Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Echoes of Revolution -- Republicanism, Democracy and Sovereignty: A Sufi Perspective
The ratification of the Philadelphia Constitution was not a victory for democracy even though more people had been permitted to participate in such a process than had ever been the case with any previous proposal for self-governance. Aside from the illegalities and irregularities which permeated: (1) the Philadelphia Convention, (2) the actions of the Continental Congress subsequent to its receiving that document, as well as (3) the ratification process (e.g., the states had no authority under the Articles of Confederation to authorize and organize such ratification conventions), there were other anti-democratic considerations entailed by the Philadelphia Constitution.
For instance, with respect to the four main components of the newly ratified constitution (the Executive, the House, the Senate, and the Judiciary), the only component that: ‘We the People,’ had some degree of control over involved electing representatives to the House. The President would be elected through The Electoral College; the members of the Senate would be chosen through the state legislatures, and the members of the Judiciary would be nominated by the President through the advice and consent of the Senate.
The Philadelphia Constitution provided ‘We the People’ almost no control over their alleged form of self-governance. Moreover, there also had been criticisms of the Philadelphia Constitution’s provisions for apportioning representatives to the House… criticisms which had been advanced during: the Philadelphia Convention, the Continental Congress in New York, many state legislatures prior to the establishing of ratification conventions, as well as, at least, ten of the ratification conventions.
More specifically, throughout deliberations ranging from Philadelphia to the ratification conventions, the apportionment process which linked the number of representatives to the size of population had been continuously criticized as not being sufficiently representative of: ‘We the People.’ More representatives were considered to be necessary to properly represent the diverse views and communities that existed in America, and, therefore, there was a general consensus that the ratio of representatives to population should be altered in some way.
In addition, there was the problem of representation itself. How does a given elected congressperson represent the views and interests of both the majority and the minority … especially when neither segment of the electorate was likely to be uniform in its perspectives?
No person can properly represent the soul of another human being. Consequently, how could one individual possibly represent the souls of thousands of individuals?
Some individuals might have their interests represented, but many more individuals stood an excellent chance of not having their interests represented. So, the question arises: In what sense can one speak of self-governance if millions of people have little, or no, control over the issue of governance … even with respect to the one facet of the Philadelphia Constitution – namely, choosing representatives to serve in the House -- that did throw a small democratic bone to the public? Therefore, for the most part, the Philadelphia Constitution was largely antithetical to democratic issues because, by and large, ‘We the People’ were pretty much left out of the process.
The Preamble to the Philadelphia Convention did mention the idea of securing “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” However, it was anyone’s guess what this actually meant … especially, in view of the fact that the Philadelphia Convention, the Continental Congress, the state legislatures, and the ratification conventions had made self-governance almost entirely dependent on the whims of those who were in power.
The individuals who held elected or appointed office might, in some sense, be said to have a potential for self-governance. Unfortunately, this potential belonged to virtually no one who fell beyond the horizons of such a power elite.
As the new federal government was being put together through, among other things, the processes of appointing senators and holding elections for Congress, Patrick Henry – who despite losing the ratification vote remained a force with which to be reckoned in the Virginia state legislature – took steps to ensure that James Madison would not be one of the next senators from Virginia. Henry was opposed to Madison because during the state ratification convention, Madison had made it clear that he was firmly committed to the position that there should be absolutely no changes to the Philadelphia Constitution prior to its ratification.
Once the new Congress went into session, Henry had no faith in Madison’s willingness – if the latter were a Senator -- to sincerely work to bring about the sorts of amendments to the Philadelphia Constitution that were considered of importance. Consequently, Henry helped to arrange for the Virginia state legislature to appoint William Grayson and Richard Henry Lee to the United States Senate – both of whom had been resistant to the adoption of the Philadelphia Constitution-as-written and who could be trusted to work toward helping to institute the requisite kinds of amendments when the Senate began its deliberations about a variety of issues – including, hopefully, amendments -- in the near future.
Shut out of the Senate, Madison decided to run for the position of Congressman. His opponent was James Monroe.
Monroe had a position with respect to the issue of amendments that was somewhere in between the perspectives of Madison and Henry. In other words Monroe was not as radical as Henry was on that matter, but neither was he as conservative concerning that topic as Madison appeared to be … at least based on the latter’s statements during the ratification convention.
The issue of amendments was critical to the congressional race between Monroe and Madison. The people wanted amendments.
Therefore, one of the first obstacles confronting Madison was to explain why people should elect him to congress if he was as opposed to amendments as his performance in the state ratification convention had made him seem to be. Despite Madison’s professed dislike of the whole business of electioneering, he demonstrated his talent for nimbleness in such matters when he became, possibly, one of the first flip-floppers in American political history.
Madison explained – mostly in the form of letters rather than speeches --that, originally, he was against the idea of amendments because he believed that ratifying the Philadelphia Constitution-as-written took precedence since he was trying to prevent the dissolution of the country which he believed the subject of amendments might help to bring about. Now, however – meaning in the context of an election – he felt it would be appropriate for amendments to be incorporated, in some fashion, into the fabric of the Constitution.
Moreover, Madison felt that the most effective way to tackle the matter would be through Congress rather than by means of a Constitutional Convention that might be organized for this kind of purpose. Although the newly ratified Constitution made provisions for calling such a convention in order to discuss the issue of amendments, this sort of convention could not be initiated until two-thirds of the states had asked for this to be done – and, then, there would be further delays while discussions and the passing of relevant resolutions took place during such a convention, whereas the newly organized Congress would soon be in session and could deal with the matter much more quickly and efficiently.
Madison was in favor of a variety of amendments – especially ones that resonated with his earlier efforts in the state of Virginia that sought to ensure freedom of religion and conscience for everyone. On the other hand, the one amendment which he opposed was any attempt to interfere with the Constitution’s ability to directly tax the states even though many people wanted to change that provision and make it necessary for the federal government to petition the states for such funds.
For a number of reasons, Madison was against the idea of the federal government having to make requisitions to the states in relation to taxation. He felt such a process of requisitioning would become entangled in a host of inequities in which some states would pay their taxes, while other states either would not pay their taxes at all or would pay less than the requisitioned amount … and such inequities would, in turn, lead to hostilities amongst the states.
Furthermore, Madison believed that those sorts of potentially inequitable arrangements might make America vulnerable to attack. For example, if other countries sensed that the United States would have trouble raising money through such a requisitioning process, those countries might attack the United States believing that America would not be able to raise the money which would be necessary to fight a war.
Madison won his political contest against Monroe by a little over 300 votes. Only about 40% of the nearly 5,200 eligible voters turned out for the election, and although the conditions on election day (cold and snowy) might have kept some people away from the polls, the fact is that even under the best of conditions, those participating in elections tended to run between 20 and 40% of eligible voters ... with the majority of elections hovering toward the lower registers in many contested elections.
During the election, Madison indicated that with the exception of the direct tax issue, he was receptive to any sort of amendment which might alleviate the concerns of the people as long as he did not consider such amendments to be dangerous. During the ratification convention, however, Madison also had indicated that he considered any set of amendments directed toward the securing of fundamental rights to be dangerous, if not unnecessary.
Madison may have believed that such a set of rights was not necessary because, on the one hand, many states (but not all) did have declarations of rights connected with their states and, therefore, doing the same thing on the federal level could be considered to be somewhat inefficient, if not problematic. On the other hand, Madison might have felt that Section 4 in Article IV of the Constitution also made such concerns about essential rights unnecessary because the federal government guaranteed every state a republican form of government, and, surely – or, so, the theory went -- republicanism would protect people against the sort of tyrannical governance that might lead to the abuses of essential civil liberties.
The reason why Madison considered such rights to be “dangerous” might – as noted earlier -- have had something to do with his experiences in the Virginia legislature. After all, that state did have a declaration of rights associated with its constitution, and in Madison’s opinion the people – in the form of this or that kind of majority -- were running amok, and, consequently, he didn’t want the same sort of problem occurring on the federal level.
In addition, Madison believed that the limited character of the enumerated powers of Congress – none of which Madison believed were capable of transgressing against the basic rights of individuals – would not undermine civil liberties. However, as pointed out previously, the limited authority of the Philadelphia Convention had not prevented its members from running roughshod over the rights of Americans when it ignored the Articles of Confederation and the Continental Congress.
In an exchange of communications between Jefferson and Madison that occurred between July and October 1788, Jefferson had criticized the Philadelphia Constitution because of its lack of a bill or declaration of rights. Madison responded by pointing out that there had only been two states – North Carolina and Virginia – which specifically sought some sort of bill or declaration of rights in the realm of civil liberties … although a number of other states had alluded to such rights among their criticisms of the Philadelphia Constitution that were put forward during their respective ratification conventions.
While Jefferson tended to agree with Madison – although many other individuals did not share the opinion of the two individuals on this matter -- that the issue of direct taxation did not violate any basic rights of the people, nonetheless, Jefferson believed some sort of bill of rights or declaration of rights was important and necessary. Moreover, Jefferson was not only interested in freedoms involving the press and religion (or conscience), but, as well, he wanted to see rights instituted against monopolies and standing armies.
Jefferson believed that every individual deserved such protections from the possible excesses of any government, whether in America or elsewhere in the world. Madison, on the other hand, did not consider that the people needed protection from the federal government since he believed – based on his experiences in the Virginia State assembly – that people required protection from those majorities which thought little about abusing the rights of minorities.
