This blog is about 15 proposals for a new US constitution, incorporating the best of the old and reforming the worst features; abolishing the electoral college; electing the Vice President separately; ending the role of money in elections; replacing the Senate with members of the general public; ending US colonialism; and renouncing war and requiring a declaration of war followed by a public before sending troops.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Introduction to A Proposed New Constitution
constitution is a sacred cow. Some cows should not be worshipped. For
nothing should be so revered that one cannot question it, and blind
worship is always to be avoided.
is, among those on both the political left and right, what can only
be called widespread constitution worship. Most on both sides hold up
the constitution the way a vampire hunter in the movies holds up a
cross to ward off vampires. Everyone from the most stoned pot smokers
to gun toting militia groups calls on the constitution as support for
causes, beliefs, and attitudes they hold dear.
constitution worship is every bit as blindly enthusiastic as it is
unknowing of the actual history of the constitution, and how and why
it was adopted. For this, most people are blameless. People cannot
be faulted for what they were not taught, or more often, falsely
taught. I made the same argument in Presidents'
Body Counts, and others, notably James Loewen
in Lies My Teacher Told Me,
the founders themselves did not think much of the constitution.
Jefferson wanted a new constitution every twenty years. Other
founders disagreed, largely because they were not sure the
constitution would last twenty years. For the founders, it was a
pragmatic even temporary measure, not holy or intended to be
permanent. Constitution worship did not become a regular feature of
American society until near the start of the twentieth century, in
part as a way to assimilate immigrants.
often tell my students that America is great not because of the
constitution, but in spite of it, and especially in spite of the
founders. The constitution itself is clearly at the root of many of
our worst problems in American society today. If it were up to the
American public, the following solutions would have become law many
decades, even half a century or more, before today:
1. Abolishing the Electoral College.
Ending the buying of elections.
Limiting the time campaigning for office, as they do in Great
Ending wars quickly in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Each war
continued over half a decade after the American public wanted to get
5. Reforming the office of vice president, widely
regarded with contempt by most, and producing candidates that even
most voters of the same party as the presidential candidate did not
Ending corporate welfare and other wasteful spending.
Ending most foreign military aid, and support for tyrants and
dictators around the world.
Limiting the power of the Supreme Court.
Ending the political monopoly of wealthy elites.
Guaranteeing privacy from government intrusion.
of these proposals have widespread bipartisan support and are hugely
popular across the political spectrum by great majorities. But none
of these proposals, not too surprisingly, have majority support among
elected political elites, economic elites, or the leadership of
constitution itself is the biggest barrier to solving these problems.
Not one of these problems have been, or ever could have been, quickly
solved, precisely because the constitution makes it difficult. Most
of these problems require a constitutional amendment, something made
deliberately long and difficult by the founders. A few of these could
be solved temporarily by ordinary laws, which could then be easily
overturned next election.
not go to the root of these problems? Why not a new constitution?
worship is the reason. Most Americans have been so heavily
propagandized to think of the US Constitution as undeniably great and
downright sacred, something you just don’t question without being
seen as un-American.
is pretty comical is to see the most idealistic of leftists, who are
deeply cynical of everything else that is elitist and coming from
powerful and wealthy institutions, become like a fundamentalist when
the constitution is brought up. What is equally comical is to see
populist conservatives or libertarians become enamored of government
power when it is enshrined in a document written by, after all,
Deists and Enlightenment thinkers who did not trust organized
religion or nobility. Both are smitten by constitution worship.
are two obvious ways to deal with that. One is to challenge the holy
stature of the constitution. Write the true history, which most
historians and political scientists already know is not a noble one,
but one of elitists hijacking a popular revolution.
other solution is to keep what is best about the old constitution
while adding to it. Propose a new constitution and a new
constitutional convention, but make one of the first proposals to
keep the best of the old document.
the best of the constitution is not the original document at all. The
best part is the amendments. The original document is not about
rights and all about power, who has it and
how they can wield it, and that it will always remain in the hands of
elites. The amendments are what most rightly revere. Keep the
amendments, and amend the original document of power to spread the
power to the mass of people, and add more amendments to limit the
power of elites, for good.
