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Opponents of an Article V Convention of the States for Proposing Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are stoking fear with objections based upon disinformation.
A common objection to an Article V Convention for Proposing Amendments is the belief that the convention will “runaway” by ignoring the limitations placed on it. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 is often cited as an example of a runaway convention.
Limitations on a convention arise from two sources: the call and the commissions. The call is the first resolution calling for a convention, and it places limitations on the convention as a whole. A commission is a set of instructions a state legislature gives to its representatives (commissioners) and can be more restrictive than the call.
The claim that the 1787 convention exceeded its call starts with incorrect identification of the call. Consider the table below, listing each of the resolutions leading up to the 1787 convention. The claim is made that the Continental Congress made the call on February 21, 1787, and restricted the convention to revising the Articles of Confederation. How could this be the call if six states had already selected and instructed their commissioners prior to February 21, 1787? How would those states know the subject matter, date, and location of the convention?
The 1787 Constitutional Convention Call and Commissions
|11/23/1786||Virginia||devising and discussing all such alterations and further provisions, as may be necessary to render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of the Union. [meet Second Monday in May 1787 in Philadelphia]|
|11/24/1786||New Jersey||for the purpose of taking into consideration the state of the Union as to trade and other important objects, and of devising such further provisions as shall appear necessary to render the Constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies thereof|
|12/3/1786||Pennsylvania||devising, deliberating on, and discussing all such alterations and further provisions as may be necessary to render the foederal constitution fully adequate to the exigencies of the Union|
|1/6/1787||North Carolina||To discuss and decide upon the most effectual means to remove the defects of our foederal union, and to procure the enlarged purposes which it was intended to effect.|
|2/3/1787||Delaware||devising, deliberating on, and discussing, such Alterations and further Provisions, as may be necessary to render the Foederal Constitution adequate to the Exigencies of the Union [each State shall have one vote]|
|2/10/1787||Georgia||Devising and discussing all such alterations and farther provisions, as may be necessary to render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of the union.|
|2/21/1787||Confederation Congress||the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.|
|3/6/1787||New York||the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.|
|3/7/1787||Massachusetts||amend the Articles of Confederation to render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the union.|
|3/8/1787||South Carolina||in devising and discussing all such alterations, clauses, articles and provisions as may be thought necessary to render the foederal constitution entirely adequate to the actual situation and future good government of the confederated states|
|5/17/1787||Connecticut||Such Alterations and Provisions, agreeable to the general Principles of Republican Government, as they shall think proper, to render the foederal Constitution adequate to the Exigencies of Government, and the Preservation of the Union.|
|5/26/1787||Maryland||considering such alterations, and further provisions, as may be necessary to render the federal constitution adequate for the exigencies of the union.|
to discuss and decide upon the most effectual means to remedy the defects of our federal union
Defying Conventional Wisdom: The Constitution Was Not The Product of a Runaway Convention By Michael Farris
In fact, the Articles of Confederation did not grant the Confederation Congress the power to call a Convention of the States.
It was Virginia that issued the call on November 23, 1786, without restricting the convention to revising the Articles of Confederation. New York and Massachusetts did issue commissions that restricted their commissioners to revising the Articles of Confederation, but the convention as a whole was not so restricted.
There have been at least forty-two Conventions of States in our history and not one has deviated from the scope of its call (runaway). It is also worth noting that all forty-two previous Conventions of States operated on the principle of one state, one vote.
