Signing the Constitution of the United States of America
Most of the fifty-five delegates who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 had been given specific instructions to do nothing more than amend the Articles of Confederation. The first thing they decided to do was to ignore those instructions and draft an entirely new document. The second thing they decided to do what to take a vow of secrecy. Not a word spoken in the room where they were meeting was to be shared with the public or the press. But James Madison took copious notes, using a system of shorthand he devised himself.
The others in attendance knew that he was taking notes. In fact, he checked with those who had spoken each day to verify that he had captured their remarks accurately. They knew that they could trust him not to share those notes with the press or the public. And their trust was well placed. The notes that Madison took were not published until after his death and as the youngest of the 55 men who worked through that long, hot summer to adopt the Constitution of the United States, he was also the last to pass away.
Madison’s Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, is considered to be the most complete and most accurate record of what was said and who said it. Speaking off the record and behind closed doors, the delegates were free to share their true feelings about democracy.
Here are a few of their remarks (as reported by Madison):
Edmund Randolph observed that “the general object was to provide a cure for the evils under which the U. S. labored; that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.”
Roger Sherman referred to “the inconveniencies of democracy” and “opposed the election by the people, insisting that it ought to be by the State Legislatures. The people, he said, immediately should have as little to do as may be about the Government. They want (lack) information and are constantly liable to be misled.”
Elbridge Gerry: “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue but are the dupes of pretended patriots. In Massachusetts, it had been fully confirmed by experience that they are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which no one on the spot can refute.”
Note: It was Elbridge Gerry who once drew an electoral map that contained district lines so convoluted some seeing them thought that one district resembled a salamander, hence, the term “gerrymander.”]
Of John Dickenson: “A limited Monarchy he considered as one of the best Governments in the world. It was not certain that the same blessings were derivable from any other form. It was certain that equal blessings had never yet been derived from any of the republican form.”
With regard to electing the president, George Mason, “conceived it would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief Magistrate to the people, as it would, to refer a trial of colors to a blind man.” Charles Pinkney agreed, saying that “An election by the people being liable to the most obvious and striking objections. They will be led by a few active and designing men.”
With regard to electing the president, George Mason, “conceived it would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief Magistrate to the people, as it would, to refer a trial of colors to a blind man.” Charles Pinkney agreed, saying that “An election by the people being liable to the most obvious and striking objections. They will be led by a few active and designing men.” epresentatives, and different numbers of people different numbers of representatives.” Wilson was not alone in defending democracy, but he and others who shared his opinions were greatly outnumbered (and out-voted).
It may come as a shock to most Americans to discover that our Founding Fathers had such a negative view of democracy, but given the feelings of the majority of the delegates regarding democracy, it should come as no surprise that the system that was put in place by the Constitution of the United States was designed to appear to be democratic, but there were three deliberate “filters” or “checks” on the will of the people – the senate, the president, and the Supreme Court.
The people were allowed to vote directly to elect members of the House of Representatives, but senators were elected by state legislatures, the president was elected by the members of the Electoral College, and Supreme Court justices were nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
The system of checks and balances put in place by our Constitution was primarily designed to give the wealthy the ability to "check" the will of the people.
Any provisions within a Constitution, elements within the structure of a government, or flaws in the manner in which elections are conducted that allow a minority to overrule the majority are, by definition, undemocratic. There are numerous such elements within our Constitution.
CHECKS ON THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES = MINORITY RULE
It may come as a shock to many Americans to learn that the 55 men who drafted our Constitution, with few exceptions, were not fond of democracy. They did not trust we, the people, to vote wisely. They knew that they could not leave the people out of the government altogether, the Declaration of Independence had stated that governments derive their "just powers from the consent of the governed."
The people had a strong role in the government of many of the 13 "free and independent states" under the Articles of Confederation. So, they reluctantly gave the people one-half of one of the three branches of government - the House of Representatives - and then gave the rest of the government three "checks" on any legislation passed by the House. The Senate had to concur. The president could veto legislation. And the Supreme Court could declare a law to be unconstitutional.
And none of these other three branches were elected by the people. The Senate was originally elected by state legislatures. The president was (and still is) elected by the Electoral College, not by popular vote. And Supreme Court Justices were (and are) nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
EVEN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES RARELY REPRESENTS THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE
As a result of gerrymandering, the influence wielded by lobbyists, the effects of "winner-take-all" elections combined with single-member congressional districts, and the undue influence of money in our elections (including massive amounts of money from corporate interests and plutocrats), the House of Representatives does a better job of representing corporate interests and tax-averse billionaires than it does of representing we, the people.
CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED?
The word “democracy” does not appear anywhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence does say that governments deriving their “just powers from the consent of the governed”. That meets the definition of democracy, provided the governed give their "consent" in free and fair elections. The primary problem with elections in the United States is that voters have a very limited range of choices with regard to viable candidates.
The Constitution (in Article IV, Section 4) does state that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government.” The term "republic" is synonymous with "representative democracy", but our state governments generally do a poor job of representing the will of the people.