Publius-Huldah's Blog

Understanding the Constitution

What the Framers really said about the purpose of amendments to our Constitution

By Publius Huldah

One of the silliest of the many unsupported claims made by those lobbying for an Article V convention is that our Framers said that when the federal government violates the Constitution, the remedy is to amend the Constitution.1

It shouldn’t be necessary to point out that their claim makes as much sense as saying that since people violate the Ten Commandments, God should amend the Ten Commandments.2

And since none of our Framers said such a silly thing, the convention lobby can’t produce a quote where it was said.

Even so, some have believed it and repeated it to others. Americans! We must demand that people prove their claims before we believe what they tell us.

I will show you original source documents, and you can see for yourself what our Framers really said about the purpose of amendments to our Constitution.

Madison’s Journal of the Federal Convention of 1787

James Madison was a delegate to the federal convention of 1787 where our present Constitution was drafted. He kept a daily Journal. I went through it, collected every reference to what became Article V, and wrote it up – here it is.

Madison’s Journal shows what our Framers said at the convention about the purpose of amendments to our Constitution:

♦ Elbridge Gerry said on June 5, 1787: the “novelty & difficulty of the experiment requires periodical revision.”

♦George Mason said on June 11, 1787: The Constitution now being formed “will certainly be defective,” as the Articles of Confederation have been found to be. “Amendments therefore will be necessary, and it will be better to provide for them, in an easy, regular and Constitutional way than to trust to chance and violence. It would be improper to require the consent of the Natl. Legislature, because they may abuse their power, and refuse their consent…The opportunity for such an abuse, may be the fault of the Constitution [i.e., a defect] calling for amendmt.” [boldface mine] 3

♦Alexander Hamilton said on Sep. 10, 1787: amendments remedy defects in the Constitution. 4

The Federalist Papers

In Federalist No. 43 at 8, Madison said the purpose of amendments to the Constitution is to repair “discovered faults” and “amendment of errors”; and “amendment of errors” and “useful alterations” would be suggested by experience.

In Federalist No. 85 (13th para), Hamilton said useful amendments would address the “organization of the government, not…the mass of its powers” 5

Throughout Federalist No. 49, Madison warned against a convention for proposing amendments, and showed that a convention is neither proper nor effective to restrain government when it encroaches.

Madison’s letter of August 28, 1830 to Edward Everett (p. 383-403)

Madison says:

“Should the provisions of the Constitution as here reviewed be found not to secure the Govt. & rights of the States agst. usurpations & abuses on the part of the U.S…” (p. 398)

So he is talking about provisions – defects – in the Constitution which permit the federal government to abuse the States. He goes on to say:

“…the final resort within the purview of the Constn. lies in an amendment of the Constn…” 6

So he’s saying that when a defect in the Constitution exposes the States to abuses by the federal government, the remedy is to amend the Constitution.

To fully grasp Madison’s point, we must look at his letter in its historical context of the Tariff Act of 1828: The southern states bought manufactured goods from England. England bought southern cotton. But infant industries in the Northeast couldn’t compete with the English imports. So during 1828, Congress passed a Tariff Act which imposed such high tariffs on English imports that the southern states could no longer buy them. England stopped buying southern cotton. This devastated the southern economy. So South Carolina wanted to nullify the Tariff Act (the “Tariff of Abominations”); and developed a theory that a State had a “constitutional right” to nullify any federal law, and the nullification would be presumed valid, unless three-fourths of the States said it wasn’t valid.

Madison opposed South Carolina’s theory because the Tariff Act was constitutional – it was authorized by Art. I, §8, cl. 1, US Constitution. States can’t nullify a constitutional law! 7

But while the Tariff Act was constitutional, it was abusive: Article I, §8, cl. 1 was being used to benefit infant industries in the Northeast at the expense of the southern states. 8

So what’s the remedy “within the purview of the Constitution” for the Tariff Act of 1828? Madison doesn’t spell it out – but obviously Art. I, §8, cl. 1 could be amended to say that Congress may impose tariffs only to raise revenue to carry out the enumerated powers; and may not impose tariffs in order to benefit domestic industries, or to benefit one section of the Country at the expense of other sections. 9

