Sunday, January 29, 2012

Making a revolution constitutional: Progressivism and the "Gateway Amendment"

The Gateway Amendment is a simple thing, really. As it was explained in The Public, a Chicago based newspaper:
The gateway amendment proposed by Mayor Quick, of Sioux City, and recommended by the democratic convention of Iowa, is receiving favorable attention of labor organizations. The last labor organization to recommend it was the Machinists union, which did unanimously. We have commented favorably upon this amendment. Its object is to make possible to amend the federal constitution without a revolution, by providing that a majority vote of houses of congress, followed by a majority vote of the people of the States, shall make any immediately effective. The theory of the "gateway" amendment is constitutions should reasonably be under the control of the living; not wholly under that of the dead. People who are satisfied with things as they are, will naturally enough not favor its adoption; but people who want the gate opened for wise constitutional amendments will as naturally support Quick's "gateway" amendment.

Note, that's a simple majority. Not a 2/3s or 3/4 majority.

The preamble to the resolutions in favor of the "gateway" amendment adopted by the machinists convention, contains a succinct and admirable statement of the function of written constitutions. It is well preserving. The chief use of a written constitution, it says:
is to place certain legislative functions beyond the power of legislatures and congresses, and the object of these reservations is to preserve those functions for the people themselves and to protect them against the venality or folly of their representatives

This parallels Colonel House's book "Philip Dru, Administrator", Theodore Roosevelt(link) Woodrow Wilson(who cited a third person, Frank Goodnow), all of whom called for bureaucracies which were completely removed from the voters. The "Gateway" Amendment was their attempt to codify the progressive revolution into the constitution as an amendment. The wording here is not accidental, these progressives knew back then what their goals were, just as they did today.

In The American Magazine during the 1912 election, Herbert Quick was a big, big Woodrow Wilson Supporter. Here is the caption underneath his picture:(page 15)

THE FATHER OF THE "GATEWAY AMENDMENT" This important plank for the easier amendment of the Constitution in the Bull Moose platform was first proposed by Herbert Quick, who put it across in the Iowa Democratic platform in the late nineties. He has been agitating it ever since practically alone. He regards it as the most important plank in any political platform this year. Nevertheless Mr Quick is for Governor Wilson

Page 12 of 'The American' states that it has taken opinions from leading progressives of the day. While Quick may be forgotten to us today, he was well known back then. He was a prolific writer, which is all that Wikipedia's sanitized web page says about him. Here is a detailed bio should someone decide to change that.

What he wrote in his article in support of Wilson is very telling. He delights at the progressive revolution which is now(then) already well underway:(page 14)

Progressives like myself who regard the thing rather than the name are blest with an embarrassment of riches this year. It is a proof of the enormously rapid progress of the progressive movement in American politics that we, who have in the past fully expected that reactionary forces would in any given case control both old parties save when the perennial Bryan might wrest dominion temporarily from them, are now actually given a choice between two genuinely progressive candidates and two really advanced platforms. More wonderful still, these two are the real contenders for the victory. Standpatism, represented by the once great Republican party, is matched with Socialism for third place It is a most astounding revolution.

During the progressive era of American politics in the early 20th century, our country really was re-founded. Thankfully, they didn't get as much done as they wanted back then. Not foundationally, as this amendment would have done. It's taken them generations to do it through the back door via the courts.

And you know what's the funny thing, is I started out my research this morning on Theodore Roosevelt's third term. This is what I ended up digging out.

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