Various reading and musing has led me to the foundation of the United States, not the least, my studying of the history of Mexico. I wrote a little piece on the its founding, on my blog, interestingly called I say interestingly, because the title has little to suggest it is about US governance and its constitution.

In my artilce I repeat the argument that the 2nd US constitution was developed because,

… they decided to revise the constitution were due to an inability to conduct an effective foreign policy, a need for a common currency, and a need for further commercial policy developments including a law of debt and foreclosure.

Debt was about public and private debt, private debt enforcement was an explosive social and political issues.

Looking at this early politics and listening to the reverence with which the founders seem to be held led to me listing these two books on my Amazon list, which will only be processed after I finish the unread books on my bookshelf. They are, The Founding of Modern States by Richard Bensel, a compendium of foundings, some leading to democracy, others not so fortunate but the book includes the US. More focused, on the USA, The Failure of the Founding Fathers by Bruce Ackerman, subtitled, “Jefferson, Marshall, and the Rise of Presidential Democracy”, as I was interested in how the Presidency got to be so powerful.

Another great sin in its founding is the legitimation of slavery and the exclusion of any concept and respect for native Americans. I found this, a web article, Founding Fathers and Slaveholders by Stephen E Ambrose, which starts,

“Americans in great numbers are rediscovering their founding fathers in such best-selling books as Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers, David McCullough’s John Adams and my own Undaunted Courage, about Lewis and Clark. There are others who believe that some of these men are unworthy of our attention because they owned slaves,”

The article is a statement of the importance of Jefferson, a polymath and a racist albeit with a black mistress, who wrote some of the most beautiful political prose but leaving the problems of black, native american and female inclusion into the US’s democracy to later generations. In fact the constitution was not designed as a democracy as their fear of “tyranny of the mob and monarch” led them to place some important controls accountable only to the then rich and powerful.

In spite of these rare abilities, Jefferson was not a hero. His great achievements were words. Except for the Louisiana Purchase, his actions as president fall short. But those words! He was the author of the Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph begins with a perfect sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Those words, as the historian Samuel Eliot Morison has said, “are more revolutionary than anything written by Robespierre, Marx, or Lenin, a continual challenge to ourselves, as well as an inspiration to the oppressed of all the world.” Eventually, with Lincoln, who articulated and lived these truths, and slowly afterward, the idea made its progress.

Nine presidents owned slaves, only Washington released them, but,

It [the Washington Monument in the capital] is our tribute to the man who won the Revolutionary War and who, as our first president, did more than anyone to create the republic. Jefferson extended it from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Lincoln preserved it. Franklin Roosevelt led it to triumph in the greatest war ever fought. But it was George Washington who set the republican standard. So long as this republic lasts, he will stand first.

I was reminded to review this material by by Howard Zinn, who reminds us that the American Revolutionaries were the pre-bourgeois rich land owners, who got the best constitution money could buy.

We were a class society from the beginning. America started off as a society of rich and poor, people with enormous grants of land and people with no land. And there were riots, there were bread riots in Boston, and riots and rebellions all over the colonies, of poor against rich, of tenants breaking into jails to release people who were in prison for nonpayment of debt. There was class conflict. We try to pretend in this country that we’re all one happy family. We’re not.

Image Rights: clipped from Declaration of Independence (1819), by John Trumbull.jpg, from wikimedia commons (PD)

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