Given that every election generates a majority and a minority, one had difficulty understanding how Madison seemed to miss the obvious connections among governments, majorities, and the abuse of rights. Of course, Madison was a true believer when it came to the idea that any government which practiced the philosophy of republicanism would never abuse anyone’s rights, and, therefore, it never appeared to occur to him to wonder about what would happen in those instances in which the people in a federal government might not be committed to those republican principles.
For Madison, the problem was people not government. Yet, every government consists of people.
As long as a given bill of rights or declaration of rights did not interfere with the essential powers of the federal government, Madison claimed that he always had been open to the idea of amendments concerning basic rights. Nonetheless, every power granted to the government under, say, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution enabled the federal government to institute public policies that were extra-constitutional in character and were, thereby, able to undermine, extinguish, diminish, and thwart the exercise of individual rights.
For example, the federal government had the power to raise and support armies, as well as to provide and maintain a navy, and to make provisions for calling forth the militia. However, what if the purposes for which: Armies were raised, navies were maintained, and militias were called forth, was for purposes of conducting unjust wars that affected the rights of individuals – both in America and elsewhere?
The very federal powers which Madison did not want to be limited in any manner could be used in ways that were antithetical to the rights of ‘We the People.’ Consequently, there was a problem surrounding Madison’s contention that he always had been open to the idea of rights as long as they did not impinge on the powers he believed were necessary to conduct effective governance.
Powers and rights were potentially antagonistic to one another Even though Jefferson seemed to understand this, Madison apparently did not share his friend’s understanding of things.
Madison did champion the right of conscience. On the other hand, he felt that effective republican governance was more important than rights, and, as a result, when push came to shove, rights should take a back seat to the activities of government, and since he believed that there was negligible, if any, conflict between the government’s exercise of power and an individual’s claim to rights, then whatever abridgements to rights that occurred during the process in which the federal government implemented its strictly enumerated rights would be minimal, if not non-existent.
From Madison’s perspective, the foregoing set of priorities made sense since he believed that a properly functioning republican government would act in the best interests of ‘We the People’ and, thereby, protect their rights. Unfortunately, the early Madison couldn’t quite grasp the problems which could ensue when federal government was not republican in character or when that which the federal government considered to be in the best interests of the people was not conducive to enhancing the general welfare of the latter.
By arguing in the foregoing fashion, Madison became somewhat confused in his sense of priorities. More specifically, Madison believed that the people should be subservient to the national government’s exercise of constitutionally authorized and enumerated powers, rather than supposing that the national government should be subservient to the rights of ‘We the People’.
Given that: (1) The Philadelphia Convention, (2) the constitution which arose from that assembly, and (3) the ratification conventions which adopted such a document, were not really about ‘We the People’ but, instead, were entirely about a group of people – those who were proponents of the Philadelphia Constitution-as-written -- who were seeking a path through which the ‘natural aristocracy’ would be able to acquire the powers needed to govern according to their beliefs, Madison’s foregoing position is not surprising. Before he had a certain limited epiphany in the late 1790s, Madison had been someone who was all about effective governance according to the manner in which the natural aristocracy understood things.
Who were: ‘We the People,’ that they should object to the manner in which such a ‘natural aristocracy’ sought to exercise its enumerated power? For the early Madison, the rights of the natural aristocracy with respect to being able to exercise enumerated powers were more important and necessary than were the rights of ‘We the People’ that might interfere with the public and private policies of the power elite.
Since the Virginia congressional election which Madison won had been fought around the issue of amendments, the newly elected representative from Virginia -- to his credit – tried, early on, to find ways of introducing the topic into the congressional docket. Yet, almost everyone in the House, including people who were in favor of the idea of amendments, considered other matters to be far more important and pressing.
Among other things, the entire day-to-day machinery of government had to be established. While the Constitution had outlined some of the general activities of the House and Senate, the precise manner through which to accomplish such things required considerable work in order for those bodies to become viable modalities of governance.
Eventually, after a delay or two, Madison was able to capture the attention of his colleagues for a sufficiently long enough period of time to propose nine amendments. One of the reasons why Madison was persistence with respect to his attempts to advance the issue of amendments was because he was afraid that if the people saw Congress continuing to delay consideration of possible amendments, the people might begin to suspect that the talk of promised amendments during the ratification process had been nothing more than a subterfuge … which, in a way, actually had been the case.
Many – but not all -- of the rights that people have come to associate with the current Bill of Rights were part of the 4th amendment proposed by Madison. For example, the right to assembly, bear arms, along with freedoms concerning the press, speech, and conscience were present in his 4th amendment.
In addition, Madison proposed that people should be free from searches and seizures of an unreasonable nature. Moreover, those who stood accused of crimes should be afforded certain kinds of rights during judicial proceedings … such as ‘due process.’ This was a term that he borrowed from the New York ratification convention.
While Madison’s first amendment indicated that the people had an inalienable right to change government or reform it, the language of that amendment excluded the more revolutionary language of both the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Declaration of Rights (both written in 1776) which indicated that people not only had the right to change and reform government, but, if necessary, the people had the right to abolish such government as well. The republican biases at work in Madison rendered him resistant to the idea that any government being operated in accordance with republican philosophy should ever have to be abolished.
The first amendment proposed by Madison also contained a sentence indicating that government was instituted by the people and ought to be instituted on their behalf as well. While, undoubtedly, there was a great deal of sincerity underlying such a contention, there is also considerable evidence to indicate that Madison was saying this as a member of the natural aristocracy who believed they knew what the people needed with respect to the exercise of government.
In another amendment – the fifth -- Madison gave expression to this belief that the real source of potential danger to the rights of people was a function of the states rather than the federal government. This amendment held that no state could undermine the rights of conscience, freedom of the press, or the right to trial by jury in criminal cases.
In conjunction with this amendment, Madison noted that not every state constitution contained provisions to protect such rights. Consequently, Madison’s fifth proposal for an amendment would serve as an extended form of protection (both with respect to those states that had incorporated protection of certain rights into their state constitutions, as well as those states that had no such protection) on behalf of the people against the possibility of abuses by state governments.
Again, there seems to be a blind spot present in Madison’s thinking about governance. Due to his experiences with the Virginia state legislature, Madison felt that the majority in the states were not to be trusted with the reins of government.
Moreover, there also seemed to be problems of trust on the national level in relation to the Continental Congress. After all, if such were not the case, then, perhaps, Madison might have let the entire membership of Congress in on what he, and a few others, had in mind with respect to the Philadelphia Convention prior to the beginning of the latter assembly. Furthermore, if the element of trust had been present concerning government on the national level, the Philadelphia Convention would not have been conducted in secrecy.
Consequently, one wonders why Madison continued to believe that the greatest threat to the rights of the people was entirely a function of the manner in which state legislatures conducted themselves … that the people would have nothing to fear from the activities of the newly conceived federalized government. There are several possibilities – both of which have been touched on previously -- which might account for Madison’s thinking with respect to such matters.
To begin with, Madison believed he was a member of a natural aristocracy that was – well – better than everyone else. They considered themselves to be the smartest, most talented, most insightful, most politically astute people in any given room.
Secondly, Madison and his colleagues were true believers with respect to the philosophy of republicanism. This philosophy was supposed to be the moral backstop which ensured that such individuals would treat those whom they governed in an unbiased, disinterested, equitable, judicious, honest, truthful, and rational manner.
They were so full of their own hubris that they just couldn’t conceive of themselves behaving like the self-interested mobs known as ‘state legislatures’ or the self-serving members of the Continental Congress. The members of the natural aristocracy were too intelligent, reasonable, and moral for such problems to be manifested through them.
According to Madison, if the republican, natural aristocracy were in charge, ‘We the People’ would have nothing to fear from the federal government. Consequently, Madison believed there was no need for amendments that protected the people against the federal government.
There was an essential disconnect present in Madison’s understanding of such issues. Apparently, he saw nothing wrong with what had taken place in Philadelphia or with his leading role in those activities. Apparently, Madison saw nothing wrong with what took place in the Continental Congress following the Philadelphia Convention or with his leading role in that process. Apparently, he saw nothing wrong with the way various members of the Philadelphia Convention – including himself -- sought to manage what went on in the ratification conventions – both in their own states as well as other states – rather than recuse themselves and let ‘We the People’ decide their own fate.
Madison was part of a minority – the natural aristocracy – which told itself that it had a responsibility to ‘We the People’ to protect – via republican governance – the people against various self-interested majorities. In actuality, Madison was part of a minority that wanted to arrange governance in a manner that would leverage the power it acquired through elections to be able to have a shot of being masters of its own fate while rationalizing its activities as being conducted on behalf of the people.
‘We the People’ had a great deal to fear from such a deluded minority on the federal level … just as ‘We the People’ had a great deal to fear from the minorities on the state level who were seeking to do the very same thing that Madison was interested in doing on the federal level. Contrary to what Madison believed, the problem wasn’t a matter of which level of governance one was engaging or being engaged by. The essential problem was a function of a belief system (whether held by a ‘natural aristocracy’ or some other similar self-serving idea) which assumed that any given group of people had a right to govern ‘We the People.’
Madison’s sixth and seventh amendments revolved around the judiciary. The former amendment concerned the issue of appeals in relation to the federal courts, while his seventh amendment sought to address concerns that had been raised in various ratification conventions … including the right to a trial by jury in civil cases.
