Was the adoption of the U.S. Constitution a liberal or conservative act?

Fiver

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
3,763
Hamilton's desire for monarchy is probably the easiest to find, but he was hardly alone. Many would point to his "plan." Elsewhere:
“Here I shall give my sentiments of the best form of government—not as a thing attainable by us, but as a model which we ought to approach as near as possible. British constitution best form.”
--Alexander Hamilton
Founders Online: Alexander Hamilton’s Notes, [18 June 1787]
Thank you for the link. Its does show that Hamilton favored a monarchy,, but it also contradicts Eric Nelson's claim, quoted in Post 18, that "Leading patriots believed that the colonies were the king’s own to govern, and they urged George III to defy Parliament and rule directly. These theorists were proposing to turn back the clock on the English constitution, rejecting the Whig settlement that had secured the supremacy of Parliament after the Glorious Revolution. Instead, they embraced the political theory of those who had waged the last great campaign against Parliament’s “usurpations”: the reviled Stuart monarchs of the seventeenth century."

As you quote, Hamilton notes pointed to the "British constitution" the "best form” of government, not unchecked rule by a monarch.
 
Jul 2019
592
New Jersey
Did you read the link I posted, Hamilton’s The Farmer Refuted (1775)? In there, he expresses the desire that King George take direct rule over the colonies.
 

Code Blue

Ad Honorem
Feb 2015
4,260
Caribbean
As you quote, Hamilton notes pointed to the "British constitution" the "best form” of government, not unchecked rule by a monarch.
I was making no specific point about how many "checks" Hamilton or other Federalists wanted or didn't want. I was simply rebutting your point that no "Founder" wanted to institute monarchy. This faction continued to want it into the 1800s, and to secede to form a "Northern" Confederation in variaous incarnations (with Canada and with the Crown). There were just too few of them, and could never gain traction, because they could not rope New York into the schemes.

But that doesn't mean I put any "liberal" or "conservative" on it.
 
Aug 2018
274
America
I think everything I'm going to say has already been said in this thread in one form or another but I'm also right now too lazy to read it entirely.

It depends on the definition of conservatism, and of the standards applied today and applied back then. Using 18th century definitions and standards, the constitution was definitely liberal. Slavery is the only thing that is debatable, but even liberals heavily disagreed about slavery. The constitution was definitely not conservative by the definitions and standards of the 18th century though because it was explicitly republican, while being adopted for anti-monarchical and anti-aristocratic reasons. Conservatism back then meant support for the monarchy and/or support for the aristocracy, neither of which were elements of the constitution which opposed the former and sought to abolish the latter.

It is also not conservative by contemporary 21st century US standards. US conservatism since the Cold War, or if not, since at least the Reagan administration, has been defined almost exclusively as an adherence to religious traditionalism, to the point that conservatism and religious fundamentalism have been wrongly conflated as a result. At the same time, some conservatives in the US have sought to distinguish themselves from religious traditionalists and call themselves "classical liberals", who claim to spouse the values of the Founding Fathers and other intellectuals going from John Locke to Ludwig von Mises (here excluding the likes of Keynes and John Rawls who are considered corrupters of the liberal tradition). Some, however, have found the term conservative so tarnished by its association with religious traditionalism that they have tried to replace it entirely with "libertarian" to denote an adherence to said "classical liberalism" while at the same time distinguishing themselves from the conservative tradition, though they're the exact same thing with the difference that libertarians don't like to get associated with self-described conservatives, even though, again, they have literally the exact same ideology and follow the exact same political tradition.

So, if modern-day libertarianism/classical liberalism is considered conservative, then the US constitution is definitely conservative. This is because the US constitution doesn't have the elements associated with today's liberalism, which includes an adherence to social welfare Keynesian policies and legal egalitarianism, not to mention the US constitution had an explicit clause about slavery. US liberals have also sought to repeal the clause about gun ownership. It's just that since conservatism is nowadays so associated with religious traditionalism to the point they're (incorrectly) considered synonyms that to some the US constitution is therefore more liberal than conservative because it is explicitly secular and has no references to God or to Christianity.
 
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Aug 2018
274
America
That is, if the Founders were alive today, what kind of polity would they say best represents what they were trying to achieve. For what kind of government would they advocate?
This is an interesting question and I like to discuss it. Today I would argue the Founding Fathers would be libertarian. They're far too secularist to be with the religious right of the Republican Party but are nothing like socially progressive Democrats either, as they believed in the inequality of Blacks, Whites and "Indians" and legalised slavery (with the Founding Fathers being famous slave owners), while also wanting armed militias running in the streets which is anathema for modern-day progressive liberalism. Slavery doesn't sit quite well with libertarians, but gun ownership and popular militias do, and even slavery is an element libertarians say we should forget and they always get rabid when the topic of slavery reparations comes up while also saying Africans should be grateful they were brought to the US, all while opposing the same social progressives who point out the lingering consequences and effects of slavery.

