A Convention of States?

constitutionLast Saturday was the official Constitution Day, celebrating September 17th as the 229th anniversary of the day when the Constitutional Convention signed off on the document that was then sent to the states for ratification.

Has it stood the test of time? Well, we still have the same basic structure of government that it established. Yet there have been so many departures from the text that the whole concept of rule of law is now at risk.

This has led to a grassroots movement to ensure that the Constitution is taken seriously. It’s called the Convention of States, an entirely constitutional effort to amend the Constitution in ways that will make it more difficult for politicians and judges to overthrow the original intent and wording of this fundamental cornerstone of liberty.

The basis for the movement is found in Article V of the Constitution:

he Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

Some have objected that such a convention would be a runaway assembly that will undermine the Constitution completely. I don’t accept that logic. There are two safeguards: first, the people supporting this movement are those who already fear the Constitution is being undermined, and their goal is to return to its original meaning; second, any proposed amendment will have to be ratified by 3/4 of the states. There are enough conservative states to stop any radical element being added to the Constitution.

What types of amendments are being floated? Here are possibilities that the organizers of this movement have mentioned:

  • A balanced budget amendment
  • A redefinition of the General Welfare Clause (the original view was the federal government could not spend money on any topic within the jurisdiction of the states)
  • A redefinition of the Commerce Clause (the original view was that Congress was granted a narrow and exclusive power to regulate shipments across state lines–not all the economic activity of the nation)
  • A prohibition of using international treaties and law to govern the domestic law of the United States
  • A limitation on using Executive Orders and federal regulations to enact laws (since Congress is supposed to be the exclusive agency to enact laws)
  • Imposing term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court
  • Placing an upper limit on federal taxation
  • Requiring the sunset of all existing federal taxes and a super-majority vote to replace them with new, fairer taxes

I see nothing radical in those propositions; I welcome a convention that will discuss them openly and make recommendations.

How has the movement progressed? Here’s the latest information:

cos-progress-2016

I’m glad to report that my state of Florida has seen the light on this and the legislature has passed the application. The movement is picking up steam as can be seen by the number of states where applications have been filed.

To show the seriousness of this endeavor, the organization is convening a simulated convention of the states this week in Colonial Williamsburg.

colonial-williamsburg-capitol

State legislators will practice how a convention of states will be run on September 21-23, and the final deliberations will be made available to anyone interested in hearing them. Representatives from all the states will be present for this simulated convention.

If you are interested in becoming involved with this movement, go to http://www.conventionofstates.com/ to find out more.

Is it too late to make a difference and pull the nation back from the precipice? None of us should make that determination until we have done everything possible to stop the mad rush over the cliff.

The Pause

Life sometimes needs a pause button.

I’ve been in Williamsburg, Virginia, since Wednesday. My main reason for being here is to show students some of the most significant sites related to the history of the nation, a task that’s hardly a task for me—it’s a joy to do so.

Bassett HallYet I’ve had some free time just to stroll and not feel rushed about anything. On Thursday afternoon, I walked from the Visitors’ Center to the home of John D. Rockefeller Jr., the man who put upwards of $68 million of his own dollars into the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. It probably was about two miles to the home, Bassett Hall, and I’ve not been accustomed lately to extended walking. Later in the evening, I had “charley horses” in both shins, something I don’t ever recall experiencing before. But it was worth it.

It was worth it not so much for the home itself, although it was interesting, but simply for the time to saunter over there and not be subject to a schedule for a change. The rest of the afternoon I spent in the museum, listening for a while to a humorous and informative Q&A with “Martha Washington,” then on to some truly fascinating eighteenth-century portraits. Again, no rush, just relaxation.

House of BurgessesLast night, I had a sandwich at the well-known Cheese Shop in Merchants Square, then a nearly one-mile trek to the Capitol, where I spent a pleasant hour taking in a harpsichord concert of music from the era. The concert took place in the House of Burgesses room in the reconstructed Capitol. This is the same spot where Washington, Wythe, Henry, Jefferson, and so many others helped make history. Although I’ve been in that room many times previously, I had the same sense of historical presence as always. For me, it never gets old.

