In an 1849 speech to the Massachusetts Bible Society and at that time a twice elected member to Congress’ House of Representatives and later appointed House Speaker, his following words echoed several of the newly formed United States government charters and their Founding Fathers:
We continue now from Part 1, A New U.S. Constitution…
Our 18th Century Constitution Nurtures Political & Economic Inequality Today
Mr. R.C. Winthrop, a respected lawyer and descendant of Governor John Winthrop from the original 1630 Massachusetts Bay Colony, in his speech essentially repeated what several U.S. Founding Fathers and Constitutional framers believed, designed, and ratified six decades earlier in Philadelphia at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It was the widely held belief that people, especially men and their innate predisposition toward unbecoming vices and selfish misconduct (sin?), had to be governed one way or another. Or they at least required protections, supervision against unfair and partial laws which might oppress particular segments of society, and vice versa.
One of those Founding Fathers was Alexander Hamilton. At the Philadelphia Convention he told its members:
Give all power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few, they will oppress the many. Both therefore ought to have power that each may defend itself agst. [sic] the other.
And Hamilton was not the only one advocating for fair laws, supervisions, and protections for all classes of society. But it’s worth noting here too that human slavery and trafficking in America had been thriving for many, many decades and oddly enough, Hamilton’s words, his colleagues’ words, and even Winthrop’s words had little or no meaning whatsoever for non-whites or women. Nevertheless, what these great men sought was the promotion of maximum economic opportunity inside a dynamic and growing nation with some protections for legitimate wealth.
What was meant by legitimate wealth in the minds of our 18th and 19th century Founders? Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Paine, and a host of secondary Founders all agreed that hereditary wealth accumulation like what existed in Great Britain’s society and Parliament, was in fact a heavily corrupting factor on a Republic’s governing body which would inevitably cheat and oppress “the many.” As recent history had shown them with the collapse and/or overthrows of several imperial European kingdoms and monarchies in the 16th–18th centuries, to deter such tyrants or wild blood-thirsty mobs from seizing power, our Founding Fathers wrote Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of our U.S. Constitution, which states:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
But here is the astonishing irony between what our Founding Fathers feared then, and what many Americans fear today and see has already happened.
In 1787’s Pennsylvania Convention and forward up to Winthrop’s 1849 speech, it wasn’t so much a foreign power’s aristocracy they saw as a serious threat. It was the potential for a powerful domestic oligarchy being created that they really feared. Several Founding Fathers were uneasy about the capability of private wealth, legitimate or not, to merge with government authority and legislation, thus destroying true republicanism. On this risk, the Constitutional framers vigorously looked to insulate government policy away from private wealth and its self-interests that, like Great Britain, had corrupted her and several other European imperial monarchies and aristocracies for several centuries or more.
Because as had been shown in Europe, e.g. Ivan IV (the Terrible) and Oliver Cromwell to name the well-known tyrants of the time, the enormous amount of both could be used to seize total power. But the irony gets even better!
The Constitution that Congressman Gerry and the many Founding Fathers wrote in 1787, today protects a domestic oligarchy against the greater good, “We the People,” or the majority will, and does so in basic ways. A closer look at the Constitution’s original wealth protections will contrast what was meant in 1787 versus what has happened now in the 20th and 21st centuries in America. From Dr. Van Cleve and our Constitution:
The 1787 Constitution (and the Bill of Rights) protected the existing distribution of wealth in America using both legal and political means. The Constitution contained various legal protections for private property. For example, its “Contracts Clause” protected creditors against widespread efforts during hard times in the 1780s by debtors to reduce or escape their debts.Van Cleve, George William – “Making a New American Constitution.” Maroon Bells Press, 2020. Kindle Edition.
However, many other Founding Constitutional framers, mostly in the agricultural South, felt those protections did not go far enough, particularly with their mass wealth in private slaveholdings and its free labor. Southern plantation owners feared that northern interests might use their federal powers to divest or cripple their unpopular “property values,” or to be perfectly transparent, their slaves and free slave-labor. This one controversial debate over “property values” bled over into other heated arguments about fair taxation and state representation and therefore how much authority a federal government should or shouldn’t have over member states.
Some Political-Wealth Protections Afforded by the 18th Century Constitution
- Rigorous Limitations on Federal Taxation Powers — these prohibit taxes of “Capitation or other direct” taxes unless made by the states according to the decennial Census.
- Indirect Wealth Protections — this is done so by rigidly fashioning large aspects of earlier generational hierarchal power, long established and in existence, thus significantly limiting its redistribution. By freezing these it greatly undermines the federal government’s sensible ability to tailor the distribution of resources and wealth fairly.
