What if just two states set a time and place for delegates to discuss amendments to our Constitution?
Several states have submitted applications to congress that call for limiting the size and scope of government. Since they have publicly expressed similar concerns over the trajectory of our freedoms, why not? Why should they not convene?
Skeptics might point out the states do not have this expressed power in the Constitution. They might further say the states cannot convene unless and until congress calls all the states to convention. Well, that contradicts the retained power concept of our Constitution: that which the states and people did not grant are retained. Article I § 10 itemizes the specific powers relinquished, with a smattering of other restrictions in the body of the Constitution along with further limits to state power among subsequent amendments. Not only did the people and states not give up the power to amend their government, they cannot do so; it is a sovereign and unalienable right. It cannot be surrendered.
What about the amending article of the Constitution? Article V describes the duties of congress when either two-thirds of both houses propose amendments, or when congress receives applications from two-thirds of the states. Article V outlines one orderly process by which the sovereign people via their states may exercise their God-given right and duty to keep free government. Article V does not preclude fewer states from sharing common concerns.
Thus, nothing in the Constitution can be construed to prevent two or more states from convening for the purpose of offering amendments.
Another skeptic might ask, “what good can possibly be expected from just two states?” Who could possibly care what they came up with?
Well, our history shows that good things can begin when two states take action for the general welfare of their citizens. In March of 1785, due to the evasion of customs duties along a common Potomac River border, George Washington hosted a conference of MD and VA delegates at Mount Vernon.
The Mount Vernon Conference drew up resolutions for MD, VA and PA to consider. MD went even further. She asked for a new commercial conference and proposed the addition of DE. The antennae of some men caught the signal; with that little prodding, more states found it in their interest to attend.
Delegates met in Annapolis in September 1786. While the five attending states (NJ, NY, PA, DE, VA ) ultimately recommended nothing regarding commerce, they unanimously adopted a resolution which proposed all states in the confederation attend a convention in Philadelphia the following May. The convention’s purpose was to devise provisions to render the Articles of Confederation adequate to the exigencies of the union, and to report the results to congress for transmittal to the state legislatures for their approval.
Indeed, the problems with an inadequate union through confederation were dire. Near anarchy within and between the states pointed toward war, entangling alliances with European powers, or at best a further division into three confederacies.
There is a parallel lesson here for 21st century America. Just as James Madison feared the emergence of a demagogue, a strongman who promised relief from the effects of poor government, so too do many Americans today.1 We are fed up with the exercise of arbitrary violence against our cherished rights and traditions resulting from the concentration of power in the executive and judiciary branches. Free government, that happy condition wherein government respects our unalienable rights and makes no law without our consent, is gone, and cannot be restored until power is once again diffused across the people, states and the government of their creation.
As in early 1787, the government of the United States today is incapable of dealing with the emergency. However, despite the similarities, the difference between then and now is that we know both the problem and the solution.
All that may be needed is a spark: the decision of two states to formally meet to do their duty.
1. Madison, James. Madison Writings. New York: Literary Classics of America, 1999. Book. Pg.48