Thinking The ‘Unthinkable’: Repealing The 17th Amendment

While it may come as something of a shock to those of us accustomed to hearing, ad nauseum, that we live in a democracy (and that the States necessarily play a subordinate role to the Federal government), we do not–at least that was most certainly not the Founders’ intent.

As the rigorous and widespread debate prior to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 amply illustrates, the Founders intended not a democracy, but a republic; they strove to create a limited Federal government characterized by checks and balances (separation of powers) not just between Congress, the President and the Judiciary, but within Congress itself, as well–and most of all, between the States and the Federal government. For what good are checks and balances between Federal branches, if the Federal government as a whole runs roughshod over the States, and hence, over the people?

(Emphasis added in all quoted material below.)

The Federalist #39 (James Madison):

The House of Representatives will derive its powers from the people of America; and the people will be represented in the same proportion, and on the same principle, as they are in the legislature of a particular State. So far the government is national, not federal. The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States, as political and coequal societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they now are in the existing Congress. So far the government is federal, not national.

The Federalist #45 (James Madison):

The State governments may be regarded as constituent and essential parts of the federal government; whilst the latter is nowise essential to the operation or organization of the former. Without the intervention of the State legislatures, the President of the United States cannot be elected at all. They must in all cases have a great share in his appointment, and will, perhaps, in most cases, of themselves determine it. The Senate will be elected absolutely and exclusively by the State legislatures. Even the House of Representatives, though drawn immediately from the people, will be chosen very much under the influence of that class of men, whose influence over the people obtains for themselves an election into the State legislatures. Thus, each of the principal branches of the federal government will owe its existence more or less to the favor of the State governments, and must consequently feel a dependence, which is much more likely to beget a disposition too obsequious than too overbearing towards them. On the other side, the component parts of the State governments will in no instance be indebted for their appointment to the direct agency of the federal government, and very little, if at all, to the local influence of its members.

The Federalist #51 (James Madison):

In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit. It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still further precautions.

As Charles C. W. Cooke notes (and I commend the article to your attention):

As Madison makes clear in the Federalist Papers, in order to defend the vertical checks and balances that allow America’s federal system to function, senators would be “elected absolutely and exclusively by state legislatures.” The Senate was not intended to be the people’s representative body, but that of the states. Lest the federal government “swallow up the state legislatures,” George Mason insisted to his fellow convention delegates in Philadelphia, “let the state legislatures appoint the Senate.” The delegates backed him unanimously.

In short, the Seventeenth Amendment, “which established direct election of United States Senators by popular vote,” unraveled a precarious and deliberate system of checks and balances (separation of powers) between the States and the Federal government, giving more power to the latter at the expense of the former, and bringing us closer to a national (as opposed to Federal) government that the Founders deliberately took great pains to avoid.

Or, as Todd Zywicki put it more eloquently:

Election of senators by state legislatures was a cornerstone of two of the most important “auxiliary precautions”: federalism and the separation of powers. Absent some direct grant of federal influence to state governments, the latter would be in peril of being “swallowed up,” to use George Mason’s phrase. Even arch-centralizer Hamilton recognized that this institutional protection was necessary to safeguard state autonomy. In addition, the Senate was seen as a means of linking the state governments together with the federal one. Senators’ constituents would be state legislators rather than the people, and through their senators the states could influence federal legislation or even propose constitutional amendments under Article V of the Constitution.

The Seventeenth Amendment ended all that, bringing about the master-servant relationship between the federal and state governments that the original constitutional design sought to prevent.

Of course, we can well expect democracy fetishists to squeal like stuck pigs at the mere mention of repealing the Seventeenth Amendment. Let them squeal. Their “Progressive” machinations have severely damaged the Founders’ vision of liberty and a limited Federal Government, giving America what is rapidly devolving into an imperial and imperious national government. It’s about time we at least try to undo some of the damage.

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2 Responses to Thinking The ‘Unthinkable’: Repealing The 17th Amendment

  1. crosspatch says:

    Here’s the thing. If they repeal the 17th amendment, there is nothing that says the state must change how they elect their Senators. If they want to elect them by popular vote, that’s fine. Some did even before the 17th. But here’s the primary issue: Since the population has become more urbanized, in most states the largest city controls the Senate delegation. Whoever controls Chicago, for example, controls the Senate delegation of Illinois. In this way the political control shifted in the Senate from being the house of Congress that represents the states to the house that represents the largest cities.

  2. songwroter says:

    Although “liberal” urban areas front-load the game, any recent map of state legislatures is a sea of red. Not why I support the repeal though–just an argument for original intent, chips fall where they may.

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