Under the 1777 Articles of Confederation—America’s first constitution—each colony or state had one equal vote in a one-house Congress. By 1786 all the Constitutional framers knew some states were substantially larger in population and wealthier than other states. As one might imagine then, this caused heated debate over fair, equal representation and how that would be defined! Even today this is a controversial topic.
Controversy aside, consider this… and study closely the following four data-tables. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of 2021, these are the ten wealthiest states (💵) in America:
|State||Median Hsehld Income||State||Median Hsehld Income|
|10. Virginia||$80,963||5. California||$84,907|
|9. Colorado||$82,254||4. New Hampshire||$88,465|
|8. Connecticut||$83,771||3. New Jersey||$89,296|
|7. Washington||$84,247||2. Massachusetts||$89,645|
|6. Hawaii||$84,857||1. Maryland||$90,203|
According to World Population Review, here are the ten most populated states (🏘️) in the U.S. in 2022:
|10. Michigan||10,116,069||5. Pennsylvania||13,062,764|
|9. North Carolina||10,620,168||4. New York||20,365,879|
|8. Georgia||10,916,760||3. Florida||22,085,563|
|7. Ohio||11,852,036||2. Texas||29,945,493|
|6. Illinois||12,808,884||1. California||39,995,077|
Notice that of the two data-tables above, only one (1) state with the largest population is a Top 10 Wealthiest state: California. And here are the U.S.’s least populated states or smallest states:
|31. Nevada||3,143,991||41. Maine||1,354,522|
|32. Arkansas||3,025,891||42. Montana||1,085,004|
|33. Mississippi||2,961,279||43. Rhode Island||1,061,509|
|34. Kansas||2,934,582||44. Delaware||990,334|
|35. New Mexico||2,115,877||45. South Dakota||896,581|
|36. Nebraska||1,963,692||46. North Dakota||770,026|
|37. Idaho||1,900,923||47. Alaska||724,357|
|38. W. Virginia||1,782,959||48. D.C.||714,153|
|39. Hawaii||1,441,553||49. Vermont||623,251|
|40. New Hampshire||1,388,992||50. Wyoming||581,075|
Now, in light of the three tables above, consider this data-table of the U.S. states with the most households of millionaires, billionaires, or trillionaires in 2021:
|state||% of Millionaire|
|state||% of bill-trill|
|10. Alaska ⚛️||➡️8.18%||11. Georgia 🏘️||1.28%|
|9. Virginia 💵||8.31%||10. Connecticut 💵||3.88%|
|8. New Hampshire ⚛️ 💵||➡️8.47%||9. Pennsylvania 🏘️||1.30%|
|7. California 🏘️||8.51%||8. Nevada ⚛️||➡️5.41%|
|6. D.C. ⚛️||➡️9.12%||7. Washington 💵||2.71%|
|5. Hawaii ⚛️ 💵||➡️9.20%||6. Illinois 🏘️||1.72%|
|4. Massachusetts 💵||9.38%||5. Massachusetts 💵||3.44%|
|3. Connecticut 💵||9.44%||4. Texas 🏘️||2.14%|
|2. Maryland 💵||9.72%||3. Florida 🏘️||3.17%|
|1. New Jersey 💵||9.76%||2. New York 🏘️||6.19%|
|1. California 💵||4.73%|
Did you notice how many least populated states or tiny states (⚛️) are listed in the Top 10 Wealthiest states and those with the most millionaires, billionaires/trillionaires (💵)? Look again. Do you see a 20th and 21st century pattern or imbalance between wealth vs. population, and therefore between fair, proportional federal representation from “We the People”?
