Falsehoods Mark the Campaign for a Constitutional Convention

Falsehoods Mark the Campaign for a Constitutional Convention
by JBS President John F. McManus

For one excellent reason, The John Birch Society has always opposed the creation of a constitutional convention (Con-Con) as authorized in Article V of the Constitution. The Society isn’t opposed to amendments and would support any that would cancel existing Amendments 16 (Federal Income Tax) and 17 (Popular Election of Senators). This could be done via the other route to adding an amendment noted in Article V, the passage of the measure by two-thirds of each house of Congress and then ratification by three-fourths of the states. This is the only route to adding an amendment that has ever been employed in the 228 years of the Constitution’s existence.

Having both houses of Congress agree to an amendment before sending it to the states for ratification is the safe route to adding any amendment. It was the route taken when Amendment 18 (Prohibition) was erased by Amendment 21. A Con-Con, however, would open the entire Constitution for change, even total erasure – which is what occurred in 1787 when a Con-Con assembled under the Articles of Confederation met with the sole assignment to revise the Articles. But because a Con-Con cannot be limited, America’s Founders used the power any Con-Con would have and scrapped the Articles. They then proceeded to write an entirely new Constitution, even changing the state ratification requirement from unanimous (under the Articles) to three-fourths in the new Constitution. Such a runaway could happen again because a Con-Con can’t be limited.

Most of today’s proponents of a Con-Con want to use it to add a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Calling their proposal a “Convention of the States,” they claim that it can be limited. But, in reality, what they claim for a Convention of the States is a nothing but a Con-Con which can’t be limited to a single topic. Some of these proponents also claim that John Birch Society Founder Robert Welch and Congressman Larry McDonald, his 1983 successor, advocated the Con-Con route in favor of the “The Liberty Amendment.” This proposed amendment, written more than 50 years ago by Willis Stone, is a brief proposal whose most appealing feature would require the federal government to divest itself of every “business, professional, commercial, financial or industrial enterprise except as specified in the Constitution.” The money saved would enable the Federal government to abolish the federal income tax – another clause in the proposed amendment.

But neither Robert Welch nor Larry McDonald nor this writer (current JBS President) has ever advocated a Con-Con on behalf of the Liberty Amendment or any other amendment. After sponsoring Willis Stone for a speech in 1965, I became quite friendly with him (he is deceased). He even implored me to accept appointment as a state chairman for the amendment; a request I declined because I was already overloaded with other commitments. But I discussed the matter with Mr. Stone at length and knew that his plan sought to have state legislatures pass a resolution asking Congress to create a Con-Con was simply a tactic to call attention to his proposal. He very clearly explained to me that he feared a Con-Con. He expected that members of Congress, themselves fearful of what might happen if a Con-Con were created, would use their Article V authorization to propose the amendment directly and singly in both houses of Congress (the alternate method for starting the amendment process spelled out in Article V). When the number of state legislatures calling for a convention approached 34, he was certain that Congress would act and turn to the far safer portion of Article V to accomplish the first step toward passage of the Liberty Amendment.

I vividly recall questioning Willis Stone about the danger that 34 states would indeed call for a Con-Con. I noted that if that number of state applications for a convention were reached, then the Constitution requires that Congress “shall call a convention for proposing amendments.” He emphatically assured me, “No, I don’t worry about that because no one is stupid enough to want a Con-Con. We know what happened when the Con-Con met in 1787; its members cancelled the Articles of Confederation. If a Con-Con were held today [1965], it could and likely would lead to cancellation of the present Constitution and put in its place something far different.”

I know that Robert Welch never wanted a Con-Con. I know of no JBS official who wanted it. I never discussed the matter with Larry McDonald, but I’m sure he discussed it with Robert Welch. Anyone who claims that JBS leaders (past or present) ever intended to have Congress create a constitutional convention either doesn’t know what he or she is talking about or is being deceitful.

Mr. McManus joined the staff of The John Birch Society in August 1966 and has served various roles for the organization including Field Coordinator, Director of Public Affairs, and now President. He remains the Society’s chief media representative throughout the nation and has appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs. Mr. McManus is also Publisher of The New American magazine and author of a number of educational DVDs and books.

8 Comments on “Falsehoods Mark the Campaign for a Constitutional Convention”

  1. suemlong3 says:

    Once again Mr. McManus sets the record straight. How blessed we are to have the benefit of his commentaries.

    Obey the Costitutiton not Alter it.


