The Founding Fathers Fought Against Inequality

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and James Madison Slammed Runaway Inequality

The primary author of the Constitution – and later president – James Madison wrote:

The great object [of political parties] should be to combat the evil: 1. By establishing a political equality among all. 2. By withholding unnecessary opportunities from a few, to increase the inequality of property, by an immoderate, and especially an unmerited, accumulation of riches. 3. By the silent operation of laws, which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity, and raise extreme indigence towards a state of comfort.

He also said:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Nine months before his inauguration as America’s first president, George Washington wrote:

[America] “will not be less advantageous to the happiness of the lowest class of people, because of the equal distribution of property.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote when visiting France:

I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land.

Alexander Hamilton argued for widespread ownership of assets, warning in 1782:

Whenever a discretionary power is lodged in any set of men over the property of their neighbors, they will abuse it.

Hamilton argued that a strong middle class was needed to become energetic customers of businesses in the entire economy.

John Adams feared that “monopolies of land” would destroy the nation and that an oligarchy arising out of inequality would manipulate voters, creating “a system of subordination to all… The capricious will of one or a very few” dominating the rest.

Adams wrote that – unless constrained –  “the rich and the proud” would deploy economic and political power that “will destroy all the equality and liberty, with the consent and acclamations of the people themselves.”  He therefore favored “preserving the balance of power on the side of equal liberty and public virtue (by making) … the acquisition of land easy to every member of society.”

When he was elderly,  Adams wrote that the goal of the democratic government was not to help the wealthy and powerful but to achieve “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.”


It wasn’t just James Madison and John Adams. Other be-wigged early presidents of the U.S. and half the crew on Mt. Rushmore — George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — believed that U.S. democracy would work best if citizens had a broad-based ownership stake in the economy. They too feared that extreme property inequality would prevent America from fulfilling its promise.

Why Too Much Inequality Goes Against Conservative Values

More than half of American conservatives think we have too much inequality.  The growing disgust among conservatives towards the runaway inequality in America is rooted in history.

After all, the Founding Fathers fought for freedom from an oppressive central bank which sucked the prosperity out of the economy, but the  Federal Reserve’s policies have created inequality even worse than experienced by slaves in Colonial America in 1774.

The Founding Fathers warned against standing armies, saying that they destroy freedom.   And they warned against financing wars with debt.    But according to Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the U.S. debt for the Iraq war could be as high as $5 trillion dollars (or $6 trillion dollars according to a study by Brown University.)

And the Founding Fathers also launched the Revolutionary War because the British government was engaging in crony capitalism (which constituted taxation without representation), instead of letting the colonists have a shot at free market competition. The modern American authorities are doing the same thing.

Likewise, the “father of free market capitalism” – Adam Smith – railed against monopolies, supported regulation of banks and the financial sector … and said that inequality should not be a taboo subject.

The well-known Greek historian Plutarch said 1,900 years ago:

An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.

Libertarian champion Ron Paul says that the system is rigged for the rich and against the poor and the middle class:

In fact, there are at least 6 solid conservative reasons – based upon conservative values – for reducing runaway inequality.

We’re not calling for redistributing wealth from the rich.  After all, Jefferson said:

To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, —the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, & the fruits acquired by it.’

And we believe that the inequality gurus who promote redistribution are missing the bigger picture.

So what are we advocating? We’re for stopping further looting by Wall Street.  As Robert Shiller said in 2009:

And it’s not like we want to level income. I’m not saying spread the wealth around, which got Obama in trouble. But I think, I would hope that this would be a time for a national consideration about policies that would focus on restraining any possible further increases in inequality.

We advocate using current fraud laws to prosecute Wall Street criminality. Even without any fancy new laws … using the old ones would work just fine.

And we support clawing back ill-gotten gains from criminals under well-established fraud principles:

The government could use existing laws to force ill-gotten gains to be disgorged (see this and this) [and] fraudulent transfers to be voided …

And if we stop bailing out the Wall Street welfare queens, the big banks would focus more on traditional lending and less on speculative casino gambling.  Indeed, if we break up the big banks, it will increase the ability of smaller banks to make loans to Main Street, which will level the playing field.

