On Principle and Pragmatism Va: What Does Limited Government Really Mean - Cast of Characters? [99]

U.S. CONSTITUTION page 1

U.S. CONSTITUTION page 1
U.S. CONSTITUTION page 1 | Source

“The government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion” - John Adams, POTUS # 2

The Form of Government, which you admire, when its Principles are pure is admirable, indeed, it is productive of every Thing, which is great and excellent among Men. But its Principles are as easily destroyed, as human Nature is corrupted. Such a Government is only to be supported by pure Religion or Austere Morals. Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private [virtue], and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty: and this public Passion must be Superiour to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions and Interests, nay, their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in Competition with the Rights of Society.

John Adams to Mercy Warren - 16 Apr. 1776Warren-Adams Letters 1:222--23

"No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

From 1779 Virginia Bill of Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson, POTUS #3

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth... Our sister states of Pennsylvania and New York, however, have long subsisted without any establishment at all. The experiment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered beyond conception. They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order: or if a sect arises, whose tenets would subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled with it. They do not hang more malefactors than we do. They are not more disturbed with religious dissensions. On the contrary, their harmony is unparalleled, and can be ascribed to nothing but their unbounded tolerance, because there is no other circumstance in which they differ from every nation on earth. They have made the happy discovery, that the way to silence religious disputes, is to take no notice of them. Let us too give this experiment fair play, and get rid, while we may, of those tyrannical laws."

From Thomas Jefferson's 1787 Notes on the State of Virginia

U.S. Constitution, Page 2

Source

The U.S. Constitution: Principled or Pragmatic?

THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION begins with a high Principle. Always keeping that goal in mind, everything that follows, from Article I to Article VII, is very a Pragmatic approach designed to on that promise.

The Preamble to the Constitution states;

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the Common Defense, and promote the General Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

This powerful, to me anyway, awe inspiring, historic sentence, one which changed the world forever, is the only statement of Principle in the U.S. Constition, but boy, what a statement it is! The rest of the Constitution is pure Pragmatism, a creation from the minds of a group of highly principled, brave, dedicated, patriotic men in such a way as to survive the test of time. Anything less would have failed a long time ago.

Before moving on, please bear with me while I say one more thing about the Constitution being the source of all of the principles being bandied about by both the Right and the Left; of which I suppose I am guilty as well. The fact of the matter is, beyond what is stated in the Preamble, there are extremely few Principles presented in the body of the Constitution itself upon which to strictly or broadly contruct anything whatsoever. In fact, Madison, et al, left many elements of the Constitution puposefully vague, open to interpretation by those who followed them. There was a practical reason for this, they wanted a document which 1) could be accepted by the majority of those who attended the Constitutional Convention and 2) could be approved by the people of the various States. The Bill of Rights is likewise barren although there is much more fodder for argument because of the pragmatic ambiguity built-in to satifsty both the Conservative or anti-Federalist, anti-Constitutionalists and Progressive, Federalist, Pro-Constitutionalists in order to get the Constitution ratified. (see On Principal and Pragmatism II - U.S. Constitution Ratification Almost Didn't Happen)

On the Federalist side you had such writings as the Federalist papers laying out the arguments why the Constitution should be signed; you hear much of the same arguments being used again today. The same is true regarding the anti-Federalist where Patrick Henry of Virginia and Robert Yates of Pennsylvannia wrote prolifically, arguing against ratification. These would be familiar refrains for they are often repeated by the adherents of the Tea Party movement today. Both factions, Federalist and anti-Federalist, made cases for the need for this new institution to be "limited" in its authority to fulfill the Principles articulated in the Preamble. Because of the need to write a document acceptable to enough citizens to be ratified, what the framers meant by "limited" was left ambiguous, to be defined and redefined over the ensuing centuries.

As a result, neither side can point to the U.S. Constitution and say definitively, "Look, see there, it is as plain as the nose on your faceand in black and white no less; no interpretation is needed to prove my case." Nobody can do this because it was impossible to design the Constitution or the Bill of Rights in such a way that a single interpretation was self-evident. If it had been, there would have been no United States because there never would have been any agreement, don't you see.

The source of all the vitriolic rhetoric we hear today over "limited governent" actually derives from the arguments used for and against the ratification of the Constitution between 1787 and 1790. For three years, extremely heated, some times violent arguments flew back and forth between the two factions making today's fight between the Conservatives and Democrats look more like a friendly spat. It was only when the compromise called the Bill of Rights was devised did enough anti-Federalists join with the Federalists to push through the ratification of Constitution in 1790.