Afterwards, in weather that was cool, but not too cool, I leisurely retraced my steps back nearly one mile to Merchants Square, got a coffee, and sat on a bench outside, watching tourists going to and fro from one specialty shop and restaurant to another, all under a sky that slowly shifted from dusk to dark. Peace prevailed externally, but more important was the peace within me. On the walk and on the bench, I had a conversation with the Lord about being content with life, no matter what the circumstances. We also spoke of being able to enjoy the small things and treasuring those moments.

No, I didn’t hear an audible voice on the other side of the conversation—but He was there. And where He is, that’s where life is as well. Without Him, and without the peace He brings, we are the most miserable of all creatures.

Life sometimes needs a pause button. Thank you, Lord, for all those pauses that renew our strength and restore purpose.

The Productive Year Ahead

Colonial Williamsburg--CapitolLater this week, I’ll begin showing students around some of Virginia’s best historic sites. I’ll be staying in Williamsburg, one of my favorite places on the planet. The historic colonial area always attracts me.

We’ll also tour Jamestown’s original site, the re-created Jamestown settlement, Yorktown, Monticello (Jefferson’s home), Mt. Vernon (Washington’s home), and sites in Richmond (Virginia capitol, John Marshall’s house, St. John’s church, where Patrick Henry delivered his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” oration).

That’s just the beginning of a year of travel for my sabbatical. I’ll be at Wheaton College in August to examine the Billy Graham papers. If I can, I also hope to squeeze in some time to at least begin looking at the papers of C. S. Lewis, also housed at Wheaton. Then I hope my collaborative colleague and I can make a trip to North Carolina in September to interview some of Graham’s family and associates.

October is the target date for the Reagan and Nixon libraries in California. On that trip, I may also have the opportunity to interview Michael Reagan and visit Reagan’s ranch. I’ve been to the Reagan library three times before, but all prior to the erection of the massive building that houses Air Force One, and also before the renovation of the museum. It will be like seeing all things new.

Air Force One

November provides a change of pace, as I’ve been invited to return to Puerto Rico to teach at a Youth with a Mission base. That’s always a highlight for me. Then I’m aiming for a Texas excursion in December. I have three presidential libraries to visit there: both Bushes’ and Lyndon Johnson’s. That will leave the Eisenhower library and any others I might be able to add (if the funding holds out) for 2015. Everywhere I go, I’m hoping to reconnect with friends and former students.

The goal for all these trips is to provide enough research to write a series of books on spiritual advisers to presidents. In addition to that, I’m collaborating with another faculty colleague on a book that showcases prominent individuals who switched from being political liberals to political conservatives.

This will be a full year, and a very productive one. I simply thank the Lord for this great opportunity.

Berkeley Plantation: A Hidden Treasure

Berkeley Plantation 2As I noted yesterday, I’m in Virginia, showing students some of the most significant historical sites of early America. On Sunday, we visited one of the hidden treasures of early American history,Berkeley Plantation, located about thirty miles outside Williamsburg. It’s in Charles City County, which has absolutely no real towns or cities within it. That’s on purpose. They’re attempting to keep the rural nature of the area. The county, though, is replete with plantations. None, in my view, is more connected to the entire gamut of American history from the founding of Virginia through the Civil War than Berkeley.

The site’s entrance into the mainstream of colonial history begins prior to the building of the house. It was one of the first settlements outside of Jamestown as colonists began to spread upriver.

1st Thanksgiving Shrine Upon arrival at this site, the English adventurers followed their instructions to the letter: they were told to hold a thanksgiving service immediately, which they did. This was in 1619, one year before the Pilgrims arrived in New England. The plantation commemorates that first thanksgiving with a shrine down by the river where it took place.

