Article V Convention of States: Backstop against runaway statism

A few years ago, former South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint said: “The United States is a terminal patient on an unsustainable course. Calling an Article V Convention of States would be too risky not to attempt.”

He is more right today than even then.

The left has always been opposed to a Convention of States (COS), provided for in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, but over the last several years, as the COS movement has grown in popularity, conservatives too have come out against it.

Both sides of the aisle are trying to convince Americans that a COS would end up in a free-for-all rewriting of our founding document.

I wholeheartedly disagree.

The fact is that the left and right of the deep state live in the gray areas of the Constitution – areas that they claim are left to interpretation. And, as is always the case, that interpretation ends in increased central authority and decreased freedom of the states and the individual.

Unlike what big government statists constantly propose, the purpose of a COS is not to rewrite the Constitution, but to restore the document to its original intent, i.e. a check on federal authoritarianism.

There is risk in all things in life, but the potential benefit of an Article V Convention of States far outweighs the miniscule risk, as it takes two thirds of states, 34 of 50, just to convene a Convention, and a full three quarters (38 of 50) of all states to amend the Constitution.

And lest you think that a state’s delegates could “go off the reservation” once the convention convenes, each state legislature has the authority to recall such “rogue” delegates.

Of the ratification, George Washington said that it was “little short of a miracle” that the delegates had agreed on a new Constitution – and that was only 13 states.

The founders knew that as the size of the United States expanded, encompassing more and varied opinions, it would only be more difficult, not less, for a majority to form amongst the states.

And that was their point. They wanted the amending of the Constitution to be a slow, deliberate and arduous process, so that reason would prevail over the passions of the day.

The original draft of Article V provided for two methods of change to the Constitution. The national legislature (Congress) could propose amendments, and Congress could call for a Convention of States for the purpose of proposing amendments.

George Mason of Virginia, one of my favorite founders and, in my opinion, the staunchest champion of states’ rights, was responsible for the change in Article V.

It was he who pointed out at the ratification convention in September 1787, that the Constitution’s two methods of amendment, as was currently crafted in Article V, were both left in the hands of the national government – “both the modes to depend, in the first immediately, in the second, ultimately, on Congress.” (Madison’s notes, Sept. 15, 1787.)

We know this to be the case because of the detailed notes taken by James Madison (not made public until 1840). Madison wrote:

“Col: MASON thought the plan of amending the Constitution exceptionable & dangerous. As the proposing of amendments is in both the modes to depend, in the first immediately, in the second, ultimately, on Congress, no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the Government should become oppressive, as he verily believed would be the case.”

Truer and more prescient words have never been spoken.

In other words, Mason was smart enough to realize that eventually politicians in the national government will abuse the power given to them, and the states and the people would be powerless to stop them. He knew, as should we all, that only saintly men like George Washington would choose to limit his own authority. Congress will never seek to amend the Constitution for the express purpose of limiting itself, nor the Executive or Judicial branches. It must be up to the states and the people to do so.

When the time came, the vote to insert Mason’s version of Article V was unanimous amongst all states. No one disagreed with its insertion.

Alexander Hamilton advocated for Article V in Federalist 85, writing that, “We may safely rely on the disposition of the State legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.”

All these founders, these geniuses, agreed that the safest bet, and the only bet, to halt and reverse the “encroachments of the national authority,” was a Conventions of States, set forth by the states themselves.

Virtually all Americans who call themselves conservative agree that the founders were perhaps the single-most intelligent body to be assembled in one place at one time. They had wisdom and foresight far beyond what we find today. These men had the intuition to know what would lie ahead. And their solution was the insertion of a safety – a backstop against national authoritarianism.

So we constitutional conservatives are expected to trust the founders’ wisdom in all things – except for Article V? Anyone who believes this is neither conservative, nor a constitutionalist.

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