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I recount here a summary of the end of a lecture given in the 1960s by Robert LeFevre.

Of the 56 signatories of the Declaration of Independence (the guys I fondly recall being called the Founding Fathers, the ones who risked everything for liberty), how many subsequently signed the Constitution (drafted roughly 12 years later)? I had assumed that most of the Founding Fathers also had signed the Constitution.

  • If you guessed all of them, you would be wrong.
  • If you guess most of them, you would be wrong.
  • If you guessed few of them, you’d be close.

The answer is 6. They were George Read, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Clymer, and James Wilson. What about the other 50 who signed the Declaration?

  • 3 were dead, leaving only 47 eligible to sign
  • of the remaining 47, another 12 had been expelled from, or voluntarily left, America during the War
  • That leaves 35 signatories of the Declaration that could have taken part in the Constitutional Convention but that did not. So 6 of 41 eligible Fathers took part in the drafting of the Constitution – or 14.6% (hey, that sounds like a majority in modern America, so maybe my subsequent point is moot).

The guys who “gifted” us this wonderful Constitution were not exactly the same guys who thought about rights and liberties and all that silly little utopian stuff. In fact, those ideas were so important to them that they didn’t get around to talking about rights until a few years after the Constitution was ratified.

Most of those guys, those stargazers, were neither delegates to the Constitutional Convention nor to the state conventions which were rigged to ratify it. In other words, they were working in opposition to the passage of such a document. Did you learn that in your high school history books? Is there really one group of people called the “Founders”?  No, as Robert LeFevre pointed out, there was one group of people that brought us liberty, and yet another who brought us power.

And what did some of the prominent thinkers of the time say about the Constitution?

  • Here is Thomas Babington Macaulay (an eminent British historian): “I confess sir, to be unimpressed with your Constitution, it is all sail and no anchor.”
  • Here is Alexis de Toqueville (author of Democracy in America – very much an admirer of America who was starkly opposed to the unbridled power of monarchs and kinds): “I would give the people under this instrument (the Constitution) 200 years from the date of its ratification until they descend under a complete despotism.”
  • Here is Ben Franklin (who nonetheless signed the document): having read the Constitution in draft form when he arrived at the already started deliberations and recommended to the delegation three changes, “there are 3 places in the Constitution where unbridled power had been granted — and these places were (1) in the Executive Branch, (2) in the Legislative Branch, and (3) in the Judicial Branch.” Of course, his suggestions were ignored.

Franklin said at the end, “gentlemen, you now have a Constitution. It is not as good as we could have hoped, but it is good as we are going to get. It will serve us alright for a while. But it will end in tyranny because there is nothing within it to prevent it.

Indeed, we are all frogs in a pot.

2 Responses to “All Sail and No Anchor”

  1. Michael says:

    Alexis de Toqueville doesn’t appear to be all that far off. I wish people would learn this stuff before proclaiming the Constitution to be divinely inspired.

  2. azmyth says:

    When you get down to it, a democracy isn’t going to drift too far away from the median voter for a long time no matter what the Constitution says. When the progressives took over in the early 1900s, the Constitution was regarded as archaic and they pretty much ignored it. FDR was willing to pack the court, but was extremely popular. Wilson called for referendums on important issues to sidestep Congress, but that would have been impossible to do if he were too far away from popular opinion. If people surrender to tyranny in a democracy, they have no one to blame but themselves. I think effort is better spent convincing people to value things like liberty and limited government rather than focusing on the details of a written constitution that gets ignored whenever push comes to shove.

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