Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 9 Summary

America’s Early Oligarchy

“… And thou, sly hypocrite, who now wouldst seem
Patron of liberty …”

For more than two hundred years, the key figures in early American history have been looked up to as benign, selfless men of virtue and good intentions. A closer look reveals that there was nothing democratic in world outlook, character or social standing about any of them. They were, to a man, powerful elitists. And they set up a government which they knew they could bend to their wishes at the expense of the common good.

Alexander Hamilton, though of humble birth, married into one of the wealthiest families in the state of New York. Through his brother-in-law, John Barker Church, he was connected with powerful financial interests in the United States and England. He was a monarchist and loyal to the British cause once the revolution was over.

One of Hamilton’s closest collaborators was Gouverneur Morris, born into one of New York’s wealthiest, landed families. During the Revolution, his mother, a Loyalist, gave her estate over to the British for military use. Like Hamilton, Morris was a blue-blood with nothing but scorn for the people. Seeing around him men of modest means becoming politicized, he lamented the fact that, “the mob began to think and reason.”

The third member of the triumvirate was Robert Morris, no relation to Gouverneur Morris. At the time of the Revolution his import, export and banking businesses made him one of the most prosperous men in Pennsylvania. Though he resented the British Stamp Act of 1765, Morris nonetheless wanted to remain a loyal British subject. He was a reluctant signer of the Declaration of Independence. His business profited enormously during the war with Britain so much so that men like Thomas Paine saw him as a war profiteer.

James Madison was an outspoken member of the southern, slave-holding, landed aristocracy. At the time of the Constitutional Convention he was a devoted ally of Alexander Hamilton, with whom he composed the essays known as The Federalist Papers. Madison was adamant in his opposition to any form of democracy.

George Washington led a life modeled on that of a British aristocrat. He ended up with over 50,000 acres of land, a fair amount of which was pilfered from the Indians and the officers in his army. Fox hunting became something of an obsession. In 1768, according to his own notes, he spent forty-nine days—two to five hours each day—chasing down fox on horseback. He purchased his Madeira in quantities of one hundred fifty gallons. His coats, shirts, pants and shoes were all ordered from London. In attendance were two man servants.