Washington’s Farewell Address

In his Address, Washington warns that we must require people in the federal government to confine themselves within their constitutional powers; and we must not permit one department [branch] of the federal government to encroach on the powers of the other departments (p. 15-19). He then says,

“If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.” (p.19)

So Washington is talking about what the people may come to see as defects in the Constitution:

♦ If we want one branch of the federal government to have a power which the Constitution delegates to another branch, we should amend the Constitution to redistribute that power.10

♦ If we want the federal government to have a power the Constitution doesn’t grant, we should amend the Constitution to delegate the additional power. No matter how desirable it is for the federal government to have the additional power, we must not permit it to exercise the power by usurpation.11

And this is what Alexander Hamilton, who along with James Madison assisted Washington in drafting his Farewell Address, 12 had previously said in Federalist No. 78: The representatives of the people [Congress] may not violate the Constitution even if a majority of their constituents want them to:

“…Until the people have, by some solemn and authoritative act, annulled or changed the established form, it is binding upon themselves collectively, as well as individually; and no presumption, or even knowledge, of their sentiments, can warrant their representatives in a departure from it, prior to such an act…” (5th para from the end)

Our Constitution isn’t defective, it’s ignored!

Our Constitution is a 5,000 year miracle. Our problem is everyone ignores it. The solution is to dust it off, read it, learn it, and enforce it. Downsize the federal government to its enumerated powers.

Demand Proof of what people say before you believe them.

If Americans would follow the example of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and demand proof of the claims the convention lobby makes, they would spot the false claims and preserve our blessed Constitution. Judges & Juries require trial lawyers to prove their claims. Demand the same from lobbyists for a convention!

Endnotes:

1 Michael Farris claimed [but couldn’t link to a quote because Mason didn’t say it]:

“George Mason demanded that this provision [the convention method of proposing amendments] be included in Article V because he correctly forecast the situation we face today. He predicted that Washington, D.C. would violate its constitutional limitations and the States would need to make adjustments to the constitutional text in order to rein in the abuse of power by the federal government.”

2 Amendments can’t “rein in” the fed. gov’t when it “violate[s] its constitutional limitations” because when it does so, it is ignoring the existing limitations on its powers.

3 Mason’s concern was that the new fed. gov’t wouldn’t agree to amendments needed to correct defects in the new Constitution:

♦ Under the Articles of Confederation (our 1st Constitution), amendments had to be approved by the Continental Congress and all of the States (see ART. 13). So Art. V of the new Constitution dispensed with the requirement that Congress approve amendments.

♦ Who should be able to propose amendments? Madison wanted Congress to propose all amendments, either on their own initiative or at the request of 2/3 of the States. But Mason said the people should be able to propose amendments without asking Congress because Congress might become oppressive and not permit the people to get the necessary amendments.

So the convention method was added. And it provided a way for the People to propose amendments. But it also provided a convenient opportunity to get a new Constitution, since the delegates would have that transcendent right, recognized in our Declaration of Independence, to throw off one government and write a new constitution which creates a new government.

George Mason hated the new Constitution. He said on Aug. 31, 1787 that he “would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands”; and if it wasn’t changed to suit his views, he wanted another convention. Everybody knew that to get a new Constitution, you need a convention.

Madison and the other Framers went along with adding the convention method because they knew the people had the right to meet in convention and draft a new Constitution whether or not the convention method was added to Art. V [e.g., Madison’s letter of Nov. 2, 1788 to Turberville p. 299 at 2.]; and they couldn’t stop People in the future from doing what they had just done. So Madison, Hamilton & John Jay promptly started warning of the dangers of another convention: see the Brilliant Men handout.

4 Here’s an illustration of what States soon saw as a defect in our Constitution: Art. III, §2, cl. 1 delegated to federal courts the power to hear cases “between a State and Citizens of another State”. But when a citizen of South Carolina sued the State of Georgia, the States were outraged! See Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793). So the 11th Amendment was ratified to take away from federal courts the power to hear such cases.

