The creation of the U.S. Constitution was driven by the desire for democracy—and money.
After the Revolutionary War, 13 loosely aligned, newly independent states had a united nation to run. Their primary political document, the Articles of Confederation, however, was a recipe for economic disaster, with each state espousing autonomous fiscal policies without a powerful central governmental authority to mediate among them. As demonstrated in smart detail by Holton (History/Univ. of Richmond; Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia, 1999), the result was chaos in almost every corner of the struggling new nation. War bonds, for example, were either unredeemable or worth a fraction of their promised value. Paper currency, a concept widely feared, debated and even banned by certain state legislatures, became a constant source of interstate bickering. Property values plunged, causing the prosperity of many prominent families to vanish almost overnight while economic predators profited from their losses. In especially depressed states where onerous tax bills could only be satisfied by the seizure and auction of property, riots regularly closed courthouses and put judges’s lives in jeopardy. Foreign investment, desperately needed to foster economic growth, remained locked in Europe, posing yet another threat to America’s hard-won independence. In this unstable atmosphere, immense social and political pressure was placed on the Founding Fathers. Politically, many believed that the Articles of Confederation were too weak, but acceptable alternative political models were lacking: Europe’s monarchical systems were naturally considered abhorrent. Economically, the priority was to find ways to increase the money supply and to substantially ease and redistribute the tax burden. Holton painstakingly locates all the key political figures of the era within the divisive, argumentative Continental Congress, including Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, explaining how each was affected by the fiscal turmoil roiling the land.
An eye-opening spotlight on the nation’s most enduring political document.