How & Why the U.S. Constitution Was the Most Progressive Ever Written
The U.S. Constitution was truly a revolutionary, progressive, document. Anyone who considers it to be ‘conservative’ has no knowledge of history, or else is lying, because it’s the exact opposite of that: it’s radically progressive. It’s a truly revolutionary document. And it was created by men all of whom despised imperialism and had risked their property and their very lives against it. Today’s America, which demands global hegemony — the biggest empire in world history — is being led by enemies of the America that our Founders had risked everything in order to produce. Such people (they’re called “neoconservatives”) are not patriots; they are enemies of America. Today’s America is rabidly hostile toward the intent of the nation’s Founders.
A lot of people don’t understand this. For example, the well-known contemporary Establishmentarian ‘progressive’ Noam Chomsky said on 13 February 2014
Aristotle and James Madison, the main framer of the US Constitution
[actually James Wilson was that
, in the Committee of Detail, which wrote most of the clauses that are in the Constitution — which were then accepted by the entire Convention], they faced the same problem, they both recognized that in a democracy, the majority of poor could use their power to take away the property of the rich, going back to those days to carry out policies that we now call agrarian reform, you know distributing land and so on, and they both recognized that that was unfair but they picked opposite solutions.
Aristotle’s solution was to reduce inequality [not so: Aristotle’s Politics Book 1, Part V, says: “That some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule. ... The rule of the inferior is always hurtful. ... The male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind. ... It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.”]. … Madison faced the same problem — the conflict between democracy and what they considered fairness — and he picked the opposite solution. His solution was to reduce democracy [not so, but to increase democracy enormously]. So the country was founded on principles which are embodied in the constitution which are basically Madisonian in conception [not so, but Wilson and Madison agreed almost 100%, and they backed each other at the Convention] and I’ll just quote Madison, the purpose was, he said, to place a political power in the hands of the wealth of the nation — the more responsible set of men, those who will be able to protect the rights of property owners and the way it was done, remember back in the early days of late 18th century the founding of the constitution, the power was mainly in the hands of the senate. The executive was kind of an administrator [not so; we had very strong Presidents then — including Madison]. The senate was the place where political power resided [not so: we had separation of powers then, far more than in today’s America]. The senators of course weren’t elected [not so: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years. [[U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 3, clause 1]]”] they were elected by their state [?] and they had long tenures. They were kind of remote from popular control and they were to be the wealth of the nation. And the rest of the society was to be fragmented and divided in various ways that you wouldn’t get the effect of what was called the tyranny of the majority, that is, majority rule. You wouldn’t have that, that’s the Madisonian system.
So, Madison actually faced the same problem as Aristotle but picked an opposite solution … [from] basically Aristotle’s solution [Aristotle’s being to] eliminate the vast disparities of wealth [which Aristotle never proposed].
As has often happened with Chomsky, he cooked things up there; and, since that’s so commonly encountered, I shall here present what Madison, and the other Founders, actually said, and the enormous issues that they were earnestly struggling with, which Chomsky trivialized in comic-book fashion.
Since this will be lengthy, I shall be highlighting what I consider to be key passages, in order to facilitate skimming, if the reader doesn’t want to read this full eleven-thousand-word article.
The original intent of the U.S. Constitution can most accurately be determined upon the basis of the debates that occurred at the Constitutional Convention
that (after preliminaries during the Convention’s opening days of 25-28 May 1787) started on 29 May 1787, and ended nearly four months later, on September 17th of 1787. James Madison (and a few others) transcribed those epoch-making, nation-forming, debates.
These debates began between some members of the Convention, especially Misters Randolph of Virginia, Gerry of Massachusetts, Butler of South Carolina, and Dickenson of Delaware, simply assuming that the existing Articles of Confederation would be improved, not replaced; i.e., that no new and single nation of the United States of America would result from their collective deliberations. They would follow the existing precendents instead of replace them.
The American Revolutionary war of 1775-83 was at that time a mere four years past, and this Convention had been called together for the purpose of replacing the failed existing Articles of Confederation, by some Constitution that would improve upon that existing governing document.
On May 29th, Mr. Randolph started the preparatory phase of these historic debates, when he listed what he viewed to be the defects in the existing document, and when he then placed before the Convention his “Virginia Plan,” to rectify those perceived deficiencies. Randolph said, “Our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our [existing state] constitutions.” He proposed that what was needed “is yet a stronger barrier against democracy, but they [those existing state models for a constitution] all seem insufficient.” He proposed “republican Principles,” a key one of which was that “the Rights of Suffrage [the right to vote] shall be ascertained by the Quantum of Property or Number of Souls”; in other words, by considering each “soul,” while also granting a higher say to the wealthy than to the poor. He proposed a House “elected by the People,” and called “this the democratick Branch”; and he also proposed a Senate or “2d. Branch to be elected out of the first — to continue for a certain Length of Time, etc. To be elected by Electors appointed for that Purpose,” instead of “by the People.”
In other words: the issue of the right to vote — the “franchise,” or “suffrage”; who would ultimately rule, or hold power — was what opened these debates. And the tension there was immediately between the aristocracy versus the public, or power based in amounts of property, versus power based in amounts of persons. Which would rule here: count the dollars, or count the persons (the owners of property, regardless of how rich or poor they may happen to be)? Which of the two would be determining the control of the coming American government?