5 The Constitution drafted at the federal convention of 1787 delegates only a tiny handful of powers to the fed. gov’t. See this chart.

6 Madison continues, “… according to a process applicable by the States.” Madison always said that when States want amendments, they should ask their congressional delegation to propose them. E.g., Madison’s letter of Nov. 2, 1788 to Turberville (p. 299 at 2.).

7 See Madison’s Notes on Nullification (1835) HERE (p. 573-607).

8 The Tariff Act of 1828 violated our Founding Principle (2nd para of the Declaration of Independence) that the purpose of government is to secure the rights God gave us. God never gave us the right to be free of competition in business.

9 In the very next paragraph, Madison says that when there is a pattern of usurpations and abuses, we must step outside of the Constitution and resort to the original right of self-defense: resistance, i.e., nullification or revolution (p. 398).

10 E.g., Art. I, §8, cl. 11 delegates to Congress the power to declare war. But if we want the President to have that power, we should amend the Constitution to delegate that power to the President. We must not permit the President to exercise that power by usurpation!

11 If we wanted the fed. gov’t to exercise power over labor unions, wages & hours, safety standards, food & drugs, manufacturing standards, agriculture, energy, housing, transportation, education, medical care, the environment, etc., etc., etc., we should have amended the Constitution to delegate those powers to the fed. gov’t. But we ignored Washington’s advice, and permitted the fed. gov’t to exercise those powers by usurpation.

12 The Introduction to the Farewell Address (p. 3) says that George Washington composed it with the assistance of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

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November 11, 2018 Posted by | Amendments to the Constitution, Article V, Article V Convention, Convention of States project, Federalist No. 49, George Mason, James Madison, Madison's Journal of the Federal Convention of 1787, Madison's letter to Edward Everett, Michael Farris, Publius Huldah, Purpose of amendments to constitution, The Ten Commandments, Washington's Farewell Address, What our Framers gave us, what our Framers really said, why convention was added to Art. V | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The George Mason Fabrication

By Publius Huldah 1

Those who have read Article I, §8, clauses 1-16 of our federal Constitution know that it delegates only a handful of powers (over the Country at large) to the federal government.

They also know that, for the last 100 years, the federal government has violated the Constitution by usurping thousands of powers not delegated.

So what do we do about it?

1. The silly answer of the convention lobby

The convention lobby says that when the federal government violates the Constitution, the solution is to amend the Constitution.

Now think about that: When a spouse violates the marriage vows, is the solution is to change the marriage vows? When people ignore speed limits, is the solution to change the speed limits? When people violate the Ten Commandments, is the solution to change the Ten Commandments?

Of course not! The solution is obedience: to the Constitution, the marriage vows, the speed limits, and God.

But the convention lobby’s argument proceeds from silliness to insidiousness: They say that only at an Article V convention can we get the amendments we need.

 2. Why do they want an Article V convention?

Even before the ink was dry on our Constitution of 1787, its enemies wanted to get rid of it:  At the federal convention where it was drafted, George Mason said on Aug. 31, 1787 that

“he would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands”; and if it weren’t changed to suit his views, he wanted another general convention. 2

Such demands for another convention persisted after our Constitution was ratified (by the ninth State) on June 21, 1788.  James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay addressed the demands and warned of the dangers of another convention [link].  They understood that a convention is the vehicle for getting a new Constitution.

Today’s enemies of our Constitution are spending vast sums of money to get an Article V convention  [e.g., link and link and link]. Their hirelings are propagandizing and pushing State Legislators all over our Country to apply to Congress to call a convention.

 

Article V of our Constitution provides two methods of amendment:  Congress:

  1. proposes amendments and sends them to the States for ratification; or
  2. calls a convention if two thirds of the States apply for it.

Our existing 27 Amendments were obtained under the first method. We’ve never used the convention method because until recently, Americans understood the danger.

