The Search for the Just Society
Edward J. Dodson
INSTRUCTOR'S MANUAL, LESSON 6
The key points of this lesson are brought out in a discussion of
the history of the United States, from the creation of the Union
under the Constitution, up thru the period of the War Between
The States. An important point to stress is that the underlying
principles involved are at work in every society, and the ways they
come out are influenced by many of the externalities thus far
discussed (e.g., population size and density, availability of
resource-rich land, the stages of institutional, scientific and
FROM THE DECLARATION
TO THE CONSTITUTION
The Declaration, written by Thomas Jefferson, stated the higher
principles by which the colonists justified their attempt to break
from the British empire.
As discussed in the previous lesson, the Constitution was forged
out of compromise between those who argued for principle and those
who sought to preserve as much of their existing privileges as
For those who, today, desire to secure and preserve a true state
of liberty, the first step is to evaluate the U.S. Constitution and
our body of positive (i.e., manmade) law to determine the degree of
consistency with principles of justice. For, without justice there
can be no liberty.
BENCHMARKS BY WHICH TO MEASURE
THE DEGREE OF JUSTICE IN ANY SOCIETY
Referring back to the first lesson and the discussion of the
characteristics of a just society -- what are some of the benchmarks
that can be relied on?
Widespread participation in the decision-making process
(i.e., as much direct democracy as is practicable versus a high
level of delegation to a few, even if elected, representatives).
Decentralization of decision-making, so that people have a high
degree of control over what happens to their communities.
A general sense of security of person and property.
A general sense of equality of opportunity to secure an adequate
quantity and quality of food, clothing, shelter, education, medical
care and leisure (for civic involvement).
These are what political philosopher Mortimer Adler (in The
Common Sense of Politics) refers to as the goods necessary for a
decent human existence.
Although the principles by which a society is judged have
consistency, the qualitative and quantitative measurements must be
looked at based on the limitations of time and place.
One must ask what is the potential, given the technology of the
age, to provide a given level of such goods.
Does the U.S. Constitution meet Paine's first principle of
justice; namely, do its provisions secure equal opportunity to
access the earth (at least that portion of the earth coming under
the geo-territorial control of the united States (i.e., the Union)?
Do its provisions protect this birthright of all individuals,
Discuss why even Jefferson and those most desirous of
creating an equalitarian society were not concerned that nature
(meaning locations for constructing towns and cities as well as
land the seas containing natural resources essential for human
survival) would become monopolized as in the Old World.
At the end of the eighteenth century the economy of the united
states was overwhelmingly agrarian.
Around 90% of all households lived on farmsteads they owned,
although most were small and did not produce enough to be considered
commercial (i.e., the value of crops sold was sufficient only to
meet immediate consumption needs in manufactured goods).
Although Jefferson recognized the problems inherent in the
concentration of landownership among a relatively small number of
families along the eastern coast and tidewater areas, he looked at
the frontier as providing a virtually limitless opportunity for
individuals to acquire property in land and, hence, political rights
tied to property ownership.
Jefferson was undoubtedly aware of the enormous irony in the fact
that free land in the Western territories meant that only slave
labor could maintain the planation system. Wages demanded by free
European-Americans or African-Americans would be higher than
Jefferson could profitably pay. Also, the draw of owning one's own
land was far too strong for the most colonials.
THE BILL OF RIGHTS
The framers of the Constitution initially dismissed the need for a
federal bill of rights on the grounds that each State remained
sovereign; and, as citizens of the States, individual rights were
established and guaranteed by the several states.
As they came close to completion, however, it became clear that
adoption of the Constitution would not succeed without a commitment
to inclusion of a bill of rights. Therefore, many of those who
attended the convention agreed to support the Constitution only upon
condition that a bill of rights would be added as soon as possible
in the form of amendments.
Distribute copies of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Discuss those clauses and amendments that relate directly to
FROM FRONTIER INDIVIDUALISM
TO ROBBER BARRON INDUSTRIAL-LANDLORDISM
Almost immediately after the end of the war with Britain, a
two-stage migration began:
A new wave of immigrants from the British Isles and other
parts of Europe began to arrive in large numbers, increasing the
demand for land and housing on the Atlantic coast;
A movement westward into what was called the Northwest Territories
(the eventual States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan) as well
as Can-tuc-kee (Kentucky and Tennessee) began when
Federally-controlled lands were opened for sale. Farmsteads had been
given to veterans of the War for Independence in lieu of cash
payment, and many sold their land to speculators who, in turn, set
up land companies and sold land to settlers.
Because Spain controlled Florida and (until just prior to the
Louisiana Purchase from France) most of the land west of the
Mississippi River, there was far less immigration or migration into
the southern states.
