Starting Points: “Madison and the Merchant Class”
By Nicholas W. Drummond
JMC fellow Nicholas Drummond has recently written an article for Starting Points on Madison’s views of the merchant class and how they may be applied to today’s political movements:
Nationalist populism is a hostile reaction to globalization and its transformation of nation-states. As I argued in a previous Starting Points essay, what makes this movement “nationalist” is the angry sentiment among populists that elites today are rootless cosmopolitans who have betrayed their native countries. The “Davos Man” is despised because he supposedly regards all forms of national obligation as archaic and unfashionable. He thus feels no kindred connection to any one country. He feels no special responsibility for the wellbeing of any particular people. And he feels no nostalgia for the hinterland communities eroded by globalization. From the vantagepoint of national populists, the struggle for power is therefore as much about national liberation as it is revolution…
…As with most contemporary political issues, we can look to the Founders for helpful insight and perspective. In 1814, Thomas Jefferson warned that “merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.” Five years later, in a discussion of immigration, Madison offered a similar perspective when he contrasted merchants with farmers and mechanics: “The mercantile class… are less permanently tied… to their new country by the nature of their property & pursuits… a translation of them to another being more easy.” Given the date of these statements, both men could have been thinking about the shocking number of American merchants who smuggled provisions to British forces during the War of 1812…
Nicholas W. Drummond is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Black Hills State University. His research interests center on American politics, political theory, and constitutional design and his publications have examined multiculturalism, the American Founding, and the influence of religion on American foreign policy. He teaches courses in American politics, political theory, and constitutional design.
Professor Drummond is a JMC fellow.
Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.