James Madison wrote in his Nov. 2, 1788 letter to Turberville [link] that he “trembled” at the prospect of a second convention; and if there were another convention, “the most violent partizans”, and “individuals of insidious views” would strive to be delegates and would have “a dangerous opportunity of sapping the very foundations of the fabric” of our Country. 3

Alexander Hamilton “dreaded” the consequences of another convention because he knew that enemies of our Constitution wanted to get rid of it: Federalist No. 85. 4

The same goes for today. If there is an Article V convention, our enemies will have the opportunity to get rid of our existing Constitution and impose a new one. 5

Different factions already have new Constitutions in hand or in preparation in anticipation of an Article V convention. 6

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) seeks to bring about a political integration of Canada, the United States, and Mexico – a Parliament is to be set up over them, and their police and military forces are to be combined!  You can read the CFR’s Task Force Report on the North American Community at their website here.  Because setting up a Parliament over and above the United States and surrendering sovereignty over our military & law enforcement is altogether repugnant to our existing Constitution, they need a new Constitution which transforms the United States from a sovereign nation to a member state of the North American Union. To get this new Constitution, they need an Article V convention.  See, e.g.,  USMCA ‘Trade Agreement,’ the North American Union, an Article V convention, and Red Flag Laws: Connecting the dots [here].

Now that you see what’s behind the push for a convention, let’s address the Convention Lobby’s Revisionist Account of the federal convention of 1787:

3. The Fake Quote

They claim that, at the federal convention of 1787 where our present Constitution was drafted, our Framers gave us the Article V convention as the “solution” to federal usurpations.  Michael Farris wrote: 7

“George Mason demanded that this provision [the convention method of proposing amendments] be included in Article V because he correctly forecast the situation we face today. He predicted that Washington, D.C. would violate its constitutional limitations and the States would need to make adjustments to the constitutional text in order to rein in the abuse of power by the federal government.”

But Mason didn’t say that. Nor did any other delegates say that or anything to that effect. They weren’t silly men.

4. Our Framers said the purpose of amendments is to remedy defects in the Constitution 

James Madison was a delegate to the federal convention of 1787, and kept a Journal. I went through it, collected every reference to what became Article V, and wrote it up – here it is. Madison’s Journal shows what the Framers really said about the purpose of amendments:

♦Elbridge Gerry said on June 5, 1787, the “novelty & difficulty of the experiment requires periodical revision”.

Under the Articles of Confederation (Art. XIII) [link], amendments had to be approved by Congress and all of the StatesOn June 11, 1787 the Delegates discussed whether the new Constitution should also require Congress’ approval of amendments.  George Mason said, 

The Constitution now being formed “will certainly be defective”, as the Articles of Confederation have been found to be. “Amendments therefore will be necessary, and it will be better to provide for them, in an easy, regular and Constitutional way … It would be improper to require the consent of the Natl. Legislature, because they may abuse their power, and refuse their consent …The opportunity for such an abuse, may be the fault of the Constitution [a defect] calling for amendmt.” [boldface mine]

So Mason’s concern was that Congress might not agree to amendments needed to fix defects.  So he didn’t think the new Constitution should require Congress’ approval of amendments.

♦Alexander Hamilton said on Sep. 10, 1787 amendments remedy defects in the Constitution.

Other primary source writings of the time show:

♦useful amendments would address the “organization of the government, not … the mass of its powers” (Federalist No. 85, 13th para).

♦“amendment of errors” and “useful alterations” would be suggested by experience (Federalist No. 43 at 8.)

♦If “… the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates …” (Washington’s Farewell Address, page 19) 8

That’s what they really said.

5.  The discussions on how Amendments should be proposed

Now let’s look at the additional words of George Mason’s which the convention lobby has contorted and taken out of context in an attempt to justify their absurd and ruinous claim.

An issue at the convention of 1787 was the manner in which amendments to the new Constitution would be proposed.

Madison wanted Congress to propose all amendments, either on their own initiative or at the request of two thirds of the States.  On Sep. 10, 1787, he proposed this wording for Article V:

“The Legislature of the United States, whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem necessary, or on the application of two-thirds of the Legislatures of the several States, shall propose amendments to this Constitution …”

Mason objected to Madison’s proposed wording.  On Sep. 15, 1787, Mason said,

“As the proposing of amendments is in both the modes to depend, in the first immediately, and in the second ultimately, on Congress, 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.”

