And history shows, too, that the mere threat of a convention can have, hammer-like, a salutary effect on balky legislators in Washington. To understand the potential value of an Article V convention, it is essential to grasp how this seeming curiosity made its way into the original Constitution.
What were the Founders thinking? The credit—or blame—attaches to George Mason. The framers of the Constitution began meeting in Philadelphia on May 25, , and their work was very nearly done when Mason, almost four months later, on September 15, rose to address his fellow delegates. At this point, in the draft contemplated by delegates, only Congress had the power to propose amendments to the Constitution, for ratification by the states. Not good enough, Mason felt. Even amongst a crew with a keen appreciation of the possible ways in which a government could attain an overweening power over the citizenry, Mason stood out in this assemblage.
Mason, as his fellow Virginian James Madison called him, arrived in Philadelphia at the age of sixty-one, fifth oldest of the delegates though a good deal younger than Benjamin Franklin, at eighty-one, the senior statesman of the lot. In Philadelphia, he fought for the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the draft Constitution, offering, on September 12, to write the bill himself.
But the delegates, eager to complete their work and fearful of a poison pill, spurned his offer. Three days later, when an unbowed Mason again rose to speak, Madison was on hand to take notes. Mason insisted that the states must have the power to call for conventions for the purpose of proposing amendments, because Congress, if left as the sole generating authority, would never propose amendments counter to its interests. The delegates accepted his proposal. He must have been pleased—but not pleased enough to accept the new Constitution which, still lacking a Bill of Rights, he refused to sign, as one of only three holdouts, two days afterwards.
In principle, a constitution need not contain any procedure at all for amendment—this foundation document might have been presented as etched in stone. His argument was of a utilitarian sort, the stress not on the peril of domineering government, as envisioned by Mason, but on the positive value of trial-and-error lessons that might be gained from actual democratic practice:. That useful alterations will be suggested by experience, could not but be foreseen.
References and Further Reading Bailyn, Bernard. If the members were to be unequal in power the principle of opposition to the Unity was given up. The members of each house shall not be eligible to or capable of holding any office under the Union during the time for which they have been respectively elected nor the members of the Senate for one year after. The decision generated controversy at the time, and continues to do so to the present day. One source of stability is the double branch of the Legislature.
It was requisite therefore that a mode for introducing them should be provided. The mode preferred by the Convention seems to be stamped with every mark of propriety.
It guards equally against that extreme facility which would render the Constitution too mutable; and that extreme difficulty which might perpetuate its discovered faults. The Constitution contains twenty-seven amendments, and the rite of passage has always been the same: Congress proposes and the states ratify amendments, and in this manner, slavery has been outlawed, women have been given the right to vote, and term limits have been imposed on presidents who have no role in the amendments process. But that position, advanced today by opponents of a convention of the states, contains a glaring flaw in failing to recognize how the threat of a convention can on its own spur productive congressional action.
The passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, providing for direct, popular election of U. At first glance, the path to the Seventeenth Amendment might seem unexceptional. It was approved by Congress in May and ratified by the states less than a year later, in April The federal power acceded to the states—and to the clear will of the people—only because it was left with no other choice. On these considerations, the logic for the selection of senators by state legislatures was impeccable, but in practice, the method was exposed as defective in three respects, as noted by constitutional scholar Robert G.
Natelson at the Independence Institute in Denver.
First, state legislatures frequently deadlocked on their top choices for the position and could find compromise only by sending a relative mediocrity to Washington. Second, the competition for these prizes was so intense that the task of selecting a senator could overwhelm all the other, more mundane but nonetheless essential, responsibilities of the legislatures. Third, and most importantly, the arrangement became a prime nexus of corruption in the Gilded Age following the Civil War, a period of pell-mell industrialization that placed intense, often untoward, pressures on every level of government.
Friday, March 1, Mr. Powell is editor of Laissez-Faire Books and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, William Pierce, a Georgia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, . he conceived the dubious doctrine of implied power: if a government. Bilder's book taints his constitutional observations and history as raw The convention, in delineating the boundary between the federal and state In Federalist 82, Publius observes that “The erection of a new government, whatever care of competing policies to our conception of ourselves as a people .
The problem was one of capture. State legislators became prey for unscrupulous, backroom politicos with various means, including outright bribery, to dictate the choice of a senator. The politicos served as the agents of the true powers of the era, the barons of industry, determined to have a compliant government of their liking. In the popular mind, and with good reason, the U.
