I’ve heard it claimed recently that the idea of a professional police force was a foreign one to the founding generation. While I wonder whether our founders would approve of the militarization of modern police forces, the concept of modern policing was not unknown to them. From the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin:
I began now to turn my thoughts a little to public affairs, beginning, however, with small matters. The city watch was one of the first things that I conceiv’d to want regulation. It was managed by the constables of the respective wards in turn; the constable warned a number of housekeepers to attend him for the night. Those who chose never to attend paid him six shillings a year to be excus’d, which was suppos’d to be for hiring substitutes, but was, in reality, much more than was necessary for that purpose, and made the constableship a place of profit; and the constable, for a little drink, often got such ragamuffins about him as a watch, that respectable housekeepers did not choose to mix with. Walking the rounds, too, was often neglected, and most of the nights spent in tippling. I thereupon wrote a paper to be read in Junto, representing these irregularities, but insisting more particularly on the inequality of this six-shilling tax of the constables, respecting the circumstances of those who paid it, since a poor widow housekeeper, all whose property to be guarded by the watch did not perhaps exceed the value of fifty pounds, paid as much as the wealthiest merchant, who had thousands of pounds’ worth of goods in his stores.
On the whole, I proposed as a more effectual watch, the hiring of proper men to serve constantly in that business; and as a more equitable way of supporting the charge the levying a tax that should be proportion’d to the property. This idea, being approv’d by the Junto, was communicated to the other clubs, but as arising in each of them; and though the plan was not immediately carried into execution, yet, by preparing the minds of people for the change, it paved the way for the law obtained a few years after, when the members of our clubs were grown into more influence.
What’s even more interesting in here is Franklin’s notion that the fact that the rich paid the same as the poor, rather than taking on more of the burden, would seem to be an endorsement of the ideas that are used to justify a progressive tax system. Ben Franklin is only a single founder, but as a lot, they tended to be more pragmatic, and a lot less ideologically strict than many ideologues today give them credit for.