James Madison, a Federalist, and therefore a proponent for passage of the Constitution and of a stronger central government, affectionately known as the “father of the Constitution”, in arguing for the Constitution’s passage and in trying to alleviate the fears of those citizens skeptical about giving more power to a central government, said in Federalist 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and infinite.” That was a mouthful of a sentence, huh? Again, that promise, of a limited federal government, was written by an advocate for a stronger central government, and by the man who was said to have written much of what came to be our Constitution. It really goes to show you how generally united both Federalist and Anti-Federalists were in their belief in limited government, despite the Constitution’s formation.
Does anyone really think we have anything close to resembling such a governmental model today, where the powers of the federal government are few and defined, and where most power rests exclusively with the states? Ya, me neither. I think it would be fair to say that we have strayed, more than a little, from the original intent of the Constitution. So how do we get back on track? Is all hope lost? Have we exhausted every mean available to us? What can we possibly do about our current state of affairs that hasn’t already been tried, and failed? Maybe we just need to elect a few more Republicans? That will solve everything! After all, it has in the past, right? I want to suggest another course, and it’s one the authors of the Constitution very specifically furnished for us, the advantage of which we have yet to exploit.
For those of you unfamiliar with Article V of the Constitution, it lays out the method by which to amend the Constitution. Actually, it lays out two methods to do this…one of which has never been used. The only method used up to this point in history has been that two-thirds of both branches in Congress propose an amendment(s) to the Constitution, and if the legislatures of three-fourths of the states ratify it, the Constitution, that is, the absolute highest law in the land, is therefore amended. The other method, which has yet to be used, but which nonetheless has a very specific reason for being included in the Constitution, is the method whereby two-thirds of the states call for an amendment(s) to be made to the Constitution, which if ratified by three-fourths of the states, also effectively amends the Constitution. Did everyone catch the important difference there? The latter method, which, again, has never yet been used, completely cuts out the federal government from the process…completely. Congress is a moot point in amending the Constitution. It’s wholly done by the states. Congress doesn’t have a say; only the states have a say. Now, I don’t know about you, but as a state’s rights advocate, that sounds pretty intriguing to me!
Why the two different methods for amending the Constitution, and why has only the one ever been used? In giving a reason for including the latter, and yet to be used method of amending the Constitution, during the Constitutional Convention, George Mason said, it “would be improper to require the consent of the Natl. Legislature, because they may abuse their power, and refuse their consent on that very account.” Mason added that, “no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the Government should become oppressive.” Sound logic if you ask me. In other words, if the federal government ever gets to a point where it becomes oppressive and ignores the states, then the states can, under the Constitution, take matters into their own hands! Think we’re at that point yet? I certainly think we are getting there. Using this method of amending the Constitution is nothing other than the ultimate lever in the preservation of state’s rights. Now, whether we are at a point in history where there is enough clamor to utilize it is another matter, but it certainly makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside knowing we have that lever; again, a lever that completely bypasses the federal government.
So how do we start? We already have! We just need to follow through. If you haven’t yet heard, on Friday, Georgia passed a measure, 107-58, calling for a convention of the states to amend the Constitution! There has been a popular movement, pushed in large part by radio host Mark Levin, to hold a convention of the states, in putting the federal government back in its place, and many states and even some congressmen are starting to take notice. The lever is there for taking back our country. All we need do is decide to utilize it. Pretty amazing, isn’t it, that the authors of our Constitution would think to include such provisions in the Constitution? It almost seems like…they saw that this might happen!
The true brilliance of the Constitution, that’s right liberals, I said it, brilliance, is that it is a document that takes human nature into consideration in its general formulation of how our government was to operate. The men who created it were not only statesmen, they were philosophers. In Federalist 51, and it was such reasoning that was largely responsible for winning the votes of the Anti-Federalists and is what led to the eventual passage of the Constitution, Madison said, “The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachment of the others…ambition must be made to counteract ambition…It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
Why do I mention that last quote of Madison’s? Even though the logic of that statement is sound, our system of checks and balances seems to be unraveling before our eyes. How is that possible, and where is the chink in the armor? How and why is the firewall Madison referenced being breached? Maybe Congress is not acting sufficiently in its own self-interest. Certainly the executive branch these days is claiming more and more power for itself and constantly bypassing Congress with the ever-expanding role of the mass of regulatory agencies we now have (the fourth branch of government, as some people have come to call such agencies). There are probably a lot of different reasons why, over time, the balance has become upset. But the point is, we have a remedy put in the Constitution for a reason, to correct such imbalance! I for one think its high time we use it.