  2. Douglas A. Logan says:

    Those people that are trying to bring about a Constitutional Convention are liars and the truth is not in them. What we are witnessing is an attack by the desperate forces that want to destroy our Constitutional Republic and they do not care how they do it. They are attacking the John Birch Society because we are effective. Our plan is the only way that it can be done by informing the people and teaching the principles of the Constitution. This is why we are constantly under attack and why we will win in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rob Durbin says:

    There was no” run-a-way convention” unless your idea of a run-a-way convention is 2 years!! That has always been a lie. Read your history, you have a computer and Internet, look it up.

    Here is my claim:

    There was a call to the States to meet in Philadelphia in the Spring of 1787. Even though there was a movement among factions to replace the Articles of Confederation with our current Constitution. It took them until September 17, 1787 for the document to be ready for presentation to and ratification by the States. That task alone took them 5 months. It took the States until July, 1789 for ratification. That is a total of more than 2 years.

    Here is my documentation and evidence:

    “A Patriot’s History of the United States” pp 109-124, Schweikart and Allen 2004;
    Office of the Historian, US Department of State, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/convention-and-ratification

    Note: Just because some people in good faith back in time believed the lie, doesn’t mean you should continue to hold it as truth and reinforce it as truth. That is called the fallacy in reasoning of tradition.

    Oh, you say we should continue to amend the Constitution in the usual way because “It is safe”. Sorry, you will never get the Senate to give up on popular election vs. State. You will never see a balance budget amendment using the” safe way”, either.

    We are in bad shape fiscally and you think Washington is going to fix Washington. What you are waiting to happen isn’t going to happen because the greed for money and power is too great in Washington, DC.



    • Susan says:

      Sounds like you are FOR an Article V Convention of States because Congress will never vote Term Limits or BBA on themselves through the common Congressional means.


  4. Susan says:

    Interesting. The first time I have seen any JBS supporters refer to Article V, even if only referring to the first part of the Article where 2/3 of Congress propose Amendments to the States like the 21st Amendment. However, Congress will NEVER propose Amendments for Term Limits and they have proven, by their spending history, they will NEVER balance the budget. Although I’m turning blue in the face from all the times I’ve said COS is NOT a Con Con…. IT IS an Amending Convention…. I will say it again. The second statement in Article V of the Constitution IS an Amending Convention. NOT a Con Con.


  5. Susan says:

    How can JBS deny there is a second Amendment process, Amending Convention, in Article V but yet differentiate that they are FOR the first Amendment process, through Congress.


  6. Rob Durbin says:

    The claim that the Philadelphia Convention was “runaway” also requires that person to hold the belief that George Washington, as the meeting’s only presiding officer, permitted the Convention to become out of control or “runaway”. If that is true then Washington was the ultimate Con Con Conman. Moreover, if the Convention was a true runaway, that means our current Constution is legally illegitimate since there was no legal reconciliation with the Artcles of Confederation’s requirement on unanimity.

    What is sad is we as a people can’t take corrective action to preserve our republic using Article V because of what may or may not have happen more than 230 years a go. Folks that isn’t rational. We who want to fix things are subjected to name calling and accused of wanting to damage the Constitution when the opposite is true.

    Insanity is what characterizes a person who keeps doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. JBS’s position on avoiding using Article V reminds me of the parable of the man who refuses to evacuate his home when a flash flood was expected. His neighbors offered him a car ride and he tells them, “My faith is strong, I’ll wait for God to save me”. The flood overtakes the first floor of his home and the local sheriff uses a boat to attempt a rescue of the man and he tells the Sherriff, “Thank you, but I am waiting on God to save me, my faith is strong”. Later the man has to climb to his home’s roof. Then a national guard helicopter comes by and offers a rescue and the man tells them, “my faith is strong and God will save me.” Later, the man drowns and finds himself in Heaven. He looks around and finds God and asks him, “Why didn’t you save me?” You know my faith is strong.” God looks at the man and said, “I tried. I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter and you refused all of them.”

    Your faith in anything doesn’t automatically save you. Your faith is only as good as it takes to conquer the fear that holds you back from taking corrective action. We are Americans. As such, we as a culture of achievers who historically speaking never let fear immobilize us to inaction. That is especially true when our freedom is at stake.

    JBS, we have an Executive who abuses his power at the expense of the States and the people. We have a legislative branch that has our debt to GDP at the same level as it was at the end of WWII. We have a judicial branch that sets public policy. Practically speaking we are living in a post Constitutional republic. If we the people are unwilling to take action, how much more abuse of power do we need to tolerate before we do?


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