A further proposed amendment from Madison is very similar to the 10th amendment of the current Bill of Rights. More specifically, Madison wanted to introduce a new article VII into the Constitution which read: “The powers not delegated by this constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively.” A potentially crucial difference between Madison’s proposal and the actual wording of the 10th Amendment concerns the words: “or to the people” that were later added during the congressional debate concerning Madison’s proposed amendments (according to some people this was done by Roger Sherman, while others maintain that the words were added by someone in the Senate) … an addition that, apparently, was accepted without comment by the other members of the congressional body through which the words arose -- somewhat arbitrarily, and mostly for the sake of convenience in the following discussion, I will attribute the additional phrasing of: “or to the people,” to Sherman)
What is one to make of the phrase: “or to the people”? Some individuals have argued that the phrase is just an alternative way of referring to the “states” … that whatever powers were not delegated to the federal government or prohibited to the states belonged to the states or the people of the states.
However, there is a – perhaps crucial -- difference between the states as forms of governance and the people who live in such geographical locations. If the other members of Congress believed that what Sherman meant by the phrase: “or to the people,” was just another way of referring to state forms of governance, why didn’t they object and point out that the added words were repetitious and added nothing to Madison’s proposal?
One must also take into consideration the fact that the Bill of Rights is almost entirely about people considered quite apart from states. With the exception of a reference to the idea of a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state – which makes the state dependent on the right of the people to bear arms, and, therefore, is not really about the right of states, per se – the 10th Amendment is one of the few places in the Bill of Rights that mentions the states ... although a passing, indirect reference to the word “state” does appear in the 6th Amendment.
Consequently, those individuals who consider the 10th Amendment to be exclusively about states’ rights have a considerable burden of proof with respect to the problem of showing why such an interpretation should be given preference over the idea that all those powers which have not been delegated to the federal government or prohibited to the states also belong to the people quite independently of the states. The 9th amendment stipulates that: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” and the word “states” appears nowhere in this latter amendment.
Given the foregoing considerations, one might reasonably conclude that Sherman was not talking about states’ rights when he suggested that the phrase “or to the people” be added and, therefore, the phrase was not just an alternative but repetitive way of referring to states’ rights. Given that the other nine amendments are exclusively about the rights of individuals, it does not seem reckless to suppose that Sherman’s phraseology was trying to underline the fact that it was the rights of the people, apart from government, that were being endorsed, in the 10th Amendment … that it was the people in the states – not the form of governance in the states – to whom the rights in the 10th Amendment were being allocated.
However, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that Sherman really was using the phrase: “or to the people” as just another way of referring to the rights of states with respect to whatever powers had not been delegated to the federal government or been prohibited to the states. After all, the idea of: ‘Powers,’ are generally associated with the activity of governance rather than the activity of people apart from such apparatus.
In fact, the idea that the people had power quite independently of government might be considered to be ‘dangerous’. Hadn’t Madison been concerned about extending any rights to people which might impact in a problematic way upon the enumerated powers of the federal government?
On the other hand, the very first amendment proposed by Madison indicated that all power belongs to, and is derived from, the people. If Sherman intended – and the other members of Congress indicated their agreement with such an intention through the absence of any comment concerning Sherman’s phrase of: “or to the people” – that only the states, and not the people, retained whatever powers were not delegated to the federal government or prohibited to the states, then the people were being denied powers and rights that were inherent not only in Madison’s first proposed amendment, but, more importantly, the people were being denied powers and rights that were inherent in the strategy of the Philadelphia Convention to by-pass the Continental Congress, the Articles of Confederation, and the states legislatures through the process of ratification conventions that were elected by, and supposedly were representatives of, ‘We the People’ … so that the authority for the Philadelphia Constitution came from the people and not from existing forms of government, whether state or national in character.
If one were to suppose that Sherman intended his phrase: “or to the people” to be a synonym for state government, then Sherman really didn’t understand what was going on with respect to the Philadelphia document he signed in September 1787, or in relation to the resolutions which were passed by the Philadelphia Convention indicating that ratification conventions should be organized so that ‘We the People’ could authorize the proposed constitution rather than be authorized by the Continental Congress and the state legislatures. The better, more consistent, and simpler assumption is to suppose that the phrase: “or to the people,” referred to the people independent of state governments.
The added phrase was about the rights of people, not the right of states. States were mentioned in the 10th Amendment only as subsidiary beneficiaries of the power and rights which belonged, first and foremost, to the people.
The final component in Madison’s proposed nine amendments was a suggestion that Article VII in the Philadelphia Constitution should be renumbered. It would now become Article VIII and follow Madison’s proposal for the newly worded Article VII concerning the disposition of those powers which had not been delegated to the federal government or prohibited to the states.
One might ask why Madison had not included a phrase like: “or to the people” in his proposed amendment concerning the disposition of powers that were not specifically granted to the federal government or prohibited to the States. In fact, Madison said that such additional powers belonged to the “States respectively.”
If one were to suppose that Madison’s term “States respectively” was intended to refer to the form of governance in the different states, then this raises several questions. For example, given Madison’s antipathy toward the tyrannical excesses of state legislatures, why would Madison want to reserve rights and powers to the very state legislatures that he felt were the source of many abuses in relation to civil liberties? Moreover, given the Philadelphia Convention’s aforementioned strategy to call upon ‘We the People’ with respect to acquiring authorization for its constitutional proposal, why would Madison suddenly become an advocate for states’ rights with respect to the disposition of whatever powers and rights that might be left over after eliminating those powers which had been specifically delegated to the federal government or prohibited to the state governments?
One might answer the foregoing questions by claiming that Madison was playing politics when he phrased his 10th Amendment-like proposal in the way he did – that is, by referring to the “States respectively rather than adding a Sherman-like phrase of “or to the people”. In other words, Madison left his proposal ambiguous so that the States and the people could fight it out among themselves about what Madison might have meant so that the federal government would be left in peace to activate its enumerated powers in the manner it saw fit.
If Madison was playing politics via his ambiguous wording of his proposed amendment concerning the disposition of powers not delegated to the federal government nor prohibited to the states, then Madison was guilty of acting in a way that was inconsistent with republican philosophy. Moreover, Madison would have been in conflict with his own proposal for a first amendment that indicated how all power belonged to, and was derived from, the people … not the “States respectively” – unless Madison meant by this latter phrase: “We the People.”
One might further argue that it really doesn’t matter whether, or not, the phraseology used by Sherman (or whoever it actually might have been) and Madison was only intended to allude to the powers and rights of the states as forms of governance rather than to the role of the states as the geographical location where ‘We the People’ lived. Through the resolutions that had been accompanied the Philadelphia Constitution to the Continental Congress and the respective state legislatures, the signatories to that document were acknowledging that all authority and power came from the people and not from governments.
To renege on such a basic acknowledgement by subsequently deciding to give priority to state governments over the rights and powers of the people independently of forms of governance, would be an essential violation of their alleged commitment to the philosophy of republicanism. Consequently, Sherman and Madison either meant what they said in terms of all rights and powers belonging to the people -- and not to the states as forms of governance -- or they were seeking to perpetrate a mammoth defrauding of ‘We the People.’
Whatever the case might be with respect to the foregoing considerations, Madison did not put all his proposed amendments together as presently is the case in relation to the Bill of Rights. Rather, he wanted to insert his amendments directly into various appropriate articles and sections of the Philadelphia Constitution.
The final form of the Bill of Rights – the one with which we are familiar -- came about as a result of the manner in which the House and Senate engaged Madison’s proposed Amendments together with the nature of the ratifying votes by the states after receiving the set of proposed amendments. To begin with, a special committee – consisting of one delegate from each state -- was formed by the House to study Madison’s suggestions … a committee to which Madison was appointed.
With certain changes in wording, the committee accepted some of Madison’s proposed amendments. However, some of Madison’s other, proposed suggestions were rejected.
In addition, the special committee went through a number of the amendments that had been proposed by various ratification conventions. Many of those suggestions were deemed to be inconsistent with one another and others were considered to be too dangerous … although the nature of that danger (or for whom) was never fully elaborated upon.
Once the special committee’s report was released to the House, the report was debated. Eventually, a list of 17 amendments was forwarded to the Senate for consideration.
Moreover, the amendments being forwarded to the Senate were attached to the end of the Constitution rather than being incorporated into the body of the Constitution as Madison had wanted to do. During the House debates concerning the report of the special committee on amendments, Roger Sherman had argued that the proposed changes should be placed at the end of the Constitution because the people had ratified the Philadelphia Constitution-as-written (as if the people really had any choice in the matter), and, therefore, according to Sherman, there was a certain quality of sacredness which permeated the original document.
Unlike the House, debates and discussions in the Senate were not open to the public. Consequently, an accurate record does not exist with respect to the Senate debates involving the proposed amendments that had been forwarded to that legislative body from the House.
The Senate made a variety of changes to the House proposals. Those changes were agreed to when a set of 12 amendments was returned to the House.
George Washington sent the congressionally approved set of amendments to the states for purposes of being ratified. This took place on October 2, 1789 approximately five months after Madison first broached the subject of amendments to the House … a timeline that tends to undermine the fears of those who were in favor of ratifying the Philadelphia Constitution-as-written because they believed that trying to add amendments would take too long and would be too complicated a process.
Many people, including Madison, were not entirely happy with the set of amendments that emerged from Congress. Madison was most perturbed by the fact that his attempt to protect some of the civil liberties of people from the actions of the states was removed from the final set of amendments.
However, Madison had honored the promise he made during the congressional race in Virginia concerning the idea of advancing the cause of amendments during the first session of Congress. Madison also had honored the understanding of the Virginia ratification convention which indicated that whoever was elected to Congress should introduce the issue of amendments into the business of Congress at the earliest time of convenience.