We don’t even have to use government power to break up the banks … if the government just stops propping them up, they’ll collapse on their own. Indeed, many Republicans have pointed out that the big banks would fail on their own if the government stopped bailing them out.

These are all solidly conservative principles.

After all, bad government policy is responsible for the medievalking-and-serf levels of inequality and social mobility which are destroying our economy (and see this).

It is also undermining America’s geopolitical power.

Every conservative (and liberal) should be disgusted by those results.

Postscript: Madison is also reputed to have said:

We are free today substantially but the day will come when our Republic will be an impossibility. It will be impossibility because wealth will be concentrated in the hands of a few. A republic cannot stand upon bayonets, and when that day comes, when the wealth of the nation will be in the hands of a few, then we must rely upon the wisdom of the best elements in the country to readjust the laws of the nation to the changed conditions.

However, the quote has not been authenticated in Madison’s records.

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  • jadan

    There was no more greedy land grabber than George Washington, who could also preach equality of opportunity and property because there was so much land to be had. All one needed to do was deny any title to the heathen native Americans, and take it, by force if necessary. It was this abundance of land that fed the spirit of equality. You had only yourself to blame if you lacked the motivation and industry prescribed by Poor Richard. There is no comparison with the world of today. So-called conservative values, meaning the values preached by the founders, are the values that have created the vast inequality we experience today, not to mention the teeth-clenching, white-knuckle global situation. One of the most fundamental of these conservative values was preached by Jefferson, the small-government mantra, and other similar bullshit sentiments that have no relevance to a population of 320,000,000+ people in a collapsing eco-system. The founders were quite a naive group. American visionaries never considered an overpopulated world of scarcity. Herman Melville could not imagine that the whaling industry could deplete the bounty of whales in the sea. We have to learn to look at our own world without looking through the cloudy specs of the founders. Conservatives are a screwball group precisely because they can’t see the world as it is…

    • EmperorNorton

      Thank you Kim Jong Un

      • jadan

        WTF? Explain yourself, mad man.

      • Luca

        EmperorNorton you are correct by using that as an expression to expose the brainwashing so many LIberals have about the Constitution. Would they prefer tyranny? That is the alternative and they do not get it. You get called a mad man by Jaden who when an opinion is not understood, uses the Liberal tactic of immediate name calling.J aden, Do you understand what EmperorNorton meant? That your beliefs are the same ones shared by the horrible Leaders of The Communists movement from the last 100 years. The Communists movements that caused the deaths of tens of millions of people, malnutrition and horrid living conditions for it’s citizens. This is an easy explanation of his comment.

    • Tom Welsh

      We see a lot of that kind of ad hominem attack on the Web. Washington’s statements, principles and advice are no less valid because he did not fully live up to them himself. Please focus on the ideas, instead of trying to demolish the men who did their best to explain how a nation could be better governed. “Treat every man after his deserts, and who shall ‘scape whipping?” As Oscar Wilde memorably reminded us, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.

      • jadan

        No ad hominem attack here. GW was a sterling fellow who grabbed up land. That must bother you, eh? The point is the difference between then and now…the context. The conservative mindset can’t appreciate that. And the thought that the Constitution should be changed with the time through revolutionary activity if necessary, as Jefferson prescribed, really doesn’t please the pious conservative. Or should I say, the pussy conservative….

  • ClubToTheHead

    This post is late. April 1 is fools day.

    I will not dispute that the Founding Pitchmen promised a lot to sell the new constitution.

    They wanted a strong general government and stole the name Federalist from those who wanted a federation of states and not the strong, approaching monarchic, central state.

    Those who actually were in favor of a federation called the Founding Pitchmen Rats, a name short and derisive for ratifiers.

    • Luca

      We do have a Federation of States, in case you haven’t noticed.

      • ClubToTheHead

        The original states were separate and sovereign after declaring independence.

        The Anti-Federalists argued against the new constitution, arguing that the sovereign states would be reduced back to colonial status, but this time subordinate to the new general government on their side of the Atlantic. Hence the reason for the Tenth Amendment, which like so much of the Bill of Rights, has been regulated away.