On May 31st, Mr. Gerry rose, and he stated, “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue; but are the dupes of pretended patriots.” Then rose Mr. Mason [of Virginia], who “argued strongly for an election of the larger branch by the people. It was to be the grand depository of the democratic principle of the Govt. It was, so to speak, to be our House of Commons — It ought to know [and] sympathise with every part of the community. ... He admitted that we had been too democratic but was afraid we sd. [should] incautiously run into the opposite extreme. We ought to attend to the rights of every class of the people.” Then rose Pennsylvania’s “Mr. Wilson [who] contended strenuously for drawing the most numerous branch of the Legislature immediately from the people. He was for raising the federal pyramid to a considerable altitude, and for that reason wished to give it as broad a basis as possible. No government could long subsist without the confidence of the people.” Then, supporting Wilson, rose Mr. Madison himself, who “considered the popular election of one branch of the national Legislature as essential to every plan of free Government.” But, against that view, were, first, “Mr. Gerry did not like the election by the people.” And, next, “Mr. Butler [of South Carolina] thought an election by the people an impracticable mode.” And, next, came Randolph again: “He observed that the general object was to provide a cure for the evils under which the U. S. laboured; that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy: that some check therefore was to be sought for agst. [against] this tendency of our Governments: and that a good Senate seemed most likely to answer the purpose.”
This issue was taken up, again, on June 4th, when Mason said: “Do gentlemen mean to pave the way to hereditary Monarchy? Do they flatter themselves that the people will ever consent to such an innovation? If they do I venture to tell them, they are mistaken. The people never will consent. And do gentlemen consider the danger of delay, and the still greater danger of a rejection not for a moment but forever, of the plan [ultimately our Constitution] which shall be proposed to them? Notwithstanding the oppressions [and] injustice experienced among us from democracy; the genius of the people is in favor of it, and the genius of the people must be consulted. He could not but consider the federal system as in effect dissolved by the appointment of this Convention to devise a better one. And do gentlemen look forward to the dangerous interval between the extinction of an old, and the establishment of a new Governmt., and to the scenes of confusion which may ensue? He hoped that nothing like a monarchy would ever be attempted in this Country.”
The proponents of aristocracy were implicitly being understood here to be supporters of the hereditary principle itself, by which dynasties and kingships had always been philosophically defended, up to that time. Madison was now set to carry forward Mason’s identification of aristocracy with monarchy, when monarchy was the very thing that the Revolutionary War had been intended to overthrow and eliminate, and now to replace, on these shores.
This issue was taken up next on June 6th, when “Mr. Madison considered an election of one branch at least of the Legislature by the people immediately, as a clear principle of free Govt. and that this mode under proper regulations had the additional advantage of securing better representatives.” Madison was here (with his phrase “better representatives”) subtly contradicting Gerry’s equation of the aristocracy with virtue, when Gerry had said, on May 31st, “The people do not want virtue.” Dickerson sensed this attack from Madison, and quickly responded to it.
The following day, June 7th, “Dickerson ... proposed ... that the men of first Talents may be employed in the national Legislature; they first will have a chance in the Election of the people, failing there, wealth, family, or Talents may hold them up to the State Legislatures as fit characters for the Senate — let their numbers be more than 200; by inlarging their Numbers you increase their consequence weight by combining the families and wealth of the aristocracy, you establish a balance that will check the Democracy.” To Dickerson, aristocrats were superior, because they possessed “first Talents” etc.
Wilson then rose, and he said: “If this amendment passes — we shall not have a national Govt: the Senate will be too numerous, and will not represent the property or numbers of the Nation, but they will represent the States, whose interests may oppose the Genl. Government — the consequence will be unfavorable to the Harmony of the Nation.” Wilson was here couching Dickerson’s proposal as seeking to place the authority of the states above that of the national government — something that violated the basic purpose for which the Convention itself had been called together.
Madison, picking directly up from, and backing Wilson, now lunged in, immediately, for the kill: “We are about to form a national Govt. and therefore must abandon Ideas founded alone in the plan [Articles] of confedn. The Senate ought to come from, represent, the Wealth of the nation, and this being the Rule, the amendment [by Dickerson] cannot be adopted.” By Madison’s reaffirming Dickenson’s stated goal of making the Senate reflect “the Wealth of the nation,” Madison not only made unequivocally clear that what this Convention was going to produce would be a “nation,” and not a confederation of states, but also that Dickenson’s opposition to “democracy” was not going to be representing this nation. All that Madison would accept from Dickerson’s demands was that one of the two houses of this new national legislature would protect the rights of the rich to their property — something that to deny would have torn apart this new nation (or any new nation) aborning, so soon after the Revolutionary War had ousted the British aristocracy and monarchy. Nobody had any appetite for doing that. In other words: the transition, from the former aristocratic order, into an entirely new and stable democratic order, would represent both persons, and property — not just the one, or else the other. No superiority of aristocrats to the poor would be assumed by this new Constitution, such as had been presumed by all prior ones throughout history. But on the other hand: the problem of the extent to which this new nation would even consider wealth as having any role in its government dominated the subsequent Proceedings and was left by them unresolved (which tragically remains true even today).
This was the compromise upon which our Constitution was founded; and it occurred little more than a week into the nearly four-month deliberations.
Our historical account of the Constitution’s original intent will be completed now, as, in effect, this article’s Part Two, by “The Founders on the Right to Vote.”
These two parts, together, will show that, as the Constitutional Convention proceeded, the pro-aristocracy faction became quickly quieted and reduced their anti-democratic expressions, to such an extent, that, after June 7th, no one continued any longer to be overtly championing aristocratic control over the nation that they would collectively be creating. The quick subsidence of those expressions of support for aristocracy (the power of wealth instead of democracy) was an amazing phenomenon. From June 8th onward, the entire focus was upon how most effectively to prevent this nation from becoming like the nations that had existed up to that time: aristocratic, not democratic. A Constitutional Convention that had started with its most overt expressions being against democracy, became, after June 7th, an assembly of men whose overt expressions were instead against aristocracy. It was a sea-change, of mega-historic proportions.
The end-product of all that is our Constitution, which conservatives in recent times try to twist into an “original intent” that, in history, was actually soundly defeated, within just the first two weeks of the U.S. Constitutional Convention.
