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2023 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

The American Founding: From Democratic to Aristocratic Republicanism

Authors : Philip Dingeldey, Dirk Jörke

Published in: Republicanism and Democracy

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

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Abstract

Prominent during the first years of the American Revolution were efforts to develop the theory and praxis of a “democratic” strand of republican thought. During the ratification debates, however, the genuinely anti-democratic notion of the republic strand outlined in the Federalist Papers upstaged these efforts. By retracing the key developmental steps of the political struggles between advocates of democratic and aristocratic republicanism, this paper argues that the true achievement of the Federalists consisted in managing to rhetorically combine their distinctive theory of representation for the virtuous elite with the revolutionary concepts of a popular government and an extended republic, all the while separating democracy from the latter.

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Footnotes
1
An anonymous pamphlet from 1776, for example, praises the democratic equality of Athens (Anonymous, 1983, 397).
 
2
Paine elaborates on this more explicitly in his 1791/92 work Rights of Men, where he replaces the notion of republic with that of democracy and considers a “democratic representation” superior vis-à-vis classical Greek democracy: “Simple democracy was society governing itself without the aid of secondary means. By engrafting representation upon democracy, we arrive at a system of government capable of embracing and confederating all the various interests and every extent of territory and population” (Paine, 1945, 371). The attribute “simple” implies that in his view, a representative republic is a more complex form of democracy than that from antiquity. Democracy, representation and republic are thus united in one concept, as becomes evident in Paine’s punchline: “What Athens was in miniature, America will be in magnitude” (Paine, 1945, 371–372).
 
3
In the following, we agree with the criticism directed toward the Federalists. A defense of the Anti-Federalists, however, has to be put into perspective, as this heterogeneous group comprised agricultural conservatives, plebeian republicans and radical democrats alike (Cornell, 1999, 22–31).
 
4
This, however, is not valid for all opponents of the constitution. Especially aristocratic Anti-Federalists like Richard Henry Lee use the term in a pejorative manner. Other critics of the constitution forgo the term altogether and instead speak of “free government” (see Main, 1974, 169–174).
 
5
Not all Anti-Federalists were supporters of democracy or became proponents of the “simple” citizens. Opponents of the Constitution like Elbridge Gerry or George Mason, rejected a participation of the “masses” in political affairs; regarding these differences see Cornell (1999).
 
6
This has been analyzed by Krouse (1983), Ball (1988a), Hanson (1988), Miller (1988), Lee (1997) and Siemers (2002).
 
7
Scholars are divided about who was hidden behind the name of Brutus; most commonly, Brutus’s essays are attributed to Robert Yates (see Storing, 1981, 2, 358).
 
8
On the whole, Anti-Federalist thought is characterized by a strong emphasis on the advantages of local forms of government (see Miller, 1991, 81–103). This, however, does not automatically involve the rejection of all forms of national government. Rather, the difference to the Federalists is based upon the manner in which authorities are distributed as well as how democratic control of the national level is organized.
 
9
Regarding what republicanism in general and Whig ideology in particular meant for American settlers see Bailyn (1992, 55–93) and Howard (2001); Wood illustrates what republican experience in the traditional sense looked like after independence. Last but not least, that Whig ideology was a central point of reference for those opposing the Constitution, is revealed in the fact that one of their major representatives published under the pseudonym “An Old Whig” (Wood, 1969, 127–161).
 
10
More radical Anti-Federalists such as the author Philadelphiensis, however, explicitly prefer a pure democracy, for a democratic America “would be rendered the happiest and most powerful nation in the universe” (Storing, 1981, 3.9.76).
 
11
Madison defines factions as particular interests that lose sight of the common welfare. In his view, they therefore oppose the interests of the government in a diametrical manner, as the latter acts in favor of collective freedom and justice. A (local and democratic) faction, he argues, endangers the freedom of certain individuals and groups and divides the citizenry (Hamilton et al., 2001, 10, 43ff.).
 
12
“With Federalists continually emphasizing the popular nature of their proposed regime, citizens believed it to be so. Instead of electing a natural aristocracy, they expected national representatives to faithfully represent popular wishes” (Siemers 2002, 23).
 
13
Hence even Hannah Arendt observes that in the framework of this concept, only career politicians enjoy classical political liberties (Arendt, 2006, 132–170).
 
14
Ackerman interprets Hamilton’s presidential model as that of an elected monarch (Ackerman, 1993, 191–195), for Federici the problem consists rather in the weak roles accorded to the individual states and doubts the monarchical character of the presidential office (Federici, 2012, 114–139).
 
15
Cincinnatus, for example, states: “[W]e have seen the representative, or democratic branch, weakened exactly in proportion to the strengthening the aristocratic” (Storing, 1981, 6.1.35).
 
16
Wood puts it similarly: “By using the most popular and democratic rhetoric available to explain and justify their aristocratic system, the Federalists helped to foreclose the development of an American intellectual tradition in which differing ideas of politics would be intimately and genuinely related to differing social interests” (Wood, 1969, 562).
 
17
One point of reference is the election victory of Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans in 1800, who accepted the—partially contradictory—existing Constitution (now with the support of anti-democrat and individualist Madison) as being republican, defended it against the Federalists surrounding Hamilton and Adams by way of a democratic rhetoric and aimed to enrich it (although only in theory) with local-democratic elements (see Koshnik, 2001, 635–636; Lienesch, 1988, 204–205; Sheehan, 2004, 421–422). This offers at least a plausible explanation for how democracy was able to assert itself conceptually between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries and could become fused with an allegedly republican but yet explicitly anti-democratic system, thus bestowing ex post a democratic image upon the US Constitution.
 
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Metadata
Title
The American Founding: From Democratic to Aristocratic Republicanism
Authors
Philip Dingeldey
Dirk Jörke
Copyright Year
2023
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-15780-6_7