There is an old adage “be careful what you wish for, you might get it.” This is illustrative of human intellectual limitations, of our inability to see the consequences of our actions. Often what we wish turns out to be more curse than blessing and we are sorry for having ever sought it out. This is especially true in politics, and rarely do our best-laid plans work out as we envision.
In 1787 a convention was called to amend the constitution of the United States. Amend is the operative word; the Articles of Confederation of Perpetual Union Between the States http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/rbpebib:@field
(NUMBER+@band(rbpe+17802600 were not working out, although they offered adequate safeguards to the sovereignty of the individual states. The confederacy that the Articles had created afforded a central government that was too weak to act effectively as a national government, and the purpose of the convention was to fix some of the more problematic aspects of the Articles. This did not occur; once the convention got underway the delegates created a whole new document that formed a radically new central government.
It was a runaway convention; the old government was swept aside.
There were many great men at the time who opposed the new Constitution. James Winthrop, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Richard Henry Lee, Melancton Smith, and a host of others resisted the tremendous expansion of power of the central government . Their arguments against this new government were compiled in a series now called the Anti-Federalist Papers.. http://www.constitution.org/afp/afp.htm
But these opponents of expanded government did not prevail, and the U.S. Constitution was adopted as the law of the land. And, in one of those extremely rare instances in history where everything worked out better than was hoped, the Constitution created the freest, most prosperous, most successful nation in history. But it easily could have gone the other way.
Sadly, America’s political class immediately began subverting the very document they had created.
But the point here is that a “convention for proposing amendments” to the Constitution” could well get out of hand - as it did in 1787. And, furthermore, we often do not see the long range impact of amendments, which may come back to bite us - if we obey them at all.
(For the record, I actually support calling a convention because America is no longer able to solve her problems through the political process and I fear we are at the point where a measure of last resort is necessary. The purpose of this essay is to point out the pitfalls and dangers of an Article V convention. I fear too few conservatives understand what a dangerous thing this will be.)
There is another historical example of the failure of such a convention. On March 19 1861 the Missouri Secession Convention unanimously rejected a proposal to leave the Union. The governor of Missouri at that time (Claiborne Jackson) was staunchly pro-secession as was the Missouri state legislature. A convention was called to address the issue. The secessionists were slow in moving, however, and the loyalists packed the body of delegates. After their unanimous decision the legislature and governor declared the convention null and void and voted for secession. They couldn’t do that; the convention was the law of the land. This plunged Missouri into a state of true civil war, with forces inside of the state fighting for control. And it had huge repercussions for the nation; Missouri was the most populous slave state, and the most industrialized. Furthermore, the other border states were watching what happened in Missouri to make their decisions. Had Missouri joined the Confederacy the war may have had a very different outcome. As it was the Confederates never made a major push in Missouri and Lincoln’s point man Nathaniel Fox was able to hold the state.
A Constitutional convention is fraught with this sort of peril. The Left is better at organizing than Conservatives, and they are extremely good at worming their way into positions of power. What would we do if they hijack the Convention? Remember, Amendments supersede the original text; the Left could put a series of “positive rights” (such as those Barack Obama promoted for the Kenyan Constitution) http://kenya.rcbowen.com/constitution/chap5.html
into the text and they would become law.
And it may not just be liberals who promote things we do not want; what is to stop the proponents of amnesty for illegal invaders from enshrining such a notion into \our Constitution? We know that many in the Republican Party support amnesty, and there will be a huge lobbying effort at any convention. The state legislatures and governors may well appoint pro-amnesty people as delegates. Once there they can do as they please.
In point of fact such a convention could well do the exact opposite of what it is intended to do, strengthening Washington rather than limiting it.
This is a measure of last resort. That is not to say we shouldn’t do it, but we must go into this with our eyes open. We could easily be outmaneuvered and find ourselves in worse shape .
And we are not the men the Founders were, nor the men of the Civil War era. America is infested with moral relativism, with pragmatism over eternal truths, with carnal motivations. While Americans still claim to be Christians in large numbers, far too many see their faith as a purely internal thing, a purely personal matter. Moral relativism makes it increasingly difficult to promote absolutes - like the absolute nature of our Constitution and our laws. We no longer believe in natural law. As such the argument will inevitably turn to “who are we to judge” when we try to amend the Constitution in this fashion. There will be a large part of the electorate that will oppose reform on that basis. There will be much talk about a war on women and a war on the poor. Do not forget that the media will work tirelessly against anything we propose, forcing us to compromise until our efforts come to naught - or worse.
One last historical example; the Republicans dared the Democrats to propose an amendment to the Constitution that would authorize a federal income tax. They did it.
Granted, none of the examples I cited are identical to what we will do with an Article V convention, but I think we can at least learn caution from them. If we call such a convention we may be quite pleased with the results - but it may be the worst thing we could do. It is a measure of last resort.
Be careful what you wish for.
Timothy Birdnow is a St. Louis based writer. Read more from Tim and friends at The Aviary. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org