This understanding is the backdrop for understanding our Constitution’s Sovereignty Clause (which clause in any constitution is the most important one of all):
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
There is no aristocracy here. There is (unlike in the prior Articles of Confederation) no sovereignty residing in any of the states. Nor in wealth (which is the case in any aristocratic country). And, also being rejected here was this, which opened the closing paragraph of the Articles of Confederation, and which had assigned there the ultimate sovereignty to a god, even above the states: “And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said articles of confederation ...” No god is anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. No god “authorized” it. No wealth authorized it. The people, the ruled, did (and do to the extent that America’s Constitution is still being meaningfully adhered-to by today’s U.S. Government — which extent is now virtually nil).
The U.S. Constitution was a bigger break away from any prior constitution than any constitution in history, before or since, has been. It was truly a revolutionary, progressive, document. Anyone who considers it to be “conservative” has no knowledge of history, or else is lying, because it’s the exact opposite of that: it’s radically progressive. It’s a truly revolutionary document.
Can it be improved? Of course: that’s what the provisions for amending it are for. Unlike any religion’s canonized Scripture, this Constitution is thus a living, not a dead, ultimate legal authority (dead, such as the Bible, the Quran, etc., any canonized Scripture, necessarily is). What makes it a living constitution is that it allows for its own amendment, by the people, by the ruled; it makes them constantly the ultimate rulers. Instead of theocratic, it abandons all theocracy. That’s one of the many things that make it revolutionary. However, the will by the vast majority of the Founders to make it a democracy became insufficiently addressed in the document because they didn’t agree on any way to make it absolutely prohibit any role for wealth to have at least some power in this new Government
It is the jewel of our democracy; and, so, it is being attacked, violated, besmirched, and misrepresented, by democracy’s enemies. It is, in fact, our only protection, from the enemies of democracy.
THE FOUNDERS, ON THE RIGHT TO VOTE
The following will be a deeper dive into the heart of the U.S. Constitution. Since this will be lengthy, I shall highlight what I consider to be key passages, to facilitate skimming.
FIRST SOURCE: James Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787, mainly on the key debate of 7 August 1787.
James Madison, Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM MADISON’S NOTES ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION (supplemented here by some other Members’ notes):
5 July 1787
The 1st. proposition in the Report for fixing the representation in the 1st. branch, one member for every 40,000 inhabitants, being taken up.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS. [He] objected to that scale of apportionment. He thought property ought to be taken into the estimate as well as the number of inhabitants. Life and liberty were generally said to be of more value, then property. An accurate view of the matter would nevertheless prove that property was the main object of Society. The savage State was more favorable to liberty than the Civilized; and sufficiently so to life. It was preferred by all men who had not acquired a taste for property; it was only renounced for the sake of property which could only be secured by the restraints of regular Government. These ideas might appear to some new, but they were nevertheless just. If property then was the main object of Govt. certainly it ought to be one measure of the influence due to those who were to be affected by the Governmt
6 July 1787, Madison paraphrases Morris, regarding Article 1, Section 7, Clause 1:
Mr. Gov’r. MORRIS. ... “There never was, nor ever will be a civilized Society without an Aristocracy.” [Morris has here stated the problem, which is: how to overcome the tendency toward plutocracy.]
Mr. Govr. MORRIS. He had long learned not to be the dupe of words. The sound of Aristocracy therefore had no effect on ... him. It was the thing, not the name, to which he was opposed, and one of his principal objections to the Constitution as it is now before us, is that it threatens this ... country with an Aristocracy. The aristocracy will grow out of the House of Representatives. Give the votes to people who have no property, and they will sell them to the rich who will be able to buy them. We should not confine our attention to the present moment. The time is not distant when this Country will abound with mechanics & manufacturers [FN20] who will receive their bread from their employers. Will such men be the secure & faithful Guardians of liberty? Will they be the impregnable barrier agst. aristocracy? -He was as little duped by the association of the words "taxation & Representation." The man who does not give his vote freely is not represented. It is the man who dictates the vote. Children do not vote. Why? because they want prudence, because they have no will of their own. The ignorant & the dependent can be as little trusted with the public interest. He did not conceive the difficulty of defining "freeholders" to be insuperable. Still less that the restriction could be unpopular. 9/10 of the people are at present freeholders and these will certainly be pleased with it. As to Merchts. &c. if they have wealth & value the right they can acquire it. If not they don't deserve it.
Col. MASON. We all feel too strongly the remains of antient prejudices, and view things too much through a British medium. A Freehold is the qualification in England, & hence it is imagined to be the only proper one. The true idea in his opinion was that every man having evidence of attachment to & permanent common interest with the Society ought to share in all its rights & privileges. Was this qualification restrained to freeholders? Does no other kind of property but land evidence a common interest in the proprietor? does nothing besides property mark a permanent attachment. Ought the merchant, the monied man, the parent of a number of children whose fortunes are to be pursued in his own Country, to be viewed as suspicious characters, and unworthy to be trusted with the common rights of their fellow Citizens
Mr. MADISON. The right of suffrage is certainly one of the fundamental articles of republican Government, and ought not to be left to be regulated by the Legislature. A gradual abridgment of this right has been the mode in which Aristocracies have been built on the ruins of popular forms. Whether the Constitutional qualification ought to be a freehold, would with him depend much on the probable reception such a change would meet with in ... States where the right was now exercised by every description of people. In several of the States a freehold was now the qualification. Viewing the subject in its merits alone, the freeholders of the Country would be the safest depositories of Republican liberty. In future times a great majority of the people will not only be without landed, but any other sort of, property. These will either combine under the influence of their common situation; in which case, the rights of property & the public liberty, will not be secure in their hands: or which ... is more probable, they will become the tools of opulence & ambition, in which case there will be equal danger on another side. The example of England had been misconceived [by Col Mason]. A very small proportion of the Representatives are there chosen by freeholders. The greatest part are chosen by the Cities & boroughs, in many of which the qualification of suffrage is as low as it is in any of the U. S. and it was in the boroughs & Cities rather than the Counties, that bribery most prevailed, & the influence of the Crown on elections was most dangerously exerted. ...
