(The following is a satire on the current debate concerning the November 4 referendum on whether to convene a state constitutional convention.)
The Coalition for a Responsible National Government opposes convening a national constitutional convention on May 14, 1787.
We are the first to admit that the national government is not perfect and needs fixing. We are vulnerable to attack on our borders by three of the greatest military powers in Europe: Britain, France, and Spain. We are vulnerable to rebellion within our borders (recall the recent Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts). The states are deadbeats and won’t fulfill their tax and military obligations to the national government. We cannot even pay wages promised to the soldiers who defended us in our recent war against Britain. Not surprisingly, public trust in Congress is at an all-time low.
But we don’t need a constitutional convention to fix these problems. Congress can fix them by amending the Articles of Confederation.
Convening a convention would also be an irresponsible risk. Such a convention has never been used before in the history of humanity. And there is a good reason: it could replace our democracy with a monarchy or oligarchy. Indeed, we know of at least one expected delegate who plans to propose such a plan.
A convention wouldn’t function any better than Congress. It would be dominated by special interests: wealthy, white landowners and slaveholders who are unrepresentative of the general populace. Indeed, they are the same special interest groups who currently dominate Congress.
A convention would also likely take away our rights, which are better protected in our state constitutions such as the Virginia Declaration of Rights. It won’t protect the rights of blacks or women or Indians or the non-propertied class, who won’t even have the right to vote on ratifying the proposed constitution. A national bill of rights passed by such a convention would only serve to protect special interests while trampling on the rights of minorities.
Surely, the money required to pay delegates for weeks of travel to and from the convention, plus convening for more than 100 days in Philadelphia–the largest and most expensive city in America–could be better spent providing basic public services.
Proponents of a convention argue that its proposals will have to be ratified by the sovereign states so a bad constitution that harms the people’s rights wouldn’t be approved. But they are wrong. Wealthy, out-of-state interests would conduct information campaigns to fool the people into voting against their own interests. For example, we hear rumors of a months-long PR campaign called the “Federalist Papers.” The Federalist Papers will be written and paid for by wealthy, white slaveholders (James Madison is purported to be the ringleader of this group) and distributed anonymously to newspapers throughout the 13 states. The plan is to use mass media to argue in favor of ratifying the proposed constitution, which would create a strong national government in the short term and then inevitably devolve into monarchy–all the while depriving us of our sacred political rights, including free speech, free assembly, and trial by jury.
If, against our recommendation, we do have a national constitutional convention, the state legislatures, not special state constitutional conventions, should ratify its proposals. Advocates of a national convention argue that state ratifying conventions are necessary because the state legislatures would never approve the needed constitutional changes, which would be perceived as strengthening the national government at their expense.
But they are wrong. Convening thirteen state constitutional conventions is an unneeded and outrageously wasteful expense. The money could be better spent providing valued services to our citizens and paying off the state debts overdue Congress. Moreover, delegates to the state ratifying conventions will be elected the same way that delegates to the state legislatures are elected. If the state legislatures are corrupt, the state constitutional conventions will be equally corrupt.
The British system of government, established by its Glorious Revolution of 1688, has led to the creation of the most powerful and liberal democratic country in the history of the world. In that system, Parliament, not the king or people, is sovereign. All constitutional change must come from and be approved by Parliament. Unlike the American system, the people are not entrusted with the ratification of fundamental law, for the illiterate and easily manipulated masses are recognized to be incompetent to do so. That is why Britain doesn’t have a written constitution; it is simply unnecessary.
If legislative sovereignty has worked well for Britain, it should work well for us. If Congress and the country ain’t broke, don’t fix them.
For all these reasons, we urge you to oppose convening both a national constitutional convention and state constitutional conventions to propose and ratify reforms to the Articles of Confederation.
J.H. Snider, the president of iSolon.org, administers the RhodeIslandConCon.info website.
Source: Snider, J.H., 1787: Vote No Against Convening a National Constitutional Convention (a satire), GoLocalProv, October 17, 2014.