Thursday, November 11, 2010

Constitutional Changes: Opposing the Centrist Model

[Note: this is the third post in a series on the history of the changes which were made by General Convention to the Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America beginning in 1889 and finalized in 1901. Part I is here, and Part II is here.]

When the General Convention at Baltimore in 1892 assigned to a Joint Commission the task of proposing complete revisions to the Constitution and Canons of the Church, it also specified that the Commission was to deliver a printed version of its report at least six months before the start of the next Convention, held in Minneapolis in October 1895. The Commission, however, delivered in advance a draft of the full text of its proposals, but gave only the sketchiest of reasons for its changes, and promised a fuller report to the deputies and bishops at the Convention itself.

However, such a report seems never to have been prepared. (See the 1895 Journal at page 187, where the "report" of the Joint Commission delivered to the House of Deputies on its opening day is the same as that sent six months earlier, and reproduced in Appendix XVI of the Journal.) As a consequence, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies each made their own interpretations of the proposal, and each worked through it at their own pace, agreeing on some things, but disagreeing on much more.

The House of Bishops, being a much smaller group than the House of Deputies, made its way paragraph by paragraph through the draft constitution proposed by the Joint Commission. By the end of the Convention, it had worked its way through the entire draft, and communicated its revisions to the House of Deputies. Among other things, it kept in the language to which I called attention in the previous post -- a brand-new "supremacy clause", as well as a paragraph providing that all powers not delegated to General Convention were retained by the dioceses, in parallel with the Tenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

And for the House of Bishops, the major change made in the 1895 proposal was to put it on a par with the House of Deputies in the enactment of legislation. (Previously, if the House of Bishops failed to communicate within three days its non-concurrence in legislation passed by the House of Deputies, the Constitution provided that the legislation would take effect without its concurrence. The new draft of Article I eliminated that provision, and required the concurrence of both Houses to any legislation, regardless of where it originated.) Thus it is not surprising that the House of Bishops expedited its consideration of the Joint Commission's report.

The House of Deputies at the 1895 Convention, in contrast, took much more time considering each of the separate paragraphs of the draft constitution, and its pace fell far behind that of the House of Bishops. Moreover, there was an apparent tiff over turf, as it were: the regular Standing Commission of the House of Deputies on Amendments to the Constitution insisted on its prerogative to continue to entertain and report on proposals left over from the last Convention, as well as on new proposals introduced by deputies to the current Convention. The result was such a mish-mash between the proposals of the regular Standing Commission and the proposals of the special Joint Commission that by the close of the Convention, very little of the new proposal made by the latter had been agreed to by both Houses. (See Appendix XXI to the 1895 Journal, which lays out the agreed-upon text of the proposed new Article I, plus a few changes to Article V.) The House of Deputies in effect threw up its hands and referred all unresolved constitutional matters to a special Committee, consisting of six clergy and six laity, which would meet in the interim and report back to the House at the next General Convention (see the 1895 Journal, p. 274).

As one can see from the foregoing, the portions of the proposed Constitution agreed upon between the two Houses did not contain either the supremacy clause or the ecclesiastical counterpart to the Tenth Amendment, because that language was contained in the proposed new Third Article, which the House of Deputies never reached in its deliberations. The only language retained in this area was the "rule of applicability" which had been in the Second Article of the Constitution since the beginning, pursuant to which dioceses agreed to be bound by legislation of the Convention even if they were not represented during its passage, but at the same time retained the right to override any legislation of General Convention by laws of their own making. (The revisions approved in 1895 would have moved this language to Section 4 of the new First Article.)

When the General Convention next assembled, at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C. on October 5, 1898, the House of Deputies was presented with the report of its Special Committee (see 1898 Journal, Appendix XIII). It proposed new text for all the remaining Articles after the First, which had been approved by both Houses at the 1895 Convention. Some, but not all, of the proposed text was what the House of Bishops had approved in 1895.

In particular, all of the language noted in the previous post about supremacy, and the reservation by the dioceses of any powers not delegated to General Convention, had vanished, and no substitutions therefor were proposed. Gone also (with a lone minority voice in dissent) were the earlier Joint Committee's proposals for a system of provinces, each with its own synod and court system. The Special Committee's draft of a new Constitution instead began with the former Fifth Article now becoming the Second Article, and proceeded forward from there.

The report just noted, of course, came from a Committee of the House of Deputies only, and so was addressed only to that House. The ball was in their court, however, since the House of Bishops had completed its review of the earlier proposal. Thus at the 1898 Convention, the House of Deputies took the lead. It began over again at the very beginning, and worked its way Article by Article through the Constitution.

Something significant had changed, however, in the mood of the House of Deputies between the Convention in Minneapolis and the current one in Washington. The dioceses had had the opportunity, during the interim, to inspect the proposed changes to the Constitution -- and the dioceses evidently did not like what they saw. From the results I shall give shortly, it is a fair inference that they sent their deputies back to Washington with clear instructions as to how to vote on the proposed changes.

