In 1776, Great Britain’s American colonists revolted in response to George III’s corruption of the British constitution. The twenty-seven indictments of him in our Declaration detailed his assaults. Americans didn’t have an Article V or its equivalent to peacefully secure the rights enjoyed by Englishmen in England. Similarly, 21st century America is witness to a dying Constitution in which its open corruption is the subject of endless opinion columns and appeals.
Article V opponents curiously admonish Article V supporters to “enforce the Constitution we have.” Through the election of better Representatives, Senators, and Presidents, they say, is the road to Constitutional restoration. This steadfast belief is, without doubt, the everyday illustration of insanity. It is also identical to the pleas of socialists, those who believe that despite the lessons of failed tyrannies around the world, their systems would have worked had better Marxists been in charge.
Since Article V opponents long for the return of what they imagine as the virtuous era of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, let’s revisit their wisdom.
First, consider how quickly our Framing generation adjusted! Before 1774, Americans worked to patch up their quarrels and remain loyal British subjects. In 1776, in the midst of war, the states began writing republican constitutions. By 1787 it was evident that self-government was a tricky business and that overly democratic government could be as dangerous to liberty as any king. However, the American republics possessed what former Massachusetts royal governor Thomas Pownall called “a healing principle” built into their constitutions.1
Each contained “within itself,” according to Samuel Williams, “the means of its own improvements, the idea of incorporating, in the constitution itself, a plan of reformation,” enabling the people to periodically and peacefully return to first principles. This was, as Machiavelli had urged, a totally new contribution to politics. The early state constitutions had many defects, but in one thing they were all perfect. They left the people with the power of altering and amending their constitutions whenever they pleased.
While some thought that rowdy Americans could only find harmony and stability under another king, others hoped a unique American republic could peacefully quell the disturbances and bring about liberty and prosperity. As opposed to Article V opponents, our Framers discarded their previously held belief in the necessity of private virtue. It never existed as the driving force in any government. What rules any institution is what the Framers called “interest.” The term remains with us today in the form of “special interests” which exert enormous influence throughout government. The Framers’ Constitution accounted for this inevitability.
Our Framers answer was not to impose or insist on a holy, stoic electorate. They recognized man’s imperfections and rolled with them. The American republic reflects the realities of human nature. A cursory glance at Articles I – III proves their wisdom as they not only chopped up their government on the basis of government’s natural functions, they designed distinct sets of electors to each institution. Not only the Constitution’s famous separation of powers, but separation of electors made the various checks between its institutions a reality. In Federalist No. 60, Alexander Hamilton wrote that since the House is elected by the people, the Senate by the state legislatures, and Presidential electors are chosen by the people, “there would be little probability of a common interest to cement these different branches in a predilection for any particular class of electors.” The Constitution instilled the freedom of democracy without its anarchy.
Listed below are the fundamental corruptions of our Constitution that no election can correct. Subsequent corruptions, such as the Administrative and Deep States are their offspring.
• An impossibly un-representative House of Representatives. At nearly 750,000 constituents per representative, the House is a dim shadow of its original design. Coupled with a 95%+ reelection rate, it is what the Anti-Federalists feared. It is an aristocratic body that only occasionally reflects the will of the people.
• A popular and un-deliberative Senate. Thanks to the 17th Amendment, the modern Senate is so congruent with the House, that the wild rants from Chuck Schumer are indistinguishable from those of Nancy Pelosi.
• An electoral college whose practical choices are one of two leaders of outright political parties, whose first loyalty is to their party and not the Constitution.
• A social justice oriented and 10th Amendment-hostile Supreme Court made all but certain by the 17th Amendment.
This, the Constitution we have, is the one Article V opponents defend to the end of your liberty.
Our experience shows what our Framers learned from their study of past republics: corruption of governing forms is inevitable and the corruption doesn’t well up from the people; it slowly flows downward from those in power. Yes, even the 17th Amendment, which was Constitutionally ratified, is the product of late 19th and early 20th century Progressive elites, who then, as today, encourage ever-more democracy. Their latest target is the electoral college which they intend to replace with direct elections.
America would remain free not because of any spartan, self-sacrificing quality in its citizens to a nebulous public good, but because of the concern each individual has in his own interest and personal freedom. James Madison determined the great danger to liberty in the extended republic of America was if future citizens regarded themselves as politically insignificant, because citizens without pride in themselves and country will eventually be ruled.2
Liberty is a goner if the American people sit back, do not defend their interests, and simply accept the corrupted Constitution they have.3 An attentive community, for better or worse, must make their institutions. Even if an Article V Convention of the States somehow abandons first principles in liberty, then at least we’ll know we did it to ourselves and can then go back and correct errors. Societal rule by Scotus and the Administrative/Deep States could finally come to an end.
Thanks to Article V, the decay and eventual death of the republican body politic seemed less inevitable. James Wilson lectured “that man is fatally incapable of forming any system which shall endure without degeneration.” Americans elevated the science of politics to an equal footing with the other sciences, by opening it to improvements from experience, and the discoveries of future ages. Before the first state constitutions and subsequent Article V, governments hadn’t been able to peacefully adjust. It’s impossible to form any human institution that can accommodate itself to every situation in progress. Previous peoples had been compelled to suffer with the same forms of government – unplanned and unsuitable in the first place.
Americans demonstrated to the world how a people could fundamentally and yet amiably alter their forms of government. “This revolution principle – that, the sovereign power residing in the people, they may change their constitution and government whenever they please – is,” said James Wilson, “not a principle of discord, rancour, or war; it is a principle of melioration, contentment, and peace.” Through the Healing Principle in Article V, Americans had in fact constitutionalized and legitimized peaceful revolution.
General Reference: Wood, G. S. (1969). The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 612-13.
1. Thomas Pownall.
2. “Public Opinion,” National Gazette, December 19th 1791.
3. Federalist No. 57. Liberty is endangered when the people tolerate laws that do not apply to the law-makers.
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