Our received wisdom is that the framers of the united States Constitution were pragmatists, not theorists. Just as importantly, we have come to believe that the American Revolution and the subsequent creation of the American republic marked a definitive break from previous political models and truths, that it well and truly began a modern mode of government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Indeed, some have gone so far to suggest that the Founders knew they were making “a new kind of society that produces a new kind of human being. That human being – confident, self-reliant, tolerant, generous, future-oriented – is a vast improvement over the wretched, servile, fatalistic, and intolerant human being that traditional societies have always produced.” In short, the political story of the Founding has been turned into the ultimate morality play.
I intend to question this radical and revolutionary construct of the Framing by suggesting a simple, but subversive, idea: that the members of the Framing generation were as much influenced by the political values and experiences of classical antiquity as they were by Enlightenment liberal philosophy and by the exigencies of the struggle against Great Britain. Even more pertinently, I intend to show here that the Framers' use of ancient history (perhaps even more than their reading of classical philosophy) informed their decisions in drafting the Constitution of the United States.