In earlier posts, we learned the legal and political sovereign over colonial America was the King-in-Parliament. After independence, both sovereignties relocated to the new state legislatures. From Part IV, the Constitution put the Declaration’s recognition of legal sovereignty in the people into practice.
Peaceful Revolution. Man is incapable of creating a perfect institution, suitable for all times. Through Article V, the decay and eventual death that typifies republics was no longer inevitable. The Constitution never pretended to perfection or to the exclusion of future improvements. On the contrary, the healing principle in Article V enables the legal sovereign to return the republic to first principles periodically and peacefully. When government is found defective, Americans need not resort to revolution. No, the legal sovereign will assemble per Article V and amend its institutions to secure national happiness.
As Pennsylvania’s James Wilson summarized, “Americans had in fact institutionalized and legitimized revolution.” The endless cycles of history could be broken. Americans could diagnose the ills of society and work out peaceful cures. Our Framers discovered a constitutional antidote wholly popular and strictly republican for the ancient diseases of republics.
Special Amending Bodies. Conceptually, the people are the fount of supreme authority, but without Article V, violent revolution would remain the method, the bloody route to establishing legal sovereignty. Article V sets out the orderly process to form a temporary amending body. This amending body, on behalf of the people, is the legal sovereign. Depending on the source of proposed amendments (congress or the states), and the ratifying method (determined by congress), the congress, state legislatures, a convention of states, and special state ratifying conventions may all be elements of the Article V amending body. Yes, the legal sovereign, the Article V amending body, is complex and awkward in its structure and operation, yet it allows the states to bypass a congress reluctant to deal with pressing national problems.1
The Framers avoided a permanent amending body. There is no perpetual Article V court to oversee every act of the political branches. Likewise, the Framers could have set up a far simpler amending body to express the will of the people or perhaps a recurring constitutional revision commission, as Pennsylvania did in 1776, and Florida does today. Having experienced wild mutability in state laws under the Articles of Confederation, the Framers’ design balanced the need for occasional amendments with stability in the supreme law.2
Summary. Over the course of the American experience, legal and political sovereignty relocated several times. Beginning with the King-in-Parliament, then to the new state legislatures, our Constitution assigned a small portion of political sovereignty to congress and left the remainder to the states. Most importantly, the Constitution denied legal sovereignty to the states and secured it through a special amending body. The United States Government was never granted legal sovereignty.
Sovereignty on the Move. Yet, where is legal sovereignty today? Consider James Wilson’s observation:
The people of the United States are now in the possession and exercise of their original rights, and while this doctrine is known and operates, we shall have a cure for every disease. For I insist, if there are errors in government, the people have the right not only to correct and amend them, but likewise totally to change and reject its form; and under the operation of that right, the citizens of the United States can never be wretched beyond retrieve, unless they are wanting in themselves.
Does the US Government, meaning the combined legislative, executive, and judicial branches, plus the administrative state, recognize Constitutional limitations, or has it assumed legal sovereignty? Just as legal sovereignty in the King-in-Parliament evolved over hundreds of years, so too has US legal sovereignty relocated from the people’s special amending bodies. Recall that the British constitution is whatever the King-in-Parliament determines it to be. Similarly, the US Government is free to amend the Constitution at-will. The US Government exercises legal sovereignty, and will continue to do so until We the People, through the Article V amending body reclaim what is ours.
Through their opposition to an Article V COS, The John Birch Society, Eagle Forum, and other groups unwittingly work to deprive the people of their legal sovereignty and subject the nation to increasing turmoil. To deny an Article V COS is to deny the foundation of the American Revolution, that supreme legal sovereignty resides with the people as expressed through temporary amending bodies. Their obsession with state nullification helps stoke wild democratic and social justice movements typified by dozens of sanctuary cities. Their plea to the election of “better” men and women is a placebo, a dangerous distraction, for elections alone cannot dislodge legal sovereignty from the US Government. That is up to us, through an Article V COS.
We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Now, it is our turn. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States. Sign our COS Petition.
- From the 85th Federalist, congress must call a convention upon receipt of applications from two-thirds of the states. This duty is ministerial, not participatory.
- See Madison’s Vices of the Political System of the United States, especially the 10th and 11th vice, and The Federalist No. 50.
Orfield, L. B. (1942). The Amending of the Federal Constitution. University of Michigan Law School Scholarship Repository, 130-155.
Stone, J. B. (2011). Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.
Wood, G. S. (1969). The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.