Archive for the ‘article v convention of states’ Tag

Similarities to 1776   Leave a comment

When I ran this series originally, I had just finished a review of the Declaration of Independence. You are welcome to find those posts and read them. I am not re-running them this time. Lela


File:Constitution of the United States, page 1.jpgFinishing our review of the Declaration of Independence, we need to stop and consider where that leaves us today. We’ve found that there are a lot more similarities between 1776 and 2013 than we may have realized. I know I was surprised to find that our government may have become even more oppressive than King George and Parliament.

At heart, the first American Revolution was about self-governance. Forget the whole “taxation without representation” slogan. Taxation was one pixel of a much larger picture. Contrary to popular belief, the British Crown had only been the titular government of the American colonies for the 150 years preceding the Revolution. For five generations, the Crown had practiced “benign neglect” and the people of America had governed themselves. By the mid-1760s, following the French and Indian War, England was asserting control over the colonies and their residents. The catalyzing event was the Declaratory Act of 1766, which put the colonists on notice that Parliament considered itself in control and that body did not need to consult with the colonists, who had no representation in Parliament.

The Declaratory Act was, unlike our laws today, clear and forceful in its statement that the colonies had no right to liberty or the pretense of liberty at any level of life and certainly not in the arena of governance. Today, our politicians enact laws that infringe on our basic liberty and our ability to govern ourselves at the local, state and federal levels, while also intruding on our private lives. These laws regulate many of our activities from cradle to grave and everything in between. There’s not a legal commercial transaction not governed by regulation of business and few personal behaviors not controlled through the power of taxation.

Yes, civilized people must rightly tolerate a measure of intrusion into our lives and infringement of our liberties to live in a civil society. Compromise is necessary. My rights end where my neighbors’ begin. We can all agree there, I think. But …

How much is too much? Increasingly, polls show that most of us believe we’ve crossed that line. Like the American colonists, those of us who have known liberty recognize when our liberties are impinged without our consent or permission. Though we elect representatives, a full 60% of voters today say that the federal government lacks the consent of the governed.

In retrospect, the Declaratory Act displayed arrogance and ignorance of the colonies. We see that same arrogance and ignorance from our elected representatives today. Consider Nancy Pelosi’s “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it”. That was outrageous, but this arrogance runs throughout the political class in our country and is not limited to one party. 

In 1766, this type of arrogance started the American Revolution. In the 21st century, consider the “tea party” movement which has been pushing back against runamok government for over four years. The Occupy movement railed against crony capitalism – which has been a lesser target for the Tea Party. (Betcha didn’t know that!) Polling on issue after issue indicates the government is out of step with the majority of Americans.

Are we witnessing the roots of the second American Revolution? Perhaps the seeds of a second American Civil War?

The political class would do well to heed their own history. 

America sprang from the idea that the people can and should govern themselves.  When the representatives of the people regularly pass and impose laws, rules and regulations which the people do not support, history dictates that we need to reform the government or, if reform is not possible, remove it. When repeated elections fail to accomplish that goal, the people have a history of doing it through other means.

Luckily, the colonists who created the United States based on the principle of self-governance also gave us a Constitution which provides methods to restore liberty without bloodshed. When Congress refused to act and the states couldn’t get their heads out of their armpits in the 1850s, we set aside the Constitution as a nation and started shooting at each other. We need to remember that history and learn lessons from it. Today, we must use all of the constitutional safeguards if the flame of liberty is not to be extinguished by a political class out of touch with the citizens and apparently ignorant of history. 

Revolutions do not have to result in bloodshed. Our Constitution provides us with the means to avoid it, if we will make use of those means.

The fight for liberty and self-governance is part of our heritage.  We fought for them in 1776 when we declared our independence and officially began the American Revolution.   We fight for them today as we participate in what my grandchildren’s history books may call the second American Revolution.

Maybe Politics Can’t Fix This   Leave a comment

Although I vote in every election, I am not all that interested in partisan politics … hence the non-partisan designation on my voter registration card.

Consequently, I’m not really all that focused on who is going to replace Barack Obama in 2016. I waver back and forth between believing he’s going to refuse to leave office (like the supreme leader I believe he wants to be) or he’s going to essentially be replaced by someone of his choosing (like the totalitarian party leader I believe he wants to be). I can think of a few liberty-leaning candidates I would like to see run, but as we’re in the 20-year Democratic portion of the American psychotic political cycle, I’m thinking they’ll never be nominated by the GOP and third-parties just can’t make the ballot under current ballot access laws. So why get all lathered about politics? It won’t matter what we the people want. We have no control over the political cycle.

Maybe it won’t matter, though. Maybe we the people are going to seize control of our own government by doing something we haven’t done in over 200 years.

December 7, 2013, nearly a hundred state legislators, representing 32 states, assembled at Mount Vernon, the homestead of George Washington, just outside the nation’s capital city.

