A Date Which “Should” Live in Infamy
Today is the ninety-seventh anniversary of the passage of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. Originally, Senators were chosen by their States’ legislatures, though some States delegated their election to the people. The 17th Amendment changed the Constitution to require the direct election by the people of the members to the U.S. Senate. It is three relatively short paragraphs which have drastically changed the country negatively. The effects of its passing are still being felt in many ways.
The direct election of Senators upset the most important Constitutional balance created by the Framers. When people think of the Constitutional Balance of Power, they automatically assume it to be between the branches of the federal government: executive, legislative and judicial. However, more important to the Framers was the balance between the Federal government and the many States’ governments. The States were the original governing entities, they preceded the Constitution, and by ratifying the Constitution they created the federal government.
According to the Framers, the Senate’s purpose in the legislative branch was to be the States’ House, a counter to the People’s House. The passage of the 17th Amendment changed the “States’ House” into the “People from the States’ House.” There is more than a rhetorical difference inherent in these designations. The Framers’ intentions included preserving the authority of the States’ governments. The Senate was created as the means to protect those States’ interests. Instead the Senate has become merely another legislative body representative of the people.
If the States were meant to become simply administrative agencies of the federal government, the Framers would have created a unicameral legislature. Why design two bodies directly accountable to the people, when one will do? The Framers were not believers in the excesses of democracy. The Senate was meant as a check on the mob, and a protector of the States and those liberties inherent in the States’ governments. However, the Senate, as originally intended, has ceased to exist and is superfluous to the current function of government. The post-17th Amendment Senate is comparable your second kidney: it’s nice to have and it’s functional, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Does anyone believe the Senate, as originally constituted, would have allowed the massive transfer of political power from the States’ governments to the Federal government that we have seen in the last century? The States’ legislatures would have never elected Senators whose own interests were aligned more with the federal government’s than with theirs, nor would they have re-elected Senators who so willingly gave away State authority. That’s not to say pork-barrel politics wouldn’t exist, but unfunded mandates on the States, like those in Obama-Care, would have been politically unthinkable.
The folly of the 17th Amendment was easily foreseeable. The States’ governments should have known better than to ever allow this amendment’s passage. Once again, foolish politicians thought themselves smarter than the Framers and tinkered with the most beautiful political document in Man’s existence, without giving proper consideration to the consequences. We have been left to deal with the resulting Constitutional imbalances and losses of liberties ever since.
This day, April 8, the anniversary of the 17th Amendment, is yet another sad date in our history.