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The Case for an Article V Convention

June 4, 2019

When one reviews the culture of the American colonies in the late 18th century and compares it to the United States today, it is surprising that the Constitution that was ratified in 1788 is still largely intact and our republic has survived.

declaration of independence

Consider the changes in the size of the population (6 million to 320 million), the geography (340,000 square miles to 3.8 million), the economy (average income of $2 a day to $100, adjusted), transportation technology (horse-drawn carriages to public travel by auto, train and air – even by rocket to the moon!), communication technology (newspapers and hand-written letters to instant digital imaging and messaging), medical science (high infant mortality and short life expectancy to safe birthing and a doubling of lifespans) . . . and on and on.

While these changes have generally been beneficial, they have created some stresses in the republic that we have not resolved.  Perhaps the most significant of these is the growth of the economy, which has created pockets of wealth that are now used by special interests to influence elections, legislation, and government policy; it has overwhelmed our democratic processes, causing congressmen to spend more than 50% of their time in fund raising to the detriment of their primary responsibility for policy study and debate.  The changes have occurred over many years and their impact on government has gone either unnoticed or ignored.

In 1788 no one could possibly have anticipated the magnitude and speed of these changes, yet the founders who wrote the Constitution had the foresight to protect the republic from change by distributing political power among competing groups (states and the three federal branches – the ”Balance of Power”) and by anticipating possible breakdowns in the systems if a governmental unit failed to act in a responsible manner (with ultimate repair through constitutional amendment, which we have done 27 times).  We reaped the benefits of their foresight for 200 years, but the cumulative failures of elements of government have now produced an unsustainable situation that requires our attention. 

When we look critically at the performance of our elected federal officials, we see that their failures have compounded the problems created by our social changes: they violated their sacred trust to put the nation’s interests above their own, mismanaged the finances of the nation, misled the people as to the truth of our national condition, imposed obligations on the states without their consent and created unaccountable agencies which undermine the rule of law.  We see that a noble pursuit of our country’s best interests has been replaced by a pursuit of political power that has disrupted the Balance of Power and, unless checked, will eventually end in tyranny, as history teaches us.   

The Skeptics

The philosophers and pundits of the 18th century may have been right in their prediction that democracy is doomed to failure because of its inherent bias that leads the public to spend more than it produces.  Acting individually, the citizenry will generally live within its means, but when acting collectively in a democracy personal accountability disappears and groups scramble to obtain ever-larger shares of the public treasury.  This seemingly intractable behavior results in fiscal deficits that can end in national insolvency.  Couple this tendency with the human impulse to wield power over their fellow man and you have a formula for failure.  These forces have caused us to drift, unintentionally, into a cul-de-sac of a dysfunctional government that wastes its resources on power-seeking, creeping corruption and an unwillingness to engage in rational political discourse.  We have arrived at a dead end, and the republic is dying a slow but certain death.

A Solution

But the foresight of the founders left us a path for the states to address these crushing problems with corrective reforms.  Article V of the Constitution anticipated the inability or unwillingness of Congress to initiate needed reforms, and enabled the states to take the lead on reform by calling a convention of states to recommend amendments to the Constitution.

Some academics have outlined a complicated path to such a convention, but we have a strong conviction that the founders would not have intended to leave us a difficult path to reforms.  In their wisdom, they set a high bar for ratification of constitutional amendments by the states and a simple, straight-forward declaration of how to get there.  The language of Article V (provided below) could hardly be more clear on this process. 

The Opposition

Private groups (and there are many) that have been promoting reforms using Article V have met opposition from groups that fear reforms will diminish their power or that a convention will do more harm than good (collectively, the “Opposition”).  This Opposition has been creating confusion among legislators and the public by speaking out against these reform efforts; they exhibit little understanding of the amendment process and seek to instill fear of unbridled forces commandeering it.  But there is nothing in our history that lends credence to those threats and we strongly disagree with them, pointing out these two salient facts:

  1. The founders set a high bar for ratification of proposed amendments to the Constitution, requiring that three-quarters of the states (38) must ratify an amendment for it to become law; this high bar is ample protection from any rogue attempts to subvert our lawful processes.
     
  2. The arguments of the Opposition are actually rooted in a skepticism that mankind is capable of operating a democracy; whether consciously or not, they are making the case that the People are incapable of operating a successful democracy. And, having said this, they offer us no solution, ignoring our perilous condition.  We feel this behavior is unconscionable.

Our Resolve

At Act 2. we intend to do everything in our power to prove the Opposition wrong by organizing a convention of states that delivers meaningful, constructive reforms for approval by the states.  We will unequivocally prove that the American people are capable of operating a successful democracy, preserving our individual freedoms.  We will reestablish our role as the beacon of hope for people around the world.

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The Constitution, Article V

"The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate."

Author
Frank Keeney is Founder and Chairman of Act 2 Movement and a Policy Advisor for Constitutional Reform at The Heartland Institute.
act2reform@gmail.com
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