In light of those questions, let’s consider what a core Founding Father, John Adams, had to say along with several other Founders in July 1776 at the Continental Congress. These are the archived, later handwritten notes of Thomas Jefferson recorded for posterity (emphasis mine):
John Adams advocated the voting in proportion to numbers. He said that we stand here as the representatives of the people. That in some states the people are many, in others they are few; that therefore their vote here should be proportioned to the numbers from whom it comes. Reason, justice, & equity never had weight enough on the face of the earth to govern the councils of men. It is interest alone which does it, and it is interest alone which can be trusted. That therefore the interests within doors should be the mathematical representatives of the interests without doors. That the individuality of the colonies is a mere sound. Does the individuality of a colony increase it’s wealth or numbers. If it does, pay equally. If it does not add weight in the scale of the confederacy, it cannot add to their rights, nor weigh in argument. A. has £50. B. £500. C. £1000. in partnership. Is it just they should equally dispose of the monies of the partnership? It has been said we are independent individuals making a bargain together. The question is not what we are now, but what we ought to be when our bargain shall be made. The confederacy is to make us one individual only; it is to form us, like separate parcels of metal, into one common mass. We shall no longer retain our separate individuality, but become a single individual as to all questions submitted to the confederacy. Therefore all those reasons which prove the justice & expediency of equal representation in other assemblies, hold good here. It has been objected that a proportional vote will endanger the smaller states. We answer that an equal vote will endanger the larger. Virginia, Pennsylvania, & Massachusetts are the three greater colonies. Consider their distance, their difference of produce, of interests & of manners, & it is apparent they can never have an interest or inclination to combine for the oppression of the smaller. That the smaller will naturally divide on all questions with the larger. Rhode isld, from it’s relation, similarity & intercourse will generally pursue the same objects with Massachusetts; Jersey, Delaware & Maryland, with Pennsylvania.—Jefferson, Thomas. The Works, vol. 2 (1771-1779). New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905, at https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/jefferson-the-works-vol-2-1771-1779
John Adams and several other Founders were clearly arguing in 1776 that it was exceedingly unwise and hazardous politically to have smaller tinier states be treated like the larger states, as economic equals and representative equals! More often than not the largest states will have different or opposing interests, let alone their voices unheard, drowned-out or disregarded, by the minority states, and thus by default, policies would be enacted against their state’s better, and possible long-term interests.
By the time of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787 numerous delegates, both publicly and privately, had agreed with Adams’ mathematical logic, especially regarding state-equality. In fact, many of them viewed individual, smaller states as far too powerful to represent accurately or fairly the federal whole, or the supermajority or even the simple majority! James Madison was one such prominent delegate. He basically felt that if the infant United States were ever going to seriously join and influence the rest of the world’s major powers, they had to work as one nation rather than two, three, or four opposing, and hence weaker sub-nations. Other world powers just would NOT take America serious if we repeatedly behaved as several bickering, defiant children (states). Or to put it another way, mostly rural agricultural states pitted equally against urban, heavily populated states.
As a consequence and a massive compromise reached, the 1787 Constitutional Convention established one of the untenable core principles for our nation to this day: a major redistribution of governmental power between all states but far fewer people.
[The Convention] based states’ relative voting strengths in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College heavily on their populations. (In the era’s predominantly agricultural economy, states’ populations correlated very strongly to their wealth). Many of the most important new federal powers granted by the Constitution including taxation could be exercised by majority vote, not by a supermajority as the Articles [of Confederation] had required. Unfortunately, at the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, obtaining essential federal powers became politically possible only after very substantial concessions were made to protect powerful vested economic and political interests.VAN CLEVE, GEORGE WILLIAM – “MAKING A NEW AMERICAN CONSTITUTION.” MAROON BELLS PRESS, 2020. KINDLE EDITION.
Anyone who still argues today that our U.S. federal government has the same equal power and representation as a group of tiny states, e.g. Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Nevada, Wyoming, and both Dakotas, as well as representing the simple majority of the American people is deranged. The data-tables above and the 246-year history of this nation simply does not bear out this notion.
Plain and simple, the 1787 Constitution did not establish a perfectly level playing field for a representative republic. On the contrary, delegates from the more rural colonies/states in the agricultural South with their generally smaller populations of white free-men forced two (2) enormous compromises, as described by Dr. Van Cleve:
[First], The Convention gave two Senate votes to each state, thus giving greatly disproportionate power to small states. The Senate’s structure disregarded entirely the great disparities in states’ population and wealth. (At the time, for example, Virginia’s free population was roughly nine times the size of Delaware’s). That meant that the six smallest of the original thirteen states, which at the time together had about 20 percent of the total free population, received 46 percent of the total Senate votes.
In a second major compromise, the Philadelphia Convention agreed to give the five major slave states exaggerated political power through the “Three-Fifths Clause.” That provision artificially increased the slave states’ populations in allocating House of Representatives seats and Electoral College voting strength. As of 1820, slave states received a premium of about eighteen seats in the House, or 8 percent of its total seats, due to the Three-Fifths Clause. That premium substantially influenced national policies in their favor by protecting both their agricultural export economies and their persistent efforts to expand slavery westward.VAN CLEVE, GEORGE WILLIAM – “MAKING A NEW AMERICAN CONSTITUTION.” MAROON BELLS PRESS, 2020. KINDLE EDITION.
This political advantage of ‘the few’ lasted for 81-years until the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in July of 1868 after victory two-years earlier by the Union Army at Appomattox, Virginia, ending the American Civil War. However, the tiny states’ enormous voting premium in the Senate chamber still exists to this day.
