Did the American Constitution embody the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence? The prima facie answer would be yes. Looking deeper and remembering that during the Age of Empires the world ran on money, force of arms and enlightened self-interest, that the answer is now it depended on who you were. Application of the occasional Machaivellian twist to some of the Founding Fathers decisions will be used to support this view point.
The Declaration of Independence said that men were entitled as a Creator given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And that as long as a government did not infringe upon these it could have the obedience of the people. The document was influenced by philosophers such as Montesquieu and Thomas Paine – notably his Common Sense. The famous phrase life liberty and the pursuit of happiness was inspired by the Second Treaties on Government writen by the English jurist Locke. Although in Lockes version, the last word was one more in keeping with reality than revolutionary rhetoric it was property.
In 1787 representatives of the 13 states met in Philadelphia to revise the articles of confederation. These representatives were mostly from towns on or near the coast and also ranked amongst the financially successful of the time. Indeed 40 out of the 55 were owed money by the treasury department. Instead they created a new totally new national government And the democratic society that Americans had fought for on the War of Independence was to shortly become an elitist capitalistic republic.
So what was wrong with the Confederation and also the colonial system they had just broken away from ?
Madison said, referring to the Confederation, “A government which relies on thirteen independent sovereignties for the means of its existence, is a solecism in theory and a mere nullity in practice” cited by Mitchell(1975)
Under British rule the founding fathers had seen the effects where any one branch of a government managed to wield too much power and wanted they to create a system where such ministerial abuse would be impossible. Contrasting this was how to balance the freedom of the citizen from interference from central government while maintaining a system that protected the rights of minorities from an abuse of majority rule in a republican structure without exposing the government to the dangers of mob rule.
The delegates considered that the states of the Confederation were too democratic; in that political experience was open to all. The states body politic saw nothing wrong with interfering with the economy if it benefited the members of said body politic. This complicated trade. The British economist Adam Smith had argued that as wealth increased in scope, government would have to perform still greater services on behalf of the propertied class.
From a commercial point of view there was no standardised currency with states issuing their own paper money subject to fluctuating exchange values. The state legislative was run for the benefit of each state first and then other members of the Confederation. Added to this was the militancy of the often heavily indebted agrarian class who had taken to disrupting sales of foreclosed lands, freeing their peers from debtors prison and the occasional food riot. The most famous of these incidents being Shays Rebellion.
The delegates at Philadelphia decided to design a new system. According to one Maryland delegate 21 out of 55 initially favoured some form of monarchy but that would never get past popular opinion. The writings of Montesquieu on the separation of powers (that he mistakenly saw in the British government) inspired the Philadelphia convention to adopt a structure where the national executive, legislative and judiciary where totally separate. No one branch of government could act without the co-operation of another. Also the division of power was such that no branch could expand its authority without infringing on that of another branch thus encountering fierce resistance. In Madisons words, cited by Leas(1983) p36, Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.
Then within the federal government power was diffused vertically by the people granting certain powers to the state and others on to the national government. National power would be checked by State