July 3, 2012 at 6:12 am, by Carl
So often my students come to the course with no understanding that our Founders were against the idea of establishing a Democracy. Perhaps only Ben Franklin was at least warm to the idea; later Thomas Jefferson wrote in ways that suggested he too was warm to a Democracy, though later in his life, he complained openly and bitterly about that very drift towards Democracy that he could see.
We can see this thought process of fearing Democracy when we read the notes and ideas that emerged during the debates about the Constitution. Madison is already well-known for his famous statement about Democracy that came in the Federalists Papers #10. There he wrote, “Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
Yet, reading the debates during the Convention shows us that Madison and Hamilton were already laying out this foundation. And, most with them agreed. The power of the mob had to be curtailed at least as some level.
Mr. Madison: Democratic communities may be unsteady, and be led to action by the impulse of the moment. -Like individuals, they may be sensible of their own weakness, and may desire the counsels and checks of friends to guard them against the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions. Such are the various pursuits of this life, that in all civilized countries, the interest of a community will be divided. There will be debtors and creditors, and an unequal possession of property, and hence arises different views and different objects in government. This indeed is the ground-work of aristocracy; and we find it blended in every government, both ancient and modern. Even where titles have survived property, we discover the noble beggar haughty and assuming.
The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa, or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge of the wants or feelings of the day laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe; when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be jsut, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability.
Mr. HAMILTON. This question [of the length of term for Senators] has already been considered in several points of view. We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.
Note, neither man is arguing that the people don’t deserve a voice or shouldn’t be protected. Hamilton added, “the democratic body is already secure in a representation,” meaning the House of Representatives was the Founders’ nod to a democracy, to letting everyone have a voice in one part of the new government. Now, though, they argued that they could not just become a full Democracy like Athens of old, but that they needed to balance the needs of the many against the needs of the few. Balance would allow protection of the landed, or wealthy against “the noble beggar” who could also be ”haughty and assuming.”
The largest challenge of our government today isn’t that we have too little democracy or even that too much money controls too much, but rather that we have too MUCH democracy which limits the ability of the leader to balance the needs of all.