42 Historical Conventions of States
|Year||Location||Purpose||1 state/1 vote||Runaway|
|1690||New York City||Defense||Yes||No|
|1693||New York City||Defense||Yes||No|
|1704||New York City||Defense||Yes||No|
|1747||New York City||Defense||Yes||No|
|1754||Albany||Indian negotiations and plan of union||Yes||No|
|1765||New York City||Response to Stamp Act||Yes||No|
|1768||Fort Stanyx||Indian negotiations||Yes||No|
|1774||New York City||Response to British actions||Yes||No|
|1776-77||Providence, RI||Paper currency and public debt||Yes||No|
|1777||Yorktown, PA||Price Control||Yes||No|
|1777||Springfield, MA||Economic issues||Yes||No|
|1778||New Haven, CT||Price controls and other responses to inflation||Yes||No|
|1779||Hartford, CT||Economic Issues||Yes||No|
|1780||Philadelphia, PA||Price controls||Yes||No|
|1780||Boston, MA||Conduct of Revolutionary War||Yes||No|
|1780||Hartford, CT||Conduct of Revolutionary War||Yes||No|
|1781||Providence, RI||War supply||Yes||No|
|1787||Philadelphia, PA||Propose changes to political system||Yes||No|
|1814||Hartford, CT||New England states response to War of 1812||Yes||No|
|1850||Nashville, TN||Southern response to the North||Yes||No|
|1861||Washington, DC||Propose a constitutional amendment||Yes||No|
|1861||Montgomery, AL||Write the Confederate Constitution||Yes||No|
|1889||St. Louis, MO||Propose anti-trust measures||Yes||No|
|1922||Santa Fe, NM||Negotiate Colorado River Compact||Yes||No|
|1928-29||Santa Fe, NM||Negotiate temporary Rio Grande Compact||Yes||No|
|1928-38||Colorado Springs, CO Santa Fe, NM||Negotiate Rio Grande Compact||Yes||No|
|1937||Santa Fe, NM||Negotiate Rio Grande Compact||Yes||No|
|1946-49||Denver, CO||Negotiate the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact||Yes||No|
|2017||Phoenix, AZ||Propose rules for an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget||Yes||No|
List of Conventions of States and Colonies in American History by Robert Natelson
No, a Convention of States Could Not Change the “One State/One Vote” Rule by Robert Natelson
Another common objection claims that we do not know how a Convention of States would operate. The list of forty-two previous Conventions of States would demonstrate that we have a great deal of experience with operating Conventions of States. In addition, the operation of Conventions of States is well established in a significant number of court cases on the subject. A sampling of these rulings can be found in the table below.
Selected Court Cases Related to Article V
|Barker v. Hazeltine, 3 F. Supp. 2d 1088 (D.S.D. 1998)||Article V is the only constitutional method of amending the US Constitution.|
|Dodge v. Woolsey, 59 U.S. 331 (1855)||Amendatory conventions may be single issue. The States and/or the people cannot dictate the amendments. A state application is valid solely because it was made by the state.|
|Gralike v. Cooke, 191 F. 3d 911 (8th Cir. 1999)||Article V Conventions cannot be prohibited from deliberation and consideration of a proposed amendment and thereby limited to pre-written wording.|
|Hollingsworth v. Virginia, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 378 (1798)||No signature of the President is required for a constitutional amendment to be valid and complete.|
|In Re Opinion of the Justices, 204 N.C. 306, 172 S.E. 474 (1933)||An Article V Convention may be limited in purpose to a single issue or to a fixed set of issues.|
|Leser v. Garnett, 258 U.S. 130 (1922)||The state legislature’s discretion could not be supplanted by the rules imposed by a third party.|
|Opinion of the Justices to the Senate, 373 Mass. 877, 366 N.E. 2d 1226 (1977)||The governor plays no role in the approval process of an Article V Convention application.|
|Prigg v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 41 U.S. 539 (1842)||No one is authorized to question the validity of a state’s application for an Article V Convention.|
|Smith v. Union Bank of Georgetown, 30 U.S. 518 (1831)||An Article V Convention is a “convention of the States” and is therefore endowed with the powers of an interstate convention.|
|State of Rhode Island v. Palmer, 253 U.S. 320 (1920)||An Article V Convention will require only two-thirds of the quorum present to conduct business.|
|Ullmann v. United States, 350 U.S. 422 (1956)||The amendment and ratification processes cannot be changed to circumvent the Article V Convention.|
|United States v. Thibault, 47 F.2d 169 (2d Cir. 1931)||The federal or national government is not concerned with how an Article V Convention of a state legislature is constituted. Therefore, the Article V Convention is empowered to organize and conduct its business as the delegates or commissioners see fit.|
Finally, it is self-evident that the framers knew exactly what they meant by a Convention of the States when they drafted that mechanism into Article V because they were participating in a Convention of the States at the time! In essence, the founders were saying, “if the states desire to propose amendments to the Constitution, use the same method we are using right now.”
The data is clear. An Article V Convention of the States for Proposing Amendments is the safe, reliable, and time-tested method the framers intended for such a time as this.
Click here to download this blog as a PDF to distribute to legislators!