Small State Influence Today Aids Republicans, Protecting Wealth Inequality
Over the last 154-years due to socioeconomic progress and change, these tiny states’ impact on our federal republic have actually grown even bigger since 1787 and 1868. As of 2021, the twenty-eight smallest states of the Union together have only approximately 20% of America’s total population. But they have at least 56% of the total Senate votes! And it is common knowledge that for Congress to make beneficial policies and pass laws for the betterment of the country, these actions require support from BOTH Congressional Chambers. Our ten largest states by population, meanwhile, where over half of the U.S.’s total population resides, possess only about 20% of the Senate votes.
The Senate has become the tiny states’ fortress for protecting and maintaining wealth inequality and political power. For the last 2-3 decades or more the Republican Party has not only recognized this huge amount of leverage, but has fiercely strengthened its impact on federal policies which favor their political and economic advantage of ‘the few’. Their voting advantage also seriously influences the Electoral College during elections as seen by eighteen total unpopular Presidents winning the White House, i.e. they did not win a majority of the popular/general vote by the American people, but won the Electoral College votes. I will examine this Senate affect on the E.C. later in the series.
You may have heard at some point during your adult life or in your high school or college classroom that the United States was formed as a Constitutional democracy. True, but not entirely. The United States was also designed to function (in theory?) as a democratic republic. The two concepts are similar, but not identical nor are they any longer interchangeable in the 20th and 21st centuries as they were in the 18th and early 19th centuries. As shown earlier, the Core Founding Fathers of our nation, six of them, eventually aligned with John Adams’ definition of our new nation:
“ No determinations are carried, it is true, in a simple or representative democracy, but by consent of the majority or their representatives.”Adams, john – 1784
This mixed concept of a democratic republic can also be inferred from Benjamin Franklin and James Madison on the Bill of Rights Institute’s website. However, what we have in the United States today is not what Adams, Madison, Franklin, and several other Fathers envisioned nor drafted; not at all.
Due to the Constitution’s small state biases it hands one party a systematic advantage in federal elections and legislation, and to most corporate and mega-corporate interests who, since the 2010 Landmark Supreme Court decision of Citizens United vs. FEC, now wield massive, unfettered funding to political campaigns of specific candidates or political party of their own legislative corporate interests instead of individual Americans within a representative republic.
Furthermore, both this one party and the mega-wealthy corporations are generally opposed to increased economic fairness and to limiting too much wealth (and thus, huge political power) concentrated in one ideology of ‘a few’ private American executives—which ironically is exactly what happened to 16th thru 17th century Great Britain. In those two centuries all the wealth and power rested only in Britain’s elite aristocracy (oligarchy), not the voiceless commoners.
One final observation. In 235-years not much has changed with the Constitution’s provisions. However, the essence of American society certainly has changed and drastically. In 2021–2022 greater than 80% of Americans live in urban areas. Let me repeat that: more than 80%! In 1787 though, 95% of Americans lived in rural areas. This colossal change is still not reflected today in our Bicameral Congress. Clearly, the modern United States is not a representative democracy by John Adams’ and the Founding Fathers’ definitions.
The Constitution’s “Separation of Powers” Has Become Defunct
At the heart of our Constitution and its framers was the deep fear of too much centralized authority with one body or one tyrant, king, or queen, as was manifested in King George III and Britain’s Parliament between 1760 and 1820. Therefore, they created three different types or branches of equal power: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches. These three equal powers balanced the national government as well as making each monitor or check and balance the other two branches for appropriate and legal conduct. As noted, the framers did this for two primary reasons:
- Protection against tyranny (e.g. Richard M. Nixon and Donald J. Trump). Separation of powers was intended to divide the federal government’s lawmaking and law-enforcement powers and prevent them from becoming overcentralized and tyrannical.
- To Prevent Aggrandizement of Power by any one branch. In other words, these Separation of powers were intended to prevent any one branch from abusing its designated powers by equally empowering the other two branches to check-up on their competitor’s exercises of authority.