Aside from the issue of Madison’s wanting to live in accordance with the republican principle to honor one’s promises, perhaps the primary motivation underlying Madison’s push for amendments was his desire to end the speculation that might be taking place among the people with respect to their concerns about the sincerity of the intentions of the new government in relation to the clamor for amendments that had arisen during various ratification conventions. By advancing the cause of amendments, Madison felt he was removing any lingering resistance that might exist among the people with respect to the activities of the federal government, and the newly elected federal government would now be able to go about its business with relatively little opposition.
North Carolina still had not ratified the Constitution. Its earlier ratification convention had been adjourned.
The fact that Congress had passed a set of 12 amendments appeared to play a significant role in the North Carolina ratification vote. On the third day of its reconvened deliberations, the convention ordered 300 copies of the Philadelphia Constitution plus the recently added amendments, and a couple of days later, the North Carolina ratification convention adopted the Constitution with a vote of: 194 for and 77 against, in relation to the Philadelphia document.
However, the presence of the congressionally approved amendments did not prevent the North Carolina ratification convention from posing a further set of eight amendments which they wanted to be considered for possible inclusion in the amended Constitution. However, the presence of such additional amendments were not made a condition for North Carolina’s acceptance of the Philadelphia Constitution, and, consequently, those amendments were never really seriously explored or debated by anyone in the new federal government.
Eventually, only ten amendments – what are, now, referred to as the Bill of Rights (although those amendments were not consistently referred to as a Bill of Rights until after the Civil War had ended) met the requisite standard in 10 of the 13 states called for by the Constitution. Two amendments of the original 12 (these were the first two amendments which involved, respectively, a proposal for increasing representation as population increased and a proposal concerning pay raises for members of Congress) that had been forwarded by Washington to the various states did not receive the necessary three-quarters vote from the states.
Although the amended Constitution went part of the way toward satisfying the criticisms that many people had concerning the Philadelphia Constitution, there still were a variety of sources of dissatisfaction concerning that amended document and whether, or not, it gave expression to a viable and judicious means for realizing the idea of democratic self-governance. Madison might have helped mute, to a certain degree, the sound of such dissatisfaction, but there were many individuals on both sides of the Atlantic who continued to push the envelope in relation to the nature and meaning of democracy.
Roger Sherman was the only individual among the Founders/Framers to be a participant in all of the crucial assemblies that led to the formation of the United States – namely, the Continental Association (which had been authorized by the First Continental Congress in 1774 to implement a trade boycott against England), the Declaration of Independence (he was on the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration), the Articles of Confederation, and the Philadelphia Constitution. Thomas Paine had not participated in any of the foregoing assemblies.
Paine did not help write, or sign, the Declaration of Independence. He did not help author the Articles of Confederation. Moreover he did not participate in the Philadelphia Convention in the summer of 1787 … although he had been invited to attend the latter assembly. Yet, Paine deserves to be included among the Founders/Framers of the United States.
His extended pamphlet – Common Sense – written anonymously under the name of “An Englishman” and first released in January 1776 played a fundamental role in helping to induce Americans to be willing to break with England and form a new country. George Washington encouraged his troops to read Paine’s Common Sense, and John Adams once intimated that if had not been for the pen of Thomas Paine, George Washington’s sword would have served no purpose.
‘Officially’, Common Sense sold more than 100,000 copies – a quantity that far exceeded what was usual for works of this kind in the 18th century. Unofficially, there may have been three or four hundred thousand more bootleg copies of his work which were distributed across America … meaning that a quarter, or more, of the people in the United States might have had access to his ideas.
How much of Common Sense was unique to Thomas Paine is difficult to determine. In one form or another, most of the ideas that appear in his booklet – as well as some of his other writings (e.g., The Rights of Man, The Age of Reason, and Agrarian Justice) were in the air on both sides of the Atlantic.
One could go into many taverns and tea houses within the Atlantic world (which includes countries on both sides of that ocean) and hear such topics being discussed. Before the 37-year old Paine – a man who liked to drink -- migrated to America in 1774, he probably participated in numerous discussions in some of the taverns of England where revolutionary ideas of different kinds were frequently explored, and when he arrived in America, the same sorts of discussions were going on in many of the taverns of America.
Aside from the issue of originality, Paine had a knack for being able to express ideas in a form that was understandable to the average person. His words stirred the hearts of common people and intellectuals alike.
35 years later, Paine was a forgotten, if not despised, man. John Adams, who once spoke of Paine in glowing terms, later referred to him as “a mongrel between pig and puppy begotten by a wild boar on a bitch wolf” who had led a life of mischief. Moreover, George Washington, who, as previously noted, once had recommended that his troops read Common Sense, wouldn’t lift a finger during his presidency to help Paine get out of the French prison to which the latter individual had been condemned for resisting the bloodthirsty turn that occurred at a certain stage of the French Revolution … a revolution that Paine had helped to become a reality (among other things, Paine was appointed to a committee that had been given the responsibility of drafting a new constitution for France).
If not for the efforts of James Monroe -- who, at the time, was serving as the newly appointed American minister to France (Monroe succeeded Gouverneur Morris who, for whatever reason, failed to assist Paine) -- Paine might have been executed by the ‘Reign of Terror’ which had ascended to power in that country on the coattails of its revolution. Fortunately, Paine managed to stay alive while still in prison for the three or four months that were necessary for him to be rescued by Monroe following the fall of Robespierre in July of 1794.
Paine left the United States and returned to England shortly after being invited to join the 1787 assembly in Philadelphia out of which a proposed constitution eventually would emerge. Short of money, Paine had been attempting to right his financial ship and believed that an iron bridge design he had been working on might have commercial value in England.
Approximately three years after arriving back in England, Paine began to write another Common Sense-like book entitled: The Rights of Man. This book was a defense of the French Revolution which began in 1789.
In part, Paine’s book (which was written in several installments) was a response to the arguments put forth in Edmund Burke’s critique of the French Revolution in the latter’s: Reflections on the Revolution in France. Although Burke previously had spoken in favor of America’s fight for independence, he was against the French revolution.
However, The Rights of Man also was a critical examination of the monarchical form of government in England, France, and elsewhere in Europe. In addition, Paine’s book provided an account of the principles of the American Revolution as an example of the sort of self-governance that stood in contrast to European tyrannies.
Because of Paine’s anti-monarchist views, he was considered an enemy of the English political establishment. Consequently, the English government engaged in attempts to discredit Paine in various ways, as well as organized hate rallies that vilified Paine and hung him in effigy.
The Rights of Man sold out and was very popular among the ‘common’ people. On the other hand, Paine’s work was very unpopular among the monarchical and aristocratic power elite.
Interestingly enough, it seemed that the English government was not necessarily opposed to Paine’s book in and of itself. Paine, along with other authors of radical books, had been warned by the government that they should publish their works in expensive editions so that the radical ideas would be kept out of the hands of most of the population in England who might become ‘agitated’ by the ideas rather than examine them without passion and in a disinterested manner.
However, such works did get published in a form that was financially accessible to the general public. The establishment took exception to this and began to attack Paine in a number of ways.
Eventually, Paine was forced to leave England. Subsequently, he was tried in absentia by the English authorities on the charge of seditious libel. If Paine had not escaped to France, he would have been arrested and, quite possibly, executed in England.
Several years after fleeing to France – where he was made a citizen in 1792 and in the same year, despite not knowing the French language, was elected to a seat on the assembly that would bring the French monarchy to an end in the process of establishing a republic -- Paine was arrested for, among other things, refusing to endorse the execution of Louis XVI who had been tried for treason against the French people. During his ten months of imprisonment, Paine began to write The Age of Reason which was not only a critique of institutionalized religion and the corrupting influence it had on spiritual beliefs, but, as well, the book advocated the right of people to think for themselves and apply reason during their explorations of spiritual issues.
From the time when Common Sense was written to the time when the Age of Reason was completed, Paine consistently criticized all forms of tyranny and injustice – whether it involved the government or organized religion. Paine’s three main works (Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason) were among the most seminal writings of the 18th century, eclipsing the influence of any number of other writers of that time, including: Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, and Burke.
Yet, Paine’s stock had fallen so far by June 8, 1809 -- the day he passed away and approximately seven years after returning to the United States – only six people attended his funeral … two of whom were apparently freed slaves. Moreover, instead of eulogizing his role in the American Revolution, Paine was denigrated as a drunken infidel who may have done some good in his life but had, as well, done a great deal of harm.
28 years earlier, Sarah Franklin Bache, a daughter of Benjamin Franklin, had written in a letter (dated January 14, 1781) that if Paine had managed to die after writing Common Sense, this might have been the best thing for him to have done because in her opinion he never again would be able to leave this world with such honor associated with his name. Given the nature of Paine’s demise in 1809, there was an unknowing prescience to her observation.
Unfortunately, Paine made the mistake of remaining a revolutionary throughout his life. He was never content with the way things were but aspired, instead, to struggle toward how things might become in the future and sought to inspire other people to travel in a similar direction.
In the years when America was revolutionary in nature – and for the most part this refers to the America of pre-Philadelphia Convention days – Paine’s perspective was appreciated. However, that point of view later became unwelcome in England, and after first being appreciated in France, that perspective was also rejected to some extent (Paine was not sufficiently bloodthirsty and revengeful as far as some French revolutionary leaders were concerned), and such rejection was also present when Paine returned to America just after the turn of the century in 1802.
Among other things, in the Rights of Man, Paine had argued that civil liberties existed prior to, and independently of, legal systems as well as political or social charters. Consequently, such rights were inalienable and could not be revoked through either political or legal proceedings.
