, he made it appear, first: that The Framers designed the Constitution primarily so as to benefit themselves and their "class" financially--especially as to their Confederation-government securities--at the expense of the people's liberties; and second: that the economic motive is the dominant one, indeed the decisive factor, in the affairs of mankind in keeping with the theory of the economic interpretation of history. These were in substance his two main propositions; which he helped greatly to popularize for decades, most strikingly in the 1930's. His attack on The Framers and the Constitution started a trend which has had gravely harmful effects, continuing today, within education and government.
The phrase "economic interpretation of history" refers to the thesis that the economic is the determining, the decisive, factor in shaping history--that it is controlling in influencing and motivating Man and in shaping history's development. In one aspect, this thesis asserts that social evolution is due basically to economic causes. This is also referred to as "economic determinism"--in the more blunt and uncompromising language of Marxist Socialism-Communism.
Later in life, Beard tried to make it appear that he did not intend to espouse "economic determinism" in that 1913 book but he was unsuccessful in this attempt; the book was unmistakably clear in this regard. Note, for example, the contemporaneous criticism of the book in a book-review by Dr. Edwin S. Corwin when (and for many years afterward) a full professor of Politics at Princeton University--in History Teachers Magazine for February 1914. Corwin stated that had Beard "been less bent on demonstrating the truth of the Socialistic theory of economic determinism and class struggle as an interpretation of history, his own performance would be less open to criticism."
The complete unsoundness of the Beard book, judged from the standpoint of sound scholarship, has been proved conclusively in the volume: Charles Beard and the Constitution, A Critical Analysis of "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution" by Dr. Robert E. Brown of the faculty of Michigan State University, published in 1956 by the Princeton University Press. Brown's devastating and unanswerable analysis exposes what he calls "the many ways" in which Beard violated "the concepts of historical method"--meaning violation of sound scholarship and of sound writing requiring the use of sound methods in dealing with historical materials. At one point, Brown notes some of these "ways" in connection especially with Beard's pretense of offering historical "evidence" that The Framers designed the Constitution largely to benefit their holdings of government securities, primarily "as an economic document" for their own financial benefit:
"These ran the gamut from omission to outright misrepresentation of evidence, and included the drawing of conclusions from evidence that not only did not warrant the conclusions but actually refuted them. To say that the Constitution was designed in part to protect property is true; to say that it was designed only to protect property is false; and to say that it was designed only to protect personalty is preposterous." (Emphasis per original. Personalty means personal property, such as government securities like bonds, as distinguished from real property: land and buildings.)
Many years later, Beard disclaimed any intent of attacking the integrity, the good character, of The Framers; but this obviously amounted to a dissembling tactic, because the burden and effect of his presentation--in substance making it appear that they framed the Constitution primarily so as to "feather their own nest"--was precisely such an attack and was generally accepted as such (accepted by some, who approved, with praise but many leaders criticized it harshly with great hostility). The net effect of his attack was to charge them with being so lacking in moral and intellectual integrity, in framing the Constitution, as to sacrifice the people's liberties in favor of their own financial benefit; than which nothing could have been further from the truth, as all pertinent historical records amply prove when judged competently and without such bias. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, for example, stated in a 1916 letter about this book that Beard's disclaimer (of any intent to impute to The Framers self-seeking motives) was discredited by the book's presentation of "all the facts" about their holdings of government securities. In other letters in later years, Holmes asserted that he rejected this disparaging thesis of Beard and still believed that Washington and the other Founders ". . . had for their dominant motive a patriotic desire . . ."--that they had not ". . . talked patriotism because they had invested . . . ;" and Holmes charged Beard with dealing in "drivelling cant" by implying in this connection that The Framers represented the rich indulging in "exploitation" of the poor.* Holmes also stated that Beard's approach to the subject was "ignoble" and dealt in "innuendo" and avowed his own belief (as opposed to Beard's, as evidenced by the 1913 book's thesis) "that high-minded-ness is not impossible to man"--for instance, that it characterized The Framers.** *(1928 to J. C. H. Wu) **(1928 to Pollock)
Lack of space precludes adequate discussion here of the motive which prompted Beard in making this attack in 1913 upon The Framers and, therefore, upon their handiwork: the Constitution. The topic is, however, a most important one because of the vast, harmful influence of that Beard book and thesis, especially within the educational world (upon many teachers, textbook writers, and a multitude of students), setting a trend for decades. Some supplementary comments are made at the end of the "References" section of the Appendix (pages 345-347), in part quoting a book of special interest about him published after his death--an appraisal of him and his record in a series of essays mainly by prominent educators who had known him well: Charles A. Beard--An Appraisal (1954), edited by Howard K. Beale. As these essays make clear, his great influence, especially upon students in his classes during his teaching at Columbia University, was due in considerable part to his lovable and admirable character as a person--always so gracious, gentle and warm-hearted in his personal relationships--to which the present writer can testify most sincerely; which makes all the more distressing the need of criticism such as is presented here. (Dr. Beard died in 1948.)
