Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Motivations of the Founding Fathers

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The process of framing the Constitution was a complex process with favorable agreement as well as opposition due to personal bias. Many men connected in the framing and adoption of the Constitution. These men with varied backgrounds and economic interests came together to generate and shape laws, which were beneficial to their interests, whether immediately or in the long run. There are many views as to what the motivations of the Founding Fathers were; this can be examined with a study of “The Founding Fathers,” by John P. Roche, and “Framing the Constitution,” by Charles A. Beard. In these works there are two different views expressed as to what the motivations of the founding fathers were.

Political scientist John P. Roche asserts that the Founding Fathers were not only revolutionaries but also superb democratic politicians who created a Constitution that supported the needs of the nation and at the same time was acceptable to the people. Roche saw the Constitutional Convention as a Democratic Reform Caucus. He believed the principles of the Constitution were based on political tradeoffs among state interests. His reasoning behind this was that the framers were all nationalists, and, therefore, they were ideologically similar. They just had to compromise to form a document that would be acceptable to present to their constituents. The Convention itself is the greatest example of compromise in the creation of the Constitution. Some other more specific compromises were the Connecticut Compromise and the Three Fifths Compromise. In his essay, Roche goes into great detail explaining every event leading up to these compromises. This was necessary in order to provide background evidence to support his thesis. In broader terms, the Connecticut Plan was basically a joining of the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan to form an acceptable means of representation to better suit each individual state.

“The Virginia Plan may therefore be considered, in ideological terms, as the delegates’ Utopia…many of those present began to have second thoughts. After all, they were not residents of Utopia or guardians in Plato’s Republic who could simply impose a philosophical ideal on subordinate strata of the population. They were practical politicians…they had to take home an acceptable package and defend it.” (Roche 18)

This refers directly back to the part of Roche’s thesis, where he claims that the Founding Fathers were political nationalists trying to keep their individualistic, states’ rights constituents happy. Roche did an excellent job supporting the thesis with explicit details and quotations from the Constitutional Convention.

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On the contrary to Roche, Charles A. Beard believed that the Constitutional framers were an economic elite out to protect their own property against popular majorities. Charles Beard presents evidence that the framers of the Constitution were less interested in furthering democratic principles than in protecting private property and the interests of the wealthy class. Beard supports this argument by mentioning that the framers were an elite consisting of landholders, creditors, merchants, lawyers, and public bondholders. The basis of Beard’s argument is that there is a split in the values of the Constitution and those of the Declaration of Independence. Beard tries to prove that the spirit of the Revolution helped to create the Articles of Confederation. He then goes on to say that the Revolutionists were not generally men of property and wealth, and therefore they did not believe that a strong central government would be necessary to protect their interests. On the other hand, the framers of the Constitution were in favor of a strong central government where property interests would be protected. Beard basically uses secondary evidence to support his ideas. He just asserts the fact that most Revolutionists were poor and pure of heart, and then applies the fact that most of the Constitutional framers were wealthy. In order to try and prove his point that the backgrounds of the Constitution were based on gaining and preserving wealth; however, this is all circumstantial, and the motivations of the Founding Fathers cannot be accurately determined based solely on their economic state. This is why it is felt that Beard’s argument is somewhat shaky in its foundations.

The motivations of the founding fathers are expressed as different in these two works. John Roche believed that the Founding Fathers were a group of brilliant politicians who crafted a document based on democratic ideas through compromise to govern this fine nation. On the other hand, Charles Beard denounced this idealistic approach of Roche and claimed that there were more personal monetary motivations behind this document. The argument of Roach is presented more clearly with explicit details and direct quotes from the Constitutional Convention; whereas, Beard uses facts but presents more secondary evidence based on the assumption that because the framers were wealthy, their impetus was wealth. Therefore, Roche’s argument is more substantial, but yet both viewpoints can still be upheld.

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