Why Conventions Matter: A Question of Consent

by James Hines

As chair of the 2017 Libertarian Party of North Carolina Convention Committee, it occurs to me that our conventions may not be as well attended as we need for them to be from year to year because few people likely appreciate why conventions really matter.

And that’s sad, because, in all honesty, the reason that attending conventions matter goes directly to the heart of libertarianism itself. Libertarianism is frequently explained as a belief in the principle that all human relationships should be voluntary. Attending the LPNC Convention matters precisely because our annual convention is the one opportunity in each year for libertarians across the state of North Carolina to participate in the business of the party and the election of its officers.

By so doing, every North Carolina Libertarian has the opportunity to oversee the operations of the party and to choose the people that they most trust to run the party in the year to come. One of the jobs of the state chair and executive committee members is to communicate the message of liberty to the people of North Carolina. In submitting letters to the editor or speaking with members of the press, they represent the views of Libertarians from across the state.

At this moment, though, please pause and consider this question with me: How much credibility does a chair or executive committee member have to represent Libertarians in North Carolina if only a handful them actually show up to participate in electing those members? Not much, obviously.

The truth of the matter is, we already know that this year’s convention at The Lake Lure Inn and Spa (August 11-13) will enjoy record attendance. However, that’s still only about 70 people. The inn is holding 50 rooms for our convention. We already have over half of those rooms reserved. That’s great.

Yet the Lake Lure Inn has 69 hotel rooms and three cabins. My dream is to see all of those rooms and cabins occupied by libertarians from across the state. Is that ambitious? Perhaps. But if we want the Libertarian Party of North Carolina to become the force that we all need for it to be, I don’t think it’s grandiose in the least to expect that we should be able to fill all of the rooms in such a modest hotel.

Travel with me back to Philadelphia in 1787. There, in Independence Hall, a convention of delegates appointed by the state legislatures (with the exception of genuinely democratic Rhode Island, which had no legislature) met to draft a list of proposed amendments to the Articles of Confederation. The articles were a makeshift constitution for the original 13 states somewhat hastily thrown together in the midst of the Revolutionary War.

So long as the crisis of the war continued, the states and their citizens were more willing than not to comply with the requisitions (or requested contributions) made by the unicameral Congress established by the Articles. Unfortunately, once the war was over, enthusiasm for complying with the requests for funds began to wane. Yet Congress still owed large debts to both to veterans of the war and to foreign nations.

Most of the delegates attending the Convention in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 agreed that Congress should have the authority to compel the states to pay the taxes necessary to discharge the debts of the war. Some, like William Paterson of New Jersey, thought little more was necessary than to amend the Articles so as to provide Congress with an army that could be used to march from state to state to collect any requisitions that were not paid voluntarily.

Other delegates argued that before Congress could responsibly be afforded the force of an army to compel any payment of taxes that they should address two particular deficiencies of the Congress established under the Articles. These delegates, like Edmund Randolph and James Madison (supporters of the Virginia Plan) argued that what was needed was a form of government which would more sincerely depend upon and, therefore reflect the will and the consent of the people of the states. They argued that if a federal government was to have the power to compel the payment of taxes, it should, in the first place, be so structured as to merit the confidence of the people.

They noted that because there hadn’t been time during the Revolutionary War to take a census of the respective populations of the 13 states, the authors of the Articles and the 13 states had agreed under to give each state one vote in Congress.

They also noted that members of Congress were not elected by the people themselves, but only by the state legislatures. The articles had been agreed upon by the state legislatures. Yet during the crisis of the war, not one of the constitutions of those new states had ever actually been submitted to the people for their agreement or ratification.

Once the war was over, the people of the larger states, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia – each with populations exceeding one million inhabitants – had no more of a vote in Congress than did Rhode Island – with a population of roughly 10,000. On the other hand, the states with smaller populations had not been satisfied that taxation should be proportional to representation. When it came time to discuss requisitions, they were convinced that taxation should be proportioned to population.

Even worse, after having fought a war instigated with a rallying cry of “no taxation without representation,” the people of the states were left to ask themselves how they were any more truly represented by a Congress whose members were only indirectly elected by state legislatures and not by the people themselves, than they had previously been represented by members of Parliament.

While recognizing the need for both for proportional representation and popular elections in at least one branch of a new government, the delegates attending the Federal Convention of 1787 were no less painfully aware of two facts: that the Articles of Confederation required any amendments to be approved by all 13 state legislatures and it was utterly naive to imagine all 13 state legislatures would agree to allowing proportional representation when that would mean at least half of them would lose representation in Congress.

For these reasons, the delegates agreed that attempting to merely amend the Articles would not be sufficient. They resolved to move from the task of proposing amendments to the Articles of Confederation to drafting an entirely new Constitution.

By proposing a new Constitution, the delegates intended to circumvent the requirement that all 13 states to agree to the changes they proposed. While 9 out of 13 was still a high barrier, a single state could no longer prevent the new plan from being agreed to by a sufficient number for the plan to have some hope of being accepted and establishing a new government.

Most importantly, and for the purposes of our interests here, is how the delegates considered it might be possible at all to secure sufficient consent to their new plan of government to amount to anything more than a mere fantasy. They would not appeal to the legislatures of the states – but to the people of the states directly. In doing so, they would appeal to an authority above and beyond the authority of the state legislatures. After all, what possible source of authority could the state legislatures claim but the authority of the people who had elected them? At the moment, the state legislatures, themselves, were skating on the thin ice of constitutions which had never actually been approved of by the people of their states.

How could the new plan of government be submitted to the consideration of the people of the respective states themselves, if not by the legislatures of those respective states? By conventions composed of delegates elected by the people of those states for the purpose of considering whether or not to approve the new Constitution.

Of course, I’m well aware that many libertarians wish the new constitution had not been adopted. Many libertarians would prefer we were still living under the Articles of Confederation, if any form of federal government at all. Many libertarians object to any suggestion that they can reasonably be expected to abide by the terms of a Constitution which they were never asked to ratify, or even to participate in electing delegates to consider ratifying. That’s an interesting conversation which will continue to be discussed among libertarians and it is not my objective to settle that matter now.

For the moment, my point is merely to explain the origin and purpose of conventions and, more importantly, to urge every libertarian in North Carolina who possibly can to attend this year’s convention. However much we may agree or disagree on the merits of the Articles of Confederation or “the consent of the governed,” I am asking you – I am begging you – to come to Lake Lure August 11 to 13.

I want you there to participate in electing the next chair and the members of the executive committee who will lead the Libertarian Party of North Carolina forward in the coming year.

In brief, yes, I am asking you to come to Lake Lure and to vote for the people you trust to communicate the message of liberty to everyone in North Carolina for the year to come. In fact, I’m asking you to come and consider putting your own name in nomination to be a member of the executive committee.

After all, what is the purpose of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina but to represent the views and interests of libertarians from all across this beautiful state of ours? Yet if only a handful of libertarians from across the state attend the convention and choose the members of our executive committee, how convincingly that committee claim to represent you?

To learn more about this summer’s convention, please visit LPNCatLakeLure.com. The $99 all Inclusive Gala Convention Pass includes your breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Saturday and a continental breakfast on Sunday. The hotel is giving everyone who reserves rooms to attend the convention a 15% discount on those reservations. It is best to call them at (800) 434-4970 to make your reservations.

I look forward to seeing you at Lake Lure.

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