Docr. FRANKLIN. It is of great consequence that we shd. not depress the virtue & public spirit of our common people; of which they displayed a great deal during the war, and which contributed principally to the favorable issue of it. He related the honorable refusal of the American seamen who were carried in great numbers into the British Prisons during the war, to redeem themselves from misery or to seek their fortunes, by entering on board the Ships of the Enemies to their Country; contrasting their patriotism with a contemporary instance in which the British seamen made prisoners by the Americans, readily entered on the ships of the latter on being promised a share of the prizes that might be made out of their own Country. This proceeded he said from the different manner in which the common people were treated in America & G. Britain. He did not think that the elected had any right in any case to narrow the privileges of the electors. He quoted as arbitrary the British Statute setting forth the danger of tumultuous meetings, and under that pretext narrowing the right of suffrage to persons having freeholds of a certain value; observing that this Statute was soon followed by another under the succeeding Parliamt. subjecting the people who had no votes to peculiar labors & hardships. He was persuaded also that such a restriction as was proposed would give great uneasiness in the populous States. The sons of a substantial farmer, not being themselves freeholders, would not be pleased at being disfranchised, and there are a great many persons of the description.
[[footnote 17 in Madison’s version of his notes, his footnote expanding upon his view]] As appointments for the General Government here contemplated will, in part, be made by the State Governments: all the Citizens in States where the right of suffrage is not limited to the holders of property, will have an indirect share of representation in the General Government. But this does not satisfy the fundamental principle that men cannot be justly bound by laws in making of which they have no part. Persons and property being both essential objects of Government, the most that either can claim, is such a structure of it as will leave a reasonable security for the other. And the most obvious provision of this double character, seems to be that of confining to the holders of property, the object deemed least secure in popular Governments, the right of suffrage for one of the two Legislative branches. This is not without example among us, as well as other Constitutional modifications, favoring the influence of property in the Government. But the United States have not reached the stage of Society in which conflicting feelings of the Class with, and the Class without property, have the operation natural to them in Countries fully peopled. The most difficult of all political arrangements is that of so adjusting the claims of the two Classes as to give security to each, and to promote the welfare of all. The federal principle, which enlarges the sphere of power without departing from the elective basis of it, and controls in various ways the propensity in small republics to rash measures and the facility of forming and executing them, will be found the best expedient yet tried for solving the problem.
[[back to the main text, but now in the complete version, the Max Farrand version, this part having been expurgated by Yale:]]
Madison: I am in favr. of the rigt. of Election being confind. to Freeholders — we are not governed by British Attachments — because the Knights of Shires are elected by Freeholders, but the Members from the Cities & Boroughs are elected by persons qualified by as small property as in any country and wholly without Freeholds — where is the Corruption in England: where is the Crown Influence seen — in the Cities & Boroughs & not in the Counties —
Franklin: I am afraid by depositing the rights of Elections in the Freeholders it will be injurious to the lower class of Freemen — this class have hardy Virtues and gt. Integrity — the late war is a glorious Testimony in favor of plebian Virtue — Military men are sensible of this Truth — I know yt our Seamen prisoners in England refused all Allurements to draw them from yr. Allegiance — they were threatened with Halters but refused — this was not the case with the Brith. Seamen — they entered the American service & pointed out where they might make more marine prisoners — This is the reason — the Americans were all free and equal to any of yr. fellow Citizens — the British once were so — in antient Times every freeman was an Elector — but finally they made a law requiring an Elector to be a Freeholder — this was only in the Shires — The consequence was that the residue of Inhabitants were disgraced — in the next parliament they made a law authorising the Justices to fix the price of Labor — to compel any person not an Elector or Freeholder to labor for a Freeholder at the stated price or to be imprisoned — the English common people from that period lost a large portion of patriotism. …
[August 7, p. 210 of Farrand’s v. 2
:] Doctor Franklin spoke on this occasion. He observed that in time of war a country owed much to the lower class of citizens. Our late war was an instance of what they could suffer and perform. If denied the right of suffrage it would debase their spirit and detatch them from the interest of the country.
[VOTES TAKEN [[as reported in the Yale version]]]
Mr Govr. Morris. If qualifications are proper, he wd. prefer them in the electors rather than the elected. As to debtors of the U.S. they are but few. As to persons having unsettled accounts he believed them to be pretty many. He thought however that such a discrimination would be both odious & useless. and in many instances unjust & cruel. ...
Mr. Madison moved to strike out the word landed, before the word, "qualifications". If the proposition sd. be agreed to he wished the Committee to be at liberty to report the best criterion they could devise. Landed possessions were no certain evidence of real wealth. Many enjoyed them to a great extent who were more in debt than they were worth. The unjust laws of the States had proceeded more from this class of men, than any others. It had often happened that men who had acquired landed property on credit, got into the Legislatures with a view of promoting an unjust protection agst. their Creditors. ...
Mr. Govr Morris 2ded. the motion.
On the Question for striking out "landed"
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. no Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [Ayes--10; noes--1.]
... [end] Mr. Rutlidge thought the idea of restraining the right of suffrage to the freeholders a very unadvised one. It would create division among the people & make enemies of all those who should be excluded.
[2:248; Madison, 10 Aug.]
Art. VI. sect. 2. taken up. ["The Legislature of the United States shall have authority to establish such uniform qualifications of the members of each House, with regard to property, as to the said Legislature shall seem expedient."]
