Tuesday, August 23, 2011


In 1982,I gave a speech at Yale University. I called it "The Last Prerogative."

In it, I called for a convention under Article V of the federal constitution to propose needed amendments to our national charter.

Reading it again, I could not help but think how pertinent the words are to issues that daily confound the people of this country, saturate television and dominate the Internet pages of 2011.

Here are a few paragraphs:

"Despite the befuddlement of Keynesian economics, government fiscal responsibility is not, as so often urged by "gliberals", a mere question of transient political or economic policy, better left to statutory or administrative regulation than constitutional mandate.

"The Congress is already empowered by the Constitution to lay and collect taxes for the purpose of paying the debts of the United States. I seriously doubt that any of the delegates who labored through that hot summer of 1787 to write the Constitution would have believed for a moment that Congress might someday neglect or refuse to lay and collect taxes to pay the debts of the United States and persist in that refusal year in and year out until more than a trillion dollars of unpaid obligations had accumulated.

"Indeed, I think that any fair reading of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution would yield the conclusion that if the common defense and the general welfare are things that ought to be provided for, debts of the United States are things that ought to be paid.

"Fiscal responsibility is not a matter of politics or economic policy. Capitalist states can be run on red ink, and socialist regimes can have balanced budgets.

"Fiscal responsibility is not merely the platform of a political party or the goal of a particular administration. It is a measure of the credibility and viability of the established institution of government itself.

"Nor is fiscal responsibility a matter of choice. The effects of fiscal irresponsibility are not immediate, but they are certain. We know that our government is deeply committed as the guarantor of the nation's economy. The government stands behind mortgage loans, business loans, and student loans. The government protects our bank deposits and bond issues.

"These secondary obligations are so immense that they dwarf even the monstrous primary public debt, not to mention the moral commitment which underlies our many national entitlement programs. If we default on these obligations, we can expect nothing less than civil disorder.

"This is an irrefutable lesson of history. Shay's Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Veteran's March and the Welfare Marches show that the American people are not apathetic when they are hungry or homeless. They will not exchange a lifetime of savings for a fistful of worthless scrip without a fight.

"In such an extreme case, the American people will show no more restraint in preserving the institutions of government than they will be inclined to protect the unhappy temporary occupants of public office.

"In summary, I submit to you the following propositions. Since fiscal integrity relates to the stability of our system of government, the means of assuring it belong in our Constitution.

"The proper constitutional means of assuring the fiscal responsibility and integrity of the union can only be reliably proposed by a body of citizens which is not itself participating in the excesses to be guarded against.

"An amendatory convention called pursuant to Article V of the United States Constitution is such a body, created and intended by our forefathers precisely for the purpose of enabling the sovereign people of the several states of the American union, without bloodshed, to assert their last prerogative as free men and women: to alter the form of the government (as it was said in the declaration of independence), '. . . laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.'

"Finally, I submit to you that the act of convening an amendatory convention under article V would in itself be more significant than whatever particular amendment or amendments 'might be agreed upon as a result of it. For the convention itself represents a return to first principles. It represents a reassertion of the right of self-determination, and a return to representative democracy in America. I can think of no cause more worthy of any responsible citizen's best efforts and total commitment."

That's what I said in 1982. I'll say it again at Harvard in September.


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