Why? To discuss how to safely revive an overlooked, but invaluable, provision in the United States Constitution that would allow a supermajority of states to rein in a power-drunk federal government.

According to a press release issued after the Assembly’s adjournment, “They emphasized the importance of any convention being done in a way that accomplishes the will of the people while protecting the sanctity of the Constitution, as this action could ultimately lead to proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as authorized under Article V. The subject matter of what those amendments would be was not discussed.”

What a great idea? Plan for an Article V convention, but don’t discuss the possible amendments because the first priority ought to be establishing how to safely conduct this amendment process.  Once prudent ground rules are established, then delegates can consider substantive proposals.

They picked a great venue as George Washington presided over the original Constitutional Convention. Now, lawmakers from a majority of states assembled at his estate to address the issue of how to bring Washington DC back into alignment with the vision of Washington and his fellow founders.

The Mount Vernon Assembly is a noble exercise in federalism. They plan to meet again later this spring, so the present tense is appropriate.

Some will argue that the United States of America is a single nation that is indivisible, but the very title suggests we are 50 states cooperating with one another. The founders didn’t name us the Republic of America. We are 50 states cooperating under a federal government.

Is the federal government out of control?  

Well, there’s evidence that we are. From 1789 to 1900, the federal government spent $15 billion cumulatively. In 2011, the federal government spent $10 billion a day. Sure, you can adjust for population and inflation, but the very fact that we spent more every two days than we did in our entire first century as a nation should make you pause and ask if this is what our Founders set forth and our early statesmen delivered.

Thoughtful Americans of all political stripes find this profligacy sobering. Some of us are sickened by it. Even after adjusting for inflation and population, it is impossible to argue that the federal government has not ballooned well beyond the scope contemplated by the founders. Moreover, students of history and political science recognize that such spending and the debt we’re accumulating with it has destroyed other nations.

What can we do about it? Collapse, revolution … or a third way. Enter the Mount Vernon Assembly.

Some, especially on the left, are attempting to blame federal government dysfunction on the Constitution. Google “Our Broken Constitution” by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker, a stroke through a myriad of somewhat justifiable complaints about America’s founding document.  In it, he argues that the Constitution is old and out-of-date and we should just toss it off and start letting the President call the shots by tossing dice on the White House steps. Okay, that last part is my interpretation of his words. I think the federal government is what’s broken and the Constitution provides the means to bring it back into alignment, because the US Constitution can be amended.

Many Americans feel thwarted by their federal government, feeling the federal government is out of touch with the “consent of the governed.” The Declaration of Independence cites the “consent of the governed” as the source of government legitimacy. Does Congress, with a 9% approval rating, still have the consent of the governed?

Our Founders foresaw a time when Congress would have a 9% approval rating and be unwilling to do anything about government dysfunction. They wrote a mechanism into the Constitution designed to rectify this very problem. Article V allows a supermajority of States – 34 to call a convention to propose amendments, 38 to ratify proposed amendments — to trump an obstructionist federal government and amend the Constitution. The Constitution states:

on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which … shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof….

This provision was inserted at the insistence of liberty-minded Virginia delegate George Mason. According to the Convention records, Mason thought that, if left up to Congress itself, “no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the Government should become oppressive, as he verily believed would be the case.” In response, Gouverneur Morris and Elbridge Gerry made a motion to amend Article V to introduce language requiring that a convention be called when two-thirds of the state legislatures petitioned Congress.

This authority of the states to amend the constitution was praised by James Madison multiple times in Federalist #43 — “It, moreover, equally enables the general and the State governments to originate the [Constitutional] amendment of errors, as they may be pointed out by the experience on one side, or on the other.” 

Wisconsin state Representative Chris Kapenga conceived and chaired the Mount Vernon assembly.  Kapenga said in an interview with Forbes:

About a year ago, I visited Mount Vernon for the first time.  I sat on the same porch where George Washington sat with companions such as James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton.  It inspired me and made me think about how we are dealing with issues now similar to those they were dealing with then: issues of balance.  Then, America had to strengthen its federal government.  Now, the federal government’s power has grown excessive.  The states need to step up and re-balance matters.

That sounds like federalism at its finest, but Phyllis Schlafly responded in Human Events with: “Alas, I don’t see any George Washingtons, James Madisons, Ben Franklins or Alexander Hamiltons around today who could do as good a job as the Founding Fathers, and I’m worried about the men who think they can.”

I found that sort of insulting to the intellect and integrity of the state legislators who participated and led the Mount Vernon Assembly. I greatly admire those who wrote and ratified the US Constitution, but I don’t think greatness died when they did. 

Harry Truman once observed, “A statesman is a politician who has been dead ten or fifteen years.” The jurist Learned Hand gave an immortal speech, The Spirit of Liberty, before a million-plus crowd in Central Park in 1944 on “I Am an American Day, ” observing: “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.”