is what this proposed constitution tries to do. It adds to the best
of the document, keeping all the original constitutional amendments
with Article 1. The rest of the articles serve the same purpose as
of the first solution to ending constitution worship? Tell the true
history of the constitution, uncensored, without the heavy doses of
patriotic propaganda that leave out its elitist nature. That story
has already been told many times in the fields of history, political
science, etc. But to help the curious and open minded, and for the
less patient, let me summarize the history of the adoption of the
constitution. To do that, one has to go back to the American
American Revolution was not a real revolution at all. It was just an
independence movement. In actual revolutions,
elites are overturned, killed off, imprisoned, or forced to flee the
country. America's elites, plantation owners like Washington and
Jefferson, were actually strengthened. They no longer had to listen
to British authorities. Many scholars, the best known being the
eminent Charles Beard, argued the real motive for the founders'
rebellion was economic. The British Empire was run by mercantilism,
which required colonies to trade only with the mother country. The
founders wanted primarily more profit from free trade, not political
there were many in the middle and working classes who wanted a true
There had been class
warfare in the earlier English Revolution, Roundheads
who were middle class and anti nobility, and the Levelers, primitive
versions of communists who wanted to level off the wealth anyone
could have. In the American Revolution, there were anti elite groups
like the Sons of Liberty, and populist rabble rousers like Samuel
Adams, George Mason, and most of all Thomas Paine.
There was a populist wave of the American Revolution
before it was hijacked by the largely elitist founders. The
Massachusetts Revolution of 1774 happened a year before the Battles
of Lexington and Concord. The public took control of Massachusetts
courts, forcing judges and the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to
resign. They overthrew every county government in Masschusetts. That
is why the British were occupying Boston in the first place at the
time of Lexington and Concord.
was just the start of a populist revolution. There
were over 90 Declarations of Independence before Jefferson's,
from counties, cities, and states. Most were based on George Mason's
in Virginia. Jefferson's was simply an elite attempt to seize control
of a popular uprising. There were popular uprisings, attempted class
revolutions within the elite-led revolution. There were mutinies
within the US Army, in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Congress was forced to use a draft, bounties, even the promise of
slaves to gain recruits.
the war, there were early experiments in anarchism, socialism, and
other revolutionary notions for that time. For a year, Pennsylvania
tried shutting down the government entirely. Pennsylvania also tried
outlawing the collection of debt, a form of wealth redistribution.
Slavery ended in seven northern states. One out of eight slaves in
the US were freed. New Jersey even gave women the right to vote.
Though first done accidentally in 1776, it stayed on the books until
and feudalism were ended in the US. Noble
titles, primogeniture, and entailment (the wealthy being able to
seize public property) all ended. There
was enormous confiscation and redistribution
of wealth during and after the revolution.
(Try telling that to a Tea Party member.) Most British loyalists
and many aristocrats, whether they sided with the colonists or with
Britain, lost their property. Established state churches in nine of
the thirteen colonies were abolished. These were all fairly radical
changes, and many Americans wanted to go even further.
elites’ fear of class warfare created the US Constitution. The
most pivotal event was Shay’s
Rebellion. Farmers in western Massachusetts tried to stop
foreclosures on their farms, so they shut down state courts.
Jefferson called this, “liberty run mad.” Washington called it,
“anarchy and confusion.” What horrified the founders was not the
size of the rebellion. It was minor, with few deaths. The fact that
it took so long to break the rebellion worried them. And at the same
time, the French Revolution was going on. They feared this minor
rebellion might grow into a similar class revolution. All the radical
experiments in wealth redistribution added to that fear. The founders
called the convention in direct response to Shay's Rebellion.
constitutional delegates had a low opinion of the public. They
believe people without wealth were just one hungry belly short of becoming a
howling mob, that working class people were selfish, unreliable, and
easily misled. They wanted the nation to be run by “men of
quality,” the very wealthy, and argued the wealthy must be
protected from the general public above all else. “Those
who own the country ought to govern it,” as John Jay argued.
Constitutional Convention was secretive. There were no notes
except Madison's, done at the end of the day in his room, against the
wishes of the convention. The public
was barred. So were the press. The delegates,
just like Colonial Congresses before them, took
oaths of secrecy to keep debates from the public.
There was almost no debate on expanding the power of the government.
The elite delegates already agreed in advance on most questions.
