Do We Need Another “Constitutional Convention”?

When the 55 delegates to the Philadelphia Convention assembled at the Pennsylvania Statehouse in May 1787, only a handful knew that the gathering would potentially be a seismic shift in American politics. The majority of the delegates believed they attended to simply review the Articles of Confederation and present amendments.

Not so for the nationalists bent on “remaking” America. As John Dickinson warned once their plans were fulled laid before the Convention, “Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us.”

Most of the men did not want to navigate without a compass. That compass was the Anglo-American political tradition, a tradition built by the blood of patriots from the Magna Charta to the Articles of Confederation. 

James Madison’s Virginia Plan smacked of innovation, a departure from the political traditions that “made America great.” The key to that tradition was federalism.

Massachusetts could be Massachusetts and South Carolina could be South Carolina. Forging an “American nation” on the ruins of a federal republic would have been a thorny and seemingly untenable project.

Very few members of the founding generation wanted a “national” government. They didn’t get one, of course.

The Senate–the most detestable part of the general government according to every nationalist–preserved the federal nature of the system and ensured the States controlled the system.

And the States were the primary agents in the process. This is made clear by Article V and Article VII of the Constitution. The States, without the input of the general government, can abolish the entire system.

No one thought the Constitution would go unchanged, and the powers of the general government vis-a-vis the States were always a bone of contention.

When seven States bolted the Untied States and drafted their own Constitution in 1861, they had history and experience on their side. The Confederate Constitution built on the Anglo-American tradition and made improvements to the original, most importantly by codifying the federal nature of the instrument.

American’s haven’t had a meaningful discussion about the Constitution since. Lincoln and the Republican Party bulldozed federalism following the War, and the progressives used the 14th Amendment to gut any vestige of State powers in the 20th century. That might be swinging in the other direction, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

This brings us to 2022 and the ongoing discussion about another “Constitutional Convention.”

In contrast to 1787, a convention called by the States would be an open review of the Constitution with clear plans to change it. No one would be meeting in dark rooms by candle light without public knowledge of the actual proceedings.

And they would have over 200 years of American experience to drive the event. In other words, they could undo the damage of the anti-Constitutionalists from the last 150.

Lincoln’s nationalist myth could be decapitated.

It could also go the other way. That would be more likely given the prevalence of the the “proposition nation” nonsense in American society.

Regardless, federalism would be back on the table as even the most indoctrinate proposition nation acolyte thinks federalism might be a good thing for their pet project.

Progressives like it, too, for theirs.

Maybe we could have a real meeting of divergent views and understand that “live and let live” could mean “Get Off My State” to quote one of my listeners.

Either way, this is a healthy and necessary thing for Americans to be doing in a federal republic. At the end of the day, it places the focus back on the States where it belongs.

To nationalists, that might be “scary” or “dangerous,” but to real Americans, it’s the American way.

I discuss the prospect on episode 678 of The Brion McClanahan Show.

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