Near the core of John Birch Society opposition to an Article V Convention of the States is mistrust of the American people. Dig further and one cannot avoid the conclusion that JBS opposes the essence of republicanism, the right of all peoples to determine the structure and boundaries of their government. While JBS has no apparent problem with the exercise of the people’s electoral capacity at polling places every two years, they curiously stand athwart the exercise of the people’s sovereign capacity via their states to frame their government.1
This isn’t to say JBS doesn’t support amending the Constitution – as long as congress proposes the amendments. Shall our nation actually believe congress will purposely divest itself of a corrupt racket in power and money that serves its members so well?
JBS opposition to republicanism extends all the way back to the events which led to the federal convention of 1787, as if the newly free independent republics did not have the right and duty to secure the blessings of liberty on their own, and needed permission from the Continental Congress. JBS might support amendments to our governing structure as long as the people and states get permission from institutions that oppose reform. Another sinister conspiracy theory from JBS is that all thirteen state ratification convention “rules were rewritten in order to ensure passage.” Who knew the plot to deprive Americans of their liberty began in 1787?
Let’s look at the right to self-government a little more closely. The American Revolution was illegal and treasonous. Would the JBS have had the American colonists obtain King George III’s permission to revolt? JBS is apparently uncomfortable with the higher law cited by our Declaration, that of Natural Law. The right of the sovereign people to set their governing form is God-given and unalienable. While illegal and treasonous, the American Revolution was just, and perfectly consistent with Natural Law. Imagine the outcome if JBS had been around and had influence in 1775. Those crazy colonials can’t be trusted!
Through an erroneous and misleading comparison to the events of 1787, JBS would have America 2016 fear the bugaboo of a “runaway” convention in which all rights will be excised from the Constitution. I will borrow here, James Madison’s appeal to reason at the Virginia Ratification Debates of 1788: any right, power or privilege might be abused. God gave us free will. If a power is necessary, such as an Article V state amendments convention, then possible abuse of it is insufficient reason to deny the power. From JBS logic, there shouldn’t be a 1St Amendment because of possible abuse of free speech and press through slander and libel. Likewise, the right to keep and bear arms can be turned from self-defence to self-murder. I examined the shared similarities of Anti-Federalists and Article V opponents in a blog post: Men of Little Faith.
I’ve also found that Article V opponents typically equate an Article V state amendments convention with congress, an institution in which freedoms and rights are easily traded away today for money, media support, and reelection tomorrow.
This is an erroneous comparison, for congress is popularly derived and thoroughly corrupted from its designed purposes. An Article V convention will be new, fresh, uncorrupted and federal, just like the only other remaining federal institution from 1787, the familiar Electoral College (EC).
Like an Article V amendments convention, the EC is extra-congressional and completely controlled by the states. Not only congress, but the executive and judiciary have no more authority to regulate or participate in the deliberations or parliamentary rules of an Article V Convention than they do to control the EC. Both of these federal institutions derive their independence from discrete sources in the Constitution itself. Like the EC, and unlike congress, an Article V convention is temporary, and neither can be made subservient to any branch of the government. This renders the Article V convention distinct from, and superior to, the three existing branches.
I ask JBS, if the states are so wild and politically insane such that everyone should fear the outcome of a convention, why haven’t we had a “runaway” session of the EC? States do not have to cast their votes for the nominee of any political party. The EC confab is a one-day event outside the control of congress or scotus. Why hasn’t the EC proved to be dangerous?
No state delegation to the EC ran away because the duties of presidential electors are defined by state statute. In identical fashion, the states will define the duties and limits of their delegates to an Article V convention. Here, for instance, is the Indiana statute that will govern the commissions of her delegates to an Article V convention. The JBS implication that state legislatures will send lunatic delegates with plenary authority to take away unalienable rights is just silly.
Furthermore, there will be an additional, yet immeasurable factor at work. Within the parameters of detailed state commissions, delegates will be entrusted to use their judgement. These men and women know that history will examine and critique their work. Will the states actually send rogues and miscreants? It is possible, yet what is far more likely is that the delegates entrusted with crafting amendments to save the republic will rise to the occasion. Fame will be their quest. Like the delegates to the federal convention of 1787, they will seek the gratitude of history.
As remnants of a more perfect union, the EC and Article V amendments convention echo the importance of liberty preserving federal institutions ahead of fuzzy populism and democracy. No people, no civil society ever met to frame their ruling institutions in order to sell themselves into slavery. While the American tradition and society are certainly under duress, resistance is in the air.2 It is time to take advantage of the building wave of opposition to centralized government.
The JBS stance is a curious mixture of respect and mistrust of the American people. We are trusted in the polling place every two years to elect people who are certain to operate outside the limits of our Constitution, yet we are to be denied the establishment of the only institution that may actually reverse the horrid corruption of our once free republic?
Here is another knee-slapper: “JBS asserts that if the Constitution were being followed as intended, there would be no need for such amendments as term limits, balanced budget, etc.” Well, duh. So, all we need to do is send the right people to government and the Constitution will be obeyed? If that is so, the JBS assertion implies a nation of men and not laws, of governments which rely on the personal appeal of rulers. Just find the right people to run government. Gee, if the Russian people had merely found the right people to enforce their rights ensconced in the Soviet Constitution, they could have avoided gulags? No. The Soviet system lacked adequate institutions to secure rights. Reliance on the virtue of governors never worked anywhere not because the right people weren’t found; it never worked because the necessary all-wise, altruistic and noble rulers of socialist and JBS imaginations simply don’t exist. Dependence on the virtue of governors alone is an open invitation to despotic rule.
Look up James Madison from The Federalist #51, “If men were angels . . . “ Men are not and have never been angels. To secure free government, its powers must be adequately divided and spread across institutions with sufficiently different interests to deny the accumulation of all power in the hands of the one, the few or the many. To this end, the 17th Amendment must go. As long as the senate is popularly derived, as long as the all-important vertical division of power structure of our pre-1913 Constitution remains struck, we can forget any possibility of freedom’s restoration.
Voting every two years is not the ultimate expression of self-government, and has been shown to be inadequate to keep free government. In the very first Federalist, Alexander Hamilton asked if American “society can establish a good government by careful thought and choice, or whether people are forever destined to be governed by accident and force.”
Psst. JBS, which will it be?
The exercise of the people’s sovereign capacity through a state-sponsored Article V amendment convention is our only possible hope to re-establish good government and stop rule by accident and force.
But please, don’t simply accept what you read on the internet. If you haven’t, get off the internet now and then and read a book. I highly recommend anything written by historians Lance Banning, Forrest McDonald, Bernard Bailyn, and Gordon S. Wood. While you are at it, take the time to read James Madison’s Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, and The Federalist. To understand our fundamental societal right to live under a government of our design, Peter Laslett edited a fine text of John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.
Reject the JBS misread of history and immerse yourself in the American tradition.
We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder of the American Republic. Join Convention of States. Sign our COS Petition.
1. See Electoral v. Sovereign Capacity Introduction
2. Postscript 2018. Little did I know the pervasive disgust with Obamunism in May 2016 would propel the outsider Donald J. Trump to the White House only six months later.