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Jiminez's avatar

Were America's founding fathers capitalists?

Asked by Jiminez (1245 points ) April 18th, 2009
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23 Answers

Jiminez's avatar

@oneword But socialism didn’t exist back then. How do you know they would all have been socialists if they had known about it?

phoenyx's avatar

That’s changing the question. Logically, if socialism didn’t exist they couldn’t have been socialists. Are you asking us if any of them would have been socialists if they had, say, had opportunity to read Marx?

Harp's avatar

Interesting quote from Jefferson:

“That, on the principle of a communion of property, small societies may exist in habits of virtue, order, industry, and peace, and consequently in a state of as much happiness as Heaven has been pleased to deal out to imperfect humanity, I can readily conceive, and indeed, have seen its proofs in various small societies which have been constituted on that principle. But I do not feel authorized to conclude from these that an extended society, like that of the United States or of an individual State, could be governed happily on the same principle.”—Thomas Jefferson to Cornelius Camden Blatchly, 1822

So it doesn’t sound like he objected to communal property in principle, but he didn’t think that it was practicable on a large scale.

Jiminez's avatar

@phoenyx No, what I’m asking is whether or not the founding principles of this country are strictly capitalistic, and if it’s fair to say that if the founding fathers weren’t aware of socialism.

Jiminez's avatar

@Harp Interesting quote, indeed. Certainly he was not aware of various methods of socialist constitution though, which arose after his time with the labor movement and made communality less impractical on a larger scale.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I don’t know that answer for certain. That’s been debated before.

If they were capitalists, their capitalism was much much much different than what we are seeing today.

Mamradpivo's avatar

Not in the sense that people say they’re capitalists today. In the late 18th century, America had an agrarian society without the industry that later came to define us. So I think a label like “capitalist” is limiting.

jrpowell's avatar

@Jiminez They probably weren’t aware of capitalism either. The Wealth of Nations was first published in 1776.

Jiminez's avatar

This is true. Hell, they barely knew of freedom. But, still, they knew of commerce, and this commerce was done to turn a profit, so, you could also say capitalism was all they knew. Not free markets, mind you.

Harp's avatar

The constitution borrowed heavily from the philosophy of John Locke, who was an unambiguous champion of individual property rights. In fact, he saw the protection of private property as the central function of government, a very capitalist idea.

Jefferson called Locke one of “the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences.” He also stated that Locke’s treatises lay out the “general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society… approved by our fellow citizens of… the United States.”

filmfann's avatar

The founding fathers were capitalists. That doesn’t mean they acted in efforts to gain. Most of them knew, going in, that a revolution would be bad on business. They were able to afford what was to happen, though, unlike many at the time.

Staalesen's avatar

I thought they were British :P
ergo Imperialists per default back then :p

SeventhSense's avatar

Alexander Hamilton was a fierce and highly ambitious Capitalist. He was also a succesful businessman after being orphaned as a teenager.
Maybe the most neglected of the Founding Fathers(Adams and Jefferson tried to discredit his reputation at very turn)but he basically formed the basis of American business as we know it today.
“Within three decades he had served as Treasury secretary and forged the modern financial and economic systems that are the basis for American might today.”
He served as Washington’s Chief of Staff and years later as Secretary of the Treasury.
Source:Alexander Hamilton
Ron Chernow

NY TIMES April 25, 2004, Creating Capitalism by David Brooks

phoenyx's avatar

@Staalesen I always thought of them as anti-imperialism: revolutionary war and all that.

fireside's avatar

Yes, I believe the founding fathers believed we should have a capital.
Philadelphia, New York, Washington D.C. all seem to have worked at one point or another.

Garebo's avatar

From what I have read – extremely so- it doesn’t make them bad people. Same human behaviors driven by our two cousins, greed and fear.
As opposed to today, we were significantly more free in trade and commerce.
As a result of that the country advanced amazingly fast, technologically, economically and militarily. Then, it didn’t take long before the noose of government greedily started strangling this country to death 100 years ago.
Unfortunately, I wish the big club of government, had knocked senseless the wanton greed more effectively, rather than participate in it, a long time ago. I just pray it is not too late.

ubersiren's avatar

I believe their ideas were capitalistic. All evidence I’ve ever known shows that they believed in leaving monetary gain to the individual. I don’t know why “capitalist” has such a bad connotation. It’s just one opposite of socialism. I think people assume it has to mean that a capitalist only means that their actions are carried out only to gain profit. Really, it’s just making and investing your own money, instead of from a social pot (like we do now- ex: giving income taxes and receiving welfare). Am I right? I could be misunderstanding.

SeventhSense's avatar

@ubersiren
Yes, it’s just prudent financial accountability and the founding fathers were all for that. The ideas of individual sovereignty and the ability to change station by hard work was the the main difference from the Old World. This was not possible in Europe where strict feudalism was the order. Granted the elite still held privelege in the United States but nowhere was it more possible for an individual to change their station in life. The story of Abraham Lincoln is a perfect example of what could be accomplished through perseverance and hard work. This was almost impossible anywhere else. The ideas of capitalism is not what created the quagmire of inequity but the banking interests and monopolies which gained too much influence in Washington. Our government was founded as a means to protect individuals from the excessive influence of a government like the one we had fled in England. The “monarchy” which once again usurped the PEOPLE was the monied interest which entrenched itself in Washington. The state representation sold out and continue to sell out their states in favor of personal unearned reward. This of course being the opposite of capitalism. Andrew Jackson warned about this as did all the previous founding fathers. But the driving force of profit and growth is what created the immense wealth from which this country grew to include all the highly esteemed universities, medical institutions, law institutions and innovations. Innovations such as the cotton gin, the light bulb, the automobile, the personal computer , moon exploration etc. So the ideas of capitalism as a driving force for this country has served it well and wil continue to drive it. People do things for gain, reward and recognition. Upon this basis is created a highly skilled, creative and motivated populace.

Jiminez's avatar

Capitalism is economic violence. I’m pretty sure that’s why it’s got a negative connotation. But, hey, that’s a whole other conversation.

SeventhSense's avatar

@Jiminez
Our country was founded on violent protest.
We essentially started a revolution over a 3% tax.

Garebo's avatar

As it should be, and will undoubtedly be when state governments begin and continue to raise revenues, or “revenue enhancements” income stream options; the same ole same ole. We in the private sector get no COLA wage increases, just the door.
I hope are country doesn’t fall to chaos and anarchy or the need to resort to violence, but it it very likely some will go berserk. History being a good barometer tells me we are probably going to witness some extreme violence, and of course it ‘s all right wing whack jobs, at least that what the alphabet channels will tell you.
Probably why the founding fathers allowed us people the right to fight back against a tyrannical government with our right to bear arms.
This government and congress hates this privilege, what’s remaining of it, and will do there damnedest to weaken, and further dilute the impetus of its original intent.

ozmox's avatar

Jefferson was neither a socialist nor a capitalist. He’s said “The selfish spirit of commerce knows no country, and feels no passion of principle but that of gain,” which implies he wouldn’t think highly of multi-national corporations. If anything he predicts that they are purely self-serving and not nationalistic (we’ve seen this in how many corporate scandals and the big bank failures of this past couple years).

He also disliked big government though saying, “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.” So he wasn’t keen on a social-style government that provides everything need by citizens.

I would even argue that what we have in America today isn’t capitalism as our Founding Fathers would of understood it. Corporations with so many lobbyist and hordes of cash are able to manipulate markets, industries and laws to their benefit—there is really no “free market” in today’s world, if you believe so you need to wake up.

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