Although Madison and the other participants in the Philadelphia Convention that took place in the summer of 1787 had passed a resolution indicating that all power was inherent in, and derived, from the people and, then, proceeded to use that resolution to justify its call for ratification conventions, the fact of the matter is that a very biased understanding of what such a resolution meant in practical political terms began to dominate America’s form of governance. More specifically, the only power of the people that was of interest to most politicians was the capacity of the people to elect government officials, and once such a power was exercised, the people were encouraged not to take -- or prevented from taking -- a more active role in the oversight of their – according to Paine -- inalienable rights and powers.
Paine believed that any government which did not serve and protect the underlying sovereignty of human beings did not deserve to continue in power. In fact, as far as Paine was concerned, any social institution – not just governance -- that did not assist human beings to realize their individual sovereignty was not serving a proper function in the community.
Unfortunately, beginning with the presidency of George Washington and going forward, Paine’s perspective was considered to be largely irrelevant to the process of federalized governance. Although lip-service was paid to such ideas in the rhetorical flourishes that appeared in speeches and newspaper articles, the world of power politics had little use for Paine’s ideas.
Paine’s perspective was considered to be passé. In truth, the Founders/Framers had not only failed to catch up to Paine’s progressive approach to governance, but those individuals sought – whether knowingly or unknowingly -- to ensure that Paine’s ideas would never be seriously considered.
Such ideas were considered too dangerous for, and threatening to, the ambitions of those who, via elections, sought to leverage the power of the people to serve the interests and agendas of the elected officials. Paine’s ideas were unwelcome because – shame on him – they were about real democracy rather than the sham democracy that had taken hold in the United States after the Philadelphia Constitution was ratified by a: very limited, exceedingly misinformed, and greatly managed segment of ‘We the People.’
In The Rights of Man Paine criticized the aristocrat-friendly Edmund Burke who claimed that a strong, centralized source of authority (i.e., a monarchy) was necessary in order to be able to regulate the essential tendency of human beings to be inclined toward corruptibility. Furthermore, Burke maintained that the best people to oversee such a process were the nobility who possessed the wisdom to govern properly.
Paine argued that wisdom was not an inheritable trait. Consequently, there was no reason to suppose that the nobility possessed any more wisdom concerning matters of governance than the people did.
Government was an invention of certain minorities – for example, the nobility, military officers, and religious institutions. As such, according to Paine, government was an invention that was designed to deny or dilute the sort of inalienable rights and powers that were available to human beings.
The Rights of Man has been cited by some as constituting one of the most powerfully cogent accounts of American revolutionary understanding that existed in the 18th century. For example, in his book Paine not only wrote about how the American Revolution had dispelled the idea that society must be governed by aristocracies and monarchies, but, as well, Paine described how the American Revolution demonstrated that people were individuals who came into this world with certain inalienable rights that entailed being treated as sovereign human beings.
Furthermore, Paine explained that the American Revolution paved the way for such sovereign individuals to be able to change the shape of government as necessary. In this regard Paine also outlined how the model of the American Revolution gave expression to the idea that the people were responsible for writing constitutions that regulated the manner in which governments could govern the people, and, as well, the people were the ones who could alter such arrangements.
According to the perspective being advanced in The Rights of Man, when one combined the natural or innate sovereignty of human beings with their moral and social sensibilities, one ended up with a system that was largely self-regulating. The purpose of government was to assist such self-regulation and, consequently, elected officials were nothing more than transient agents who had a fiduciary responsibility to help the people work toward realizing their individually oriented sense of well-being and happiness.
While the foregoing ideas might give expression to Paine’s theoretical understanding of revolutionary America, something ‘funny’ happened on the way to translating theory into practice. In fact, all of the things about which Paine was trying to warn people in The Rights of Man were reflected in the actual practice of democracy – or what passed as such – in America.
In other words, the Philadelphia Convention, the Philadelphia Constitution, and the ratification conventions were all part of an illegal and unauthorized contrivance on the part of the so-called Framers/Founders in Philadelphia. The purpose of such a contrivance was to construct a means for the ‘natural aristocracy’ to be able to acquire power so that the latter group could rule over ‘We the People’ who – except, perhaps, during elections – were, according to the members of the natural aristocracy, inclined toward corrupting self-interests and, therefore, needed to be saved from themselves by a power elite that had the wisdom – thanks to, among other things, the philosophy of republicanism -- to govern over the generality of people and do what would be in the best interests of such a collectivity.
Just as Paine questioned the premise that the genetic nobility of England – or any country – necessarily possessed the wisdom to rule over the ‘common’ people, so too, being a member of a “natural aristocracy” of self-made men who enjoyed natural gifts of intelligence and talent, did not guarantee that such individuals had a greater access to wisdom than did ‘We the People.’ The idea of government by a wise “aristocracy” was as much an unjustifiable contrivance in the United States as it was in Europe.
Conceivably, through the rosy colored glasses of republican philosophy, Paine might have given the Founders/Framers the benefit of a doubt with respect to what had transpired in Philadelphia and afterwards. That is, if one were to assume that people had acted, and would continue to act, in compliance with the principles of republicanism, then Paine might have supposed that the Philadelphia Constitution – whatever its flaws were -- could have led in the same direction as did Paine’s hopes for revolutionary America.
In addition, Paine was viewing what was going on in America from the distant lands of Europe. At the time Paine wrote The Rights of Man, it is uncertain how detailed his understanding was of the circumstances surrounding the Philadelphia Convention or the ratification conventions, and to what extent the Founders/Framers were actually acting in accordance with the requirements of republican philosophy.
Whatever concessions Paine might have granted to the intentions of the revolutionary leaders in America when he wrote The Rights of Man in the early 1790s, nevertheless, many, if not most, of those concessions had dissipated considerably by the time Washington refused to help free Paine from prison. Furthermore, much of Paine’s dissatisfaction concerning what had taken place in America during Washington’s tenure as president surfaced in his July 30, 1796 letter to George Washington which ended with Paine wondering whether Washington had lost sight of the principles that the President once espoused during revolutionary times or whether Washington ever possessed such principles.
The same wondering could have been directed toward many of the other Founders/Framers who participated in the Philadelphia Convention. Through the Philadelphia Constitution, the American people had been swindled out of their right to institute a form of self-governance that was in accordance with Paine’s understanding of how he believed democracy should be.
Instead, American’s birthright of inalienable liberties had been traded away. The Founders/Framers had settled for a form of government in which ‘We the People’: Could not directly choose their president; could not directly select their senators; could not directly choose members of the judiciary; and had only limited representation in the one congressional branch for which the people – or, at least, some of them -- could vote directly.
As noted earlier, Paine believed that inherent in every human being was a social and moral sensibility that made human beings receptive to engaging one another in reciprocally advantageous ways. If this innate sensibility were properly nurtured and permitted to flourish, people would develop the ability for self-governance … free of contrived, invented forms of governance that sought to suppress and deny such capacities among the generality of people.
For Paine, most, if not all of the inequities of society, were a function of the way in which society, commerce, the judiciary, and government were tied to centralized, tyrannical forms of governance such as monarchy. While Paine might not have believed that the foregoing conditions existed in America when he wrote The Rights of Man, nevertheless, the newly ratified form of governance in the United States resonated with many facets of Paine’s critique of those governments which were dominated by aristocracies and monarchies since many of the inequities that were beginning to appear in America were increasingly becoming tied to whether, or not, one knew anyone in government who could further one’s interests.
In The Rights of Man, Paine argued that war was the direct result of the manner in which aristocracies connived against, or conspired with, one another through an array of secret machinations by governing classes that were primarily interested in promoting their own selfish interests. Paine felt that if the nations of the world were freed from such corrupting influences, they would develop means for peacefully engaging in the sort of commerce that would be of benefit to everyone.
Without war, the need for taxes would lessen. With fewer tax revenues available, the likelihood of there being a perceived need to fight wars might dissipate.
Yet, Madison, Hamilton, and Washington – along with the rest of America’s ‘natural aristocracy’ – wanted the power to be able to directly tax the states in order to, among other things, be able to fight whatever wars they considered to be “necessary and proper.” In fact, this issue was a persistent theme in a number of the ratification conventions where the proponents of ratification used scare tactics to induce anxieties in those who were left to wonder whether, or not, such advocates of federalism were correct when they claimed that America would invite invasions by foreign countries if the federal government were not given the power to directly tax the states.
The implications of Paine’s arguments in The Rights of Man were that the availability of such tax revenues merely increased the likelihood of wars being waged. For Paine, this was a sign of the manner in which ‘Old Government’ operated – taxes were used to pave the road to war, and the spoils of war were considered a means through which to subsidize the luxuries, social standing, and ambitions of the members of those governments.
Wars were also the means through which empires were expanded. Without wars, the ambition for empire-building might lessen.
According to Paine – and this was given expression through Common Sense – commerce was the way to enhance ties within a country. Countries should busy themselves with building ties of affection among their citizens via commercial transactions rather than becoming entangled in the affairs of other countries via wars and related conflicts.
Paine’s vision – as was true of many of the radical thinkers within the Atlantic world – extended beyond what was going on within the United States. In a series of essays which were entitled: ‘American Crisis’ -- and which began on December 19, 1776 and were written throughout the war between America and England -- Paine maintained that the American Revolution was but a foretaste of events to come around the world … events through which people everywhere would be able to realize their inalienable sovereignty as individuals.