So, when I hear a Right-winger on the POTUS' "Stand-up With Pete Domonic" show ("Politics for the United States" channel 124 on Sirus/XM) say something to the effect that

"in order to save itself from financial disaster during the 2008 financial meltdown, the United States had to sell its soul to the devil by bailing out the banks and car companies in violation of the fundamental principle this country was founded on that each person and business has the opportunity to work hard and possibly be a success and reap the rewards or fail and fall by the wayside, but in either case, the government must stand on the sidelines"

do I know that he doesn't know what he is talking about.

The Cast of Characters

FIRST, I WOULD like to lay out the players in the creation of the United States Constitution and give a rough idea of which camp, Conservative or Progressive, they tended to sit in. Those that signed it were all Federalists to one degree or another in the end because they believed in some sort of strong central government without a Bill of Rights; the more Conservative (or, more correctly, "limited government" liberal) members walked out and did not participate. It is this interaction between the moderate Conservative and Progressive camps (Tea Partyers and Conservatives, there is a lesson here) that resulted in what should really be called the Great Compromise of 1797, U.S. Constitution.

Before presenting the list of those primarily responsible for the Constiutution itself, there has been frequent reference to the term founding fathers, so just to be clear, I thought I would present who the contemporary American historian Roger Morris of Pensylvania considered the seven men who should be considered the founding fathers of the United States:

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • George Washington
  • John Adams
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • John Jay
  • James Madison
  • Alexander Hamilton

The total cast of characters who attended the Constitutional Convention, along with the political leanings is presented in the table below (remember, when I refer to Conservatives, I am generally referring to moderates):

PLAYERS AT THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

'LIMITED GOV'T" CAMP
STATE 
"BROAD GOV'T" CAMP
STATE
NICHOLAS GILMAN 
NEW HAMPSHIRE 
GEORGE WASHINGTON 
VIRGINIA
NATHANIEL GORHAM
MASSACHUSETTES 
ABRAHAM BALDWIN
PENNSYLVANNIA
RUFUS KING 
MASSACHUSETTES 
BENJAMAN FRANKLIN 
PENNSYLVANNIA
WIALLIAM SAMUEL JOHNSON
CONNECTICUT
JOHN LANGDON
NEW HAMPSHIRE
ROGER SHERMAN
CONNECTICUT
ALEXANDER HAMILTON
NEW YORK
WILLIALM LIVINGSTON
NEW JERSEY
DAVID BEARLEY
NEW JERSEY
WILLIAM PATTERSON
NEW JERSON
JONAH DAYTON
NEW JERSEY
THOMAS FITZSIMONS
PENNSYLVANIA
ROBERT MORRIS
PENNSYLVANIA
JAMES WILSON
PENNSYLVANIA
THOMAS MIFLIN
PENNSYLVANIA
JARED INGERSOL
PENNSYLVANIA
GOUVERNOR MORRIS
PENNSYLVANIA
GEORGE READ
DELAWARE
JOHN DICKONSON
DELAWARE
JACOB BROOM
DELAWARE
GUNNING BEDFORD JUN
DELAWARE
RICHARD BASSETT
DELAWARE
JAMES MCHENRY
MARYLAND
DANIEL CARROLL
MARYLAND
DANIEL OF ST.THOMAS JENIFER
MARYLAND
JOHN BLAIR
VIRGINIA
JAMES MADISON JR.
VIRGINIA
WILLIAM FEW
GEORGIA
WILLIAM BLOUNT
NORTH CAROLINA
HU WILLIAMSON
NORTH CAROLINA
RICHARD DOBBS SPAIGHT
NORTH CAROLINA
J RUTLEDGE
SOUTH CAROLINA
CHARLES PINCKNEY
SOUTH CAROLINA
CHARLES COTEWORTH PINCKNEY
SOUTH CAROLINA
PIERCE BUTLER
SOUTH CAROLINA
PLAYERS AT THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

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Comments 4 comments

Credence2 profile image

Credence2 4 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

A rational explanation, but you would be hard pressed to get conservatives to see beyond its own interpretation of "limited government" and strict constructionist contitutional interpretation which you have shown in your article as frequently trumpeted and just as frequently misapplied by the Right. Truly, a scholarly work on your part...Cred2


My Esoteric profile image

My Esoteric 4 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL Author

After fighting through Will's comments after what I thought was a pretty good hub, I have no doubt about the truth of what you say Credence. As to scholarly, I appreciate the compliment, but I think I have a long way to go to earn that honor yet; right now, it is sort of like taking notes for class, it helps me remember and at my age, I need all of the help I can get!


BeachMonarch profile image

BeachMonarch 4 years ago from Virginia Beach

Great Essay,I absolutely love pragmatism. Use what works!


My Esoteric profile image

My Esoteric 4 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL Author

Thanks for stopping by, reading and leaving your very nice comment, BeachMonarch

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