Contrasting Visions: The United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution vs the Communist Manifesto
When I was a boy, I loved baseball. Unfortunately, having been born in Queens, New York, my chosen team was the NY Mets who, at that time, were the laughingstock of the major leagues. I still have faint memories of my father agonizing over their 89 losses in 1968, which, as bad as it was, was their best year since joining the league in 1962. At no time during those years had they finished better than ninth.
Then something amazing happened. In one of the greatest sports upsets in history, the 1969 “Amazing Mets” rose from the depths of the standings to become World Series Champions. I still remember that final game and cheering for all my favorite players. Yet, while they played amazing baseball, credit for the miracle season is most often given to Gil Hodges, the team’s manager. Joining only in 1968, he had quickly established a common vision for the team. His leadership enabled them to overcome their past, silence their critics, and play like champions. As announcer Curt Gowdy said during the last inning of the ’69 series, one word described the Mets: “inspired.” It was Gil Hodges who inspired them, and his common vision put them on the road to success.
“From day one, spring training, Gil Hodges had a plan…He made each and every one of us better,” said outfielder Cleon Jones. Pitching Ace Jerry Koosman added, “Gil Hodges had one set of rules. There weren’t two sets of rules, and we each had to abide by those rules. That was a way of drawing teammates together.” It worked, and the laughingstock team became World Champions.
You might wonder what this story has to do with the United States Constitution. Well, maybe not much. There is one thing, however, that I think it shows. An inspirational vision and a clear mission are critical to the success or failure of any organization. Successful leaders unlock the potential of others by articulating such a vision, one that can be shared by all and that is fair and equal across the board. History also tells us that the wrong vision, the wrong mission, can lead to disaster.
The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution established our nation’s vision and mission. The brilliant leaders who crafted those documents united a diverse people, established the most successful nation in history, and changed the face of government forever.
The vision so beautifully articulated in our founding documents was that all men were sovereign over themselves and equal before the law, and that because of this innate human value, governments were instituted among them only by their consent. It was a vision that had been long in the making. Thomas Jefferson, tasked by the Continental Congress to draft the Declaration in June 1776, had studied the writings of the Greeks, the Magna Carta (1215), English Common Law, Coke’s Institutes of the Laws of England (1600-1615), John Locke, and Montesquieu (1689-1755), among others. Like James Madison, John Adams, and the other Founders, he knew the importance of individual sovereignty in guarding against the depredations of the state. The vision in the Declaration was a bold assertion of those rights. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” His phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” which was lifted from John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1690) (“life, liberty, and estate”), established that forever more the individual would be sovereign, protected from the tyranny of government by the fact of his humanity.
While Jefferson did not attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787, that vision was certainly reflected in the Constitution’s checks and balances, controls on federal power eventually acceptable to both Federalists and Anti-federalists alike. The critical nature of these was most famously, and most articulately, laid out in Federalist 51, and James Madison’s famous words: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” Madison, a Federalist, advocated for a strong central government, yet recognized the risk in power being concentrated in the hands of fallible men.
Later, the Bill of Rights was added, providing ten amendments to further clarify the vision of a free and sovereign citizenry. The Anti-federalists insisted that those amendments be included, to document for all time the limited scope of government. This unifying vision survives to this day, enshrined in the due process protections in the 14th Amendment, and reflected in many Supreme Court decisions limiting the government’s reach.
That vision was both positive and unifying, and it brought our young nation together. The then national motto, adopted in 1782, reflected the belief that the individual was the core of the nation. E Pluribus Unum (from many, one) ushered in a dramatic change in the nature of governance. There was no king, no emperor, and no aristocratic class to rule. “We the people” were sovereign and independent, yet also tied together in a common pursuit.
And what was that pursuit? Equal in importance to the vision was a unifying mission: to achieve “a more perfect Union.” This would be accomplished by establishing “Justice,” insuring “domestic Tranquility” providing for the “common defense,” promoting the “general Welfare,” and securing “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Articulated in the Constitution’s preamble, that is a mission worth serving, and one that hundreds of millions have pledged their lives to.
It is informative to contrast America’s vision and mission to that articulated in another extremely impactful document, the “Communist Manifesto.” First published in London in 1848, it was translated into multiple languages, and, importantly, released in Russian in 1863. Like the United States’ founding documents, the manifesto ushered in a revolution in governance, which took hold first in the Soviet Union in 1917, and then spread throughout the world. While written mostly by Karl Marx, “its economic analysis was strongly influenced by [Friedrich] Engels’s ‘practical experience of capitalism’ in his family’s cotton firm…in 1842-44.” It is therefore important to note that the world was experiencing extreme upheaval during the 1840s. Major social, political, and economic strife fed the development of the text, which explains some of its dark character. The serf societies were ending, farmers were moving to cities in response to the budding industrial revolution, the European aristocracy was losing its power to a rising class of business entrepreneurs, while everywhere workers struggled to find a place in new, rapidly changing, and often soul-deadening, industries. As historian of the manifesto, George Boyer, writes, “despite its enormous influence in the 20th century, the Manifesto is very much a period piece…It is hard to imagine it being written in any other decade of the 19th century.” Regardless, its impact was global and long-lasting. The 1917 Soviet Revolution adopted Marxism as its guiding vision, which eventually led to a rapid expansion of communism in the 20th century.