We’ve all heard the saying, “desperate times call for desperate measures”. I do think we are in desperate times, and I don’t believe an Article V convention of the states is a desperate measure. I think it’s a necessary one, and a prudent one. Because it’s never been done, I’ve heard some apprehension that a convention of the states might be co-opted and used against conservatives. To that fear I would simply say, if you haven’t noticed, the “progressives” are already winning, and they are winning BIG. I happen to believe they have sufficiently co-opted government to an extent that there really is no turning back through channels normally used, in trying to limit the Leviathan that has become the federal government . Progressives have gradually been diminishing the Constitution and its intent for the last hundred years in their attempt to centralize power because of a belief that such must be done to produce the greatest good for all, and its high time we invoke, draw attention to, and use the Constitution like it was meant to be used.
I think its worth asking: If you do think a convention of the states sounds like too risky a proposition, what does it say, deep down, about how you presently view this country? Does it show a contentment to some degree with things as they are, even if you want to perhaps shrink the federal government, a bit? I happen to believe when you weigh the risks and the rewards, the rewards of an Article V convention of the states wins, hands down; a convention process by the way that, according to the Constitution, is only for the proposition of amendments, and cannot be used for any other purpose, according to the Constitution.
Is all this just a moot point? Can we really muster the sort of super-majority needed for such an endeavor? Maybe, maybe not. But even if, even if, a convention of states were to fail, and enough support were not garnered for it to take place, in the process, wouldn’t we be drawing attention to the Constitution, which is a good thing, and further paving the way for such a convention to take place in the future, when such a convention might be especially needed? I happen to believe good policy makes for good politics, and even if such an attempt were to not succeed, it’s still worth fighting for, for the reasons just given. I can’t help but think of the line from the movie Braveheart, in this regard, when Gibson admonishes the Nobles and says, “Don’t you at least wish to lead your men into battle and barter a better deal with Longshanks before you tuck tail and run!”
Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not admitting defeat here already. Far from it. This is a process that as a conservative, and advocate for state’s rights, truly excites me like few others have. All I’m doing is pointing out that the result of pushing for things for which you believe do have an impact, whether you think you have succeeded at that time or not, and whether you at the time realize it or not. The calculation should never be that if you might fail at a cause, that you shouldn’t even try. In fact, it has been the case throughout American history, and world history for that matter, that whenever a given policy venture or movement seemed to fail, at the time, they in many cases eventually paved the way for the future and were incorporated into this or that platform or this or that political ideology despite, and eventually bore fruit.
The battle to end slavery in this country wasn’t just fought from 1861-1865. I know, I can hear the progressives now, “A conservative invoking the abolition of slavery in his promotion of state’s rights!!”. The Civil War was fought out in proxy-wars, much like the Cold War had, for decades and decades before that time. It was fought by abolitionists, and Supreme Court decisions for and against slavery, in acts of Congress and in the movements of borders. The point is, great things always happen through perseverance, one step at a time, and not necessarily all at once.
Need another example of the power of perseverance, though it be from the left side of the aisle? William Jennings Bryan, Democratic presidential nominee, ran 2 or 3 times I think, unsuccessfully, against Republicans who came to win their presidential bids against him. But his popularity, and the popularity at the time of the popular/progressive movement, eventually came to be wholly incorporated into the Democratic party despite his losses. Up until that time, the Democratic party especially had always been the party of the little guy, specifically by means of limiting the government. It’s at this time in our history however that the Democratic party, though of course still claiming to be for the little guy, changed the means by which they would fight that battle, and those means turned to using the hand of the federal government rather than limiting it. This eventually led us to the first progressive president, Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, and his next of kin, FDR (Gee, thanks Bryan!). Course, if it wasn’t for Bryan, it would have been someone else because of popular sentiment at the time. But the point is, win or lose, some battles do bear fruit down the road.
This constitutional movement matters. Do you all remember around the time that Obamacare was being debated in 2010 when someone asked Nancy Pelosi where it was in the Constitution that granted Congress the authority to enact Obamacare? Remember her response? She said, “Are you serious?” We have come a long way since then, and in just a few short years. There is a movement in response to the explosion in the growth of the federal government back to the Constitution, when it was at one time, not so long ago, completely ignored. I believe we need to continue on course in advancing the cause of the Constitution. We need to continue driving this debate and advance an Article V convention of the states so we can really start to turn this country around. What other recourse do we have with the bureaucracy so firmly entrenched as they are? If you believe in local, self-rule, we need to exert the rights that have been secured for us in the Constitution, while we still have rights, and while we still have that power.
If you agree, lobby your state legislature, not your congressman. If you are lobbying your congressman, then you didn’t read this article! And if you want to support the cause of limiting the federal government by means of exerting our constitutionally guaranteed state’s rights, and the means by which the Constitution guarantees the furtherance of those rights, visit Convention of States.