In the period between the Revolution and the drafting of the Constitution, Jefferson noted that the eventual existence of a dictator in place of a king in Ancient Rome clearly indicated the existence of real failings within the Roman system:
dictator is entirely antithetical to republicanism's "fundamental principle...that the state shall be governed as a commonwealth," that there be majority rule, and no prerogative, no "exercise of [any] powers undefined by the laws." "Powers of governing...in a plurality of hands." (Zuckert, 1996, p. 214)
As a result, Jefferson, like the philosophes before him (and the Iroquois) would turn to ideas that would balance the necessary evils of government power with the rights of the people. James Madison agreed wholeheartedly, and urged in "Government of the United States" that a constitutional government based on separation of powers was the only sure way of preventing the country from taking the "high road to monarchy." (Morgan, 1988, p. 97) Thomas Paine, for his part, recognized the significance of government as both a protector and destroyer of rights. In the ideal and happy world of Rousseau, government would not have been necessary - the general will took care of the social contract. Voltaire, on the other hand, had understood that governments - even strong governments i.e. absolute monarchs were sometimes necessary to protect basic rights such as those of property and person. Paine saw the problems with both of these approaches:
His founding covenant aims at augmenting rather than diminishing power "by a condensation of all the parts." In this version, the contracting parties form an alliance which gathers together the isolated strength of all the allied partners and binds them into a new power structure in which all the co-associates partake, "so that each individual should possess the strength of the whole number."
(Kalyvas & Katznelson, 2006)
Separation of powers would achieve the dual goals of protecting the rights of each individual, and of all individuals, by increasing the relative strengths of each position. In this less than perfect civilized world, in no case must one be permitted to exceed the power of the other. The doctrine of separation of powers, developed and applied on every level of the new republic's government and within its society, would essentially prevent the abuses of past republics, and as well, forestall any reversion to monarchy or dictatorship. The states would balance the national government. The multiplicity of seats in the congress would offset the influence of any one individual or official. A formal, written constitution would prevent the elimination of any natural rights. It would also defend against the tyrannical impositions of a majority society on the minority.
Thus, the separation of powers doctrine as it related to the preservation of natural rights, and the balancing of the general will with the rights of the individual, set up an idealized social contract such as that recognized by the Enlightenment philosophers. The Founding Fathers realized that many of the principles described in the Enlightenment writings, while essential aspects of human freedom, were also in conflict with one another. Government was a necessary evil that both guaranteed these rights and also potentially undermined them. Jefferson and Paine understood that bad governments need to be overthrown. In conformance with the ideas of Rousseau, they discerned the essential purpose of government as the protection of the fundamental rights of all individuals. But like Voltaire, they realized that individual rights were distinct from those imposed by the general will. Both these classes of rights would have to be protected. Each was equally natural, a fact understood by "noble savages" like the Iroquois who had created their won version of a model republic, much along the lines of the best Ancient Roman principles. By balancing one force against another, the people could achieve true freedom. If that freedom was not being afforded them, they had the right to rebel, to launch a revolution against their oppressors - this was the lesson of the writers of the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment.
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Paine, T. (1995). Rights of Man, Common Sense, and Other Political Writings (M. Philp, Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shafer, G. (2002, January/February). Another Side of Thomas Jefferson: He Was the Icon Who Drafted the Declaration of Independence. The Man Who Most Ardently Championed the Fight for Individual Rights at a Time When Such Notions Were Singed with Controversy. And Yet. The Humanist, 62, 16+.
Strang, L.J. (2005). The Clash of Rival and Incompatible Philosophical Traditions within Constitutional Interpretation: Originalism Grounded in the Central Western Philosophical Tradition. Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, 28(3), 909+.
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Zuckert, M.P. (1996). The Natural Rights Republic: Studies in the Foundation of the American Political Tradition (Revised ed.). Notre Dame, in: University of Notre Dame Press.