Furthermore, at certain points in the aforementioned ‘American Crisis’ essays, Paine stipulated that he was not writing primarily for the American Revolution. His concern was with the world -- with the people of the world -- and his words were intended to articulate universal principles of sovereignty … not just American ones.
While it might be the case – as Paine famously wrote as he opened his initial entry in the American Crisis set of essays – that: “These are the times that try men’s souls,” he believed that better times were ahead. However, the times that would enliven the souls of human beings – rather than try them -- were not primarily an allusion to constitutional governments run by a natural aristocracy but were, instead, a reference to the potential for self-governance that was rooted in the moral and social sensibilities within the generality of human beings.
Some people believe that the reason why Paine died in relative obscurity was due to his religious beliefs. In his book The Age of Reason, Paine attacked the theology of Christianity with considerable rigor and in a fashion that many Christians might find objectionable.
In doing so, Paine sought to point out what he considered to be contradictions in various biblical accounts and the manner in which he felt that reason was offended by such conflicts. However, Paine was not an atheist.
He was a deist (which has its own theology) who believed in God, the Creator of Reality. Paine believed that God had created a universe filled with signs which were capable of demonstrating to any careful observer that material reality came from divine origins and that human beings had been bequeathed an inherent capacity for reasoning about such matters without any need of assistance from institutionalized religion … just as human beings also had been granted the capacity to reason about the issue of self-governance without needing the assistance of contrived forms of governance.
Whatever role might have been played by the religious controversies that were stirred up by The Age of Reason with respect to Paine’s allegedly ignoble and obscure departure from life, Paine was cast into the wilderness by the Founders/Framers long before The Age of Reason was written and quite independently of such topics – and, one might note at this point that quite a few of the Founders were not all that committed to organized religion … even if they believed in God. In other words, Paine was cast into the wilderness because of the radical nature of his political views rather than the radical nature of his religious views – although the latter ideas might have been used to camouflage what many of the Founders/Framers considered to be the real problem entailed by Paine’s perspective.
Paine believed in the spirit that he felt underlay the American Revolution … as did many other individuals, both then and now. However, when Paine returned to America in the early 1800s, politically speaking, he was a stranger in a strange land.
Paine didn’t recognize America, and America didn’t recognize him. The spirit of the revolution had been betrayed, and something else had replaced what Paine considered to be the essence of the American Revolution … an essence that Paine had attempted to allude to in The Rights of Man.
From the time that he returned to the United States in 1802 until his death seven years later, Paine was subjected to the same sort of vilification process and attempts to discredit him – and, therefore, his ideas – as he had encountered in England after the publication of The Rights of Man. In both instances, the underlying problem was the same – namely, the stark differences between, on the one hand, what Paine – and other radical writers of the Atlantic world – had been writing with respect to the issue of democracy, and, on the other hand, the nature of actual governance on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the United States and England, democracy was a riddle wrapped in an enigma that had been packaged by the crafty hands of those (i.e., the aristocrats, natural or otherwise) who sought to control the lives of other people. The radical writers of the Atlantic world had been attempting to unravel the true nature of this enigmatic riddle and, thereby, to expose to the world the nature of the problem that they believed to be hidden within the manner in which governance was practiced in England and America.
The verbal and written attacks against Paine that surfaced after his return to the United States were a continuation of similar tactics which had been used from the time that the Philadelphia Constitution had been released in September 1787. Indeed, almost from the very day that the Philadelphia Convention adjourned, newspapers owned by those who were proponents of ratification (and such owners formed the vast majority of publishers in pre- and post-constitutional America) began a blitz of propaganda that sought to suppress or drown out criticisms of the proposed Constitution, and this barrage of words continued throughout the year and a half period during which ratification conventions were taking place.
Neither the introduction of possible amendments by Madison nor the ratification of a set of ten amendments by the requisite number of states brought the controversies to an end. While the ten amendments to the Philadelphia Constitution offered a certain amount of relief in relation to the concerns of a variety of people, those amendments did not solve the many problems that were still inherent in the recently ratified Constitution.
The running account of the Philadelphia Convention that was recorded by James Madison indicated how many, if not most, of the participants in that assembly made a distinction between a ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’. Democracy was the sort of thing that had been happening in places like the Virginia state legislature and was, in part, the reason why Madison, and others, had set about trying to find a different route to governance … indeed, in the opinion of Madison and others who thought like him, America suffered from an excess of democracy.
Upon exiting the final session of the Philadelphia Convention, a woman supposedly asked Benjamin Franklin: “Well Doctor, what have we got: A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin is reported to have replied: “A republic … if you can keep it.”
The Philadelphia Convention had not constructed a democracy. It had created a republic.
Over the next decade, or so, a battle took place concerning the nature and meaning of the term: “democracy”. At the beginning of this struggle, the word ‘democracy’ was a term of opprobrium, and was considered to be antithetical to the possibility of good governance, and, as well, the term was considered to be something associated with radicalism, foreign intrigues, and atheism.
By the turn of the nineteenth century, if not before, the meaning of the word ‘democracy’ had been reconstituted. By then, the idea of ‘democracy’ had become something of a synonym for the manner in which things were done in the United States.
How were things done in the United States? They were done in accordance with a document that had arisen out of an unauthorized process in Philadelphia and was adopted through an illegal ratification process which, as well, had been managed and manipulated by proponents of an illicit document that supposedly gave expression to the creation of a republic through which citizens governed themselves via the election of representatives … even though the executive, the senate, and the judiciary were not actually elected by the people, and even though the members of the House could not possibly represent the interests of all people – perhaps not even the majority of such individuals.
In the process, democracy was weaned from its origins as a radical aspiration for real self-governance in which people regulated themselves through their moral and social sensibilities … sensibilities that were pursued in accordance with reciprocally advantageous purposes and which involved minimal assistance from government. Democracy became whatever the institutionalized agents of governance said it was and irrespective of whatever collateral damage might accrue to the people as a result of such tyrannical behavior.
In short, democracy was co-opted by the way of power. The idea of democracy had been corrupted and, in the process, it was transformed into something that was entirely alien to people like Thomas Paine.
The denotation of the reformulated notion of ‘democracy’ leveraged the connotation that people tended to associate with that term. In other words, whereas the connotation of ‘democracy’ was rooted in the spirit of revolution and breaking free from all forms of tyranny, nonetheless, over the course of the 1790s, the denotation of that word changed into something which was antagonistic to its original connotation even as the latter emotional sense of the word was used in speeches and writings to promote the reconstituted denotative sense of ‘democracy’.
George Orwell’s 1984 came to America in the 18th century. ‘Newspeak’ was not a future, literary invention but something that had been taking place in America, and elsewhere, for quite some time.
Indeed, since the very beginning of the formation of the United States as a republic, ‘tyranny’ and ‘democracy’ had been fashioned into synonyms. Yet, connotatively speaking, people were led to believe that ‘democracy’ was other than what it had denotatively become – that is, a means of acquiring power through the process of elections … and such power was subsequently used to strip people of their sovereignty and re-deposit that sovereignty into the accounts of the state/nation so that only the latter could be fully sovereign.
A republic run by a natural aristocracy in accordance with whatever activities – republican or otherwise -- are considered to be “necessary and proper” is not necessarily a democracy. Democracies are about the capacity of people for self-regulation apart from, or with minimal assistance from, institutionalized forms of governance.
If elected ‘representatives’ are organizing the lives of citizens according to the ideas of those agents, and if such ideas destroy the capacity of citizens to regulate their own lives in mutually beneficial ways, then one might have a republic. However, such an arrangement is not very democratic in character.
Democracy is about the way of sovereignty which involves equals working in constructive co-operation with one another. Republics, on the other hand, are rooted in the way of power in which one set of individuals (the aristocrats, natural or otherwise) seeks to control other groups of individuals for purposes of advancing agendas that are, by and large, imposed on citizens irrespective of how the latter might feel about such impositions.
One could ask a variety of questions concerning the precise nature of the aforementioned notion of: ‘constructive co-operation of equals’. In fact, the process of querying what might be entailed by such an arrangement is part of the democratic process.
However, within the context of the political form of ‘democracy’ that began to dominate America in the 1790s, the foregoing sort of critical approach to democracy was discouraged. Instead, what became important was the acquisition of power through an electoral process that was used to lend an aura of legitimacy with respect to a variety of tyrannical activities that were enabled through the application of power so acquired.
There are those who might wish to take issue with the foregoing characterization of things. After all, such individuals might argue, the government is merely acting as agents of the people … isn’t this what is going on? The will of the people is made manifest through the derived power of government … isn’t it?
If anyone questioned the uses to which such power was put, then surely (??), those people were being undemocratic. They were seeking to undermine the business of the people (??). They were threatening the viability of democracy (??).
Criticisms of the way of power were transformed into being the equivalent of an attack upon the sacred sovereignty of ‘We the People.’ Yet, in reality, the way of power was entirely about removing sovereignty from the people and allocating that sovereignty entirely within the state or nation which was to be considered as entity unto itself quite independent of the people and with rights and powers superior to those of the people.
National interests are not necessarily the same thing as what would be in the interests of sovereign individuals. National interests are about preserving the way of power, whereas the actual democratic interests of individuals is about preserving their sovereignty quite apart from the interests of the way of power constituted as a sovereign ‘nation’ or ‘state’.
States and nations arose from, and usurped, the sovereignty of individuals, just as corporations did later on. Indeed, treating states/nations as sovereign entities independent of the people from whom such sovereignty was taken, is the model through which corporations came to be considered as sovereign entities independent of the people whose sovereignty was adversely affected by the creation of such legal fictions.
