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Essentially property – in the form of stolen land, slave labor, and raw materials – serves as the foundation for our nation, along with the attendant desire for material prosperity. This is illustrated in an examination of the participants at the founding Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, May 25 to September 17, 1787, and the final document they authored, a convention held entirely in enforced secrecy during its 116-day duration.
Encroachments on Indian land was exacerbated by the amount of profit that was envisioned in acquiring this phenomenal resource. The Ohio Company was formed in 1749 when the King granted the Virginia governors huge tracts of land that extended into the Ohio region. It is noteworthy that many of the White men we call members of our “Founding Fathers” such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Morris, Patrick Henry, and Benjamin Franklin, were early speculators/investors collectively in hundreds of thousands of acres of land in association with a number of land companies.
It was in their financial interests to participate in various ways in the anti-Indian genocide, as their private land holdings could only dramatically appreciate in value once the Indigenous had been conquered. Most of their lands had been stolen from the Indians in illegal defiance of the Proclamation of 1763 which strictly prohibited colonial expansion and settlements west of a line parallel to the Appalachian Mountains. Those lands were reserved for Indians only. From 1763 to the Revolution, settlers and investors in land were increasingly at odds with the British Crown, which seemed more interested in maintaining peace with the Indians than serving the expansionist desires of the European colonists.
In addition to the Ohio Company there were others such as the Potomac Company, the James River Company, the Mississippi Company, the Loyal Company, the Vandalia Company, the Indiana Company, the Walpole Company, the Greenbrier Company, and the Great Dismal Swamp Company.
More than half of the selected delegates to the Convention were educated lawyers. The remaining were planters, merchants, physicians, and college professors. Not one member represented, in his immediate personal economic interests, the small farming or mechanic classes. Most believed their property rights were adversely affected by the relatively “weak” Articles of Confederation government and thus they were highly economically motivated to reconstruct the system. Thus the Founding Fathers reflected an extraordinary anti-majoritarian, i.e., explicitly anti-democratic bias. This explains the Constitutional theme of preserving private property and commercial enterprises, controlled by a small minority, ultimately at the expense of human freedom and the health of the Commons.
“Founding Father” John Jay possessed a vision that “the people who own the country ought to govern it”. This referred, of course, to those who owned land, slaves, and commercial enterprises. Jay also believed that the upper classes “were the better kind of people”, those “who are orderly and industrious, who are content with their situation and not uneasy in their circumstances”.
No less than 85 articles and essays, a collection of documents known as the Federalist Papers, were written in 1787-1788 to urge ratification of the newly drafted US Constitution. The authors were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Aristocratic Hamilton possessed such contempt for commoners he declared that “the people are a ‘great beast’ that must be tamed . . . rebellious and independent farmers had to be taught, sometimes by force, that the ideals of the revolutionary pamphlets were not to be taken too seriously”.
The Constitution was never submitted to the public for ratification. Since no direct popular vote was even attempted, it is impossible to know what the popular sentiment was.
A considerable proportion of the adult white male population was prohibited from participating in the election of the delegates to the separate ratifying state conventions due to property and disqualifications for voting. Historian Charles A. Beard conjectures that of the estimated 160,000 who voted in the election of delegates for the various state conventions, not more than 100,000 favored adoption of the Constitution.
And of course, women, African slaves, the original Indigenous inhabitants, un-propertied white adult males, and white males under 21 had no vote at all. The 1790 Census counted a total United States population of 3.93 million persons: 3.2 million free and nearly 700,000 African slaves. But of the 3.2 million “free” persons, the vast majority were prohibited from voting. So, in effect, the approximately 100,000 propertied white males who may have favored adoption comprised but two-and-a-half percent of the population. So it cannot be said that the Constitution was “an expression of the clear and deliberate will of the whole people” nor of a majority of the adult males, nor at the outside, of one-fifth of them. In essence, debtors, the poor and un-influential, women, Indigenous natives, slaves – the overwhelming majority of all human beings living in the 13 states of the Union at the time – were either opposed to the Constitution or were not allowed to register a formal, legal opinion.
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Brian Willson is a Viet Nam veteran and trained lawyer. He has visited a number of countries examining the effects of US policy. He wrote a psychohistorical memoir, Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson (PM Press, 2011), and in 2018 wrote Don’t Thank Me for my Service: My Viet Nam Awakening to the Long History of US Lies(Clarity Press). He is featured in a 2016 documentary, Paying the Price for Peace: The Story of S. Brian Willson, and others in the Peace Movement, (Bo Boudart Productions). His web essays: brianwillson.com. He can be reached: [email protected].
He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.
Featured image is from Public Domain