Let’s start at the very beginning.
Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 – July 12, 1804) was an American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was an influential interpreter and promoter of the U.S. Constitution, as well as first Secretary of the Treasury.
Hamilton, much like the rest of the founding fathers, acknowledged that the biggest challenge to “peace and liberty” of the newly formed Union was not external, but rather threats arising from “domestic factions”:
In the Federalist Papers No. 9, Hamilton begins with:
A firm Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection.
James Madison, fourth President of the United States (1809 – 1817) and hailed as the “Father of the Constitution”, begins that most famous of the Federalist Papers, No. 10, by arguing that:
Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction….By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
In short, the founding fathers simply didn’t trust the public. But why specifically?
Madison’s statements from Federal Convention of 1787 are truly insightful:
The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe, — when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability.
In other words, wealth (“landed interests”) will be increasingly concentrated into fewer and fewer hands through markets (“various means of trade and manufactures”). The wealthy, therefore, would be outvoted in a democratic system and government would be overrun by the majority of the people. To prevent the people from attaining political power and expropriating the property and wealth of the rich (“an agrarian law”), we have to “wisely” ensure that government “protect the minority” of the rich against the majority of the poor.
The following year (1788), James Madison wrote in The Federalist, No. 51:
In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
However, non were as eloquent as John Jay, president of the Continental Congress and first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In vol. 1, chapter 3 of The Life of John Jay (1833), son William Jay quotes his fathers favorite maxim:
The people who own the country ought to govern it.
Clearly, you can see how our founding fathers were very conscious of “class”. They were, after all, the upper class and were all too aware of the dangers posed by the lower classes. This ideology is ancient. The founding fathers were just a group of men in the long history of men that truly believed to be above the rest.
The ruling classes hold interests that are inherently antagonistic to those of the lower classes which have to be subjugated politically and economically to maintain their position in society.
At most points throughout history, the masses of any society, even in the most democratic, understand that they are not the ones in control of their own lives, and history is littered with examples of ordinary people rising up to take control of their situations, to create their own destinies.
These are the “factions” which are founding fathers feared so much.
To maintain “peace and liberty” (a.k.a. “control”), it is immensely important to have a way to manipulate the society’s ways of thinking and understanding of the world around them; to minimize and under represent ideas that are contrary to those of the ruling establishment, and to propagate those of the ruling elite. Karl Marx couldn’t have said it more clearly when he wrote in The Communist Manifesto:
The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.
Thanks for reading,
Full transcripts of The Federalist Papers from Yale Law.