One result was a much stronger and longer-lasting attachment by
residents of the southern states to their home state rather than the
nation as a whole.
Immigrants to the north and migrants into the frontier adopted a
more nationalist view of the Union. For one thing, they were more
dependent on the national army for protection against the indigenous
The North's stronger ties to Europe's merchants and bankers also
attracted investment in manufacturing, which in turn attracted
Prior to the 1850s, canals and then steam power turned the
nation's waterways into highways of commerce and industry. The St.
Lawrence and Great Lakes turned cities like Buffalo, Cleveland,
Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and New Orleans into major population
The conversion of steam power from water to rails allowed direct
access to distant markets by commerical scale agribusiness, mining
companies, the lumber and cattle industries. The great expansion of
this activity occurred after the end of the War Between The States.
The railroads and bankers formed the first real coalition of
industrialists who sought and obtained monopolies from the state and
federal governments. They received large land grants from the public
domain as well as other subsidies and exemptions from taxation. As a
result, the system of industrial-landlordism evolved that created
great wealth for the few so-called robber barons while condemning
millions of workers to oppressive working and living conditions.
POLITICS BETWEEN THE WARS
From the very moment of the adoption of the Constitution, the
leadership elected to the State and Federal legislatures or
appointed to positions of public authority were deeply divided over
the question of centralized (Federalist) versus decentralized
The Federalists generally adhered to the policies of a strong,
central government with substantive powers over commerce within and
between the States and between the States and foreign nationals.
Alexander Hamilton and John Adams were leaders of the early
The Anti-Federalists were led by Thomas Jefferson and James
Madison. They fought for a stricter interpretation of the
Constitution where powers of the Federal government were concerned
(at least until their own presidential terms). A second emphasis was
on participatory and widespread democracy, with leaders rising out
of the population on the basis of talent and ability rather than
material wealth or family associations. In time, these ideas came to
be called Jeffersonian.
A major political battle occurred over the creation of the first
Bank of the U.S. because of the advantages this bank would have over
state-chartered banks. Hamilton argued in favor of the bank.
In return for a commitment to act as the primary lender
to the federal government, the bank was given a monopoly position as
depository over government funds. Related to the bank issue was the
constitutional problem that the government was not empowered to
print paper currency, only to mint coinage to meet the definition of
After Jefferson's presidency, the conflict between regional
interests intensified. The election of Andrew Jackson as president
was an expression of sentiment against the Eastern estabishment;
this was the first real populist movement against, in part, the
growing power of the Federal government at the expense of the
States. There were many issues involved (e.g., attempts to restrict
wild cat banking on the frontier, slavery in new States, disposition
of the lands of the indigenous tribes and the status of the tribes
who remained east of the Mississippi.
The treatment of the indigenous tribes is reflected in the
dispossession of the Cherokee from their lands in western Georgia.
By the early decades of the nineteenth century, the Cherokee had
adopted the European mode of settlement and agriculture, developed a
written language and adopted a formal constitution. But they were in
the way, and under Monroe many were resettled in the west
(Oklahoma). The rest of the Cherokee took their case to the Federal
courts and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the State of
Georgia had no legal claim to the Cherokee nation's land. Andrew
Jackson, now President, responded: "John Marshall has made his
decision, now let him enforce it."
The Cherokee were led on a forced march to Oklahoma; several
thousand died, but they rebuilt their nation and were again a
thriving nation until the War Between the States. They sided with
the Confederacy and lost much of their land after the war.
The growing conflict between the industrialized North and the
agrarian South raised the key question of states rights; namely, was
the Union a voluntary association of sovereign States or a country
divided into States for administrative purposes.
The southern states took the position that they had every right to
secede from the Union. Once they voted to secede, they looked on the
presence of Union troops as occupancy by a foreign army.
Unfortunately, they did not attempt to negotiate (with compensation)
the transfer of these facilities over to the Confederacy; had they
done so and not resorted to armed conflict, the northern moderates
(and States-rights advocates) might have allowed them to peacefully
leave the Union.
The outbreak of War -- and the demand for unconditional surrender
-- forcefully brought the southern states back into the Union. No
state has since then has attempted to secede.
More subtlely, references to the Union were replaced by a
nationalist language stressing the United States as a single entity
-- no longer would anyone write of the united States in the
plural are. From 1865 on, descriptions of the nation became
The United States as a single entity.
THE ROBBER BARONS
The national agenda after the War was concentrated on settlement
of the vast frontier and removal of the indigenous tribes.
The interests of railroad magnates, cattle barons, bankers and
industrialists all combined to creat an atmosphere of considerable
political corruption and a domestic form of mercantilism based on
During this era the political allegiances were slowly defined as
Republican (the party of Lincoln) in the North and Democratic in the
South and, eventually, in the largely immigrant unban centers.