We are hearing more and more about the convention of states these days. On TV, radio, internet, social media, speakers, and general conversations. What is it and where did it come from? Does it have a history? How would we use it? Is it dangerous? Will America collapse if it’s abused? Has it ever been used before?
Not only are state legislators talking about the Article V convention process, but American citizens are learning about it and discussing whether this would be the right way to begin repairing America. Everyone is concerned and searching for a way to fix the broken and corrupt culture that has metastasized in Washington DC. Everyone that is, except the DC politicians, elites, bureaucrats and special interests who are still not listening to the crying out of Americans, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents,, for reform. And since these authoritarians have wrestled in the reins of power, what do Americans, of every stripe, do?
Many good American patriots, folks who believe deeply in our constitutional republic, recognize that it is time to begin limiting our overreaching federal government. We’ve tried voting the right people in, yet it continues to get worse: Corruption, debt, and dysfunction continue to spread and grow. This is not what the founders intended or how our country worked in its first 125 years.
The answer lies with us, we the people and our state legislators. We’re the ones with all the rights. The federal government has none. So, if voting can’t fix it, what is the solution? The Constitution tells us how the states allowed the federal government to form. The Bill of Rights protect we the people from that formation. And the other amendments have revised our structure as our experiment has grown.
Actually, there is a solution and it originated three centuries ago and has been utilized continuously until the 20th century, when it declined in frequency. It was a process that was used when legislative governments couldn’t solve festering problems that were larger than life itself. The people delegated commissioners to meet to resolve a single issue and then return to the people for approval. And then the meeting body dissolved itself.
And the convention history is documented from the actual records dating back to the 1630’s and before. For the last three centuries, Americans have been practicing a tradition that was known by terms such as ‘gatherings’, ‘congress’, ‘meetings’, ‘conclaves’, or ‘conventions’. The people attending were delegates or commissioners, instructed or commissioned by their colony or state to represent them. The commission gave them their instructions and defined their limits.
These were not legislative bodies, but gatherings that one of the colonies called to ask for help in resolving a problem. Once they had discussed and voted on the solution, they dissolved themselves and went home.
Local, regional, national, and international circumstances initiated the evolution of this process. It was an evolution of self-governance among the people. They began to distance themselves from the rule of aristocracy and fixed religious dogma. The 17th and 18th centuries became known as the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason. Humanity was moving away from serfdom controlled by nobility, monarchy, and oligarchy and into the age of revolutions into liberty, industrialization, capitalism, and republicanism.
This period was a messy bowl of societal stirrings as new ideas and concepts were being introduced and evolving. Ideas such as liberty and freedom, the printing press, the translation of the Bible into English, mercantilism, a questioning of political and religious dogma, capitalism, population growth, exploration of the globe, science, legislatures and legislators, wars, skirmishes, etc. Safety and the economy were the underlying motivation that survival hinged on.
To deal with this changing environment in America, people and communities began calling for gatherings to help resolve some of these problems that broader politics could not. There was no blueprint, so people figured it out as they went along. And it turned out to be quite simple: a few rules about how to propose, debate, and finally vote on solutions.
Unlike legislatures, rules or protocols were created each time a convention met, which averaged every three and a half years during the founding era. The rules included one colony, one vote. Each colony decided on who and how many representatives they would send. Committees were formed. They were regional or national in scope. All it took was for one colony make the call. Delegates were controlled by their commissions. The conventions elected new officers each time. And they dissolved the convention at the end.
Some examples of issues that conventions met for included the 1684 New York Indian negotiations, the 1765 Stamp Act and the English paper tax, the 1787 reform of America’s political system, 1861 attempt to stop the Civil War, the 1933 termination of Prohibition and the 2017 Balanced Budget Amendment rules convention.
Although societal and technological advances are vastly different today as compared to centuries ago, the same anxieties, fears, and uncertainties still exist. Families and careers today focus on their daily struggle and lose sight and understanding of what is happening over time as the decades and then centuries pass under us unseen. It is really hard to see how different the DC culture is today compared to what it was 100 or even 200 years ago.
That is, until we review our American history in depth. And a brief summary of that history has just been published entitled, Conventions That Made America: A Brief History of Consensus Building. It is a quick and easy read to realize that we’ve used this simple process many times before and we know how it works. Why aren’t we using it today? More in a minute.
What could come out of an Article V amending convention today? A balanced budget with limits on both taxing and spending, term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court and federal judges, a way for 2/3 of the states to overrule a judicial rule or congressional law. Limits on the federal alphabet soup bureaucracy. We could reform the Senate dysfunctional 60 vote rule by returning control of the US Senate to the state legislatures by repealing the 17th Amendment. We’ve already accomplished similar tasks, why not continue the process of refining our political system by reforming our structural foundation? It is the only safe and legal system America has now.
To help achieve a quick grasp of this part of our American history and tradition, a newly published book entitled: Conventions That Made America: A Brief History of Consensus Building illustrates the history of conventions, how they worked, and how they actually made America.
Scholars and historians have recovered the recorded history and analyzed them in large tomes summarized here. This condensed story tells the timely history of our three centuries of consensus building in a little over a hundred pages. You can find a Kindle version or a print version available at www.HuntForLiberty.com