08 May 2015

The Founding Fathers' Economic Interests

Propertied men who dressed well in wigs and petticoats that had a substantial economic interest in the drafting of the constitution.

An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States by Charles A. Beard, 1913, Edited Excerpts

Having shown that economic motives were behind the movement for a reconstruction of the system, it is now necessary to inquire whether the members of the Convention which drafted the Constitution represented their own property affiliations. In other words, did the men who formulated the fundamental law of the land possess the kinds of property which immediately and directly increased in value by the results of their labors at Philadelphia? Did they have money at interest? Did they own public securities? Did they hold western lands for appreciation? Were they interested in shipping and manufacturing?

George Washington, of Virginia, was probably the richest man in the United States in his time. He possessed, in addition to his great estate on the Potomac, a large amount of fluid capital which he judiciously invested in western lands, from which he could reasonably expect a large appreciation with the establishment of stable government and the advance of the frontier. Washington was also a considerable money lender. If any one in the country had a just reason for being disgusted with the Confederation it was Washington. He had given the best years of life to the Revolutionary cause, and had refused all remuneration for his great services.

A survey of the economic interests of the members of the Convention presents certain conclusions:

A majority of the members were lawyers by profession.

Most of the members came from towns, on or near the coast.

Not one member represented the small farming or mechanic classes.

Public security interests were extensively represented in the Convention.

Investment in lands for speculation was represented by at least fourteen members.

Money loaned at interest was represented by at least twenty-four members.

Mercantile, manufacturing, and shipping lines were represented by at least eleven members.

Slave-holders were represented by at least fifteen members.

The overwhelming majority of the members were immediately, directly, and personally interested in the outcome of their labors at Philadelphia, and were economic beneficiaries from the adoption of the Constitution. It cannot be said that the members of the Convention were “disinterested.” On the contrary, we are forced to accept the profoundly significant conclusion that they knew through their personal experiences in economic affairs the precise results which the new government that they were setting up was designed to attain.

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, 1980 
When economic interest is seen behind the political clauses of the Constitution, then the document becomes not simply the work of wise men trying to establish a decent and orderly society, but the work of certain groups trying to maintain their privileges, while giving just enough rights and liberties to enough of the people to ensure popular support.

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