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American Government 100 Essay

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“American Democracy: A Selfless or Selfish Endeavor?”

For many years, the founding fathers of this country were venerated as selfless individuals whose sole purpose was the betterment of mankind. However, in 1913, Charles Beard questioned this idolatry in a book titled, “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.” In his book, he asserted that, rather than selfless motives, the founding fathers were motivated more by greed and a lust for power. Although much of what Beard contended was true, especially that the founders stood to gain considerably from independence, he has neglected to account for their ancestry and upbringing, what the founders stood to lose, and their actions during the writing of the constitution. This shows that, while some of their motivations may have been selfish, they were predominately motivated by Lockean fundamentals and the idea of equality of opportunity for all people.

First, although the war was indeed “a rich mans war” (Meacham, 2012, 70), and the majority of the founders were rich men, they were not always this way. None of the founders came from nobility and many came from humble beginnings. For instance, Benjamin Franklin’s parents were soap-makers and Thomas Jefferson’s ancestors, while self-described as having come “from a place of height and distinction,” it was “not of birth,” but “of strength” (Meacham, 2012, 4). Hamilton, even, was born a bastard in the West Indies, where he worked his way up through a number of clerk jobs beginning when he was 11. These examples serve to illustrate that the elite of America were acutely aware of what would become the American Dream: that, given equality of opportunity, all men could achieve greatness. No one was more keenly aware of this than Thomas Jefferson, who stood in awe of his father, a man “who was powerful, who could do things other men could not, and who; through the force of his will or of his muscles or of both at once, could tangibly transform the world around him” (Meacham, 2012, 6). Thus, having seen their families toil to convert the opportunities granted by the freedoms of the New World into great wealth, ...

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