Now remember! Mason agreed with the other Delegates that the purpose of amendments is to remedy defects in the Constitution.  And his concern (June 11, 1787) was that Congress might not agree to amendments which would be needed to correct defects. 9

Neither Mason nor anyone else was so silly as to say that when the federal government violates the constitution, the solution is to amend the Constitution.

6. Why was the convention method added to Article V?

So also on Sept. 15, 1787, Governor Morris and Mr. Gerry moved to amend Article V so as to require a Convention on application of 2/3 of the States.

James Madison and Alexander Hamilton went along with it because they understood that a people have the right to meet in convention and draft a new constitution whether the convention method were in Article V or not.  They knew they couldn’t stop future generations from doing what they themselves had already done twice: Invoking the Right, acknowledged in the 2nd para of our Declaration of Independence, to throw off one government and set up a new one. They invoked that Right during 1776 to throw off the British Monarchy; and during 1787, they invoked it to throw off the Articles of Confederation – and the government it had created – and set up a new Constitution which created a new government.  In Federalist No. 40 (15th para), Madison specifically invoked this Right as justification for what they did at the federal “amendments” convention of 1787: They ignored the Resolution of February 21, 1787 of the Continental Congress  [link] which called the convention “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation”; they ignored the instructions from their States [link] 10, and they drafted a new Constitution with a new and easier mode of ratification (only 9 States needed to ratify our Constitution of 1787).

So the convention method was added to Article V.  And it provided another way to get amendments. But it also provided a way to get a new Constitution under the pretext of just getting amendments. 11

7. What’s our real problem? Let’s man-up and address that

Our problem today is not a defective Constitution. Our problem is ignorance, loss of virtue, a willingness to sell our birthright for bowls of porridge from the federal government, refusal to think, and disobedience to our Founding Principles.  Our Framers expected us to be virtuous and informed; and the States to resist federal usurpations. 12

State governments could take a giant step in “limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government” by not taking federal funds to implement unconstitutional federal programs.

Open your eyes, Americans.  Do not permit the Globalists to complete their coup against us.

Endnotes:

1 My friend Don Fotheringham and I discussed this issue; this paper reflects his valuable insights. His paper, “Article V is Deliberately Vague”, is HERE.

2 Mason didn’t chop off his right hand. He, along with Edmund Randolph and Elbridge Gerry, refused to sign the Constitution: see Madison’s Journal of the Federal Convention for Sep. 17, 1787. Randolph wanted the States to be able to propose amendments to the proposed Constitution, and then all would be submitted to and finally decided on by another general convention: Aug. 31, Sep. 10, and Sep. 15, 1787. Gerry’s objections to the proposed Constitution were such that “the best that could be done…was to provide for a second general Convention”: Sep. 15, 1787.

The federal convention of 1787 was called for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation[link] , and all referred to it as a “general convention” [search HERE for “general convention”, and you will see]. And in Madison’s Nov. 2, 1788 letter to Turberville [link], he writes,

“…3. If a General Convention were to take place for the avowed and sole purpose of revising the Constitution it would naturally consider itself as having a greater latitude than the Congress appointed …”

3 Madison opposed the convention method: Federalist No. 49 (Feb. 1788); his letter to Turberville of Nov. 2, 1788 [link]; his letter to George Eve of Jan. 2, 1789 [link]; and on June 8, 1789, he circumvented the application submitted to Congress by Virginia on May 5, 1789 for an Article V convention, by introducing into Congress a proposed “bill of rights”. That is the procedure we have followed ever since: When States want amendments, they instruct their congressional delegation to propose them.

4 In Federalist No. 85 (Aug. 1788), Hamilton addressed the arguments of antifederalists who wanted another convention so they could get rid of our newly ratified Constitution. The “excellent little pamphlet” he refers to (9th para) was written during April 1788 by John Jay (first Chief Justice of the United States) and shows:

“the utter improbability of assembling a new convention, under circumstances in any degree so favorable to a happy issue, as those in which the late convention met, deliberated, and concluded.”

