Terry Bouton is associate professor of history at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His work looks at the connections between economics and politics in the American Revolution. His book, Taming Democracy: “The People,” The Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution (2007), uncovered the aspirations of small farmers and tried to understand why so many of them were disappointed with how the Revolution ended. Currently, he is working on a book that shows how European creditors demanded and got many key provisions in the U.S. Constitution.
There's been a lot of debate recently on the increasingly broken nature of American democracy: the electoral college, the structure and operation of the Senate, voting rights, etc. Most of that debate happens without much historical context, as if these problems are something new. My goal is to show how many of the undemocratic elements of our government aren't recently developed bugs in the system, but rather purposeful features, designed by the founding fathers to concentrate their political and stifle the ability of ordinary Americans to influence policy. We celebrate our system's checks and balances and the protections it gives to minority rights. However, at the time of the government's creation, the founding fathers saw themselves as the minority (wealthy creditors) and created the national government, in part, to protect their power and privilege by giving the affluent a strong check on democracy and the power of "the people."