How can the constitution be understood in light of the political philosophers like Hobbes and Locke, the problems under the Articles of Confederation (so you will need to know the history here),...

How can the constitution be understood in light of the political philosophers like Hobbes and Locke, the problems under the Articles of Confederation (so you will need to know the history here), and the personal motives of the Founders. (i.e. as articulated in the Federalist papers and as argued in the Roche and Beard articles)?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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We can say that each of these factors helped to shape the Constitution as it was originally written.  Let us see how each of these influences helped to do this.

First, we can look at the legacy of political philosophers like Hobbes and Locke.  Locke, in particular, is one of the main influences on the Constitution (particularly if we include the Bill of Rights in the Constitution).  Both Hobbes and Locke believed that human beings lived terrible lives in the days before governments were created.  Therefore, they believed in the need for government.  Locke argued that people agreed to create governments so that the governments could protect their fundamental rights.  The government had to exist by the consent of the people and it had to protect their rights.  The Constitution mirrors this by providing for a democratic system of government that was set up in such a way (checks and balances, limited government) as to that it would be hard for the government to abuse the rights of the people.

Second, we can look at the Articles of Confederation.  The Constitution was clearly a backlash against the Articles.  The Articles created a very decentralized country whose national government had almost no power.  The weakness of the national government and the strength of the states led to serious problems.  The Framers of the Constitution created a much stronger national government as a reaction to the Articles.

Finally, we can argue that the Framers wrote the Constitution as a way to further their own interest.  Beard makes this argument very forcefully, but his thesis is not necessarily accepted today.  It is clear that much of the Constitution did work in favor of the elites who wrote the Constitution.  For example, the Constitution limited democracy (it did not let the people vote directly for the president, the Supreme Court, or the Senate).  The Constitution also made it impossible for states to pass laws doing things like forgiving debts (as the states had done in the “stay laws” under the Articles of Confederation).  These were provisions that clearly helped the elites politically and economically.  However, it may well be that the Framers understood that these provisions would be good for the country as a whole and not only for their own class.

Thus, we can see that each of these factors had at least some impact on the Constitution as it was originally written. 

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