When looking for a “type” of government to base the new America on, what successful government examples did our Constitution writers have?
It would seem that the great Roman Empire outgrew itself. After its heyday when monarchial rule by Julius Caesar and his powerful armies led to its great expansion, Rome slowly disintegrated into factions where the wealthy ruled the poor (Corpus Juris Civilis), the army became lax, liberal philosophical thought gave way to lower moral standards.
After its split into a Western and an Eastern Empire, one can only imagine the conflicts arising from lack of communication: 1) standardization of two separate armies, 2) different philosophies of life, 3) differing religious beliefs, 4) different governmental rules for its peoples, especially those whom the Romans had subjugated and sometimes enslaved. “Italy and the provinces of the empire returned to a less advanced state of the social division of labor” (The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire).
Some historians claim the barbarian invasions slowly destroyed the empire. My personal feelings are that these invasions were successful because Rome had already become internally weak. As a result, people gathered around the manorial barons who promised them protection and at least, minimum subsistence (Human Action: Observations on the Causes of the Decline of ancient civilization).
The decline of so many great empires is similar to that of the Romans. The far reach of Islamic civilization remained at an apogee for centuries. But as interpretations of Islam slowly resulted in various sects and sub-sects, philosophies of life became disparate. The thinking, morality, government, religion, and economy changed.
To add to this, as the West reared its head once again, colonialism of territories held by Muslims led to a certain materialism that slowly strangled Islamic Civilizations (CounterCurrents.org). Add to this the size of the empire, the variety of conquered peoples, the invasion of the Mongols, and we have a Rome reoccuring.
I’m sure that the rise and fall of many civilizations in ancient times and in a more modern era followed a rather predictable path from rise, to apogee, to decline: Ancient Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, Britian, etc.
This decline of so many past civilizations must have loomed fiercely in the minds of the founders of our own country who thought of themselves as liberal scientific thinkers. When looking back through history, what they saw were a bazillion examples of how NOT to build a government. Undoubtedly, they wanted a new governing body that would stand the test of centuries.
The philosophy of John Locke (1632-1704), the supreme liberal, surely undergirds what our founding fathers penned as our original Constitution. During correspondence with one another, they often referred to Locke by name (The Story of Philosophy).
Basically, Locke believed that free men came together of their own accord to create a social contract. No such factions should exist as the government and the governed. Every human being, even when presided over by social contract, would retain natural rights given by their creator.
The protection—of the life, liberty and property of all, is the sole legitimate purpose of government (Essay Concerning Human Understanding – Locke). Furthermore, if and when a government usurps its authority above redress by the people, "that government must be overthrown and replaced with one that does the job properly."
As creatures made by God, Locke believed mankind was created in His image with reason, conscience, and intellect. As free thinking beings, people should naturally come together to create a representative government to rule them as they, the people, saw fit.
Thus, following Locke’s ideas for freedom, our forefathers believed that intelligence, reason, and a just conscience would lead to a “more perfect union” (U.S. Constitution) ruled by people, not by monarchs, kings, or despots of tyrants of any kind.
It is interesting to note that while they did not claim knowledge of a specific creator, they use the word “created” because they believed in some Wholly Other Supernatural Power. Their claim was that Nature’s God would be their inspiration—Nature’s God—not a God upheld by any organized religion: Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Mohammed, Judaism, Brahmanism, etc.
Thus, the inspired idea arose that no one person's being can ever be greater than another by birth, by caste, by religion, by nationality, or by life status. The “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” (Declaration of Independence) declare it so. For our Forefathers, the natural law of equality became the supreme law of our country.
Thus, it was entirely reasonable for a free thinking people to revolt against an English monarchial system where laws were the result of the “Divine Right of Kings” seconded by humans according to their whims and fancies, not by Nature’s God. Our forefathers truly believed that a government must obey laws instituted by the people before it can create law.
As we all know, a laughable anarchy would result if each person insisted on his absolute right over another being. It is unimaginable to think that the nearly 308,000,000 people of this nation could just get along together without problems arising among them. While we all claim to be equal, each of us has our own complex human psyche generating our personal opinion regarding justice: property rights, driving rights, taxation, the marketplace, war and peace, protection, morality. etc.
Thus, our forefathers created a Constitution which creates a three-branched government representative of its people. Ideally, in everyday affairs, the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branches provide each individual with the best chance to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In short, the philosophy of John Locke, along with the entire world’s failed past governments and civilizations, gave rise to our democratic republic based on Natural Law. One wonders if 100 or 500 or 1000 years from now, the democracy forged by our Constitution will have gone the route of so many other failed nations, or whether it will truly remain standing as a “more perfect union.”
It is interesting to note that as I write this essay, President Barack Obama occupies the White House. Yet many of our forefathers kept blacks as slaves. The very White House itself was built by slave labor. Ponder how many years it took for the nation to finally get “liberty and justice for all.”