American political theorist and historian Russell Kirk wrote that the Framers of the United States Constitution were gentlemen-politicians rather than philosophers, “whose perceptions of the human condition came from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.” Kirk contrasted these learned men who fought to preserve their British heritage with the arrogant French revolutionaries who were drunk on theories and revenge, who opened the way for a self-appointed emperor. The men of America’s natural aristocracy governed the Republic from 1775 to 1825 — their Republic afterward frayed and was pulling apart by 1830. By 1850, constituent States were speaking loudly of withdrawal, and by 1861 it had unraveled completely with an American dictator enthroned.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
The Men of America’s Natural Aristocracy
“Sometimes the Constitution of the United States is commended as if it had been created out of whole cloth, overnight, from the glowing imagination of the Framers. That notion is far from the truth. Sometimes the Framers themselves are spoken of with the veneration like that accorded to the Hebrew prophets or the mystical founders of Greek cities. But actually the Constitution grew out of centuries of practical experience on either side of the Atlantic, rather than springing from ingenious fine-spun innovating theory.
Truly the Constitution is a bundle of compromises among interests and classes: a principal merit of the Framers was their ready recognition of this electable fact. As Burke said of government generally, it is a contrivance of human wisdom to supply human wants. In the sagacious words of Daniel Boorstin, “The American future was never to be contained in a theory.”
The politicians who framed the Constitution were not an elite of theorists, but an assembly of governors, in the old signification of that word “governor.” They were representatives of a class, in every former colony, that had exercised authority almost from the early years of British settlement in North America; they were drawn from a natural aristocracy.
Experience, education, and wealth, passed on from generation to generation of Americans, tended to develop a continuity of public influence within leading families; while the relatively broad franchises that came to pass in most colonies nevertheless gave provincial and local government a democratic cast.
Broadly speaking, it was the body of men familiar with America’s provincial and local governments who made both the Revolution and the Constitution. This was a class that, far from intending any subversion of the social and moral order in America, took alarm at Shay’s Rebellion and so forged a strong Constitution.
Long participation in provincial and local public affairs shaped this American natural aristocracy; while the French revolutionaries, for the most part, were men previously excluded from any effective exercise of power, and so naïve in great questions of political policy.”
(The Essential Russell Kirk, Selected Essays, George A. Panichas, editor, ISI Books, 2007, excerpts, pp. 452-453)