The Spectacle Blog

Thankful for the Wisdom of George Mason

By on 11.26.13 | 2:36PM

These days, it’s not popular to be thankful. News cycles turn on the disenchanted, the complainers, the perpetually aggrieved. But as Thanksgiving approaches, we Americans have a great deal for which to be grateful.

After those English settlers sat down to eat with their new Indian friends, the future was obviously not clear. As H.U. Westermayer wrote, “The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.  No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.”

Looking back, it’s amazing to see the arc of history. The New World, anchored by the faith and buoyed by the hope of its inhabitants, and – after much death and famine – grew into an actual nation. Then, the real challenges of government began to set in. How could we be governed in such a way that wouldn’t tempt our leaders into power grabbing and heavy-handedness?

In retrospect, we see the brilliance in the way the founding fathers answered these questions.  We wouldn’t be a nation governed by a king.  Rather, we’d govern ourselves.

 But a nation must have a government for our protection and safety.  And so, as the Founders created our government, they also created a constitution that limited the powers of our leaders.  The brilliant “three branches of government” construct shows the founders had a good grasp on human nature.  They didn’t need Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to show them that power corrupts.  Students of the Bible, they knew about the fallen nature of man and created a Constitutional safeguard against it.

 This Thanksgiving, however, I’m thankful for one Founding Fathers more than the others.

 On September 15, 1787, George Mason expressed a sentiment that could possibly change the way we do things in modern America.  As the Framers were reviewing the final stylistic changes to the Constitution, Mason said he supported in concept, the provisions limiting the power to propose amendments to Congress, but that the draft under consideration had not gone far enough.  According to the Convention records, Mason thought that, if left up to Congress itself, no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the Government should become oppressive, as he verily believed would be the case.”In response, Gouverneur Morris and Elbridge Gerry made a motion to amend Article V to introduce language requiring that requiring that a convention be called when two-thirds of the state legislatures petitioned Congress.

Article V has been described as having, thanks to Mason, a “Constitutional emergency cord,” to be pulled in case the government grew too large and corrupt.

This Thanksgiving, what would Mason say if he had a chance to read our newspapers?

Article V seems to have been created for such a time as this.

Rather than calling a convention for a specific amendment, Citizens for Self- Governance (CSG) has launched the Convention of States Project to urge state legislatures to properly use Article V to call a convention for a particular subject—reducing the power of Washington, D.C.

It’s a solution as big as the problems that face us.

Instead of feeling despair this Thanksgiving, let’s be grateful for George Mason’s prescience.  But let’s move past gratitude and actually honor his legacy by actually doing something to preserve the nation so many people sacrificed to create.

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