In connection with any false and defamatory claim, in effect, that The Framers sought to "feather their own nest" by framing the Constitution chiefly to benefit their Confederation-government securities, several facts merit emphasis. One is that such securities owned by these patriotic leaders and other leaders as well, considered as a group, were in the main purchased to help the government win the Revolutionary War (like buying "war bonds" in modern times), or to support the struggling government of the Confederation after the war ended, during the years when the governmental situation was nothing less than desperate financially. Also, there was even a very good prospect all the while that the "securities" would turn out to be virtually worthless, like the wartime paper currency after some years of extreme inflation (the ill-fated "Continentals"). Indeed, through the entire period 1776-1788, there was only a slim chance that the government would ever repay the sums borrowed by its selling these "securities" to patriotic Americans such as The Framers and the multitude of others willing to risk their money to aid their country. Furthermore, wealthy men like Washington helped to "make a market" for such securities (there was no such thing then as an established "stock market" where anyone could readily buy and sell such securities) when neighbors and friends were in need of selling their own securities of any such type--thereby performing an important and patriotic task by thus helping to maintain confidence in the government and make it possible for it to sell other securities from time to time, when necessary to support government activities. Without such aid by men like Washington, these necessitous sellers would not have been able to get needed funds by selling such securities--bought for patriotic reasons mainly--and would thus have been penalized for indulging their patriotism; while the government would have been virtually paralyzed financially because people generally would have refused to buy its unsalable securities. Here Washington is cited merely as a shining example because he was one of the wealthiest men in the country and his exalted patriotism was and is impregnable. The other Framers--also unjustly maligned, in effect, in Beard's book--were undoubtedly also uncontaminated by any such compelling lust for money, at the expense of the people's liberties, as that book's pretended "evidence" purported to prove had motivated them. This is a case where any exception, if one could actually be proved to have existed, would only serve to prove the general rule just stated.
The Beard book's utter unsoundness is thus seen to make equally unsound the contention that it was brilliant in its thesis that The Framers were part of a "class" with a conscious solidarity of interests (economic interests which they preferred over all else). This unsound contention is found in that 1937 writing, by a prominent educator, which falsely alleges that Madison and Hamilton believed in economic interpretation (page 235, ante). A third false pretense in this 1937 writing is that The Framers perpetrated a coup d'dtat, which we have seen to be a gross falsification of history. This writing thus provides an excellent example of modern ones which, in effect, foster public opinion conducive to dishonor of The Founders, on the basis of false information in defiance of historical truth--in some cases accompanied by lip-service to them, or even genuine praise, in other respects. This writing, which is also seriously defective in other major respects from the standpoint of sound scholarship and American history, nevertheless continues to receive wide distribution--being a 1937 "Introduction," to an edition of The Federalist, by the late Edward M. Earle, then and afterward associated with the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey. (He died in 1955.) The evil influence of the Beard book is continuing.
