Reply To: Revolution to Constitution: Radical or Conservative


Thank you for your responses as always.

So you say that Wood’s account is generally accepted by historians, but what do you personally think?

Do you agree with Wood when he says that the Constitution was radical because it represented a shift from the Ciceronian/Whig view of the executive and judicial branches representing the upper classes while the legislature represented the people to a more democratic one based on dispersed popular sovereignty, or do you personally agree with Jensen and Sheldon Richman that the Constitution was a conservative reaction to the forces of democracy unleashed by the Revolution and embodied in the Articles?

To support the claim that the constitution represented a win for conservatives at that time, Jensen talks about how the original draft of the Articles was decidedly pro national in the power balance, but then it was revised to have the prototype of the Tenth Amendment in Article II under the AOC, and that the Federalists’ efforts in Philadelphia to have a congressional veto and to abolish the states prove their conservative and anti-democratic persuasions.

Was the Constitution radical or conservative, or is this a false dichotomy nitpicked by academia? I’m aware of the fear of democracy that would degenerate into a tyrannical rule of the majority which might deprive the minority of its property, but I have a hard time seeing people like Madison and Hamilton (who whatever his views were on broad construction, risked his life in war for freedom) as being motivated by a desire to rein in democracy.

Here’s an excerpt of an article from Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, a Mises fellow who also went to U of Texas Austin, who seems to accept the Jensen/Beard theory:

“The American Revolution, like all great social upheavals, was brought off by a disparate coalition of competing viewpoints and conflicting interests. At one end of the Revolutionary coalition stood the American radicals—men such as Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas Jefferson.

Although by no means in unanimous agreement, the radicals objected to excessive state power in general and not simply to British rule in particular. Spearheading the Revolution’s opening stages, they were responsible for the truly revolutionary alterations in the internal status quo: the abolition of slavery in the northern states, the separation of church and state in the southern states, the rooting out of remaining feudal privileges everywhere, and the adoption of new, republican state constitutions containing written bills of rights that severely hemmed in government power.

At the other end of the Revolutionary coalition were the American nationalists- an array of mercantile, creditor, and landed interests. The nationalists went along with independence but opposed the Revolution’s libertarian thrust. They sought a strong American state with the hierarchical features of the 18th-century British state, only without the British.”

Do you have any opinions about the truth of that statement?

Likewise, Jensen summed it in a few quotes in his book about the Articles:

“When it came to the formation of a common government for all the states, the radicals [who wrote the Articles of Confederation] were guided by experience and by certain political ideas. Experience had taught them to dislike the colonial governing classes and to fear the concentration of wealth and political power. Their political philosophy taught that governments exercising power over wide areas were inherently undemocratic in action.”

and that

“[The Federalists] engineered a conservative counter-revolution and erected a nationalistic government whose purpose, in part, was to thwart the will of ‘the people’ in whose name they acted. They too could use one name while pursuing a goal that was the opposite in fact. Thus, although the purpose of the conservatives was ‘nationalistic’, they adopted the name ‘Federalist’, for it served to disguise the extent of the changes they desired.”

Do you have any thoughts on those statements as to whether they are true or not?

Also, I’m reading Bradley Thompsons’ Adams book-is that the one you are reviewing?

Thanks again