Mr. Pinkney--The Committee as he had conceived were instructed to report the proper qualifications of property for the members of the Natl. Legislature; instead of which they have referred the task to the Natl. Legislature itself. Should it be left on this footing, the first Legislature will meet without any particular qualifications of property; and if it should happen to consist of rich men they might fix such such qualifications as may be too favorable to the rich; if of poor men, an opposite extreme might be run into. He was opposed to the establishment of an undue aristocratic influence in the Constitution but he thought it essential that the members of the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judges--should be possessed of competent property to make them independent & respectable. ...
Mr. Rutlidge seconded the motion; observing, that the Committee had reported no qualifications because they could not agree on any among themselves. ...
Doctr Franklin expressed his dislike of every thing that tended to debase the spirit of the common people. If honesty was often the companion of wealth, and if poverty was exposed to peculiar temptation, it was not less true that the possession of property increased the desire of more property--Some of the greatest rogues he was ever acquainted with, were the richest rogues. We should remember the character which the Scripture requires in Rulers, that they should be men hating covetousness--This Constitution will be much read and attended to in Europe, and if it should betray a great partiality to the rich--will not only hurt us in the esteem of the most liberal and enlightened men there, but discourage the common people from removing to this Country.
The Motion of Mr. Pinkney was rejected by so general a no, that the States were not called. ...
Mr. Govr. Morris moved to strike out [concerning representatives] "with regard to property" in order to leave the Legislature entirely at large. ...
Question on the motion to strike out with regard to property
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo- ay. [Ayes--4; noes--7.] ...
On the question for agreeing to Art--VI--sect--2d
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no S. C. no. Geo. ay--[Ayes--3; noes--7.]
[NET EFFECT OF ALL THIS: The Constitution ignores Property-qualifications for either voters or representatives.]
AND HERE ARE RELEVANT SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS:
Remarks on Mr. Jefferson’s Draft of a Constitution
James Madison. October 15, 1788
[Madison’s concern about class warfare between rich and poor led him to favor a House of Representatives elected by the people at large, and a Senate elected by property owners. — TGW [Thomas G. West]]
Electors. The first question arising here is how far property ought to be made a qualification. There is a middle way to be taken which corresponds at once with the theory of free government and the lessons of experience. A freehold or equivalent of a certain value may be annexed to the right of voting for Senators, and the right left more at large in the election of the other House. Examples of this distinction may be found in the Constitutions of several States, particularly if I mistake not, of North Carolina and New York. This middle mode reconciles and secures the two cardinal objects of Government, the rights of persons, and the rights of property. The former will be sufficiently guarded by one branch, the latter more particularly by the other. Give all power to property; and the indigent will be oppressed. Give it to the latter and the effect may be transposed. Give a defensive share to each and each will be secure. The necessity of thus guarding the rights of property was for obvious reasons unattended to in the commencement of the Revolution. In all the Governments which were considered as beacons to republican patriots and lawgivers, the rights of persons were subjected to those of property. The poor were sacrificed to the rich. In the existing state of American population, and American property, the two classes of rights were so little discriminated that a provision for the rights of persons was supposed to include of itself those of property, and it was natural to infer from the tendency of republican laws, that these different interests would be more and more identified. Experience and investigation have however produced more correct ideas on this subject. It is now observed that in all populous countries, the smaller part only can be interested in preserving the rights of property. It must be foreseen that America, and Kentucky itself will by degrees arrive at this state of society; that in some parts of the Union a very great advance is already made towards it. It is well understood that interest leads to injustice as well when the opportunity is presented to bodies of men, as to individuals; to an interested majority in a republic, as to the interested minority of any other form of Government. The time to guard against this danger is at the first forming of the Constitution, and in the present state of population when the bulk of the people have a sufficient interest in possession or in prospect to be attached to the rights of property, without being insufficiently attached to the rights of persons. Liberty not less than justice pleads for the policy here recommended. If all power be suffered to slide into hands not interested in the rights of property which must be the case whenever a majority fall under that description, one of two things cannot fail to happen; either they will unite against the other description and become the dupes and instruments of ambition, or their poverty and independence will render them the mercenary instruments of wealth. In either case liberty will be subverted; in the first by a despotism growing out of anarchy, in the second, by an oligarchy founded on corruption.
Note to His Speech in the Constitutional Convention on the Right of Suffrage
James Madison. 1821
[Madison’s fullest statement on the property requirement for voting. These observations (in the speech of James Madison: see debates in the Convention of 1787 on the 7th day of August) do not convey the speaker’s more full and matured view of the subject, which is subjoined. He felt too much at the time the example of Virginia. — TGW].
The right of suffrage is a fundamental article in republican constitutions. The regulation of it is, at the same time, a task of peculiar delicacy. Allow the right exclusively to property, and the rights of persons may be oppressed. The feudal polity alone sufficiently proves it. Extend it equally to all, and the rights of property or the claims of justice may be overruled by a majority without property, or interested in measures of injustice. Of this abundant proof is afforded by other popular governments and is not without examples in our own, particularly in the laws impairing the obligation of contracts.
In civilized communities, property as well as personal rights is an essential object of the laws, which encourage industry by securing the enjoyment of its fruits: that industry from which property results, and that enjoyment which consists not merely in its immediate use, but in its posthumous destination to objects of choice and of kindred affection.
In a just and a free government, therefore, the rights both of property and of persons ought to be effectually guarded. Will the former be so in case of a universal and equal suffrage? Will the latter be so in case of a suffrage confined to the holders of property?
As the holders of property have at stake all the other rights common to those without property, they may be the more restrained from infringing, as well as the less tempted to infringe the rights of the latter. It is nevertheless certain, that there are various ways in which the rich may oppress the poor; in which property may oppress liberty; and that the world is filled with examples. It is necessary that the poor should have a defence against the danger.
