The Proposed Focus of the Second American Revolution: A New Constitution

I propose that the purpose of the next American revolution, collective and/or individual, peaceful and/or violent — and in some of those forms, it may already have begun — should be to bring about a Constitutional Convention that will undertake an appropriate rewrite of the nation’s Constitution.

I did not invent the idea of a Constitutional Convention. There was, first, the Constitutional Convention of 1787, in which the Constitution was written. That one was called for the purpose of rewriting the Articles of Confederation, but as discussion got underway, the need for a new document became apparent. There have been substantial revisions since then, beginning with the Bill of Rights that produced the first ten amendments to the Constitution in 1791 and continuing with other amendments, notably the Reconstruction Amendments following the Civil War in 1865-1870. I did write a piece three years ago, advising President Obama to endorse a Constitutional Convention, but the idea has been a topic of interest, on and off, over the decades (see e.g., Rogers-Kingsbury, 1987).

There has been some attention, recently, to the possibility of a Constitutional Convention, due to action that may have made Michigan the 34th state to call for such a convention. (Thirty-four exceeds two-thirds of fifty, the fraction required by the Constitution’s Article V.) Debate apparently continues on whether those states’ calls should all be counted together. Whatever the outcome of that debate, the point here is simply that a convention is necessary and that an appropriate rewrite of the Constitution should be considered the focus of revolutionary activity.

The possibility of violent revolution arises in, for instance, the prospect that the National Rifle Association (NRA) would no longer have the existing Second Amendment with which to militarize the American public. Debate on a replacement for that amendment would feature moderate positions, with compromises on such matters as whether households need hand grenades and whether gun manufacturers should be held liable in court as tobacco companies and auto manufacturers are held liable. It would likely also feature extreme positions, staked out with actual and/or threatened violence.

As that example suggests, a serious rewrite of the existing Constitution would jeopardize many entrenched interests. One could expect the NRA to take all possible measures to preserve the existing Second Amendment and to insert a similar provision in a new Constitution. Similar reactions would flow from others who stand to gain little from major changes in the rules that make them wealthy and powerful. For instance, justices on today’s Supreme Court might not favor proposals for competency tests and term limits to protect the public against judicial senility and ivory-tower (or wealthy-suburb) detachment from contemporary realities; many corporations would oppose any effort to pare back that Court’s decisions granting them the rights of individual citizens.

The test of an “appropriate” rewrite of the Constitution, for purposes of this post, is that the resulting document must reflect the consent of the governed. Achieving such a document will not be easy. It will surely take years. Yet the difficulty of the process is intrinsic to the future strength of the document and, ultimately, of the nation. People need to understand, be party to– and, in the end, consent to — the concessions made and the compromises reached. The public as a whole must understand and approve the form of government that results from the process.

The proposal offered here is, essentially, that a new American constitution is an appropriate goal for any moderate or extreme political activity that people — liberal or conservative, rich or poor, young or old — may contemplate now, or in the years to come. As indicated in present and future posts in this blog and elsewhere, major changes need to be made. A suitable constitution would provide an appropriate basis for those changes.


4 responses to “The Proposed Focus of the Second American Revolution: A New Constitution

  • phadde2

    Article V of our current Constitution doesn’t declare a constitutional convention that would “rewrite” or create a “new” constitution with a 34th state application. The prose is not difficult to understand and certainly doesn’t take any heighten acumen to comprehend its purpose.

    “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress”

    To highlight the key phrase from the article; ” shall call a convention for proposing amendments”

    A Convention to propose amendments certainly doesn’t translate into a convention that creates a new constitution. The text simply doesn’t say anything of that nature.

    As you have singled out the NRA and it’s lobbying arm; I would certainly surmise quite easily some of the parts of the constitution you seem need to be reformed or hacked off; however with the history of the document’s creation, one would very easily find that some founders, namely Madison, found the bill of rights to be trivial as these rights, not privileges, were silly to recognize because it’s a forgone conclusion that these were the rights of the people and that the government didn’t grant them. Notwithstanding; George Mason found it prudent to issue these rights in written form knowing the abuses the colonies suffered being subjugated by the invisible English constitution.

    As the Citizenry of the United States of America operates under a compound republic as described by Madison in Federalist 51; We the people are subjects to the rule of law. We are not subjects to a monarch, a dictator, a church, or parliament, but instead to the rule of law which is the constitution of this great nation.

    Now that I opined on the subject of Article V of the Constitution, I’ll discuss some of my proposals would be in a Constitutional Convention, of course not all.

    Madison explained in Federalist 51 as I mentioned above that we should operate in a compound republic; however, largely because of the reconstruction amendments (as mentioned in the above post) and the amendments in 1913, namely the 17th amendment, the states have lost some of its sovereignty, thus many people in my most humble opinion have lost representation in our federal government.

    Madison– Federalist 51:

    “In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.

    Let me pull a bit from Madison here:

    “The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”

    I would certainly opine that after the 17th amendment had taken course this statement became untrue.

    Let’s look at this part of Federalist 51:

    “the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.”

    After the 17th amendment took hold it also eliminated, in my opinion, the equal representation of different group within our nation. Also perhaps, our nation has changed so much since its foundations perhaps the states themselves should be redistricted. Here is an example in the Senate, The New England region of the United States has with all of its population 14 million people and with it 12 total Senators; whereas, The state of Illinois has 12 million and only two senators. Hasn’t equal representation in the upper house of congress between states become void after the passing of the 17th amendment? As they are voted among the citizenry shouldn’t it reflect the population? As both Illinois senators reflect Chicago politics what about the 3 million people of Illinois who live outside of the Chicagoland area? Those 3 million people have no representation in the the United States senate but the 1.05 million people of RI have two total senators, absurd!

    I of course speak of Illinois as a long time resident; many of these issues might not come up in a great many debates but in a new constitutional convention they certainly would be addressed.

    As you call for the need for a new convention to declare new forms of government the danger that lies in wait of course a nation that either you don’t want or couldn’t imagine would spring from those waters. This of course is largely all conjecture as a convention would most likely never happen as it actually puts more potential power into the hand of the people; and all special interest groups and corporations would never wish to relinquish that power. Tis easier to lobby and circumvent from judicial review changes in our government than a convention.

    Thanks for the post; whether I agree or not, it let me flesh out some ideas.

  • Ray Woodcock

    Interesting material. Thanks for taking the time.

  • Timothy Evans

    The easiest way to achieve a new Constitution where those in power would be able to do the least amount of wholesale damage would be to decentralize the Federal government. Let each state become sovereign as a nation unto itself. People would be able to “shop” for the government that worked best for their life styles and political leanings. Just saying!

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