Classical Literature and Its Inffluence on the United State's Founding Fathers Essay

Submitted By zewpals
Words: 2594
Pages: 11

The Constitution of the United States of America is the longest lasting constitution of the modern world and has a history like no other. Its architects, the Founding Fathers of the United States, founded the Constitution on a strong base of Western Classical History. John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all had a strong, classical education. This quality contributed greatly to the making of the Constitution. The Founders followed many classical writers, but one historian from the Hellenistic period particularly caught their eyes: Polybius. Polybius’ most pronounced document, The Histories, is celebrated for its identification of three constitutions: “kingship, aristocracy, and democracy” (Polybius 4). Kingship was a major component when the Fathers were considering the structure of the country’s government, as they felt the necessity to represent “the one”. Needless to say, the fathers were unclear as how to incorporate monarchy into the Constitution. There are several benefits and disadvantages of monarchies according to Polybius, so the Founders used what they knew of monarchs of ancient history to make their decisions. The five good emperors that ruled from 96-180 A.D. were all monarchs who demonstrated the benefits of kingship. Several of the emperors that preceded them, however, were unfortunate cases of monarchy at its worst and compelled the Founders to include checks and balances in the country’s government. Based on the documents of these emperors, the Founders made the decisions they felt were necessary for the strongest government. However, not all of these documents were written with pinpoint accuracy and void of all biases. Despite this setback, the Founding Fathers built a very strong structure for the United States government based on the historical successes and failures of the Roman Caesars. The period from 96 to 180 A.D. in Rome marked the era of the five good emperors of the second century: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. This was an era of Rome under terrific rule, as these emperors were all “adopted” by their predecessors to rule. This system held, because as history has shown, power is well used only in the hands of those who have struggled to obtain it; when inherited, power is abused. Generally, the five good emperors “realized that to retain power and govern effectively in a Roman context, they needed to maintain the goodwill of the senatorial elite and other propertied classes, secure the royalty of the soldiers, and promote the basic welfare of the people whom they ruled” (Ward 335). It is for this reason that the five good emperors served as patrons for kingship in the Constitution. Nerva, the first of the five good emperors, ruled Rome for a brief three years from 96 to 98 A.D. During his short reign, Nerva demonstrated his virtuous character as a monarch. Nerva vowed never to execute a senator for their political beliefs; he suspended the unanimously hated law of treason, and recalled the senatorial exiles that had been executed during Dominitan’s rule (Ward 336). Nerva had also started several public work projects such as the restoration of aqueducts and roads in the interest of helping the common folk, and even allotted land to the poor in urban areas. The Founding Fathers looked to Nerva as an ideal leader who was elected by the elite class and yet still showed prudence to all classes of the empire. Immediately following Nerva’s anticipated death came the great ruler Trajan, who was Nerva’s adopted son and ruled from 98 to 117 A.D. Trajan had risen to become emperor as Rome through his demonstrations as a great leader as the governor of Upper Germany, in which he had received the proud title of Germanicus (Scarre 90). As an emperor, Trajan was fixated on winning the support and trust of every class in Rome. He gained strong favor in the senate by dramatically increasing the amount of provincial senators…