Senate of the Gilded Age was viewed as an emblem of a rigged political system. To the rear are the strutting rulers of the body, depicted as bloated moneybags in top hats, this pernicious gaggle assigned sobriquets like Steel Beam Trust, Nail Trust, Copper Trust, Sugar Trust, and Salt Trust. Amending Article I, Section 3 to provide for election of senators by the people, the same as for Representatives, became a cause of the populist Granger movement, made up of collectives of farmers, opposed to the rapacious practices of the railroads and other trusts.
Congress in This was a plea, not for a convention of the states, but for passage by Congress of an amendment for direct election of senators, subject to ratification by the states. In Washington, the House paid heed, at several times in the s passing resolutions providing for just such an amendment. How could its members be expected to amend themselves out of a job?
Why would their patrons, the trusts, support this reform? The states countered by petitioning Congress for a convention under Article V to fix the matter. Together with the broader amendments process, as embraced by James Madison and Joseph Story, it was a way for a republic to adjust for error.
One hundred and five years after its ratification, the Seventeenth Amendment also stands nearly forgotten. No one alive has personal memory of the time when state legislatures chose senators. There is no holiday to thank Louisiana, or Utah, or any other state, for making the Senate, if something far short of deliberative perfection, at least better than it once was. Because the Constitution created a federal government he felt might be too powerful, and because it did not end the slave trade and did not contain a bill of rights, he withheld his support from the document he had played so large a role in crafting.
In , Mason, then 51, had been appointed to a committee charged with drafting a "Declaration of Rights" for Virginia. From the writings of English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke , Mason had come to a then-radical insight: that a republic had to begin with the formal, legally binding commitment that individuals had inalienable rights that were superior to any government. One other committee member did play a significant role: Mason's young friend James Madison, who kept his and Mason's friend Thomas Jefferson apprised of Mason's progress in drafting the declaration.
Mason's work began, "That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights Declaration of Independence included the immortal words of what may be the most famous political statement in history: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. In , toward the end of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Mason proposed that a bill of rights preface the Constitution, but his proposal was defeated.
When he refused to sign the new Constitution, his decision baffled some and alienated others, including his old friend, George Washington. Mason's stand nonetheless had its effect. Subscribe or Give a Gift.
Sign up. SmartNews History. History Archaeology. World History. Science Age of Humans. Future of Space Exploration. Human Behavior. Our Planet. Even though polls showed that roughly ninety per cent of the public supported the idea, the legislation died in the Senate. The less populated, more rural states are the ones most fiercely opposed to gun control. A similarly large percentage of the public supports comprehensive immigration reform.
That bill passed in the Senate but appears doomed in the House.
Obama even failed to persuade Congress to fulfill its basic obligation to pay the bills and keep the government open. The shutdown, which lasted sixteen days, ended in a ceasefire, but the threat of closure and default will return early next year.
Levinson and his allies believe that the Constitution mandated a kind of institutional paralysis that allowed Obama to do too little. Another leading revisionist, arguably more influential than Levinson or any other law professor, draws the opposite conclusion: the Constitution allowed Obama to get away with too much.
Bald, bearded, and professorial at fifty-six, Mark Levin seems an unlikely media star. His show is in the top five nationally drawing more than seven million weekly listeners , and his books sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Read classic New Yorker stories, curated by our archivists and editors. But Levin combines originalism with a kind of apocalyptic fatalism, a belief that the nation has gone so drastically off course that the damage may be irredeemable.
When Republicans took control of the House in , their first act was to stage a public reading of the Constitution except the parts about slavery. Tea Party Republicans speak obsessively about how contemporary politicians, especially President Obama, violate the strictures of the Constitution. Levin assails the Affordable Care Act as the epitome of all that is wrong with modern American government.
For him and the Tea Party as a whole, the meaning of the Constitution can be understood by any ordinary citizen, not just a small priesthood of lawyers and judges. Levin has proposed a series of Liberty Amendments, most of which reflect well-known aspects of the Tea Party agenda. He wants to set term limits on members of Congress, limit federal spending and taxes, and allow three-fifths of the states to overrule any federal legislation.
He also wants to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment and return the election of senators to state legislators, rather than to voters. The framers did not want the popular vote to control everything. I do not understand a mind-set with some of these professors who, on the one hand, seem to argue for the greatest expansion of democracy possible and, on the other, rely on the smallest majority possible—five Justices on the Supreme Court. Do you trust the plebiscite mentality or the judicial-supremacy mentality?