The preponderant weight of economic power in the Constitutional Convention, while conceding the out- ward forms of political democracy, went on at once to curb the exercise of the very power it had just granted; it crippled the force of democratic power at the source by parceling up this power by a marvelously dexterous system of barriers to its expression.
Thus political equality under the ballot was granted on the unstated but factually double-locked assumption that the people must refrain from seeking the extension of that equality to the economic sphere.
Power is no less "political" for being labeled "economic" power; for politics is but the science of "who gets what, when, and how." Alexander Hamil- ton advocated and Jefferson opposed the effort of clotted economic power to substitute concentrated minority class power for diffused power.
Lincoln referred to this same tendency when he wrote in i860, "Soberly, it is now no child's play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation"; and he went on to speak of "the miners and sappers of returning despotism" engaged in undercutting democracy.
Equipped with a new and marvelously growing technology and with a raw continent beckoning to be exploited, Americans turned their attention all down through the nineteenth century to the grand adventure of getting rich.
It has been casual, to the point of recklessness, about the positive development of its own authority. But actually, as Laski has pointed out, "The disproportion in America between the actual economic con- trol and the formal political power is almost fantastic." Despite intermittent guerilla warfare between state power and private eco- nomic power through all our national life, democracy has slurred over the challenge to its very existence inherent in growing eco- nomic power.
This has been due to a number of factors, (i) The fact that the issue between the two types of power has been so heavily cloaked under the sectional issue between the agrarian and the Eastern industrial states has diverted attention from the fact that capitalist economic power constitutes a direct, continuous, and fundamental threat to the whole structure of democratic authority everywhere and always.
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Particularly when long-established institutional sys- tems have been breaking up under them have they tended to mis- take symptom for cause and to greet predictions of major change with incredulity and aversion.