But this original Constitutional design depended heavily on one single factor: whatever the authority given on paper, they can only remain equal when federal leaders of all three branches seek equally to uphold the distinctive powers of their own institution or branch. This is part of their sworn vows when taking office. Over the last three decades or more this has not been happening. In fact, it has gotten worse, lopsided in power toward two branches, if not one branch. In 1788 James Madison explicitly warned about this very risk:
“ The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”Madison, james – Federalist paper no. 47, feb. 1788
The fact that over approximately the last sixty-to-seventy sessions of Congress—dating back to Ronald Reagan—Congress has “passed the buck” of legislative political responsibility over to the Executive Branch or the Judicial Branch far far too often! Case and point. If Congress was originally given the authority of investigation, a form of checks-and-balances like the current January 6th Committee Hearings, but never exercises this power or only does so when it benefits their own party’s ideals, then those leaders are not protecting, much less validating their own institution/branch. What then, will incentivize these leaders to do their under oath, sworn jobs? What will light a fire under their asses? Dr. Van Cleve wisely asks several questions about the intent and purpose of the Constitution’s “Separation of Powers” to show why it is integral to protect against too much centralized authority—or more bluntly, against dictatorship and tyranny—while simultaneously providing unified power and authority when needed. These are his questions:
◾ Why is it desirable for a president to have authority to send troops into a distant country such as North Korea, and ask Congress for approval only after they invade?VAN CLEVE, GEORGE WILLIAM – “MAKING A NEW AMERICAN CONSTITUTION.” MAROON BELLS PRESS, 2020. KINDLE EDITION.
◾ Why should members of Congress be able to serve for an unlimited number of terms, particularly if they are elected from districts or states in which there is no political competition?
◾ Why is it desirable for Senators to be eligible to run for president after one six-year term in the Senate (or an even shorter time), if that damages the Senate as an institution?
◾ Why should Supreme Court justices be able to serve for more than twenty-five years?
◾ Why should the Supreme Court have the power to decide presidential elections, or to decide whether the United States can have a national healthcare insurance system?
Should any one branch or one man/woman have all of those above powers? Should one branch or one man/woman not have at least one of those above powers? Of course, in Constitutional theory these are rhetorical questions. Imagine the indecisive chaos and internal bickering that would exist during hard, challenging times demanding swift action if these above conditions were not spread out evenly, equally among our three different (opposing) branches. But today this power balance no longer exists in its pure original form. Why or why not?
An Imperial U.S. Presidency
In his personal notations called Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, James Madison wrote that remarkably the delegate’s discussions or debates about the office and function of the President were quick, timid, and made with broad strokes.
That timidness was odd and quite contrary to several Founders and delegates who had often voiced their deep fears of giving too much centralized power to one office or branch. Part of the reason for their timidness was the undeniable large presence of presiding officer of the Convention, 6-ft 2-in George Washington (above, next to his Arabian horse Magnolia). Even when quiet, Washington’s demeanor demanded utter respect and caution before speaking up. Very few Convention delegates dared to go up against the tall authoritative presence of General Washington. He was quite literally the walking, living standard of military and political leadership seemingly equal to Moses in the Old Testament.
As a result of this generally unspoken fear of George Washington, the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787 gave the Executive Branch more power than even individual state governors of the time AND total command of the entire U.S. military forces. They gave the office the power to veto Congressional legislation unless two-thirds of both the Senate and the House of Representatives overrode the President’s veto. They gave to the Executive Office the authority to virtually nominate ALL major federal officials and judges, though subject to Senate confirmation. And lastly, the President could only be impeached from office by a supermajority vote of Congress, something near impossible to achieve today.
This level of power and authority for the President deeply troubled Madison, Franklin, Mason, Adams, Wilson, and other delegates. Its power thrilled Alexander Hamilton though. After all, Hamilton promoted the idea that the U.S. President should serve in office for his entire life, name Cabinet members without any Senate approval, have absolute veto on Congressional legislation, and choose when and how to wage war on foreign nations.
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I will stop here for now because Part 2 has become somewhat lengthy; lengthier than I had intended. In Part 3 I will finish this section about how imperial the U.S. Presidency has increasingly become starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt, and more so, with the presidents of the 21st century. How did this happen, then culminate on January 6th, 2021? Secondly, I will examine how Congress has essentially become a dysfunctional institution, enabling members of Congress to be inactive or near non-existent, yet paid to be millionaires by our taxpayer dollars. This is unfortunately caused by our bicameral system and congress members being grossly overpaid for doing too little. And finally, due to our broken Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court has by default filled the power vacuum created by our dysfunctional Congress. Furthermore, later in the series I will also explore how a sizable American conservative population actually believe that our Charters of Freedom—particularly the Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights (or the first 10 Amendments) of the Constitution—are somehow, by some paranormal superstition, “divinely inspired” on the level of the Greco-Roman Judeo-Christian gospels or Greek New Testament! Yes, though there is no evidence whatsoever to support this claim, they really do believe this. 😖
I hope you will stay tuned for the next installment of how badly we, the U.S., need a 21st century Constitution, not an antiquated 18th century one. Until then, please feel free to join in the discussions below.
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