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Core values - Constitutional originalism & responsible self-governance

Published in Blog on January 17, 2023 by Jakob Fay

Last week, Convention of States Action proudly launched its new and improved core values. Appropriately at the top of the list is our movement’s commitment to preserve constitutional originalism and foster responsible self-governance.

We would not be here today–as an organization or as a country–if not for the brilliance of our Founding Fathers. Crafting the new nation and bringing 13 independent colonies into one Republic was no easy task. Founding a Republic that would somehow resist the gradual onset of tyranny was an even harder one.

By God’s grace, they succeeded, and the wisdom they infused into our governing documents is worth adhering to. Unfortunately, there is a movement today to disregard the Founder’s original intent and instead view the Constitution, in the words of Woodrow Wilson, as a “vehicle of life.”

In his book “What is Progress?”, Wilson, a prominent leader of the Progressive movement, applied Darwinian evolution to constitutional interpretation. He said our founding documents would be “of no consequence” unless modern Americans were allowed to “translate its general terms into examples of the present day."

"All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when 'development,' 'evolution,' is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine," he boldly declared.

This “living,” “evolving” Constitution, popularized by Wilson, was left to be interpreted at the whim of political elites. The Supreme Court in particular abused this privilege, running roughshod over that singular document.

And that’s where constitutional originalism comes in.

Originalism seeks to understand the original meaning of the Founders’ language and pays little heed to modern “interpretations.” Proponents actively work to restore limited, constitutional government, federalism, individual rights, and America as the beacon of freedom to the World, and resist elitist attempts to rewrite the Constitution to fit their agendas.

Arguably the leading modern advocate for constitutional originalism, Antonin Scalia defined his political philosophy: “The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead, or as I prefer to call it, enduring. It means today not what current society, much less the court, thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted."

Another proponent, Clarence Thomas, said anything less than originalism “usurps power from the people.”

This goes hand in hand with our next core value: self-governance.

True liberty requires personal responsibility and individual accountability. The surest way for the American people to stave off the gradual onset of tyranny that comes from ignoring our founding documents is to practice self-governance.

John Adams suggested as much when he said “Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net.” His point: not even the greatest political document in the history of man would withstand if the American people did not bridle their passions.

This, of course, requires responsible self-governance.

Generations later, Ronald Reagan said the fundamental political issue of his day was whether we “believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”

He urged the American people to resist the government overreach that stemmed from a disregard for originalism. They would have to decide between the Constitution and self-governance or, as Reagan said, free man’s “last stand on earth.”

Now, the same question is asked of us: will we confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves? Or will we cling to the American revolution and hold true to the documents our Founders gave us? Will we embrace self-governance and ensure that the freedom to do so is passed down to posterity?

This is our time for choosing.

Convention of States Action consists of a grassroots army of over five million self-governing patriots. By choosing to embrace our core values, we can begin today to reclaim the Republic our Founders envisioned.

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