Unruly Americans And The Origins Of The Constitution By Woody Holton

1564 words - 6 pages

After American colonialists had succeeded in over throwing British rule, the thirteen states were troubled by a complicated dilemma, an economic crisis with some calling for tax relief while others demanded stringent fiscal enforcement. Some believed that the revolution had not gone far enough, while others believed it had gone too far. The Framers who created the American Constitution took on the task of appeasing these two seemingly incongruous views. Woody Holton, in Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, attempts to reveal how the Framers acted in favour of those who believed the Revolution had gone too far, while trying to appease the majority – American farmers – were in favour of more democracy.
Holton exemplifies how these two conflicting beliefs played out in post-Revolutionary America by describing one of the farmers' rebellions that intimidated the American elite. In Virginia, Greenbrier farmers, lead by Adonijah Mathews, staged an uprising against high taxes. As Holton put's it, the fact that the Virginia farmers had succeeded in intimidating state government proved to the elite the extent to which the will of the majority had become to powerful (Holton, 12). Holton provides ample examples of rebellion, illustrating the fact that 'ordinary Americans', mainly farmers, did not agree with the Frames that the revolution had created a republic that was too democratic. Holton's evidence proves the contrary, that ordinary Americans thought that the thirteen state governments didn't listen to them enough. (Holton, 153). The description of these rebellions also establishes the link between rebellion and tax relief. Holton points out that “Rebellions and confrontations resulted in relief where petitions and electoral pressure had failed.” (154) Throughout his book, Holton is attempting to prove that the Framers were afraid of the American majority, not only for the benefit of the elite, but for the good of ordinary Americans themselves. Holton exemplifies this with the Constitution's preamble, noting two points: one, that the Constitution was “to ensure domestic tranquillity”, and second, to prevent legislators from being coerced by tax payers and debtors into providing relief at the expense of bondholders and private creditors. (Holton, 158). The polarization of the new American society is a clear influence on the Framers: “...Opponents of rebellions thought they had been caused in part by the excessive democracy in the thirteen states, ... while proponents believed that sometimes a rebellion could lead to a truly democratic election” Holton, 159.
Evidence from Abigail Hamilton's writing helps Holton reveal the motivations of the elite. Bondholders like Abigail Adams, who had persuaded her husband to invest in war bonds and securities issued by the government during the revolution, were directly effected by massive tax relief induced by “Shays Rebellion”(Holton 75-76). Furthermore, according to Holton, bondholders...

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