For a multitude of reasons, political and otherwise, partly inspired by deep-seated fear of any central government with real powers, however limited on parchment--in a written Constitution--the framing of the Constitution was harshly criticized by a number of people throughout the period of the ratification debates. One of the principal arguments was that the Framing Convention acted beyond the scope of its authority, because it did not limit itself to proposing amendments to the Articles of Confederation, in keeping with the original "call" for the Convention. (Instead it proposed, in draft form, an entirely new instrument for submission to the people for consideration through their specially chosen Ratifying Convention in each State.) Madison devoted the entire essay number 40 of The Federalist to refutation of this argument. Among the numerous and convincing reasons which he presented in support of the soundness of the Convention's course, a main one was "the crisis" then confronting the country but only incidentally, in passing, in the process of his analysis. Yet the crisis, caused by the complete breakdown of all pretense of effective government by the Confederation, was alone sufficient to justify the Convention's new approach to the problem. The record shows overwhelming evidence of the completeness of this breakdown and of the impossibility of amending the Articles of Confederation so as to produce any effective remedy within its framework. Besides, earlier attempts to amend the Articles had failed. Lacking a real central government, there was for example no possibility of national security through sound national defense, or sound interstate relations economically, financially or politically, much less sound relations with foreign governments. (The previous comments about the Confederation, at pages 120 and 167, are pertinent here.)
The collapse of the Confederation was so complete that in a statement in Congress on April 8, 1789, Madison referred to it as having suffered from "imbecility" and this word, and comparable terms, are found in the records repeatedly as the expression of opinion by various leaders in describing the utter collapse of the Confederation. During the Framing Convention, George Mason wrote that:
"At a time when our Government is approaching to Dissolution, when some of its Principals have been found utterly inadequate to the Purposes for which it was establish'd, & and it is evident that without some material Alterations it can not much longer subsist . . ."
(Mason's use here of the word "Principals," as it appears in the original of Madison's notes of the proceedings, seemingly referred to principles.) In 1787 in The Federalist number 30, Hamilton observed that "the government of the union has gradually dwindled into a state of decay, approaching nearly to annihilation." In 1788 in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, Madison commented in this connection:
"What is the situation of this country at this moment? Is it not rapidly approaching to anarchy? Are not the bands of the Union so absolutely relaxed as almost to amount to a dissolution?"
Madison's reference to "anarchy" was echoed by Washington in February 1788 in a letter to Lafayette in which he stated:
"I will only add, as a further opinion founded on the maturest deliberation, that there is no alternative, no hope of alteration, no intermediate resting place, between the adoption of this [Constitution], and a recurrence to an unqualified state of Anarchy, with all its deplorable consequences."
Washington had declared earlier, at the close of the Framing Convention in September 1787--in his letter to the Congress conveying to them a copy of the draft Constitution--that there was at stake "perhaps our national existence." At the outset of the Convention, he wrote to Jefferson (in Paris) this grim estimate of its prospects:
"Much is expected from it by some; but little by others; and nothing by a few. That something is necessary, all will agree; for the situation of the General Governmt. (if it can be called a governmt.) is shaken to its foundation, and liable to be overset by every blast. In a word, it is at an end, and unless a remedy is soon applied, anarchy and confusion will inevitably ensue." (Emphasis added.)
In his previously-quoted "Jubilee" address of April 30, 1839, John Quincy Adams summed up the situation, which had existed prior to the adoption of the Constitution, in these words:
"The nation fell into an atrophy. The Union languished to the point of death. . . . The system was about to dissolve in its own imbecility--impotence in negotiation abroad--domestic insurrection at home, were on the point of bearing to a dishonourable grave the proclamation [in 1776] of a government founded on the rights of man . . . [when the Framing Convention met and brought forth the Constitution]: the complement to the Declaration of Independence . . ."
Another point of special interest in this regard is the fact that the Articles of Confederation were inconsistent with the Declaration of Independence because the people themselves should form their governments according to the Declaration (by means of Constitutional Conventions and Constitutions), whereas the Articles of Confederation had been approved only by the legislatures of the States and not directly by the people of each State. In The Federalist number 22, Hamilton noted this as one reason for the Confederation's infirmities or defects (which were discussed also in numbers 15-21.)
