The John Birch Society (JBS) can thank itself for this post. A few days ago, the JBS unintentionally put a smile on my face when I attempted to comment on a column at their website. See the saved screenshot below.
In response to a piece at The New American (TNA), Wyoming and Arkansas Reject Call for Convention of States Con-Con, I was prevented from posting to the comment section. It never went to moderation. I wondered, how many other COS supporters are banned as well? Hmmm, maybe Mark Meckler, Michael Farris, and Robert Natelson? Hey, I can dream, and if they are persona-non-grata, I am in very good company. Thanks, JBS!
Background. Once again, the JBS distorts history. Its poor research and repetition of historical misreads are designed to prevent the return of free government to America. Like Publius Huldah, the JBS fantasizes that nefarious forces and global elites are the secret helmsmen of the Convention of States (COS) movement. Check out the TNA 2014 column that asserts certain far-left groups support an Article V state amendments convention. I visited a couple of their websites and found no evidence of backing Article V. On the other hand, since over the last hundred years we’ve witnessed the unimpeded ascendency of destructive social justice, there is every reason for progressives to oppose a convention. Read Rob Natelson’s scholarly research on the efforts of Democrats and their academic operatives to corrupt the Article V convention process and confuse the public.
Distortions & Misreads.
1. Federal Farmer. The webpage began with an appeal from Federal Farmer, aka Melancton Smith of New York. He was an active 1788 Anti-Federalist who coordinated opposition to the draft Constitution. JBS quoted a solemn passage from Federal Farmer that warned of the danger posed by wealthy and powerful men.
I suspect the JBS wasn’t aware the prolific Melancton Smith voted to ratify the Constitution.1 This doesn’t take anything away from Smith’s writings, but if JBS knew, they probably would have pulled material from some other prominent Anti-Federalist, perhaps Richard Henry Lee.
Aside from Smith, the Framers were well aware of the danger posed by wealthy demagogues, yet knew that wealth alone didn’t make a demagogue. Like various progressive historians, such as Charles Beard, the JBS casts sinister motives on the Framers. While wealth was certainly represented at the federal convention by the presence of men like Robert Morris, the financier of our Revolution, signer of the Declaration, Articles of Confederation, Constitution, and by far the wealthiest man in America, he, and they were strident federalists . . . not demagogues.
Unlike today’s Senate, which is composed of at-large statewide politicians with no duty beyond reelection, the Framers’ Senate was designed to represent both corporate state interests and the wealthy men and families of the nation. The restoration of free government demands repeal of the 17th Amendment, which can only occur through an Article V COS.
2. Letter to Turberville. Next, the JBS misrepresented a 1788 letter from James Madison to George Turberville. I addressed the JBS’s subtle deception at length in a blog post from last November. Suffice to say here, the Father of the Constitution opposed giving determined Anti-Federalists the opportunity to abort Constitutional government before it began operations in March 1789.
3. Federalist No. 46. The JBS pull quote from Federalist No. 46 does not support formal state nullification. Madison supposes the states and people will resist onerous federal law, just as individuals resist onerous or silly laws today. For instance, I resent speed limits that are set too low, and break the law on some streets when I drive at 45 mph in a 35 mph zone. In identical fashion, Madison wrote of resistance short of nullification:
The anxiety of the people, their repugnance, and, perhaps, refusal to cooperate with the officers of the Union, the frowns of the State courts, and the embarrassments created by legislative devices that often would be added on such occasions would expose, in any State, difficulties not to be ignored They would form, in a large State, very serious impediments. And where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions that the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.
Madison surmised the people and state magistrates would throw sand in the gears of oppressive federal machinery. His reference to adjacent, sentimental states implies coordinated obstruction, which he addresses below through a concept he called “interposition.”
4. Nullification. Next, I have to congratulate the JBS for its superb turn of a phrase! The tactic is called “assume the sale,” when it wrote: “Is there not in nullification — a constitutional weapon that most in the Article V camp want to confiscate from the states . . . “ The author apparently forgot to cite the relevant clause in the Constitution. I’m not aware of it. If it exists, I trust I’ll be corrected. The JBS is obsessed with nullification of unconstitutional statutes by the states. Unfortunately, actual nullification isn’t used as the JBS predicts. Instead of resisting unconstitutional laws, many sanctuary cities and perhaps states (California) are busy resisting constitutional immigration laws and considering secession.
JBS: “Is this not, then, a way to make the work of the Founders workable?“ No, nullification is the fast path to disunion. The supremacy clause exists to correct the first defect of the Articles of Confederation, the absence of coercive means to enforce congressional resolutions. Nullification would render our governing form little different from the AC, in which congress passed resolutions which the states gaffed off at their pleasure.
5. Virginia Resolution. The JBS quoted Madison from the Virginia Resolution of 1799:
In case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.
I bolded “interpose.” As opposed to what the JBS implies, interposition differs from nullification. Madison was a precise wordsmith. Interposition is a gradual intensification of Constitutional means to reverse unconstitutional laws:
- Seek congressional repeal of the offending law.
- Introduce a constitutional amendment through congress.
- Make applications to an Article V state amendments convention.
Why would Madison advise resort to Article V, if, as JBS maintains, he opposed it?
In a separate blog post here, I noted that, when taken together, a few of Mark Levin’s Liberty amendments would strike a happy median between single-state nullification and the ponderous Article V state convention process.
As I wrote:
(Levin would) empower three fifths of state legislatures to repeal national laws, regulations, and supreme court decisions; (they strike) the balance sought by Article V supporters and opponents. Being neither objectionable nor ponderous, it would empower our state legislators, on behalf of the people, to stand athwart tyranny. Knowing this, a reinvigorated people will be naturally encouraged to closely watch and participate in statewide matters and elections. In quick time, the nation will witness improvement in the quality of state legislators, and just maybe save the republic.
Conclusion. I have to wonder if JBS opposes additional clauses in our governing document beyond an Article V COS. If it opposes the Natural Law right of the sovereign people to frame their government, how can the JBS support the corollary right to elect representatives? As I wrote in a post last spring:
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.
A favorite tactic of COS opponents is to equate the general convention of 1787 with a future amendments convention. In actuality, continued JBS opposition to an amendments convention, in which discreet problems and shortcomings in our governing form are addressed, serves to eventually guarantee what everyone opposes, a general convention necessary to deal with outrages too numerous to be handled at an amendments convention.
Since the state amendments convention portion of Article V is as much a part of the Constitution as any other clause, it has always struck me as odd why Article V opponents attack the foundations of the Constitution they purport to defend.
- McLaughlin, A. C. (1905). The Confederation and the Constitution. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers. pg. 311.