US Constitution was and is deliberately anti democratic, designed to
look like a democracy without actually being one. Great power was
given to the president. The assumption was Washington would be the
first, and the clumsy Electoral College put in. Electing a president
was deliberately made cumbersome to stop anyone not as admired as
Washington from being elected. The
founders did not want competetive elections, but presidents chosen
almost by acclamation.
deliberately excluded opponents of the constitution. Special state
conventions, not legislatures or the public, ratified the
Even so, as word leaked out, the public turned against this document
that most were not allowed to vote on. Elites at the special state
conventions began to get nervous. Votes against the constitution were
highest in Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and
Rhode Island. The Massachusetts convention only ratified after
Governor John Hancock was promised (falsely) he would be the first
president or vice president.
In Virginia, George Mason and Patrick Henry
successfully pushed for the Bill of Rights as a condition for
ratifying. The first presidential election was planned without New
York, North Carolina, or Rhode Island. New York actually prepared to
secede and become their own country. Federalists in New York City
then threatened to secede from New York. The New York convention
backed down and narrowly ratified.
North Carolina's convention defeated the constitution
and held out a year before a new convention ratified. Rhode Island
was the only state to hold a “popular” vote. (Not only minorities
and women, except in New Jersey, were barred. There were property
requirements to vote in every state.) The constitution was defeated
in the state by a 10-1 margin, a good indication of what most of the
public thought. Washington was actually elected withut Rhode Island
voting in the presidential election.
took three years of enormous elite effort *against* the general
Franklin owned most newspapers in the US. An economic boycott was
used by wealthy elites to shut down many of the other papers opposing
original US Constitution, minus the amendments, has a deliberate
*anti* democratic structure.
The Electoral College means there has never been a direct election of
presidents. Originally it was
intended to be a veto by elites vs the general public. If they
elected the “wrong” person, the electors were there to overrule
The US Senate
is the most undemocratic part of the system. Wyoming has 75 times
greater representation than California. Until the 20th Century,
senators were chosen by state legislatures, not voters. (Some Tea
Party leaders want to return to that.)
3. The Supreme Court almost always defends wealthy
4. The winner take all/majority rule system is less
democratic than parliament systems in most other nations. It leaves
small groups unrepresented, cripples newer or smaller parties.
There is no
of rights in in the original constitution whatsoever, except a
stricter definition of treason.
the US Constitution was illegally
The Articles of Confederation's
13 states “…Articles
of this Confederation…shall be perpetual; nor shall any
alteration at any
time be made in any
of them; unless such alteration agreed to in Congress
of the US & confirmed by legislatures of every
State.” On both counts, the constitution is illegal. Neither
Congress nor state legislatures ever confirmed it, only special state
Obviously I am not suggesting
resistance to the current constitution, or ignoring it. That argument
leads to chaos, and only militias and sovereign citizens on the
fringe embrace that. There is a legal concept which says even if a
law was adopted by faulty means, it remains the law if it has been in
force for a good length of time. My point was simply, when one hears
that this is a nation of laws, remember that the founders ignored the
highest law in the land, the Articles of Confederation. Being elites,
and very elitist, they just went ahead and did it.
Imagine a modern parallel to what
the founders did. Imagine the wealthiest elites writing a document
only they had any say in, and only allowing themselves to vote on it,
and then declaring it the highest law in the land. That is what the
founders did, and this is precisely why the original constitution
deserves no reverence.
Instead, let us resolve to craft
a new constitution that preserves the best of the old, the
amendments, and adds to it with a far better system of government and
drastic limits on elite power.
Unlike the original convention,
any new constitution deserves, needs, and requires as much popular
input as possible. While the proposals that follow were written by
me, many of these proposals have been made in other forms before.
Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia,
proposed some parts of several of these articles, as have others. It
is depressing, and proof that reform is needed more than ever, that
none of his proposals were adopted in spite of public support. The
call for a new constitutional convention is ongoing.
These proposals, and any
proposals, need to come from you, the general public. Send in your
suggestions, criticisms, counter proposals, arguments and debates.
Spread the word anywhere and everywhere you can. This cannot be done
The only real arguments for
continuing the current constitution are stability, and a view of the
American system based more on romanticism than actual history.