The Articles of Confederation were in reality of the nature of a treaty entered into between separate and independent States, as observed earlier (pages 120 and 167, ante). One of the chief points made by James Wilson during the debate in the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention pertained to this aspect, mentioned also by Madison in his April 1787 writing: "Vices of the Political System of the United States," in which he presented various reasons why the failure of the Confederation was so complete that it permitted no remedy within its framework. Madison there stated that: ". . . it is in fact nothing more than a treaty of amity of commerce and of alliance, between independent and Sovereign States." He also made the point that there was no sanction to support its laws. It had, in fact, no power whatever, as we have seen previously, in relation to persons individually and no power whatever to compel the State governments to do anything--it could only request, even as to money for its support; and the States frequently flouted its requests for money. In that 1787 writing, Madison made the above-noted point that the sovereign people of each of the States had not themselves created the Confederation but only their agent, the legislature, from which he soundly concluded that the people could properly overrule their agent at any time they should see fit and replace the Confederation with some other system. This was all the more true of this unsoundly formed, futile, and hopelessly impotent pretense of a government because of the principle stated in the Declaration of Independence that, when a people's government "becomes destructive of these ends" (to make and keep secure the people's God-given, unalienable rights), they may alter, or abolish, it and create a satisfactory substitute. The Confederation provided no security whatever for these rights. Madison's list of topics among the "vices" of the existing political system, in that April 1787 writing, are enlightening (using the word "want" as meaning "lack")--as presented in his own wording:
1. Failure of the States to comply with the Constitutional requisitions.
2. Encroachments by the States on the federal authority.
3. Violations [by the States] of the law of nations and of treaties.
4. Trespasses of the States on the rights of each other.
5. Want of concert in matters where common interest requires it.
6. Want of Guaranty to the States of their Constitutions & laws against internal violence.
7. Want of sanction to the laws, and of coercion in the Government of the Confederacy.
8. Want of ratification by the people of the Articles of Confederation.
9. Multiplicity of laws in the several States.
10. Mutability of the laws of the States.
11. Injustice of the laws of the States.
Some of the contemporary criticism of The Framers has been translated unsoundly by some modern writers into the ridiculous accusation that, by framing the Constitution instead of proposing amendments to the Articles of Confederation, The Framers perpetrated a coup d'etat. Nothing could be more absurd--indeed, violative of historical truth--than this charge, made with the evident purpose of belittling these leaders and undermining respect for them and their handiwork in the minds of the American people and especially the Young. Brief discussion will make obvious the absurdity of any such contention which all pertinent historical records prove to be false.
A dictionary, and the popular, definition of a coup d'dtat is: "A sudden decisive political move overthrowing an existing government." Such "overthrowing" necessarily involves either the use of force, or the threat of its use. As every competent scholar well knows, there was not even the slightest threat of this--much less the actuality--involved in the situation in 1787-1788. Instead, the Framing Convention consisted of delegates appointed, and it met, in response to a resolution of the Continental Congress of February 21, 1787--inspired by State governments, which in turn appointed these delegates. This was the result of years of public discussion of the grave need of effective action to the end of remedying the disastrous governmental situation. Furthermore, as Hamilton stressed in The Federalist number 2, this Convention produced nothing but a paper proposal: the draft of a proposed Constitution for final approval by the sovereign people of each State, if found acceptable to them. This was in keeping with the fundamental American principle, restated in The Federalist number 22 by Hamilton that:
"The fabric of American empire [the Union] ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure original fountain of all legitimate authority." (Emphasis per original.)
In number 43, Madison also discussed the point that the proposed, new Constitution would supersede the Articles of Confederation (only by consent of the people, if ratified).
The foregoing considerations were among those, in support of ratification, which were brought to the attention of the American people in various ways during the ratification debates in 1787-1788. One of the principal ways was the publication of The Federalist essays as newspaper articles, originally in New York City; also in book form in two volumes published in March and May, 1788. (The distribution of this material has been discussed earlier, pages 150-151.)
As planned all the while, The Framers took elaborate and formal steps to have their draft of a proposed Constitution properly submitted to the people of each State, through action by the Confederation Congress, in keeping with the spirit of a resolution of the Framing Convention of June 13, 1787, which expressly specified that in each State the matter should be considered by an assembly of representatives especially chosen by the people for this purpose upon recommendation by the legislature. At the close of the Convention on September 17, it adopted a resolution transmitting the draft of the proposed Constitution to Congress and reciting that the Convention considered that the draft document should be submitted by the Congress "to a Convention of delegates, chosen in each State by the People thereof, under the Recommendation of its Legislature, for their Assent and Ratification;" and that each Ratifying Convention which would approve it should notify Congress of such approval. This resolution also specified recommendations as to steps by which the Constitution, after ratification by nine States, should be put into effect. The resolution, accompanied by a copy of the proposed Constitution, was forwarded to Congress with a letter dated September 17 from George Washington, as President of the Convention. This letter reflects so accurately the high purposes and ideals and the background thinking of the members of the Convention as a group that it should be considered here in its entirety, so the full text is presented:
"WE HAVE now the honor to submit to the consideration of the United States in Congress assembled, that Constitution which has appeared to us the most adviseable.
