Jerry Fresia Contests the Legitimacy of the Constitution

I was working on the first of my long awaited threads concerning Garry Wills’ A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government. I was finishing up the first section and I did some googling to find some of the historical quotes from the book online. ( Why type when you can cut and paste? ) In my search I came across Jerry Fresia, someone who dislikes the Constitution even more than me. I instantly abandoned work on my post and began reading.

Toward an American Revolution, Exposing the Constitution and other Illusions

It looks like Mr Fresia’s entire book can be read online. I read through the first couple chapters last night. They cover much of the same territory that I have in my arguments.

The Framers were elite.
Mr Fresia actually lists 35 Framers ( those he terms “considered most active” ) and gives an outline of their wealth and social position. ( This info is cited from Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. My understanding is that the objections to that work concerned the interpretations rather than the data itself. )

The Framers were elitist.
This seems obvious but the book gives us some of their own words to support it. ( The work could use more context surrounding the these quotes, though. If anyone cares to dispute them I’m sure I can produce some with more substance. ) The elite fear of democracy attacking their property is covered extensively and it is maintained that this fear was not just of the lower classes. Mr Feria asserts that by “The People”, the elite referred to those inferiors whom none the less were allowed to vote, ie white landowning males:

In the third chapter, which I have only started, Fresia goes farther. He asserts that at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, a majority of people were against it. The cite for this is given as Charles L. Mee, Jr., The Genius of the People, a work I am unfamiliar with.

If this is true then where is the legitimacy of our supposed democracy?

Just my 2sense

Who cares?

Isn’t attacking the Framers 200 something years later the opposite of argueing from authority?

Shouldn’t we be discussing the merits of the actual document instead of the motivation of the writers?

It’s legitimate because it’s survived for over 200 years and because people…other than Jerry Fresia, believe it’s legitimate.


I’ve thought about this, but it cuts both ways. Under the Articles of the Confederacy, we had a purer Democracy. The result being the majority were essentially voting themselves the properties of the minority wealth. Previously under the King though, people who owed money went to debtor’s prisons.

The Constitution prevented the arbitrary seizure of property (well, until the income tax some might say) but also allowed people to file for bankruptcy and thus not go to prison for their debts.

So, it was a fair exchange on both sides if you ask me.

Under the Articles of Confederation, the United States could not at all be characterized as a democracy; the “people” had no vote at all in the Confederation, and everything was done by a supermajority of the states. At best the Confederation was a loosely bound coalition of independent nation-states. Each state was as democratic (or not) as it chose to be, and the adoption of the Constitution did not substantially change that, at least not right away.

minty green wrote:

… seeks SMW 35-45 NS/ND for romantic weekends and long walks on the beach. Short men need not apply.

Point taken, KellyM.

The constitution was legitimized when it was ratified by the states. If they had strung up the writers instead, the document would be illegitemate.

And every state that from then on petitioned to join the union was joining under that constitution.

Besides, why would being elitist make the constitution illegitemate? Government derives its authority from the consent of the governed. And in this country, the governed consent to the constitution. Perhaps they are consenting to be governed by the elite, perhaps not, but that is irrelevant. Not that the constitution is a perfect document or anything, but I imagine that any replacement document you all might come up with nowadays would be a hundred times worse. But hey, it you are sick of it, all you have to do is work to call a constituitonal convention. Good luck.

Chapter One was as bad as I expected. Chapter 2 was alarming. Chapter Three is horrifying.

Again apparently drawing on the work of Charles L. Mee, Jr., the author gives an account of the ratification that curled my socks. I knew that the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention were secret and that the ratification method, and thus the the document itself, were illegal but I had assumed that the ratifying conventions in the states did represent the will of that rarified group that was included in “The People” and allowed to vote. Instead I hear that it ratified through lies and coercion. It was rammed through the Congress quickly before opposition could mount and then it was proclaimed to have been “Resolved unanimously” when that was untrue.
Then it gets worse:

I am dumbfounded. Can this be true?

Just my 2sense

Assume it is true. SFW? In other words, do you have a great debate here, or do you just want to dis the founders?

(And fat chance on the SMW, tracer. I’m happily hetero.)

2Sense? You are woefully ignorant of how politics has been conducted in this country.

You think the little dustup in Florida a few months ago was bad? Read up on how Tilden’s presidency was stolen. Or Aaron Burr. Or…well, I could go on. But political passions ran just as high in the past, and mobs, machines, riots, corruption, scandals, etc have been part of our country from the beginning.

This guy is just putting another slant on it. It’s actually probably closer to the facts than the pious fables that schoolchildren are fed about the founding of our country. But it is a slant.

And what is the point? Suppose the founders rammed the Constitution through without due consideration? We’ve been living with it for 214 years. If you don’t like it, there’s only one thing you can do, as I said above. Till then, what’s your point? You tired of freedom of religion, no ex-post-facto laws, and no bills of attainder? What’s eating you boy?

It’s well-known that the Constitution was “illegal” in the sense that it was not adopted pursuant to the procedures set forth in the Articles of Confederation. But this is quite irrelevant to everyone except raving lunatics. Ohio’s admission to Statehood was also “illegal” (there was not a quorum present in the House of Representatives at the time the vote was taken), but Ohio is nonetheless a State.

The Constitution is legitimate because the vast majority of Americans acquiesce to governance under its terms. If the Constitution were to lose the support of enough of the populace that the federal government could no longer effectively govern, the Constitution would cease to be legitimate. The historical curiosities of its adoption and ratification are intriguing, to be sure, but not particularly important in terms of deciding whether it can serve today as a foundational governing document.