On the other hand, the danger to the holders of property can not be disguised, if they be undefended against a majority without property. Bodies of men are not less swayed by interest than individuals, and are less controlled by the dread of reproach and the other motives felt by individuals. Hence the liability of the rights of property, and of the impartiality of laws affecting it, to be violated by legislative majorities having an interest real or supposed in the injustice: Hence agrarian laws, and other leveling schemes: Hence the cancelling or evading of debts, and other violations of contracts. We must not shut our eyes to the nature of man, nor to the light of experience. Who would rely on a fair decision from three individuals if two had an interest in the case opposed to the rights of the third? Make the number as great as you please, the impartiality will not be increased, nor any further security against injustice be obtained, than what may result from the greater difficulty of uniting the wills of a greater number.
In all governments there is a power which is capable of oppressive exercise. In monarchies and aristocracies oppression proceeds from a want of sympathy and responsibility in the government towards the people. In popular governments the danger lies in an undue sympathy among individuals composing a majority, and a want of responsibility in the majority to the minority. The characteristic excellence of the political system of the U. S. arises from a distribution and organization of its powers, which at the same time that they secure the dependence of the government on the will of the nation, provides better guards than are found in any other popular government against interested combinations of a majority against the rights of a minority.
The United States have a precious advantage also in the actual distribution of property particularly the landed property; and in the universal hope of acquiring property. This latter peculiarity is among the happiest contrasts in their situation to that of the old world, where no anticipated change in this respect, can generally inspire a like sympathy with the rights of property. There may be at present, a majority of the nation, who are even freeholders, or the heirs, or aspirants to freeholds. And the day may not be very near when such will cease to make up a majority of the community. But they cannot always so continue. With every admissible subdivision of the arable lands, a populousness not greater than that of England or France, will reduce the holders to a minority. And whenever the majority shall be without landed or other equivalent property and without the means or hope of acquiring it, what is to secure the rights of property against the danger from an equality and universality of suffrage, vesting complete power over property in hands without a share in it: not to speak of a danger in the mean time from a dependence of an increasing number on the wealth of a few? In other countries this dependence results in some from the relations between landlords and tenants in other both from that source, and from the relations between wealthy capitalists and indigent laborers. In the U. S. the occurrence must happen from the last source; from the connection between the great capitalists in manufactures and commerce and the members employed by them. Nor will accumulations of capital for a certain time be precluded by our laws of descent and of distribution; such being the enterprise inspired by free institutions, that great wealth in the hands of individuals and associations, may not be unfrequent. But it may be observed, that the opportunities, may be diminished, and the permanency defeated by the equalizing tendency of the laws.
No free country has ever been without parties, which are a natural offspring of freedom. An obvious and permanent division of every people is into the owners of the soil, and the other inhabitants. In a certain sense the country may be said to belong to the former. If each landholder has an exclusive property in his share, the body of landholders have an exclusive property in the whole. As the soil becomes subdivided, and actually cultivated by the owners, this view of the subject derives force from the principle of natural law, which vests in individuals an exclusive right to the portions of ground with which he has incorporated his labor and improvements. Whatever may be the rights of others derived from their birth in the country, from their interest in the high ways and other parcels left open for common use as well, as in the national edifices and monuments; from their share in the public defense, and from their concurrent support of the government, it would seem unreasonable to extend the right so far as to give them when become the majority, a power of legislation over the landed property without the consent of the proprietors. Some barrier against the invasion of their rights would not be out of place in a just and provident system of government. The principle of such an arrangement has prevailed in all governments where peculiar privileges or interests held by a part were to be secured against violation, and in the various associations where pecuniary or other property forms the stake. In the former case a defensive right has been allowed; and if the arrangement be wrong, it is not in the defense, but in the kind of privilege to be defended. In the latter case, the shares of suffrage allotted to individuals, have been with acknowledged justice apportioned more or less to their respective interests in the common stock.
These reflections suggest the expediency of such a modification of government as would give security to the part of the society having most at stake and being most exposed to danger. Three modifications present themselves.
1: Confining the right of suffrage to freeholders, and to such as hold an equivalent property, convertible of course into freeholds. The objection to this regulation is obvious. It violates the vital principle of free government that those who are to be bound by laws, ought to have a voice in making them. And the violation would be more strikingly unjust as the lawmakers become the minority: The regulation would be as unpropitious also as it would be unjust. It would engage the numerical and physical force in a constant struggle against the public authority; unless kept down by a standing army fatal to all parties.
2: Confining the right of suffrage for one branch to the holders of property, and for the other branch to those without property. This arrangement, which would give a mutual defense, where there might be mutual danger of encroachment, has an aspect of equality and fairness. But it would not be in fact either equal or fair, because the rights to be defended would be unequal, being on one side those of property as well as of persons, and on the other those of persons only. The temptation also to encroach, though in a certain degree mutual, would be felt more strongly on one side than on the other; It wd. be more likely to beget an abuse of the legislative negative in extorting concessions at the expence of property, than the reverse. The division of the state into the two classes, with distinct and independent organs of power, and without any intermingled agency whatever, might lead to contests & antipathies not dissimilar to those between the Patricians and Plebeians at Rome.
3: Confining the right of electing one branch of the legislature to freeholders, and admitting all others to a common right with holders of property, in electing the other branch. This wd. give a defensive power to holders of property, and to the class also without property when becoming a majority of electors, without depriving them in the mean time of a participation in the public councils. If the holders of property would thus have a twofold share of representation, they wd. have at the same time a twofold stake in it, the rights of property as well as of persons the twofold object of political institutions. And if no exact & safe equilibrium can be introduced, it is more reasonable that a preponderating weight shd. be allowed to the greater interest than to the lesser. Experience alone can decide how far the practice in this case would correspond with the Theory. Such a distribution of the right of suffrage was tried in New York and has been abandoned whether from experienced evils, or party calculations, may possibly be a question. It is still on trial in North Carolina, with what practical indications is not known. It is certain that the trial, to be satisfactory ought to be continued for no inconsiderable period; until in fact the non-freeholders should be the majority.
