The United States constitution is considered as one of the most crucial historical documents ever drafted in the history of the nation. The constitution was written after the gaining of independence by the American nation from the British colonialists. The main purpose of this important document was to set forth the laws and regulations that would govern the newly independent country. The constitution established the national government’s form and structure and defined the liberties and rights of all American citizens. The constitution was also to serve the purpose of listing the government’s aims and objectives as well as the means of achieving these objectives. The constitution was essentially written to provide and define the framework of national governance that transcended the framework of each state. Prior to constitution drafting, the founding fathers of the nation had mainly relied on another historical document, “The Articles of Confederation” as the defining tool of the national government. The Articles of Confederation had worked to some point, but the leaders felt that a more concrete legal framework was needed to make the states comprising the union come and work together in the solving national problems. Thus, the constitution of the United States as drafted in the year 1987. This important document has managed to withstand the test of time and it still acts as the defining tool of the national government in the modern day. However, from the moment it was drafted, the constitution has elicited controversy and debate throughout the years. One particular argument has been it was formulated in a design that was meant to socio-economic status of the rich and powerful in the society and retain the power of government in this ‘elite’ group of citizens. Although the constitution undergone amendments several times, there has been campaigns for it to be redrafted afresh to fit with the modern context and eliminate all the perceived discriminatory, undemocratic and unfair aspects.
A group of 55 individuals representing the different states of the Union did the drafting of the United States constitution. Despite this seemingly fair distribution of representatives in terms of geographical location, this fairness was not in a real sense observed in other aspects. These aspects include race, religion and even the socio-economic status. A closer analysis of the formulators of the constitution reveals that the group comprised mostly of Caucasian white individuals most belonging to the upper-class portion of the society. From a personal perspective, there is no way that such a confined group of individuals would come up with a legal framework that would be fair and that would support and guarantee all the rights of the citizens regardless of class, race or religion. They can only draft a constitution that would be in their best interest and that would uphold their high social, economic status in the society. In fact, one of the drafters of this constitution, Mr. Charles Beard, later wrote a book titled An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States where he sought to demystify this constitution. He claimed that he and the other drafters of the constitution were high-class individuals who designed the constitution in a manner meant to up-hold their social, economic status and maintain their power over the average members of the society. Such statements are very debatable, but a closer analysis of the constitution reveals that they are significantly justified.
First, the incentive to draft the constitution is itself very suspicious! It emerges that the incentive to draft the constitution emerged after a class revolt by Massachusetts farmers who opposed the state government claiming that it acted not in the best interests of the majority, but the interests of a few. Fearing a nationwide revolt of the lower class individuals, the national elites met in the city of Philadelphia in the year 1987 to establish a new country with a stronger constitution and federal government. The 55 individuals who met here wanted to determine the relations between society members in terms of property. They wanted to establish a situation where the upper class individuals would control all the major government organs, or have the authority to enact rules consistent with their aims of continuing with their economic affairs without fear of reprisal and this is exactly what these few gentlemen did!
Most of these constitutional framers were advocates and lawyers and many of them held much wealth in terms of land and slave ownership. In addition, most of them had much shipping and manufacturing interests. Some of them were renowned private creditors and others held massive government bonds. As mentioned earlier, it is implausible to expect these individuals to come up with a legal framework that equally represents all the classes of the society. The few individuals had direct economic interests that would be realize by establishing a national government at the majority’s expense.
The upper class members who were manufacturers required the strong government created by the constitution to enact some protective tariffs as well as subsidizing the process of industrialization. In addition, it is clear that the moneylenders would want to do way with liberal paper money printing existing in the country to pay debts. In addition, the rich and the affluent would require a strong military force stipulated by the constitution that would protect and guard them as they grabbed land from the oppressed and the minority in the society such as the native Indians. The upper class individuals who owned slaves sought a constitution and a national government that would give them federal security against slave runaways and revolts. The individuals who held bonds wanted a national government that was strong enough to raise money from taxation to make sure that bonds accrued from the time of fighting for independence were honored.
The individuals who drafted the constitution including the likes of Charles Beard, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, had very clear motives for coming up with a federal system of governance guided by a national constitution. In fact, as shown earlier, most of them were very candid about these interests as shown by the comments by Beard in his works of literature. Even Adams and Hamilton stated their motives very clearly. According to Adams, the United States ought to be led and governed by, ‘the rich, the able and the well born.' Adams, in addition, did not believe that democracy was fit and he, in fact, thought it was an unjust, detestable and ignorable government form. His comments are significantly synonymous with that of his constitutional drafting compatriot, Alexander Hamilton who shared the view that the masses were very turbulent and seldom judged and determined what was right or wrong. He believed it was people such as him who ought to control and make decisions for them.
The discussion above makes one thing clear, the constitution of the country did not hold the interests of the majority at heart at the time of drafting. Although, it has undergone some modifications in terms of amendments, most of the elements of the upper-class egocentrism and authority are still evident.
The America nation has undergone a massive alteration of its political landscape over the years. This has been in regards to aspects such as racial and gender diversity as well as a significant reduction of the gap of the social- economic classes. In addition, the concept of democracy has been inculcated into people more. In light of these facts, it is clear that if the constitution were to be redrafted today, it would be significantly different from the one that was enacted and adopted in the city of Philadelphia. The constitution would be more accommodative in terms of racial, gender and social economic status. The pre-dominant democratic and discriminatory status of the current American generation would allow the constitutional drafters to come up with a document similar to the one formulated in Philadelphia.
Consequently, there are several provisions in the old constitution that might be altered. One particular provision that would be altered would be in regards to the voting rights. Although the old constitution was amended over time to give, more individuals the rights to vote, the initial document only allow the upper class whites to vote. Blacks, Indians, women and poor whites were not mandated to vote. This provision would be altered and every legal American citizen of relevant age would be allowed to take part in free and democratic elections.
The other provision would be in regards to slavery. The United States constitution during its formulation time was fully supportive of the institution of slavery. In fact, the population of slaves in a given state was often used as measure of the number of representatives in the lower house from that state. In a modern convention, this would even be an issue of discussion. Any act or sign of slavery would be met with stiff legal consequences and the element would be completely wiped up from the society.
Another element of the old constitution that is hugely undemocratic and that would warrant change regards the Electoral College. The Electoral College is undemocratic because it has a provision that allows an individual to be elected as the President of the nation even when he gets a lower proportion of the total national vote than his opponent does. The constitution would require amendment to ensure that it is the total vote that counts and not the number of electoral votes of each state.
In addition, the national Senate’s structure is another issue that would require massive adjustments. The representation should be based on each state’s representation. For instance, it is hugely unfair and democratic for a state such as Wisconsin, which consists of only six million people to get equal representation in the Senate like California, a state comprising of a whopping 30 million people!
It is clear that the United States Constitution at the time of its creation did not take into consideration the rights of all the members of the society regardless of their social-economic status. It was mainly formulated to preserve the prestige of the upper class few who knew that their economic interests would be best protected under the veil of a national government. Although some of discriminatory, undemocratic and unjust elements of the constitution have been eliminated over time through several amendments (27 in total), some remain. It is up to the people of the country to stand up and demand an immediate redrafting of a new constitution that will reflect the values of the current American generation.
Beard, Charles A. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1935.
McGuire, Robert A. To Form a More Perfect Union: A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.