Mt. Vernon Declaration
The Mt. Vernon Declaration
Presented and Opened for Signature at George Washington's Estate of Mount Vernon, the 27th Day of February, in the Year of Our Lord 1997
We come to Mount Vernon to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of the World Federalist Association, founded in 1947 as United World Federalists, and the 265th birthday of George Washington, the father of our country. In this historic place we seek a way to secure peace, justice and human rights for the American people and the people of every other nation on our beautiful but troubled planet.
George Washington's vision and leadership played a key role in transforming the weak United States of the Articles of Confederation into the strong United States which resulted from the adoption of our Federal Constitution. That great transformation of American political institutions suggests a strategy for restructuring and empowering the weak United Nations of today. A strong, effective and democratic United Nations would be in the national interest of the United States and every other nation.
The United Nations has been an important and very constructive force since it was founded in 1945. However until it becomes stronger, more representative and better funded, it cannot save mankind from the scourge of war or adequately promote human rights, social justice and protection of our global environment. To achieve these essential goals the existing United Nations Charter must be amended or replaced. The new Charter must give the organization the essential powers it lacks. It must also provide checks and balances to ensure that it does not abuse or exceed its delegated powers.
As we approach the job of strengthening the United Nations, we should reflect on the central events in the transformation of American political institutions two centuries ago: the drafting of our Constitution in four months and its ratification by the American people in less than half a year. George Washington played a crucial role in both undertakings. He had served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in the War for Independence. Now he would serve as a delegate from Virginia and as president of the Constitutional Convention.
Washington and his colleagues knew that each state legislature could veto any amendment to the Articles of Confederation. For that reason, major changes in the Articles were all but impossible. To get around those vetoes, Washington helped persuade the delegates to draft a replacement constitution which would come into effect when it was ratified by popularly elected conventions in at least nine of the thirteen states.
The Virginia delegation came to the Constitutional Convention with a brilliant Virginia Plan for major changes in our national political institutions. James Madison was the chief architect of that plan. The Virginians urged the establishment of a national government with its own executive, legislature and judiciary. The national government would have dependable sources of revenue. Its legislature would be bicameral. The "first branch" would be elected by the people and the voting power of each state would reflect its population or its financial contribution to the national government. The Virginia Plan sometimes went too far. For example, it provided for the use of force against recalcitrant states. But George Mason, another Virginia delegate, insisted that national law should not be applied to states but should "directly operate on individuals." Mason's view prevailed.
The Constitution granted some powers and withheld others. The Tenth Amendment, which was part of the constitutional package, provided that: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." After inclusive discussion and important changes in it, the Virginia Plan became - and remains - the heart of our Constitution. After delegates signed it, Washington returned to his Mount Vernon home and worked hard for its ratification. Madison was a major figure in that endeavor.
For the United Nations to accomplish its declared objectives it too must be restructured, empowered and democratized. But that is unlikely to happen while the decisions of its General Assembly are made by a one-nation/one-vote system of representation and the decisions of its Security Council are subject to the veto of any of its five permanent members. And a change in one-nation/one-vote is unlikely unless the many nations with small populations and low incomes are given something in return, such as security against aggressors and assistance in developing their economies and improving their societies.
It is clear that the great powers cannot be counted on to keep the peace, whether as parts of a UN coalition or acting independently. The Charter requires UN members to come to the aid of nations which are attacked. But the presidents and prime ministers of the great powers insist that they and they alone will decide whether they will use force and, if so, when, how, how much and how long they will use it. They fear they will lose their jobs if they send their troops into battle in countries in which their citizens believe they have little or no political, economic or strategic interest. Because neither the United Nations nor the great powers can be counted on to keep the peace, there have been more than 125 wars since World War II, wars which have killed more people than were killed in that war. The United Nations intervened with force in only a very few of those wars. Meanwhile hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year for armed forces and for increasingly deadly weapons. Those weapons are becoming more and more widespread.
An adequate UN Charter must:
- establish a representative legislature and an independent judiciary;
- provide for substantial and dependable funding;
- give the judiciary the power of judicial review, including the power to declare "unconstitutional" UN laws which violate the Charter;
- provide for an equitable system of representation;
- provide for strict limitations on armaments and armed forces;
- and provide for the application of UN law, limited UN law, to law-breaking individuals.
Governments which are not now democratic should be eligible for continued or new membership in the new United Nations, provided they ratify the proposed amendments to the existing Charter or ratify a new UN Charter within a reasonable time.
To secure these necessary changes in the United Nations system, our political leaders - Democratic, Republican and Independent - should follow the good example of George Washington and his fellow Virginians. They should propose an American Plan for transforming the present United Nations into a world federation with the power, authority and funding to deal with those problems which, because they are global, require global solutions. To accomplish this, they should propose an appropriate package of amendments to the present Charter. If that amendment package is rejected, they should urge that a new Charter be drafted by a group of experts or by an elected world constitutional convention. Ratification of that replacement Charter should require the support of a substantial majority of the world's people and its nations.
We believe that the American people will welcome and support a movement to restructure, democratize and empower the United Nations. They know that the government is essential for law and order in our towns, cities, states, and in our nation. They can be persuaded that it is just as necessary at the global level. And there is good reason to believe that many nations, large and small, rich and poor, would give an American Plan the same serious consideration they gave to the Marshall Plan and other major American initiatives. We would not expect the world to endorse every part of that American Plan. Certainly George Washington and his fellow Virginians did not expect the Constitutional Convention to endorse all of their Virginia Plan. But the Virginia Plan had a tremendous impact. It provided the basic framework for our Constitution. A bold American Plan for a United Nations world federation would bring hope to people everywhere. It would truly honor George Washington, whose wisdom, conviction and character were essential to the founding of our country and our federal system.