In Friends Divided historian Gordon Woods illuminates issues affecting the decisions of the framers of the constitution.

During the period just before the official Declaration of Independence the states were charged to draft their own constitutions.  Some states stood as models for others and activists like Adams and Jefferson had impacts on state constitutions beyond their respective states of Massachusetts and Virginia. Pennsylvania was considered a radical model with a very weak executive and weak protections for property and creditors. It was in Adam’s judgment a “tyranny of democracy”.  “Good God! The people of Pennsylvania in two years will be glad to petition the crown of Britain for reconciliation in order to be delivered from the tyranny of their constitution.”

The various efforts from the states to form their own state constitution proved like laboratories that served to form the ingredient of the final national constitution a decade later.  The concept of a constitution was different from the British understanding. For Jefferson a constitution was a foundational law that could not be easily changed by successive legislatures. In England a constitution was just the accumulation of past and current laws on the book.

Since the American concept restrained and governed future legislators, it would have been clearly inappropriate for the current legislators to function as the drafters of the document. Thus, a special convention would be called for.

John Adams was concerned about the need for a strong executive and was accused by Jefferson and others for fostering the very monarchy they had revolted against.  But Adams’s was influenced by the writings of Jean Louis De Lolme in his The Constitution of England.  De Lolme thought the struggles was not between the monarch and the people but was between the people (House of Commons) and the aristocracy (House of Lords).  The king played the role of moderating the balance. “A strong executive, De Lolme wrote, was the best check against the ambitions of the aristocracy, which always posed a greater threat to the stability of the constitution. Too much democracy did not lead to anarchy but to oligarchy or aristocracy.”

This idea stood in contrast to the Montesquieu’s popular Spirit of the Laws which saw the central conflict between the power of the king and the people.

I doubt Wood had the current president in mind, but if the rise of Trump was a revolt against the elite then the dynamic of DeLolme and John Adams is vindicated in our time.

The progressives who insist on greater democracy see the power of the executive as the binary threat of Montesquieu, although they did not recognize this threat in the previous administration as long as it served their ideological ends.