Skip to comments.The Loss of the Senate and the Loss of Liberty
Posted on 04/08/2020 6:42:28 PM PDT by jfd1776
Reflections on the anniversary of the Seventeenth Amendment
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.
- Constitution of the United States of America, Article 1, Section 3
And so it was, for about 124 years, from the implementation of the Constitution in 1789 through the implementation of Amendment XVII, on April 8, 1913.
With the Seventeenth Amendment, the progressive era reached its pinnacle. Direct election of United States Senators forever severed the tethers by which the state governments had always restrained the Federal Leviathan.
This likely seems like an exaggeration. The populists claimed, at the time, that libertarian principles are always best served by giving the public more direct control of their government but this was wrong then, just as it is wrong today.
In fact, libertarian principles are best served by chaining down the government, by holding it back so that it cannot freely exceed its authority.
Remember the classic balloon scene, at the end of The Wizard of Oz? Think of the federal government as a hot air balloon, tied down to the ground with ropes and stakes. When you sever those ropes, you free the balloon, and it can go anywhere . possibly in the desired direction, if commanded by expert pilots, but more likely, it will be carried along by the weather currents along unintended routes.
When the Framers designed the Constitution, they provided the voters with a direct means of electing Congressional representatives. The public has full, direct control over the House, and can change them out every two years if they so desire, or leave them in office, collecting mold, bribes, or frequent flyer miles for fifty years each.
By contrast, the Framers designed the Senate to balance out the House. While House members are chosen by a public whose moods shift from time to time, the Senate was to be appointed by the state legislatures, a much more stable, experienced group. These legislatures have a natural predisposition toward state authority, and they would know the likely candidates well, having worked with them for years and years.
The Framers goal was to balance the potentially temperamental and populist House with a calmer, more tradition-bound Senate. As in everything else our Founders did, they installed a system of checks and balances on our new national government. It wasnt just different bodies, each competing for power, as modern teachers usually present it. It was different approaches, with different constituencies, working to protect their turf from encroachment by others. If the Senate was too rooted in the past, the House might try to pull it into the present (this was needed in the 18th century). And if the House is too anxious to centralize power at the expense of the people and the states, the Senate would be there to refuse such efforts (and this is desperately needed today).
At the dawn of the 20th century, the progressive press took great delight in pointing out the character flaws of many state-appointed Senators as if popularly-elected Congresscritters were somehow a body of saints and heroes by comparison.
For a generation, they whipped the public into a frenzy of imagined slights. The subtle subtext of editorials and speeches read like this: Youre being cheated Why cant you vote for your own Senator?... Why should corrupt politicians force the Senator of their choice upon you? This must end!
What the yellow press and the progressive crowd wisely kept secret was the reason why the Framers had set it up that way. They never mentioned the fact that this system was to protect the voters liberty, because only by keeping distant Washington, D.C. chained down by the state capitols could we keep that city in its place.
Think of what the Senate does:
- No bill can become law without the approval of the Senate.
- No federal judge or supreme court justice can sit on the bench without the approval of the Senate.
- No senior presidential appointment to head any department can hold his title without the approval of the Senate.
- No international treaty or trade agreement can occur without the approval of the Senate.
Now, to fully appreciate the impact of the devastating changes wrought by the Seventeenth Amendment, consider another way of reading those bullet points above.
Before Am XVII, when all US Senators were appointed by the state legislatures and their governors:
- No bill could become law without the support of a majority of the states.
- No federal judge or supreme court justice could sit on the bench without the support of a majority of the states.
- No senior presidential appointment to head any department could hold his title without the support of a majority of the states.
- No international treaty or trade agreement could occur without the support of a majority of the states.
See the difference?
Think of the massive expansion of the federal government since 1913. Consider the New Deal, the Great Society, the War on Poverty. Consider the expansion of immigration at levels that make assimilation impossible. Consider the power that the federal government now has over our schools, our businesses, our healthcare, and our lives.
Would any of that have been allowed to happen if the U.S. Senate still saw their role as the Framers meant for them to see it as the jealous guardians of the authority of the states, the counties, the townships and parishes, the cities and towns . as the protectors of the private sector from federal government encroachment.
