Reviving a major American institution

Students of American history appreciate the importance of the numerous Colonial Conventions of the 18th Century.  Colonies back then had shared interests and concerns,  but had no central or federal government where they could meet and come up with solutions.  These colonial Conventions were the precedent for the Stamp Act Congress of 1765, the First Continental Congress of 1774, and, eventually, to American independence.

Most of us have heard of the Annapolis Convention of States held in 1786, and are aware that it directly led to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.  We also know about the Hartford Convention held in 1814, held to marshal opposition to the War of 1812.

The Nashville Convention of 1850 was called by the Tennessee Legislature to discuss the terms and conditions of statehood for territory won in the war with Mexico.  It led to the Missouri Compromise, and ended talk of secession for a decade.

The Dred Scott decision upset this balanced compromise, and as the Civil War loomed the Convention of States known as the “Washington Peace Conference” was held in 1861 to avoid it.  South Carolina, acting unilaterally, put an end to that at Fort Sumter.

In the late 19th century the cattlemen of the Midwest felt they were being cheated by the four big Chicago meatpackers.   Kansas State Senator Frank E. Gillette sponsored a Resolution calling for a Convention of States to address the problem.  Nine states sent a total of 62 Commissioners to the St. Louis Convention.  These deliberations led directly to the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.

In 1920 six Colorado River states met to try to equitably divide the waters of the river.  At this and subsequent meetings the terms of the Colorado River Compact of 1922 were agreed to.

This is the history of American Conventions of States.  The Phoenix Balanced Budget Planning Convention on September 12th of this year is but the latest in a long and honorable line of such assemblies.  It meets to prepare and provide precedents for a subsequent Article V Convention.

When this business is done it will adjourn.  Will we have to wait 156 years for another national Convention of States?  I doubt it.

Any state legislature can issue a call for a Convention of States, for any purpose.  It’s how they come into being.

Before long I expect to see another Convention to be called by a western state on the subject of the Transfer of Public Lands.  That Convention, like all Conventions of States, will have no legal authority.  But the more states that attend, the more influential its recommendations will be.

Since I believe the Commissioners to the Phoenix Convention will thoroughly enjoy the experience, the next call for a Convention of States will have a good chance of succeeding.  The more, the merrier.

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