Jay warned in his Pamphlet that another convention would run “extravagant risques” [risks].

5 Even though Article V speaks of “a Convention for proposing Amendments”, the Delegates would have the “self-evident” right, recognized in the 2nd para of our Declaration of Independence, to throw off our existing Form of Government and set up a new Constitution which creates a new government. And since a new Constitution would also have its own new mode of ratification, it would surely be approved.

6 The proposed Constitution for the Newstates of America is ratified by a national referendum [Art 12, § 1].

Here’s the proposed Constitution for “The New Socialist Republic in North America.

The Constitution 2020 movement is backed by George Soros, Eric Holder, Cass Sunstein, and Marxist law professors. They want a progressive Constitution in place by the year 2020.

7 Farris’ paper, “Answering the John Birch Society Questions about Article V”, is HERE on the COS website; the copy I preserved is HERE.

8  Here’s an example of an amendment to remedy a perceived defect in our Constitution:  It originally delegated to federal courts the power to hear cases “between a State and Citizens of another State” (Art. III, §2, cl. 1). But when a Citizen of South Carolina sued the State of Georgia, the States were outraged!  See Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793).  So during the Washington Administration, the 11th Amendment was ratified to take away from the federal courts the power to hear cases filed by a Citizen against another State.

See Note 8 above.  What if Congress hadn’t agreed to propose that amendment?  That type of scenario is what Mason’s words addressed.  Here are examples of other defects Congress might not agree to repair by amendment:

The Tariff Act of 1828 was constitutional – it was authorized by Art. I, §8, cl. 1, US Constitution. But it was oppressive because it benefited infant industries in the North at the expense of the Southern States.  An amendment could provide that tariffs may be imposed only to raise revenue to carry out the delegated powers of the federal government; and may not be imposed to benefit domestic industries, or to benefit one part of the Country at the expense of another part.  But Congress might not agree to such an amendment.

♦ Slavery was once permitted the federal fugitive slave laws (Art. IV, §2, clause 3) were oppressive.  Slavery was a defect to be repaired by amendment.  But Congress might not agree to such an amendment.

10  Art. 13 of the Articles of Confederation required amendments to be agreed to by Congress and all of the States.  Here are the instructions the States gave delegates to the federal convention of 1787:

♦”alterations to the Federal Constitution which, when agreed to by Congress and the several States, would become effective”: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Georgia, S. Carolina, Maryland, & New Hampshire.

♦”for the purpose of revising the Federal Constitution”:  Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Delaware, and Georgia;

♦”for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation”: New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

♦”provisions to make the Constitution of the federal government adequate”:  New Jersey

11 George Mason’s and Patrick Henry’s desire for an Article V convention so they could get rid of the Constitution of 1787, was no secret.  See, among various others of James Madison’s letters:

♦ His of April 22, 1788 to Thomas Jefferson [link at pages 121-122]: “Mr. H—y is supposed to aim at disunion.  Col. M—-n is growing every day more bitter… if a second Convention should be formed, it is as little to be expected that the same spirit of compromise will prevail in it as produced an amicable result in the first. It will be easy also for those who have latent views of disunion, to carry them on under the mask of contending for alterations….” 

♦ In his letter of Nov. 2, 1788 to Edmund Randolph [link at page 295], he recites how, on October 27, Patrick Henry had introduced in the Virginia Assembly an application to the first congress “to call a second convention for proposing amendments to it…”  and that Mr. H—y’s “…enmity was levelled, as he did not scruple to insinuate agst the whole system; and the destruction of the whole system I take to be still the secret wish of his heart, and the real object of his pursuit…”

♦ In his letter of Dec. 8, 1788 to Jefferson [link at page 312]: “…it is equally certain that there are others who urge a second Convention with the insidious hope, of throwing all things into Confusion, and of subverting the fabric just established, if not the Union itself…

12 Nullification Made Easy and What Should States Do When the Federal Government Usurps Power?

Revised July 5, 2020

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June 7, 2017 Posted by | Article V Convention, convention lobby, George Mason, James Madison | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

   

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