Note the beauty of this plan. The Framers method did not require Senators to be saints. It allowed for Senators to be just as human, just as imperfect, just as venal as any other politician. But it would work magnificently as long as these politicians owed their allegiance to the state capitols. With House members owing their allegiance to their communities, and Senators owing their allegiance to the local politicians back home, there would be a permanent tug-of-war, reducing the ability of the federal government to grow as organically as it otherwise would.
But we torpedoed that plan on April 8, 1913. We upended the Framers brilliant design, and instead, set up a plan in which the city of Washington, D.C., freed of any moorings in our now-fifty state capitol buildings, could take off into the stratosphere, essentially unbound by critical institutional protections.
The nation has survived, for other reasons; we had 124 years of experience with Washington being restrained; it took time for the city to fully find its sea legs and realize how free it might become.
Our Framers were thoughtful; they put so many wonderful measures in place to protect their legacy:
- They selected a swamp for the nations capital, to keep it from becoming a year-round city; the invention of air conditioning put an end to that.
- They wrote a constitution to limit what it could do, and even added a bill of rights to clarify what it must not but a century of bad education and worse Supreme Court justices put an end to that.
- They even made Washington a non-voting district, lacking its own representation in the House, Senate or Presidential elections, on the theory that people interested in government wouldnt want to live in a place where they couldnt vote but even this plan was eroded in the 20th century as shadow representatives and presidential elector voting was foolishly extended to the federal district.
- But worst of all by far was removing the one brake handle that they had given to the states, in the form of the U.S. Senate. Better there should be no upper house at all than one elected statewide, without the connection to state authority that served as its raison detre.
The Framers did everything they could to keep their new government from becoming a bureaucratic monstrosity but the 20th century conspired against them.
Little wonder, then, that our federal government bears so little resemblance to the brilliantly limited government that our Founding generation designed for us.
Dont blame the Constitution dont blame the wise men who wrote it.
Blame the fools and statists who sabotaged their design, especially in that most destructive year in so many ways, A.D. 1913.
Copyright 2020 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer, transportation manager, writer and actor. A former political activist and onetime county chairman of the Milwaukee Republican Party, his columns have now been run regularly in Illinois Review for eleven years.
The problem is that many State Legislators are corrupt, dumb and retarded. And they keep getting elected and elected.
I’d go back a bit to with one Senator selected by the Legislature and one by popular vote.
Well done. Thanks for posting jfd.
I have advocated the repeal of the 17th Amendment for years.
However, if we repealed the 17th then Democrats would have a big reason to go to the polls to vote in a Democrat state house to guarantee Democrat US Senators.
It's like when we go to the polls, hold our noses, and vote for nonentities like Romney and McCain just so we have someone who might nominate reasonable Supreme Court Justices.
It was probably a mistake.
But simply allowing a recall vote of a Senator would cure most of the problem, even with popular election.
So have I.
Now that we have given up the natural born citizen clause without a fight, it’s beyond fixing.
I would not trust state legislatures as they are constructed today to pick a better Senate than we have now. There would be at least as many Swampists, with Senators beholden to other elected officials rather than to the people. In short, the Senate as originally designed was a great idea, but we can’t put the genie back in the bottle now.
All I say is we better keep the senate in November or were in trouble regardless of president. Somehow we need the house back too.
Time to repeal it.
” Have you ever read Philip Dru, Administrator?”
The 17th Amendment did to federalism what the 13th Amendment did to slavery. Both are long-gone vestiges of our framing era. Tenth Amendment? States rights? Poof, and not only long-gone but neither slavery nor federalism can possibly return without repeal of their respective amendments.
Long before Scotus got into the habit of amending the US Constitution, state constitutions, federal and state laws, it was the presence of the states in the senate that kept a lid on, and prevented abuse of, the 14th and 15th amendments. While the 14th Amendment nationalized citizenship and granted congress enormous enforcement power, so long as the senate that had to concur in the actual employment of that enormous power was elected by state legislatures, federalism and the interests of the states as states remained secure.
It is silly to dream of the return of the Framers’ Constitution without repeal of the 17th.
...and only a convention of states can fix it now...
...and most are deathly afraid of that...
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