One of the primary obstacles facing those seeking to implement the amended Philadelphia Constitution -- and, thereby, assume undisputed political and legal dominance in America -- involved the writings of Atlantic radicals (consisting largely of individuals from England, Ireland, Scotland, France, and America) – who took exception to the whole process through which tyranny or the way of power sought to: eradicate, abuse, undermine, or corrupt the sovereignty of people considered independently of the institutional machinery of states/nations.
The foregoing sorts of individuals had been publishing books, pamphlets, and newspapers concerning such issues throughout the American struggle for independence, as well as during the process of ratification. Their concerns about the issues of sovereignty and self-governance were bolstered considerably when, starting in 1789, the French Revolution began to unfold and, as a result – at least until the French Revolution went sour -- those events provided considerable food for thought concerning what was transpiring in the United States and whether, or not, the latter set of events were democratic in any significant way or whether, perhaps, the birth of constitutional America had betrayed such ideals.
Rather than writing for the so-called intelligentsia of society, the Atlantic radicals directed their appeals to the people. In this regard, Thomas Paine had shown the way through his work, Common Sense, which had an appeal for people that extended far beyond the intellectual elite.
The foregoing trend was continued when Paine published The Rights of Man early in 1789 since the book also was directed toward the generality of people – as Common Sense had been -- rather than the upper classes. In fact, as previously noted, this attempt to reach the common people rather than the elite is what got Paine in trouble in England in relation to his work: The Rights of Man.
Those who owned the majority of newspapers in America were true believers in the newly instituted constitutional system in the United States … or, if not true believers, then they understood how such a system of governance might advance their interests. Consequently, such publishers (which constituted about three-fourths of all newspaper publishers at that time) took exception with anyone who sought to criticize the form of governance which had arisen in America following the Philadelphia Convention.
Like their counterparts in England, the publishers of most of the papers in the United States recognized the potential dangers that were being given expression through the attempts of the radical Atlantic writers to appeal to the common people in America via books, pamphlets, lectures, and newspaper articles (although the newspapers which would print such radical ideas were relatively few in number) in relation to issues of rights, liberty, sovereignty, and the like. Such writings had stoked the fires of revolution in France, and the interests being represented through the vast majority of newspapers in America did not want the same sort of turmoil visiting America.
America had had its revolution. All relevant matters had been settled hadn’t they? There was no need for any further revolution in America … at least this is the perspective through which the proponents of the way of power saw things.
Further revolution would be a threat to the manner in which the way of power had ascended to the realm of governance in America. Therefore, just as had occurred during the process of ratification, a fierce war of words broke out in America between those publishers (a small minority) who were trying to reach the common people in the United States in order to inform the latter individuals about the many issues that had not been resolved by the revolution in America, and, on the other hand, those publishers (the vast majority) who were trying to defend the way of power that had assumed control in America through the Philadelphia Constitution.
Both sets of publishers – that is the majority and the minority – understood that revolutions were, for the most part, the result of the collective action of the generality of people. Consequently, each set of publishers attempted to ‘educate’ the public in accordance with their respective understandings of the set of historical events that were occurring at that time in the Atlantic world – especially America and France.
The activities of the publishers were augmented by pamphleteers and public lectures on both sides of the hermeneutical divide. In addition, the discussions taking place in taverns, as well as tea and coffee houses, within the Atlantic world, also played a significant role as the patrons of those establishments often explored the writings of the day whether in the form of books, pamphlets, or newspapers.
For a variety of reasons, the 1790s were especially auspicious times for the distribution of newspapers and books in America. For instance, in 1792, the relatively newly minted Congress had passed the Post Office Act which permitted newspaper publishers to exchange their publications with one another free of charge and, as well, enabled them to mail their newspapers to locations within a hundred miles for just a penny. In addition, as the credit crisis of the 1780s dissipated, booksellers were able to gain access to the sort of credit arrangements that enabled them to purchase, stock, and trade a wide variety of titles that gave expression to an array of ideas.
In addition, whereas in colonial America, most newspapers, printers, and booksellers were confined to the major urban areas along coastal America, during the 1790s there was an explosion of outlets through which to distribute various forms of media. Increasingly, the interior parts of America were gaining access to the news and ideas of the day in – for that age – a relatively timely fashion.
One could throw libraries into the foregoing mix of taverns, newspapers, booksellers, as well as coffee and tea houses that served as outlets for news and views. Hundreds of libraries were opening their doors during the early part of the 1790s, and, as a result, more and more people were able to read about the issues of the day in a convenient and financially affordable manner.
The foregoing establishments, however, were not just a means for gaining access to reading materials. They also served as centers for acquiring, among other things, a political education concerning such materials since books and newspapers were not only printed at, or distributed through, such centers, but those materials were also discussed and critiqued at those locations.
The two aforementioned sets of publishers – namely, on the one hand, those who felt the political revolution and been brought to a close through the ratification of the Philadelphia Constitution, and, on the other hand, those who believed the political revolution was unfinished and that the Philadelphia Constitution constituted an obstacle to the realization of real democracy –were seeking to orient the public in quite divergent ways. Libraries, taverns, public lectures, bookstores, printing shops, as well as coffee and tea houses were the battlefields where such divergent ideas were engaged, struggled with, and interpreted.
How someone might come to understand the nature of community, sovereignty, democracy, rights, and governance depended a great deal on the character of the battlefields to which one was exposed. How someone might come to think about the political process and what participation in such a process meant would be shaped by one’s encounters with various ideas on the foregoing sorts of political battlefields of the 1790s.
The aforementioned battles were not fought along party lines. Although there were political alliances and allegiances in the 1790s, there were no major political parties in America until the latter part of that decade.
Instead, the hermeneutical battles being waged were about the meaning of words and their relevance, if any, to the practice of governance in America. Those battles were about what it meant to be a citizen – both of America and in the world. Such battles were about the nature and purpose of sovereignty.
During the 1790s, there were approximately 35 to 40 newspapers in America that were committed, in different ways and to different degrees, to the idea of ‘democracy’ to which Paine had given expression in his 1789 work: The Rights of Man. Half a dozen of those papers had a presence in major urban areas such as New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia, while most of the other papers in this group of publications were printed in less populated areas.
Many of the remaining papers – which totaled around 120-130 publications -- were sympathetic toward, and supportive of, the form of constitutional government that had been set in motion by the convention that had taken place in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787. Some of these papers were republican in nature -- in the sense that they gave voice to the principles and values associated with the philosophy of republicanism -- while other papers amongst this majority group of publications were proponents of constitutionalism and the manner in which that concept was unfolding in America even if this process was not necessarily republican in character.
Irrespective of which of the foregoing publications one might consider, there often was a sense among the publishers and editors of those publications that they were part of an enlightened elite whose task was to educate and civilize the unenlightened masses. However, if Paine and other radical Atlantic writers were correct, every human being had the capacity to understand the issues that were at the heart of ideas such as democracy, sovereignty, rights, and so on, and if this were the case, then the responsibility of such publications should have been limited to providing accurate information and permitting their readers to struggle toward arriving at an appropriate understanding of that material.
Consequently, however well-intended their respective editorial decisions might have been, nevertheless, the newspapers on all sides of the issues during the 1790s were – each in their own way -- seeking to shape the opinions of Americans. This was true whether, or not, one was talking about those publications which were inclined toward Paine-like ideas, or one was talking about those publications that were inclined toward federalism, republicanism, and/or constitutionalism.
The irony inherent in the former sort of publications – i.e., those that considered themselves to be Paine-like in outlook – is that the author of Common Sense and The Rights of Man had insisted on being able to form his own opinions quite apart from the so-called ‘leaders’ of society. Yet, in the 1790s there were many Paine-oriented publications that were seeking to serve as ‘leaders’ who were attempting to shape the opinions of their readers with respect to all manner of things – especially the French Revolution … an issue that, eventually, would lead to the demise of such publications as an influential source of ideas concerning the nature of democracy and sovereignty.
The publishers and editors of those newspapers who filtered political and social issues through a Paine-like set of lenses believed that change in America could be brought about quickly – i.e., in a revolutionary manner – and, consequently, they sought to provide the ideational sparks that might light a sustained fire of change in America. The publishers and editors of those newspapers which filtered political and social issues through a federalist or constitutional-like set of lenses viewed the events in France (along with Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts and the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania) as being inherently dangerous and, therefore, sought to prevent such events from taking hold in America, and in the process, they sought to be ‘leaders’ who shaped the opinions of Americans in a different manner than did the Paine-like publishers and editors.
One side wanted Americans to become more deeply immersed in the political process (i.e., beyond merely voting) and bring about revolutionary change. The other side wanted Americans to disengage from the political process (other than voting that is) and let the ‘professionals’ or natural aristocracy handle such matters.
Neither side of the ideological divide appeared interested in having an open, rigorous, sincere dialog with Americans. Instead, both sides seemed to have a vested interest in pushing Americans in one direction or another.
Eventually, details about how the ‘reign of terror’ had taken control of the French Revolution began to reach America. Tens of thousands of people had been summarily executed in France – whether by firing squads, the guillotine, or spontaneous massacres – between September 1793 and July 1794. The ‘crime’ of those who were executed was that they were perceived -- usually without evidence or on the unsubstantiated testimony of people with vested interests -- to be enemies of the people or enemies of the revolution.
Those American publications that were oriented, in one way or another, around the idea of federalism, constitutionalism, and/or republicanism used the ‘reign of terror’ like a mace to bludgeon those who were proponents of revolutionary ‘democracy’. Surely, such newspapers intimated, America would have its own ‘reign of terror’ if the proponents of a Paine-like approach to issues of governance and sovereignty were permitted to gain any sort of ascendency in society.