At the same time, they also fit the mould of the Clintonite wing of the Democrat Party, which has historically favour free market economics (at least abroad, though even at home they constantly defend capitalism and attack every appearance of socialism within their ranks) and military interventionism, and the Founding Fathers were indeed very expansionistic, wanting almost from the get go to start taking away Native American land and expand US territory beyond the borders of the 13 colonies as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has pointed out. The Clintonite wing of the Democrat Party in fact is completely at odds with its electorate base precisely because they're basically the same thing as right-wing Republicans minus the religious talk, the latter being another thing in common with the Founding Fathers. The Clintonites also oppose slavery and gun ownership, but their rhetoric about defending US interests, militarisation and security above all sits well with the Founding Fathers.
 

Code Blue

Ad Honorem
Feb 2015
4,260
Caribbean
would be libertarian. They're far too secularist to be with the religious right of the Republican Party
They weren't secularist in the State governments. Most of the state Constitutions contained provisions that are construed as "establishment" by 21st century standards. For example, several contained religious tests for office.

FWIW, the Constitution now operates backwards. That is the First Amendment was a restriction on the federal government (Congress shall make now law...), but now it is the federal government and its courts reversing this Amendment to tell states to disestablish, to tell state schools it is unconstitutional to teach using the Bible. I am not saying you are making this mistake, but one should not judge what the founders believed by what is going on today. These are two different things.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2019
128
Seattle
This is an interesting question and I like to discuss it. Today I would argue the Founding Fathers would be libertarian. They're far too secularist to be with the religious right of the Republican Party but are nothing like socially progressive Democrats either, as they believed in the inequality of Blacks, Whites and "Indians" and legalised slavery (with the Founding Fathers being famous slave owners), while also wanting armed militias running in the streets which is anathema for modern-day progressive liberalism. Slavery doesn't sit quite well with libertarians, but gun ownership and popular militias do, and even slavery is an element libertarians say we should forget and they always get rabid when the topic of slavery reparations comes up while also saying Africans should be grateful they were brought to the US, all while opposing the same social progressives who point out the lingering consequences and effects of slavery.

At the same time, they also fit the mould of the Clintonite wing of the Democrat Party, which has historically favour free market economics (at least abroad, though even at home they constantly defend capitalism and attack every appearance of socialism within their ranks) and military interventionism, and the Founding Fathers were indeed very expansionistic, wanting almost from the get go to start taking away Native American land and expand US territory beyond the borders of the 13 colonies as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has pointed out. The Clintonite wing of the Democrat Party in fact is completely at odds with its electorate base precisely because they're basically the same thing as right-wing Republicans minus the religious talk, the latter being another thing in common with the Founding Fathers. The Clintonites also oppose slavery and gun ownership, but their rhetoric about defending US interests, militarisation and security above all sits well with the Founding Fathers.
They weren't secularist in the State governments. Most of the state Constitutions contained provisions that are construed as "establishment" by 21st century standards. For example, several contained religious tests for office.

FWIW, the Constitution now operates backwards. That is the First Amendment was a restriction on the federal government (Congress shall make now law...), but now it is the federal government and its courts reversing this Amendment to tell states to disestablish, to tell state schools it is unconstitutional to teach using the Bible. I am not saying you are making this mistake, but one should not judge what the founders believed by what is going on today. These are two different things.
I don't think ALL of the Founders were slave owners or in favor of slavery. Many who were against slavery, compromised that principle in order to produce a Constitution capable of being ratified by the slave states of the south. That, in turn, begs the question of whether or not hypocrisy is sometimes justified for a greater purpose and whether or not opposition to slavery was a greater purpose than ratification?
 
Sep 2019
182
Slovenia
Fathers of American constitution were christians ( mostly protestant christians ) and deists. They were able to find together a way how to organize society on a very different model as it was before with monarchies and state religions or state churches. However many principles on which American constitution is based are coming from christianity, early christianity mostly and also deists saw them as good. For example that Creator made man free or that power should be divided because man is to weak for having to much power in his hands.

And another thing. When fathers of American constitution were studying examples from the past they ( specially Thomas Jefferson ) were also inspired by Slovene medieval example from Karantanija. In Karantanija every free man was able to vote new national leader so called prince or 'knez'.
 
Oct 2019
95
West Virginia
The Founding Fathers were in a tradition of English liberalism which had long irritated the monarchy over there. In that time, it was pure liberal. Conservative would mean l'ancien régime, the old order: monarchy, aristocratic rule, serfdom, etc. At first the notion that a peasant would have equal rights with a noble would make the nobles laugh, but in some countries they didn't not laugh long.

Modern liberalism similarly attacks abusive class structure, but also involves a lot of more sophisticated modern applications of government which were barely thought of then.