Should experience or public opinion require an equal & universal suffrage for each branch of the Govt., such as prevails generally in the U. S., a resource favorable to the rights of landed & other property, when its possessors become the minority, may be found in an enlargement of the election districts for one branch of the legislature, and an extension of its period of service. Large districts are manifestly favorable to the election of persons of general respectability, and of probable attachment to the rights of property, over competitors depending on the personal solicitations practicable on a contracted theatre. And although an ambitious candidate, of personal distinction, might occasionally recommend himself to popular choice by espousing a popular though unjust object, it might rarely happen to many districts at the same time. The tendency of a longer period of service would be, to render the body more stable in its policy, and more capable of stemming popular currents taking a wrong direction, till reason & justice could regain their ascendancy.
Should even such a modification as the last be deemed inadmissible, and universal suffrage and very short periods of elections within contracted spheres be required for each branch of the Govt., the security for the holders of property when the minority, can only be derived from the ordinary influence possessed by property, & the superior information incident to its holders; from the popular sense of justice enlightened & enlarged by a diffusive education; and from the difficulty of combining & effectuating unjust purposes throughout an extensive country; a difficulty essentially distinguishing the U. S. and even most of the individual States, from the small communities where a mistaken interest or contagious passion, could readily unite a majority of the whole under a factious leader, in trampling on the rights of the minor party.
Under every view of the subject, it seems indispensable that the mass of citizens should not be without a voice, in making the laws which they are to obey, & in choosing the magistrates, who are to administer them, and if the only alternative be between an equal & universal right of suffrage for each branch of the Govt. and a confinement of the entire right to a part of the citizens, it is better that those having the greater interest at stake namely that of property & persons both, should be deprived of half their share in the Govt.; than, that those having the lesser interest, that of personal rights only, should be deprived of the whole.
Note on voting rights during the Convention for Amending the Constitution of Virginia
James Madison. 1829
It would be happy if a state of society could be found or framed, in which an equal voice in making the laws might be allowed to every individual bound to obey them. But this is a theory, which like most theories, confessedly requires limitations and modifications; and the only question to be decided in this as in other cases, turns on the particular degree of departure, in practice, required by the essence and object of the theory itself.
John Adams to James Sullivan, May 26, 1776
on women, the poor, and voting rights
[Adams explains why women, children, and the poor are excluded from the vote. — TGW [Thomas G. West]]
It is certain in theory, that the only moral foundation of government is the consent of the people. But to what an extent shall we carry this principle? Shall we say, that every individual of the community, old and young, male and female, as well as rich and poor, must consent, expressly, to every act of legislation? No, you will say. This is impossible. How then does the right arise in the majority to govern the minority, against their will? Whence arises the right of the men to govern women, without their consent? Whence the right of the old to bind the young, without theirs?
But let us first suppose, that the whole community of every age, rank, sex, and condition, has a right to vote. This community, is assembled—a motion is made and carried by a majority of one voice. The minority will not agree to this. Whence arises the right of the majority to govern, and the obligation of the minority to obey? from necessity, you will say, because there can be no other rule. But why exclude women? You will say, because their delicacy renders them unfit for practice and experience, in the great business of life, and the hardy enterprises of war, as well as the arduous cares of state. Besides, their attention is so much engaged with the necessary nurture of their children, that nature has made them fittest for domestic cares. And children have not judgment or will of their own. True. But will not these reasons apply to others? Is it not equally true, that men in general in every society, who are wholly destitute of property, are also too little acquainted with public affairs to form a right judgment, and too dependent upon other men to have a will of their own? If this is a fact, if you give to every man, who has no property, a vote, will you not make a fine encouraging provision for corruption by your fundamental law? Such is the frailty of the human heart, that very few men, who have no property, have any judgment of their own. They talk and vote as they are directed by some man of property, who has attached their minds to his interest. …
I should think that wisdom and policy would dictate in these times, to be very cautious of making alterations. Our people have never been very rigid in scrutinizing into the qualifications of voters, and I presume they will not now begin to be so. But I would not advise them to make any alteration in the laws, at present, respecting the qualifications of voters.
Your idea, that those laws, which affect the lives and personal liberty of all, or which inflict corporal punishment, affect those, who are not qualified to vote, as well as those who are, is just. But, so they do women, as well as men, children as well as adults. What reason should there be, for excluding a man of twenty years, Eleven months and twenty-seven days old, from a vote when you admit one, who is twenty one? The reason is, you must fix upon some period in life, when the understanding and will of men in general is fit to be trusted by the public. Will not the same reason justify the state in fixing upon some certain quantity of property, as a qualification.
The same reasoning, which will induce you to admit all men, who have no property, to vote, with those who have, for those laws, which affect the person will prove that you ought to admit women and children: for generally speaking, women and children, have as good judgment, and as independent minds as those men who are wholly destitute of property: these last being to all intents and purposes as much dependent upon others, who will please to feed, clothe, and employ them, as women are upon their husbands, or children on their parents. ...
Society can be governed only by general rules. Government cannot accommodate itself to every particular case, as it happens, nor to the circumstances of particular persons. It must establish general, comprehensive regulations for cases and persons. The only question is, which general rule, will accommodate most cases and most persons.
Depend upon it, sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation, as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters. There will be no end of it. New claims will arise. Women will demand a vote. Lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to, and every man, who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks, to one common level.