Those publishers and editors who had tied their hoped-for influence in American society to news items, articles, and essays about the ‘glorious’ example of the French Revolution now discovered that they had a sizable, ugly, toxic albatross strung around their ideas. The previously ‘courageous citizen rebels’ of France were now being cast as lawless, bloodthirsty, murderers.
Within a fairly short period of time, those publishers and editors who were inclined to a revolutionary agenda lost the propaganda battle in America. If ‘democracy’ was an allusion to the Paine-like ideas of sovereignty in which citizens assumed control of their lives – ideas that The Rights of Man claimed were reflected in the events of the French Revolution – then, surely, such ideas must be rejected. If, on the other hand, the idea of ‘democracy’ was intended to allude to the process of governance that was being observed in American, then perhaps, ‘democracy’ was not such a bad idea … it certainly was a far, far better thing than what had taken place in France for nearly a year between 1793 and 1794.
The foregoing nasty turn in a propaganda war that had been going on in America during the early to mid-1790s was, as is usually the case, not really fair. Paine had written The Rights of Man some four years before ‘the reign of terror’ occurred in France. Moreover, there was nothing in The Rights of Man which could be construed as advocating a process of mass executions as an acceptable tool to use during the struggle for sovereignty … indeed, Paine was against the death penalty for any offense.
Furthermore, Paine, himself, had been imprisoned during ‘the reign of terror’ because he refused to endorse the execution of Louis XVI … an execution that was emblematic of ‘the reign of terror’. Nevertheless, Paine’s name, along with his ideas, were affixed to ‘the reign of terror’ by those publishers and editors in America who feared the potential in Paine’s perspective for undermining the way of power that had been permitted to enter American society via the Philadelphia Constitution.
The same sort of propaganda techniques -- which played fast and loose with the truth in any given matter -- had been used during the ratification process a few years earlier. At that time, most of the newspapers in America – but not all -- were in favor of the new constitution and, as a result, they sought to demonize those, along with their ideas, who were resistant to adopting the Philadelphia Constitution -- whether with or without amendments.
If many of the 35 or 40 Paine-oriented newspapers that were published during the 1790s in America had not been so interested in trying to use the French Revolution as a tool for motivating the generality of people to stage a new French-like revolution in America, and if the publishers and editors of those same newspapers had limited their focus to what was taking place with respect to governance in America -- as a function of implementing the Philadelphia Convention – and how the reality of governance in America was vastly different than the principles of democracy that were being espoused by Paine -- along with many other radical Atlantic writers -- and if such papers had been more willing to engage Americans in dialogue rather than treat the latter as individuals who must be converted to a revolutionary cause, then such newspapers might have survived the debacle of ‘the reign of terror’. Unfortunately, all too many of the Paine-inclined papers handed the opposition newspapers all the ammunition the latter would need by ‘virtue’ of the former’s constant citing of the French Revolution as being the sort of example that should be followed in America.
The fact that the newspapers which were oriented toward republicanism, federalism, and/or constitutionalism won the propaganda war of the 1790s concerning the issue of sovereignty was not a vindication of the ideas and perspective that were being given expression through the pages of their various publications. They did not win that war due to the strength of their arguments concerning the legitimacy of the Philadelphia Convention, the Philadelphia Constitution, or the process of ratification … all of which were done in an illegal and problematic fashion) but, rather, they won that war because of the mistakes made by a side whose fortunes were too closely hitched to the soon-to-fall star of the French Revolution … mistakes which those who were opposed to democracy in Paine’s sense of the word took full advantage of when they demonized everything associated with Paine’s approach to sovereignty due to something – i.e., ‘the reign of terror’ – for which Paine was not responsible … in fact, with respect to which he did his best to resist ‘the terror’ before being imprisoned for his opposition to it.
Just as Paine’s ideas in Common Sense were not causally responsible for what happened in the Philadelphia Convention or the many problems that have ensued from that assembly, so too, Paine’s ideas in The Rights of Man were not causally responsible for ‘the reign’ of terror or the many problems that were entailed by those events. However, because the ideas contained in Common Sense were consonant with the ambitions of the Founders/Framers, they were lauded, whereas since the ideas that were contained in The Rights of Man were problematic with respect to the ambitions of the Founders/Framers, those ideas were discredited through a process of guilt by association … an association which many of the political ‘leaders’ and government officials in America must have known was not an accurate reflection of events, and, yet, one which they persisted in mirroring to the public through the pages of like-minded newspapers.
The Rights of Man is reported to have sold as many copies in America as Common Sense did – both of which are estimated to have been purchased by a hundred thousand, or more, people. At a time when such books rarely sold more than a few thousand copies, those levels of sales are truly remarkable.
Although Paine enjoyed a variety of financial and political benefits from the sale of Common Sense, eventually, he disappeared from public prominence. This disappearance was so complete that few people took notice when, for financial reasons, Paine left America and returned to England in 1787.
Two years later, Paine’s reputation as a political commentator was resurrected with the publication of The Rights of Man. Once again, Paine became a person worth reading.
The fraudulent, disingenuous association that was forged between Paine and ‘the reign of terror’ in France by his ideological opponents, as well as his book, The Age of Reason -- which he began during his imprisonment as a victim of that reign – once again pushed Paine to the sideline as an active participant in the political arena … a status from which, this time, there would be no subsequent resurrection. However, as much as some people cite The Age of Reason as a major factor for why Paine supposedly fell out of disfavor in America, there was another publication of Paine that appeared in 1797 which might have been perceived as more of a threat to the way of power in America than anything contained in The Age of Reason.
More specifically, in 1797 Paine released a pamphlet with the title: Agrarian Justice. In this tract, Paine argued that the earth and all its resources did not belong to anyone but were part of the commons to which everyone was entitled.
Paine did not believe that the divide between rich and poor was a reflection of a Divine Plan … as some religious leaders were claiming at the time. Instead, he felt that the necessities of life already had been provided by God, and, therefore, any inequities in the distribution of God’s generosity were due to human interference rather than Divine wishes.
While Paine maintained that it might be necessary to continue to recognize the idea of ‘private property’ in order to properly reflect the labor that was expended to improve upon the state of nature, nevertheless, such property needed to be utilized in a fashion that benefitted the welfare of people. Consequently, Paine devised a tax scheme that was intended to subsidize not only pensions for the elderly but, as well, to provide a sort of guaranteed minimum income for those who were 21 years of age or older.
Irrespective of whether, or not, the particulars of Paine’s tax plan were, or are, viable, what is revolutionary in Agrarian Justice is the manner in which private property is constrained by, and must provide for, the welfare of everyone. This idea was not unique to Paine but extended back -- at least in one form -- to The Great Charter of the Forests in 1217 (this charter was intended to complement the provisions of the Magna Carta that had been drawn up two years earlier). The Great Charter of the Forests recognized that the generality of people had rights concerning the use of land that should not be infringed upon by either aristocracies or monarchies … both agreements initially became law in 1225 and, then, were reintroduced into law through subsequent modified versions of those agreements.
Moreover, the general themes of Agrarian Justice were also on the minds and hearts of many other members of the radical Atlantic writers. One might say that such ideas were very much part of the Atlantic zeitgeist during the 1790s.
However, the idea of private property was very important to the Founders/Framers of the Philadelphia Constitution … unless, of course, one was an Indian, a Negro, or poor. Any principle that called such an idea into question – as Paine’s Agrarian Justice pamphlet did -- would be considered not just revolutionary but heretical in character.
Pretty much all, if not all, of the Founders/Framers were proponents of The Enlightenment which, among other things, called for the power of reason to be applied to all manner of problems, questions, and issues. Consequently, the fact that Paine applied reason to the topic of religion should not have offended any of the Founders/Framers.
Was Paine too harsh, or did he cross some line of propriety, when he criticized Christianity in the Age of Religion? Perhaps!
However, there were quite a few other Founders/Framers who were not deeply committed to any particular form of organized religion. Although such individuals might have disagreed with Paine’s antagonistic style of argument, they might not necessarily have disagreed with some of his conclusions concerning organized religion.
In addition, there were those among the Founders/Framers who might have been committed to this or that form of institutionalized religion and, as a result, had their own particular brand of Christianity to which they subscribed and which entailed theological principles that were at variance with the religious perspective of other members of the Founders/Framers. However, these were individuals who also understood the importance of religious tolerance and the right of conscience and would not have begrudged Paine his religious point of view even if they were to have found his way of going about things to be, possibly, disagreeable and excessive.
However, almost to a man, I believe the Founders/Framers probably would have had difficulty dealing with the principles that were being elucidated in Paine’s Agrarian Justice. The latter pamphlet constituted a frontal assault on the idea of property … an idea that was considered to be sacrosanct and central to the ambitions of the Founders/Framers – both with respect to the country and themselves.
The implications of The Rights of Man and Agrarian Justice pointed in a much different direction with respect to issues of sovereignty than did the Philadelphia Constitution … even when the latter is amended. The ideas in The Age of Reason may have greased the skids of disapproval among certain segments of the general public, but the implication inherent in The Rights of Man and Agrarian Justice were far more disquieting to those who walked the halls of power within American governance – whether considered from the perspective of the federal government or states – and, therefore, the latter two publications were far more likely to motivate members of the ‘natural aristocracy’ and power elite to want to send Paine into obscurity than anything Paine said in The Age of Reason.