        The Anti-Federalist’s fears were well founded and are evident in today’s Unitary State of America with its Unitary Executive exercising the monarchical powers Hamilton argued for.

        This is not even a republic, just as Franklin warned.

  • ClubToTheHead

    The Constitution is either incapable of restraining the domination of the many by the rapacious few, or it was intended to achieve this totalitarian state of affairs.

    In either case, it is of no value to the many who must live under the rule of the anointed rapacious few.

    • Tom Welsh

      In other words, you don’t believe any constitution, set of laws, or indeed any written rules can restrain men’s evil nature. In the long run, they can’t do a perfect job. But “in the long run we are all dead”. Perfection may not be on offer, but that doesn’t mean that the good isn’t still better than the bad.

      • ClubToTheHead

        So you say.

        But that was not my observation.

        Good? Bad?

        What is good? Socrates might have asked this of you.

        Is this the best of all possible worlds, Dr. Pangloss?

        Or is your concept that the best of all possible worlds is still extremely evil, and that this extreme evil is worth fighting for, and dying for, in order to preserve it?

        Sounds like a passionate, but nihilist, surrender into oblivion to me.

        What “is” is hidden by illusion. To see what is, one must be willing to
        bear the pain of being disillusioned. And the taunts of those who cling
        to and deny the real for the security of illusion.

  • Name

    Quoting Adams and Hamilton as proponents of equality is laughable. Try reading the Federalist Papers sometime. As for Madison, he was not even close to being the primary author of the Constitution. He has properly been called the amanuensis of the Constitutional Convention. While he might later have adopted Jeffersonian views, while he was a father a-founding, he was as virulently anti-populist as any of the rest of that crew that usurped power from the states in excess of their mandate to revise the Articles of Confederation. Jeez, the Constitution is patently awful. If you’re talking about the Bill of Rights, then talk about the Bill of Rights, not the document that, without the Bill of Rights, would have guaranteed tyranny in short order, regardless of how prosaic the preamble was.

  • Luca

    The British are the ones in the beginning who were very hard on the Native Americans. In the beginning, our Country did try to make peace with the natives. The Natives were not all these peace loving tribes as many would like to depict.The movement out West ,100 years after America’s birth ,was the time of warfare with the Native Americans. Some tribes were quite murderous and terrrirtorial. Washington fought in the battle to create America. There was a lot of land. What is the use in calling him a land grabber? What land did he grab? People came in and claimed land, rich or poor. Our Constitution does work. We have more freedoms than any other country. This is not an overpopulated World of scarcity, as the redistributionist would lead anyone to believe. There is plenty of opportunity for anyone with a vision or a desire to provide services or products. A Totalitarian state of affairs is what happens when the government is involved in most of our affairs in one way or the other. Government should be there for the purpose of providing security to our nation and a place for our Representatives to vote on the important decisions. We do not need them to make decisions about every action we, as individuals, desire to take. We need protection from tyranny , which is is what the 1st through 4th ammendments provide. The Bill of Rights is a gift given to all Americans. Unfortunately, there are way too many people that profit by brainwashing Americans into believing otherwise.

    • Tom Welsh

      “Some tribes were quite murderous and terrrirtorial [sic]”.

      Translation: “Some tribes wanted to go on living on the land that their ancestors had occupied from time immemorial, and were willing to fight anyone who tried to steal it from them”.

      That sounds a bit better, doesn’t it?

  • Arizona

    WELL,you guys can argue as much as you want about the state of the country,BUT you better change focus,because the world is after you now and SO IS YOUR OWN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT,they fully intend to kill everyone,THEY HAVE SOLD AMERICA TO CHINA,and the chinese are never the ones to turn down a good deal,THEY have their court order in their hands and the UN ARMY to back up their claims,YOU’VE been sold down the crapper,along with your whole family,and your out of time to WAKEUP,…WAR IS UPOND YOU…..or do you think LIFE will be just fine in a FEMA DEATH CAMP??………after all thats what the JEWS thought too……