Yet what was that vision? Was it to inspire great things, like that of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? No, it was not. The Communist Manifesto inspired, in a word, tyranny. A review of some of its text demonstrates why.
First, there was no message of equality of all men. The document focuses on class conflict, and the struggle of one class to destroy the other. “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat.” The mission would only be achieved when “they” (the bourgeoisie) were destroyed.
Second, there was no commitment to individual sovereignty (life, liberty, and especially property) seen in the U.S. documents. “The abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom is undoubtedly aimed at” and “…you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.” Gone was the concept of unalienable rights.
Third, the vision did not inspire unity, but instead served as a justification to use raw power to achieve dominance, power that would be wielded by the state. “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest by degrees all capital from the bourgeoise, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class…”
And finally, the power of the state was to be absolute, and the revolution violent. “Of course, in the beginning this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property…”
In contrast to E Pluribus Unum, consent of the governed, equality before the law, protection of individual life, liberty, happiness, and property, and limits on the tyrannical impulses of government, the Communist Manifesto provided vision and mission focused on class conflict, rule by force, destruction of the opposition, the end of property rights and individual rights, all to be instituted by the unlimited “despotic” power of government.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has done extensive research documenting the damage done by tyrannical communist governments. They cite 100 million deaths at the hands of these regimes over only a 100-year span. Inspired and enabled by the Communist Manifesto, these regimes destroyed societies in a quest of a property-free utopia that was unachievable. In so doing they imprisoned, tortured, banished, and killed over a hundred million of their own citizens, while foisting war and chaos on the world. Thirty years after the fall the Soviet Union, “millions of people worldwide — one-fifth of the world’s population — still live under communist tyranny.”
It has become somewhat fashionable to say that communism, or “socialism,” is a good idea (or theory) that could work if we just implemented it correctly. The Communist Manifesto gives lie to that claim. The vision is destruction, the mission tyranny. The result predictable. How many more need to die before we finally accept this fact?
It is also fashionable to criticize the United States for our failure to live up to our vision and mission. We are beset, and have been since our founding, with a multitude of problems and challenges. Slavery, social upheaval, war and civil war, domestic strife and crime, poverty, natural and manmade environmental disasters, depressions, recessions, and so much more. Have we failed in our mission? I think it is important to remember the 1969 Mets. In that miracle year, they gave up 1,217 hits, including 119 Home Runs, let in 541 runs, batted only .242, struck out 1089 times, and lost 62 Games. Yet they were World Champions.
Our shared mission is to “promote a more perfect union.” The word “more” is important. Our mission is not a utopian dream of perfection, instead it inspires us toward progress. Progress, not perfection. The road may be twisted and rocky, but we are well along it to establish justice, peace at home and abroad, improve the general welfare and pass the blessings of our liberty onto our future generations. Each generation’s task is to make our nation “more perfect.” For all our faults, our unifying vision and mission have set us apart among nations and made us the example for others to emulate.
What we need now is to trust in that vision, not abandon it for one proven toxic and deadly.
We need to rededicate ourselves to creating a more perfect union, not descend into the politics of resentment and strife found in the Communist Manifesto.
As future President, Calvin Coolidge, said in his “Have Faith in Massachusetts” speech in 1914, “We need a broader, firmer, deeper faith in the people – a faith that men desire to do right, …a reconstructed faith that the final approval of the people is not given to demagogues…but to statesmen ministering to their welfare, representing their deep, silent, abiding convictions.”
E Pluribus Unum, Consent of the Governed, All Men Created Equal, and a More Perfect Union.
Jay McConville is a military veteran, management professional, and active civic volunteer currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he held multiple key technology and management positions within the Aerospace and Defense industry, including twice as President and CEO. He served in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Officer, and has also been active in civic and industry volunteer associations, including running for elected office, serving as a political party chairman, and serving multiple terms as President of both his industry association’s Washington DC Chapter and his local youth sports association. Today he serves on the Operating Board of Directors of Constituting America. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College. Jay lives in Richmond with his wife Susan Ulsamer McConville. They have three children and two grandchildren.
 Team of Destiny – The Final 3 Outs of the 1969 World Series, New York Mets, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyDiuRDf918
 The Greatest Season: The 1969 Miracle Mets Trailer, MyMar Entertainment and Media, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSh9XcgVrt0
 Declaration of Independence: A Transcription, National Archives, retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript
 Bernstein, William (2004). The birth of plenty: How the prosperity of the modern world was created, McGraw Hill
 The Federalist No. 51, [6 February 1788], Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-04-02-0199. [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 4, January 1787 – May 1788, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 497–502.]
 Constitution of the United States, Constitution Annotated, United States Congress, retrieved from https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/
 Hutchins, Robert Maynard ed. (1989). Great books of the western world: Marx. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
 Boyer, George (1998). The historical background of the Communist Manifesto. Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 12, No. 4, Fall 1998, https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.12.4.151
 All quotations from Hutchins (1989), pp. 413-434
 Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, https://victimsofcommunism.org
 Coolidge, Calvin (1914). Have faith in Massachusetts. Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, https://coolidgefoundation.org/resources/have-faith-in-massachusetts/
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