THE FARMER REFUTED (1775) - Alexander Hamilton, The Revolutionary Writings of Alexander Hamilton 
The foundation of the English constitution rests upon this principle: that no laws have any validity or binding force without the consent and approbation of the people, given in the persons of their representatives, periodically elected by themselves. This constitutes the democratical part of the government.
It is also undeniably certain, that no Englishman who can be deemed a free agent in a political view can be bound by laws to which he has not consented, either in person or by his representative. Or, in other words, every Englishman (exclusive of the mercantile and trading part of the nation) who possesses a freehold to the value of forty shillings per annum has a right to share in the legislature, which he exercises by giving his vote in the election of some person he approves of as his representative.
“The true reason,” says Blackstone, “of requiring any qualification with regard to property in voters, is to exclude such persons as are in so mean a situation that they are esteemed to have no will of their own. If these persons had votes, they would be tempted to dispose of them under some undue influence or other. This would give a great, an artful, or a wealthy man a larger share in elections than is consistent with general liberty. If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote in electing these delegates, to whose charge is committed the disposal of his property, his liberty, and his life. But since that can hardly be expected in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby some who are suspected to have no will of their own are excluded from voting, in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.”*
Hence, it appears that such “of the people as have no vote in the choice of representatives, and therefore are governed by laws to which they have not consented, either by themselves or by their representatives,” are only those “persons who are in so mean a situation that they are esteemed to have no will of their own.” Every free agent, every free man, possessing a freehold of forty shillings per annum, is, by the British constitution, entitled to a vote in the election of those who are invested with the disposal of his life, his liberty, and property.
It is therefore evident, to a demonstration, that unless a free agent in America be permitted to enjoy the same privilege, we are entirely stripped of the benefits of the constitution, and precipitated into an abyss of slavery. For we are deprived of that immunity which is the grand pillar and support of freedom. And this cannot be done without a direct violation of the constitution, which decrees to every free agent a share in the legislature.
It deserves to be remarked here, that those very persons in Great Britain who are in so mean a situation as to be excluded from a part in elections, are in more eligible circumstances than they would be in who have every necessary qualification.
They compose a part of that society to whose government they are subject. They are nourished and maintained by it, and partake in every other emolument for which they are qualified. They have, no doubt, most of them, relations and connections among those who are privileged to vote and by that means are not entirely without influence in the appointment of their rulers. They are not governed by laws made expressly and exclusively for them, but by the general laws of their country, equally obligatory on the legal electors and on the law-makers themselves. So that they have nearly the same security against oppression which the body of the people have.
To this we may add, that they are only under a conditional prohibition, which industry and good fortune may remove. They may, one day, accumulate a sufficient property to enable them to emerge out of their present state. Or, should they die in it, their situation is not entailed upon their posterity by a fixed and irremediable doom. They, agreeably to the ordinary vicissitudes of human affairs, may acquire what their parents were deficient in.
These considerations plainly show that the people in America, of all ranks and conditions, opulent as well as indigent (if subjected to the British Parliament), would be upon a less favorable footing than that part of the people of Great Britain who are in so mean a situation that they are supposed to have no will of their own. The injustice of this must be evident to every man of common-sense.
On page 39:
There are three simple species of government: Monarchy, where the supreme power is in a single person. [Or else:] Aristocracy, where the supreme power is in a select assembly, the members of which either fill up, by election, the vacancies in their own body, or succeed to their places in it by inheritance, property, or in respect of some personal right or qualification. [Or else:] Republic or Democracy, where the people at large retain the supreme power, and act either collectively or by representation. …
On page 40:
“In this constitution, all authority is derived from the people.”
Then, starting on page 40 is his speech there, to the Pennsylvania State Convention, that is dated October 28th 1787, in which he says that “what may be called the preamble to this constitution” opens the constitution “with a solemn and practical recognition of that principle [the People being the supreme power in this country]” which he contrasts against “the footing on which the liberties of England are said to be placed. The magna charta of England … [which says that the King says] ‘we have given and granted to all archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, and to all the freemen of this our realm, these liberties’.”
In Wilson’s “Lectures,” delivered in 1790 & 1791, one was “On Government”
, and stated that:
no such thing as a constitution, properly so called, is known in Great Britain. What is known, in that kingdom, under that name, instead of being the controller and the guide, is the creature and the dependent of the legislative power. The supreme power of the people is a doctrine unknown and unacknowledged in the British system of government. The omnipotent authority of parliament is the dernier resort, to which recourse is had in times and in doctrines of uncommon difficulty and importance. The natural, the inherent, and the predominating rights of the citizens are considered as so dangerous and so desperate a resource, as to be inconsistent with the arrangements of any government, which does or can exist.
The order of things in Britain is exactly the reverse of the order of things in the United States. Here, the people are masters of the government; there, the government is master of the people.
THE BOTTOM LINE IN ALL THIS:
The Founders couldn’t agree on a solution to the voting-rights problems, so they left them out of the Constitution. They didn’t have any answer to it. However, all of them were terrified of corruption taking over the country. Their biggest failure was in even so much as entertaining the idea, fashionable from philosophers, that in order to block a plutocracy from taking over the country, they needed to be more concerned that the rich would buy votes of the poor and thus control the state via the votes of the poor so that the poor shouldn’t even vote, than to be concerned about the poor not being allowed to vote. That stupidity was their biggest failure, other than their failure to be able to deal decisively with the slavery issue. But these are enormously difficult problems for constitution-writers in any society that has no background in democracy, and where slavery is legal. Ours handled the problems far better than any constitution-writers before them had done. As regards slavery, South Carolina and other slave-holding states made clear that if the Constitution would outlaw slave-holding, then those colonies would not join the Union. Abraham Lincoln finally decided that that problem must not continue. The Civil War was the result.