An Article V amendment process is a function of citizen dignity — ‘power to the people.” It leans neither left nor right.  It is federalism at its finest, which is why it has opponents among progressives of every party.  Almost a hundred citizen-legislators, hearts filled with love of country and of liberty, seek to restore liberty in America.  These are the very hearts upon which Judge Hand advised us to rely and they want to set up inviolable guardrails and guarantees to permit us safe access to the Constitution’s emergency brake — contained in Article V — to stop the runaway federal locomotive before it leaves the rails completely.

If it works, the big political news of 2016 will not be the presidential race.  It will be how nearly 100 citizen-legislators began a process that restored liberty to America ….

…or proved to us that we sold liberty down the river a long time ago, so we might want to get started with that revolution* now.

*By revolution, I do not mean violence. The Civil Rights movement proved that peaceful solutions can affect great changes and show the coercive nature of the state while bolstering the cause of liberty.

Why Not a Convention of the States?   Leave a comment

Slate is worried that there is a “secretive campaign by state legislatures to pass conservative amendments” and “rewrite the Constitution.”

When I originally posted this series on Article V, I obviously researched the subject, but the skids are greased now, so there’s been lots going on in those six months.

Slate may believe that “newest movement to save the republic” began in December at Mount Vernon, but the idea has been around since the US Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Reporters – Ben Franklin aside – were banned from that convention too because the proposals were not ready for prime time and the delegates were savvy enough to realize that their discussion would be derailed if they went public with their proposals too soon.

What those delegates 217 years ago were proposing were needed changes to a governing document that was not working. The Articles of Confederation had no means for amendment, so the entire document had to be set aside and replaced by another one, which turned out to be the Constitution of the United States. As part of reformulating our foundational document, the delegates included a means to amend the Constitution so that it would not be necessary to shred it in the future. It’s been amended less than 30 times, always be Congress, but our Founders were wary of power in the hands of an elite, so they included a means for the states to amend the Constitution when Congress refused to do so. We’ve come close to an Article 5 convention a few times in those years, but Congress has always moved before things got to that point rather than lose its control of the process.

Sadly, Congress seems unable or utterly unwilling to enact needed reforms now, so 34 states met at Mount Vernon to discuss and plan an Article 5 convention.

That is not a Constitutional Convention. What happened in Philadelphia in 1787 was a Constitutional Convention. This is a states-called convention to propose amendments. The difference matters. Nobody can rewrite the US Constitution using Article 5. They can only propose amendments for the states to later ratify … or not, as the case may be.

When I posted my series, I did not know that Mark Levin was about to come out with the Liberty Amendments. I ended up doing a post on the book when I found out about it. Levin is thinking in this direction because America is thinking in this direction. Congressional approval ratings are in the cellar, the President and Supreme Court are not well-loved, the public feels the federal government is out-of-control and a risk to our liberty, we see corruption, bankrupt entitlement programs, a tax code you need two attorneys and three accountants on speed dial to understand, and a bureaucracy that stifles economic growth and liberty.

Why shouldn’t nearly one hundred state legislators from 34 different states gather to discuss what to do about the current circumstances?

A recent Gallup poll found that 75 percent of Americans support Congressional term limits while other polls indicate 74 percent support a balanced budget amendment. More than 30 states have already asked for an amendment on a balanced budget.

As James Madison describes in his notes, many Framers were concerned that Congress alone would have the authority to propose amendments:

“Col: Mason thought the plan of amending the Constitution exceptionable & dangerous. As the proposing of amendments is in both the modes to depend, in the first immediately, and in the second, ultimately, on Congress, no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the Government should become oppressive, as he verily believe would be the case. Mr. Morris & Mr. Gerry moved to amend the article so as to require a Convention on application of 2/3 of the Sts.”

To amend the Constitution, two-thirds of the state legislatures (34) must pass an application for a convention to occur, then 38 state legislatures would need to ratify any one amendment for it to become part of the Constitution. Historically, it has been interpreted to mean that all 34 applications must be on a single amendment request, but the langugage of Article V does not necessarily require that. We’re within one or two applications on a balanced budget amendment, but the opposition is working to nullify some of them, so a general states-called convention may be a better option.

This group plans to meet again this spring. In preparation for that, I’m reposting my series – maybe with some new material.

I don’t think we should be afraid of confronting our national demons and dealing with them. If we continue on the course we’re on without an attempt to fix things, the economy is going to collapse under the weight of an insanely obese federal government and then …? Well, I think the nation is going to dissolve. The question is, do we do it violently (historically, that is how it happens) or do we do it reasonably (historically, that almost never happens). The third way is to avoid the mess by taking steps to fix the problems. We may find in doing this that the progressives come out with a whole bunch of amendments that take away liberty and we may find that the states eat them up like candy. It’s possible. Then we have our answer. What we want to save is a fantasy that is no longer worth saving. But ….

If a states-called convention for proposing amendments produces some real changes toward liberty, then we’ve gotten something worthwhile.

Either way, we have a discussion about what the Constitution really means and whether or not we as a people still hold to those principles.


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