Economic Freedom

How can we be free if we live all our lives in debt? These are among the ideas of an American founder on the issue of Economic Equality.

Abraham Clark was one of those among our founders who viewed the Constitution as an “instrument of self-realization, not the guarantor of privilege.” 1

In fact, he “emerged as a champion of individual liberties, an enemy to every form of privilege.  . . . Persons, not property, had priority in his ideological outlook. The purpose of government was to provide for human well-being, and in his view active participation in government by the people themselves constituted the essential barrier against tyranny. ” 2

“Clark was impassioned in the cause of liberty throughout the Revolutionary era. The hallmark of his thought was a democratic commitment that informed not only his political attitudes but his whole value system. At variance with the prevalent Whig outlook, Clark inverted the common appraisal of the social hierarchy. Usefulness and republican virtue reposed, in his vision, among the husbandmen and artisans rather than among the professionals and men of money. Instead of ascribing honor and decency to creditors and vilifying debtors, Clark saw creditors as living idly on the labor of industrious debtors who were caught in their grip.” 3

“The oppression Clark had in mind was economic. He was explicit about the areas in which the power of government should be.  . . . The crucial task Clark posed for the legislature was to design policies that would avoid ‘that inequality of property which is detrimental in a republican government.’ ” 2

He believed that the wealthy will always attempt to “divide and conquer” those without money, and he  “feared that impoverishment, in destroying the independence of individual citizens, would jeopardize the basis for republican government. A society of ‘lords and tenants’ would put some members in the power of others. . . . The survival of liberty therefore required, in Clark’s view, that government protect the economically oppressed.” 2

  1. The First Republicans: Political Philosophy & Public Policy in the Party of Jefferson & Madison, Stuart Gerry Brown, Greenwood Publishing Co., 1954
  2. Abraham Clark & The Quest for Equality in the Revolutionary Era, Ruth Bogin, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982
  3. New Jersey’s True Policy: The Radical Republican Vision of Abraham Clark, Ruth Bogin, William and Mary Quarterly, 1978