Much has been ballyhooed by modern politicians and pundits about what the Framers meant when they crafted the Constitution. Unfortunately, much of the current discussion is distorted by narratives that fit an ideology rather than the facts as recorded by the participants at that very Convention. Wouldn't it be nice to know what the delegates to the Convention actually meant when crafting the Constitution instead of shading the interpretation to "fit" a particular political ideology? As a student of history, I have always endeavored to read as much as I can on what exactly the Founders and the Framers had in mind over two centuries ago. Fortunately, I had an easy source that includes the copious notes of the daily conversations that took place at the Constitutional Convention. The note taker? None other than James Madison himself. To help me in this effort, I turned to the book entitled "The Constitutional Convention, A Narrative History from the Notes of James Madison" by Edward J. Larson and Michael P. Winship.
For brevity's sake, I will not lecture about what notion of liberty each delegate took a stand for. I just include a sampling of statements that will hopefully create enough interest for readers to investigate these notes further. One of first topics discussed by the delegates was the need to reform the existing Articles of Confederation (for more on this topic, see my book).
When discussing the form of government the delegates were tasked with putting together, Mr. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts (the very same of "Gerrymandering" fame); made this comment about democracy;
"The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not [lack] virtue,
but are the dupes of pretended patriots....they are daily misled into the most baneful measures
and opinions by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which no one the spot can
My how times have not changed! Mr. James Wilson of Pennsylvania added:
"No government could long subsist without the confidence of the people. In a republican
government, this confidence is particularly essential."
Then why do we have pundits on ideologically based media constantly pushing an agenda designed to shake the public's confidence in government? I took particular interest in a comment made by Madison himself on June 6 during the Convention;
"All civilized societies would be divided into different sects, factions and interests as they
happened to consist of rich and poor, debtors and creditors, the landed, the manufacturing,
the commercial interests, the inhabitants of this district or that district, the followers of this
political leader or that political leader, the disciples of this religious sect or that religious sect.
In all cases where a majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the
minority are in danger..."
Would Madison, Gerry and Wilson accept the level of influence current political parties, ideologically based media, interest groups and Super PACs have on our government? Just by reading these three quotes from Framers, wouldn't it be wise for our current politicians and pundits to read a bit more about what they actually intended the Constitution to mean and less about how current ideologues want us to believe the Constitution means? After all, the Framers were brilliant men!