"The friends of our country have long seen and desired, that the power of making war, peace and treaties, that of levying money and regulating commerce, and the corresponding executive and judicial authorities should be fully and effectually vested in the general government of the Union: but the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident--Hence results the necessity of a different organization.
"It is obviously impracticable in the foederal government of these States, to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all--Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstance, as on the object to be obtained. It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered, and those which may be reserved; and on the present occasion this difficulty was encreased by a difference among the several States as to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interests.
"In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each State in the Convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude, than might have been otherwise expected; and thus the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.
"That it will meet the full and entire approbation of every State is not perhaps to be expected; but each will doubtless consider, that had her interest alone been consulted, the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable or injurious to others; that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish."
By "one body," Washington referred to the Congress of the Confederation. By the word "consolidation," he meant effective, though partial, unification politically of the States through the federation of Republics (central and State) as provided in the Constitution. With regard to his reference to giving up "a share of liberty to preserve the rest," attention is called to Paragraph 8 of Principle 3 in Part I.
The lofty tone and high-principled approach which is reflected by the above communication on behalf of the Convention to the Congress--both being representative bodies--was in keeping with the characteristic and profoundly moving plea made by Washington to the Framing Convention to counter the prevailing gloom at one point during their sessions, as reported by Gouverneur Morris in an oration on the occasion of Washington's death:
"'It is (said he) too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.'--this was the patriotic voice of WASHINGTON; and this the constant tenor of his conduct." (Emphasis added.)
The Congress considered the above-mentioned letter, resolution and draft of the proposed Constitution for several days and then adopted a resolution on September 28 providing that they "be transmitted to the several legislatures in Order to be submitted to a convention of Delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof in conformity to the resolves of the Convention made and provided in that case." The legislature of each State acted in accordance with these resolutions and the draft of the proposed Constitution was submitted to a Constitutional Convention in each State chosen by the people for the sole and express purpose of considering and then, on behalf of the people of the State, ratifying or rejecting it. The Constitution ceased to be a mere paper proposal and became binding governmentally only when approved by nine States and only as to those which so approved it. (North Carolina acted in 1789, Rhode Island in 1790.)
Never before in all history in any other country had any such steps--in part, or as a whole--been taken to insure the people's consent to the establishment of their form of government. The foregoing summary of events presents irrefutable evidence of an unprecedented performance by all public servants involved--including the members of the Framing and Ratifying Conventions--acting strictly in accordance with their limited duty as the agents of the people, to the end of enabling the sovereign people of each of the States to exercise to the full freedom of choice in forming a central government for the greater security of their unalienable rights, in keeping with the ideals, goals and principles of the Declaration of Independence as summarized in the Preamble to the Constitution. Nothing in history even matches, much less surpasses, this record when judged by the severest standards of integrity and all other pertinent tests of the highest type.
In the light of the foregoing discussion, it is self-evident that any one who asserts that The Framers perpetrated a coup d'dtat thereby flouts historical truth and exhibits lack of either scholarly competence, or intellectual integrity. If one thus culpable be a professional educator, such misconduct also involves betrayal of the duty aspect of Academic Freedom-Responsibility, which includes above all else the above-mentioned elements: scholarly competence and intellectual integrity; and, furthermore, it robs the affected students of their right to freedom of choice based upon correct information and instruction which is sound in every respect. Any such unjust attempt to defame The Framers, or others among The Founders, amounts moreover to character assassination--a grossly anti-moral offense which is as cowardly as it is indefensible when perpetrated against our forefathers, unable to refute with the truth.
The Founders are also sometimes attacked as having been crass money-seekers at the expense of the people's liberties, which historical records prove to be false. This topic merits extended discussion but lack of space requires brevity in the following comments about it.