Governments, including the government of the United States, are not neutral. They
represent dominant economic interests and their constitutions are intended to serve these
interests. The Constitution of the United States is the central instrument of American
government and supreme law of the land. For 200 years, it has guided the evolution of
governmental institutions and has provided the basis for political stability, economic
growth and social progress. It is almost universally agreed that the delegates to the
Constitutional Convention drafted an amazing document. However, this does not mean
that those drafting the Constitution completely put aside all economic and sectional
interests. In fact, they did not. As a result, the Constitution in its original form, while
remarkable in many ways, was the result of disagreements among the drafters. A jumble
of compromises, the new Constitution was geared toward the advantaged and the wealthy
and not wholly representative of the new nation's rich diversity.
One thing the delegates did agree upon was the sense of potential disaster and the
need for drastic change. All of the delegates were convinced that an effective central
government with a wide range of enforceable powers must replace the impotent Congress
established by the Articles of Confederation. Beyond that, sharp differences of opinion,
often based on sectional or economic differences, threatened at times to disrupt the
Convention and cut short its proceedings before a constitution was even drafted. A good
example of sectional bickering was the debate over state's representation in Congress.
The larger state's argued in favor of proportional representation in the legislature--each
state should have voting power according to its population. The smaller states, fearing
domination by larger ones, insisted on equal representation. The issue was settled by the
"Great Compromise," giving every state equal representation in one house of Congress,
and proportional representation in the other. In the Senate, every state would have two
seats. In the House of Representatives, the number of seats would depend on population.
Another compromise made based on sectional differences was the 3/5 compromise that
dealt with the counting of slave for representation purposes. Southern states, wanting to
increase their amount of power in Congress wanted slaves to be counted just as everyone
else. The North, attempting to maintain its advantage in population wanted slaves to be
left out of the counting. It was eventually settled that each slave would be counted as 3/5
of a person.
Were the Founding Fathers wise and just men arguing over the philosophies behind
the new government and trying to achieve a good balance? In fact they did not want a
balance at all, except one that kept things as they were, a balance between the dominant
forces at the time. A fair and just government for all the inhabitants of the United States
would not have been in their economic interests at all and thus most of their disagreements
were based of economic grounds. They certainly did not want an equal balance between
slaves and masters, propertyless and property holders, Indians and white, women and men.
A majority of the delegates were lawyers by profession and were generally men of wealth
in land, slaves, manufacturing or shipping. Thus, most of the makers of the Constitution
had a direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government. Yet the
delegates were hesitant, they knew the Constitution would never be ratified if it served
only their economic interests in the form of strong central government. They had to
compromise. The Constitution, then, illustrates the complexity of the American system:
that it serves the wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners and the
middle class to build a broad base of support. This base of support was used a buffer
against blacks, Indians and poor whites.
Four groups were not represented in the Constitutional Convention however,
slave, indentured servants, women and men without property. And so the Constitution did
not reflect the interests of those groups. The Constitutional Convention was not the
angelic, intellectual free exchange of ideas many people believe it to be. The Constitution
is a jumble of compromises stemming from sectional and economic interests of those who
drafted it. Qualifications for voting at state levels required in most cases the owning of
property and excluded women, Indians and slaves. There were no popular elections to the
higher offices of the federal government, the people were originally only allowed to vote
for state officials. Though the people had to be checked, Madison wrote in his Federalist
Papers, men of substance a property did not have to be checked because