June 3, 2013  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Tumblr

I’ve been collecting research about the Framers view about the potential for American aristocracy. My RA, Dennis Courtney, found this fabulous quote from Patrick Henry at the Virginia Ratifying Convention (emphasis added): 

It has been said, by several gentlemen, that the freeness of elections would be promoted by throwing the country into large districts. I contend, sir, that it will have a contrary effect. It will destroy that connection that ought to subsist between the electors and the elected. If your elections be by districts, instead of counties, the people will not be acquainted with the candidates. They must, therefore, be directed in the elections by those who know them. So that, instead of a confidential connection between the electors and the elected, they will be absolutely unacquainted with each other. A common man must ask a man of influence how he is to proceed, and for whom he must vote. The elected, therefore, will be careless of the interest of the electors. It will be a common job to extort the suffrages of the common people for the most influential characters. The same men may be repeatedly elected by these means. This, sir, instead of promoting the freedom of election, leads us to an aristocracy. Consider the mode of elections in England. Behold the progress of an election in an English shire. A man of an enormous fortune will spend thirty or forty thousand pounds to get himself elected. This is frequently the case. Will the honorable gentleman say that a poor man, as enlightened as any man in the island, has an equal chance with a rich man, to be elected? He will stand no chance, though he may have the finest understanding of any man in the shire. It will be so here. Where is the chance that a poor man can come forward with the rich? The honorable gentleman will find that, instead of supporting democratical principles, it goes absolutely to destroy them.

(Original post on Tumblr)

  • http://jambeeno.com/ Jambe

    Were not many Framers themselves aristocrats and well-off gents?

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  • Frank L Goodwins

    Interesting that Patrick Henry’s argument hinges on the economics of the problem. Consider this quote from A. Philip Randolph: “A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.” Same idea, right?

    Turns out there is a simple way to solve this problem, and to insure that all citizens have equal access to participation in a democratic government.

    A. Philip Randolph, who is often attributed with having helped FDR implement the Welfare State as the solution to the Great Depression, advocated a guaranteed income in his Freedom Budget proposed in 1966:

    http://archive.org/stream/freedomBudgetForAllAmericansBudgetingOurResources1966-1975To/FB#page/n3/mode/2up

    Of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. also came to the same conclusion and announced it in his speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta GA on August 16, 1967. Was this the real reason why he was assassinated?

    Go to Amy Goodman’s website Democracy Now and search for Basic Income or Guaranteed Income and you will find zero results, in spite of the fact that she pretends to hold MLK and Philip Randolph in the highest reverence (unless, of course, she doesn’t like what they say, and then she just resorts to censorship). Look up A. Philip Randolph on wikipedia and you will find no reference to his crucial support for a guaranteed income.

    I wrote to Lawrence Lessig to ask him what he thought of the idea of Basic Income Guarantees. No response.

    But the movement for Basic Income is growing worldwide. Check out BIEN and USBIG.

    Enough posturing. Let us solve the problem once and for all.

    • Lee Diamond

      As I understand Wikipedia, you are free to go to the site and make appropriate edits, corrections etc if you can document your information.

  • Connie Heermann

    Patrick Henry was not a socialist. I do not believe Mr. Lessig’s proposition advocates basic income guarantees as the solution to preserving our democracy.

  • http://www.shermanaccidentlaw.com Tate Rehmet

    Like others have said, I find in interesting that Henry was weary of starting an aristocracy, when in fact there was already an established ruling class in this country at the time. What he said about a poor man having no chance to be elected over a rich man in England was in fact equally true in America as well.

  • Lee Diamond

    Perhaps Patrick Henry’s concern is valuable in that we see the advantages of wealth in running for office were a concern from early on in America’s development.

    The subject of guaranteed income is not really relevant to this discussion because such a policy would come in the form of a Living Wage. We cannot make society perfect. We cannot create the opportunity for every American to run for office. It is not practical.

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  • http://www.bolee.com/ Dbaig

    First of all thank you Lessing, for choosing this quote. Patrick Henry did a lot during the movement for independence. Aristocratic and elite have always been dominating not the dominated ones. Thought provoking post this is.

    Dbaig
    Bolee.com

  • http://www.topdiablo3.com/ topdiablo3

    Of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. also came to the same conclusion and announced it in his speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta GA on August 16, 1967. Was this the real reason why he was assassinated?

  • Paul G

    It’s so funny that we are so culturally conditioned to side skirt the subject of guaranteed income as a knee jerk reaction, without a moment given to consider it’s validity as an element in the endeavors we gather here to discuss.

    Yes, it’s not a part of Lessig’s platform. The poster essentially asks, why isn’t it?

    Is it because there is fear of being burdened with meaningless labels like ‘socialist”, or that he truly believes it has no place in a solution?

    Meanwhile, the solutions elude everyone… including Lessig himself.

    What will we do in a 90% automated world? You got to know it’s coming fast.
    And wasn’t the whole point of automation to eliminate the burden from humanity and set it free?
    Or was it always a ploy to make a hyper rich elite hell bent on destroying the environment with ever more ferocity and efficiency? What would be the point of that? What a disgusting waste of technology.

    Will the crusty ancient jobs rhetoric still have resonance when that time comes?

    This is like climate change. Everyone seems open to any solution, so long as it looks and sounds a lot like the ones we have now.

  • http://tweetthedebates.com Toby Grytafey

    There’s lots of aristocracy talk at the Constitutional Convention & @tweetthedebates. I can start hashtagging it a certain way for you if that would be helpful.

    The best quotes are from Gouverneur Morris, though his solution is to give the rich their own House of Lords (else they’d take over the rest).