This early settlement was wiped out in the 1622 Massacre when the Powhatan Indians rose up and tried to kill all Englishmen in Virginia. They were unsuccessful, but the damage was great, with nearly one-third of the settlers murdered. Jamestown itself was spared the worst of the attack, having been warned by an Indian who had become a Christian. His name was Chanco, and he is memorialized in the church at Jamestown with the following plaque:

Chanco

The Harrison family bought the property at Berkeley in the 1690s and constructed the first shipyard in the New World. Later, in the 1720s, Benjamin Harrison IV built the house that stands there still today. If you look at the side of the house, you can see an inscription in the wall:

Berkeley Inscription

It is difficult to read from this distance—it’s as close as I could get—but it has an “H” at the top for Harrison, a “B” on the left side for Benjamin, and an “A” on the right side for Anne, his wife. Between the letters is a heart, indicating the love they had for one another. A touch of humanity in the middle of the bricks.

Benjamin Harrison VI was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His son, William Henry Harrison, was a renowned general who won the Battle of Tippecanoe and served in the War of 1812. He later won the presidency in 1840 and returned to this house to write his inaugural address. Unfortunately, one month after delivering it, he died of pneumonia, making his the shortest presidency in American history.

The plantation came to the forefront again during the Civil War. Gen. George McClellan used it as his headquarters in 1862 in his unsuccessful attempt to take Richmond. While the army camped there, it was reviewed by President Lincoln. Another interesting claim to fame is that “Taps” was composed there at that time and first played to the troops. We now use “Taps” at flag ceremonies and at military funerals.

Although not directly connected to Berkeley, the Harrison family didn’t disappear from influence: William Henry Harrison’s grandson—another Benjamin Harrison, became the 23rd president, elected in 1888.

History comes alive at Berkeley Plantation.

My Teaching Ministry–Part V

The Lord has His times and places. Prior to teaching at Indiana Wesleyan, I had been an adjunct at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. My teaching had been well received there, and I had hoped for a full-time position, but none was available at that time. But as my fifth year at Indiana Wesleyan was ending, the door opened—providentially, I believe—to return to Regent to teach in the master’s program in the Robertson School of Government. For me, this was the fulfillment of my academic dream, and I hoped it would be the place where I could hang my regalia forever.

Students at Regent who were seeking a master’s degree in public policy were earnest and dedicated. Many had left a career midstream to make this sacrifice of time and finances. I never had to labor to get their attention. My task was to be the historian in the department, offering courses that provided the historical background that was necessary for work in the field of public policy and government. I had the freedom to teach how Scripture should influence our views on the proper role of civil government. I look back on this time as almost a golden age with respect to the nature of the students I was privileged to teach. I still have strong attachments to many of my former Regent students. Not only was I a mentor, but I rejoiced to be considered a friend as well. My advisees met with me once each week for group prayer; this created a bond that remains.

Living in the Tidewater area also made for a more hands-on approach to early American history with the Historical Triangle of Jamestown, Yorktown, and Colonial Williamsburg nearby. Each year I took students to those sites; it was a highlight of two Saturdays in the fall. I even had the opportunity to help lead a trip to Israel and Great Britain, based on a summer course I offered on the roots of American government—found in both the Old Testament and the British heritage. This is the only trip I’ve made to the Holy Land, and I would dearly love to return.

In the classroom, I made the transition to PowerPoint presentations, which opened up a new world of possibilities, especially for history, as everything historical can be found on the Web.

One year I received an appointment as academic dean for the School of Government, but I was one of two associate deans under the primary dean. The position was laden with tremendous responsibilities with no corresponding authority. The university as a whole, and the School of Government specifically, underwent administrative upheaval in my final years there. The mission and goals of the School of Government began to change, and I no longer felt as tied to the program philosophically. I had spent seven years teaching these graduate students, and had loved nearly every minute of it. Although it pained me greatly, I began searching for a new position elsewhere.

Where did that search lead? That is tomorrow’s subject.