John J. Liolos


Should the United States of America have a constitutional convention? Thomas Jefferson would maintain that one is long overdue; James Madison would argue the contrary. These two luminaries of American constitutional thought took sides in a stirring debate on a fundamental question in constitutionalism: should the dead bind the living? Jefferson advocated for recurrent recourse to the people by holding constitutional conventions in each generation. James Madison disagreed, arguing that stability and constitutional veneration, among other factors, were paramount. Most recall Madison as having won the debate. But at least 18 states throughout American history have adopted a Jeffersonian model of recurrent recourse to the people on the question of whether to hold a constitutional convention. Many of these states debated the issue in their own constitutional conventions throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. No scholar has yet mined this rich trove of convention records for all that they contribute to the fundamental debate spurred by Jefferson and Madison and continued by many distinguished scholars since. Here, I begin the project of adding to that debate the many insights from countless statesmen who contributed thought to this issue on the floors of state constitutional conventions throughout American history. These statesmen took up the arguments of Jefferson and Madison and provided novel insights and nuance, as well as raised new and interesting issues that previous statesmen and scholars have not considered since. Their insights are vital to this fundamental question of constitutionalism.