The business began on the very first day of the House's deliberations. A resolution from the Rev. Dr. Elliott of Washington made the First Article approved at the 1895 Convention the order of business on the second day, beginning at eleven o'clock, to be followed by a consideration of the interim report by the Special Committee (Appendix XIII to the 1898 Journal). When that business was called, the House proceeded overwhelmingly to vote down the changes approved by the Convention of 1895.

The first matter was the title proposed for the new document, which proposed to strike out the current title ("Constitution, adopted in General Convention, in Philadelphia, in October 1789") and substitute in its place the words: "Constitutions and Canons for the Government of that Portion of the Catholic Church known in Law as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America", followed by the subtitle "Constitutions". This amendment was overwhelmingly defeated in a vote by orders -- 54 dioceses out of the 58 then in the Church voted against it, and the rest were divided. No one single diocese even voted for the amendment.

Next was the text of the First Article itself that had been approved in 1895. This article, as mentioned, now included the sentence from the old Article II, which said: "If any Diocese be not represented, or be represented in one order only, such Diocese shall, nevertheless, be bound by the acts of the General Convention." This amendment lost by a vote of 4 dioceses in the affirmative, 43 dioceses against, and 11 dioceses divided. (Note: in the Journal, the results of the voting are stated by orders. For Constitutional and Prayer Book amendments, the vote has to be resorted by the orders in each Diocese. Thus, for instance, the clerical deputies from East Carolina voted for the amendment, but the lay deputies of that diocese voted against it. The Journal records this as one vote for the amendment, and one vote against; but for Constitutional purposes, it counts as a divided diocese.)

No sooner were the votes on these amendments taken than messages were received that the House of Bishops had voted to approve both the new Title and the First Article adopted by the 1895 Convention. A motion to concur with the first message failed, and in response to the second message, the House voted to revive its Special Committee, and to instruct that Committee to report to it with a new draft of Article I of the Constitution.

These actions wiped the 1895 slate clean, and so the process of revising the Constitution began anew in the House of Deputies. While its Special Committee worked behind the scenes on a new Article I, the House itself had made that Committee's earlier Report (Appendix XIII) the order of the day after the 1895 amendments, and so it now took up the proposals in that report, Article by Article, beginning with Article II.

The House of Bishops responded, sometimes concurring, sometimes further amending, and sometimes not concurring, and requesting a conference committee of the two Houses. The back-and-forth process is very well illustrated in this extract from the Index to the Journal of the House of Deputies, with regard to the process for Articles II-IV of the new Constitution (dealing with bishops, foreign bishops, and standing committees, respectively):
Article 2.

Considered, p. 224; amended, p. 235; adopted, p. 236; H. B. non concurs and asks for Committee of Conference, p.256; H. D. accedes, p. 256; committee appointed, p. 292; report of committee, p. 272; H. B. asks further conference, p. 201; H. D. accedes and committee appointed, p. 202; report of committee, p 319; recommendations of committee adopted, p. 321; H. B. concurs with amendments, p. 326; H. B. recedes and adopts recommendations of committee, p. 341
Article 3.

Considered, p. 236; adopted, pp 236.237; H. B. non-concurs, and asks Committee of Conference, p. 256; H. D. accedes p. 256; committee appointed, p. 262; report of committee, p. 272; H. B. asks further conference, p. 291; H. D. accedes and committee appointed, p. 292; report of committee, p. 319; H. D. concurs with H. B., p. 327; H. D. reconsiders its vote of concurrence, p. 335; requests return of its Message 51, p. 336; H. B. accedes, p. 342; H. D. non-concurs in Message 61 from H. B. adopting Article 3, p. 357; Committee of Conference requested, p. 357; report of committee, p. 368; Message 102 from H. B., p. 369; H. D. concurs, p. 370.
Article 4.

Considered, p. 241; amended, p. 241; adopted, pp. 241,242; H. B. concurs, p. 287.
After it had finished its work on the Special Committee's pre-Convention Report, the House received on its eighth day the new draft of Article I from that same Committee. In this new draft, it is noteworthy that, concomitant with its earlier elimination of all language of supremacy in the proposed Constitution, the Committee also eliminated that provision quoted above which made dioceses bound by the acts of General Convention even if they were not fully represented. Messrs. White & Dykman later opined that this sentence was dropped from the Constitution because it presumably no longer was needed, but it appears more likely that it was a casualty of the anti-centrist mood so strongly apparent in the elimination of the proposed supremacy clause.

The House of Deputies struggled for some time with the form of an Invocation to head the Constitution. Eventually, after much debate and several votes, it proposed that it take this simple form: "In the Name of God. Amen." The House of Bishops rejected it, however, and the House of Deputies eventually concurred.

All else that emerged from the back-and-forth process may be read in Appendix XIV of the 1898 Journal, which sets forth the complete text of what the Convention jointly approved -- for ratification by the General Convention of 1901 after the proposal had been submitted to all of the dioceses for their consideration in the interim.

In the final installment of this series of posts, we will take up the actions of the Convention of 1901 in San Francisco in approving a new Constitution for the Church.

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