It should be noted that I ascribe to the “living Constitution” theory of Constitutional interpretation. Those of other interpretational persuasions may find more significance in the historical oddities of Constitutional history.

OK, I was finishing the third chapter and somethings came up IRL. Now to get caught up.

I don’t understand what you are getting at.
Are you implying that the Framers are an authority beyond questioning on this issue?

If these aren’t just a pack of lies, and were public knowledge, would people still feel it was legitimate?


I have also weighed the Constitution against the Confederation it replaced. Until now I never realized that this is a false dilemma. The choice wasn’t limited to one or the other, instead some other solution might have been found.


I didn’t read your first post before I posted just under it. I think that my post raises serious doubts about the arguments of “legitimacy of ratification by the states” and “authority from the consent of the governed” raised in yours. If, as you say, we assume this book is true. Let me know if you wish to pursue this further. And while assumptions can be convienent, so long as they are agreed to by all parties, do you have anything to back up your opinion that this is just “slant”?

The answers to the questions at the end of your fourth paragraph can be found in your 2nd.

Just my 2sense

I think that we should revert to the last legitimate government around here. The Articles of Confederation. Actually, those were only adopted because we declared ourselves independant from Great Britain, which was an act of treason. So we should revert back to being a colony. Unless you want to object to the whole idea of colonization.

Yeah, the Constitution may have not been entirely legal at the time. Certainly, if you go back through history you will find plenty of similar examples. Certainly if you want to check to make sure that every i was dotted and every t crossed, then apply today’s moral standards, you are going to find a lot worse than the adoption of the Constitution. So some guys got dragged through the streets. Big deal. I’m not throwing away the document securing my liberty to right that wrong.

If more people do not know how the Constitution was adopted, it is not because the information has been hidden away. The National Archives and Records Administration even has a web page that discusses the creation and ratification–and it certainly mentions the anti-plutocracy rhetoric of the Anti-Federalists (as well as the mob forcing a quorum for the Pennsylvania vote):
A More Perfect Union

Are you arguing that we should admit the error of our ways and submit to the Queen, begging her to admit us to the Commonwealth (if not simply to returning to our status as a colony)?

The Declaration of Independence was written and signed by several of the same plutocrats. The entire War for Independence was waged because some modestly well-off businessmen were able to convince enough of their less well off citizens to take up arms against Great Britain (for the purpose of allowing those same businessmen to operate with less Royal oversight). The lot of the average farmer in the colonies in 1775 was at least as good (perhaps better) than that of the farmers of Great Britain. The Revolution was engineered by the uppr middle classes–the elite. If you are going to characterize the Constitution as illegitimate, you really have to acknowledge that the Independence was movement was equally flawed in character.

(“To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.”
– Otto von Bismarck)

Thanks for the link, Tom. Though surprisingly, I feel sadness. I can’t even get worked up over the injustice. I was starting to admire Madison.

In any case, KellyM, water, and Tom are all right. I do object to the legitimacy of colonization itself since it entailed forcing the previous inhabitants off the land, as those inhabitants forced earlier people off the same land, as… and that way lies madness. I believe someone must govern so I will accept the current government, though I find it morally bankrupt.

I guess I will finish reading the book. If I find some other outrage I will post it. Any disputing of the facts or assertions put forth by the Mr Fresia would be welcome.

Just my 2sense

Yep, the Constitution was not “legit”. However, the articles of Confederation were not passed by the voters. More important- the declaration of Independence was an illegal act of treason. So we return to the crown? Nope, the English crown had no right to the Americas- it stole all it land from the Amerinds. Aha, but the Amerinds came in here, and killed all the Pleistocene fauna, So THEY were intruders alo. However, the mammals took over the landmass by unfair tactics from the Dinos. Hmm, but they muscled out the Amphibs, right? And without any legal right? But the amphibs conquered the insects. So- the first residents of the landmass were the insects, of whom the cockroaches are the current representatives of the earliest insects. Thus, everyone must leave the continent at once, and leave it to the cockroaches.
But are you thinking what I’m thinking, Pinky? <Yes, but however will we get the stockings on the sheep?>. Guess what folks, I just bought the entire NA landmass from its only LEGAL owners for the price of leaving an over-ripe bannana behind the refrigerator- and executing the Orkin man, of course. :smiley: Bow down to Danielinthewolvesden, your only Lawful Emperor.

Beat THAT for a 'slippery slope". :smiley:


Why is it morally bankrupt? Because of one astoundingly illegal act 200 years ago? Sure the framers had no legal right to hijack the convention and replace the Articles, and sure they were elitist, and sure the Constitution was only voted on by a small minority of the populace. But, as others have asked, So Fucking What? Your opinion of the document should be informed by the merits of the document itself. You can form your opinions of the framers based on how the document was founded, if you like, but I would suggest to you that they were neither the angels of our grade school fairy-tales nor the devils of socialist revisionists. It’s interesting stuff either way.

Just to clarify: “arguing from authority” is the method of debate whereby one seeks to prove a position by pointing out that it is supported by some prominent/intelligent/well respected person. (e.g. “There must be something to Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’ because Kant is such a genius.”). The method is generally considered to be invalid. Freedom was pointing out that you seem to be saying, “The Constitution is bad (illegitimate, whatever) because the framers were such assholes.” This would be an invalid point to make; argue against the constitution based on its contents, not its authors.

Maybe I’m just insensitive, but I still admire people like Madison, Adams, and Hamilton, and I’m personally glad they pulled off the Constitution. I think it is public knowledge (or at least readily avaliable to those who want to find it) that the framers were rich, that there was pretty wide anti-Federalist opposition, and that the Constitution was pushed through anyway. If people don’t know this, it’s because they haven’t looked and don’t care.