The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided that the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.
This amendment has caused controversy and emotionally-charged debate since its passage in 1913, and interestingly, today the debate rages even hotter. Did We, the People LOSE ground with its passage or GAIN ground. It was – and still is – a moral dilemma waiting to be resolved. There is even a solution being tossed around that we should chose our Senators by lottery since it is speculated that the results couldn’t be much worse than the bunch we have now.
Like many topics that stirred raging debate at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the method of choosing representatives in the two Houses of Congress was hotly contentious. In the end, it was decided that the lower house, the House of Representatives, would represent the general population and each state would be equally represented in the upper house, the Senate. The Representatives would be chosen by popular vote and two Senators per state would be appointed by state legislatures.
The Founders believed this formula was one that had eluded political scientists thus far in history. They had read how Polybius, Locke and Montesquieu had searched for a balance in government between the one (someone to administer the law and lead during wartime), the few (those who would be the guardians of property and establish order), and the many (those who would represent the will of the people). In the end, The Founders believed they had achieved this; the one became the President, the few became the Senate, and the many became the House. With this thinking, it could be said that the 17th Amendment to our Constitution, which took away the right of the state legislature to appoint its Senators, essentially eliminated the few from The Founder’s formula.
To keep government power in balance, The Founders felt strongly that the state legislatures should appoint the Senators, not the general population. Charles C. Pinckney, a delegate from South Carolina wrote, “In the general Constitution, the House of Representatives will be elected immediately by the people, and represent them and their personal rights individually; the Senate will be elected by the state legislatures, and represent the states in their political capacity; and thus each branch will form a proper and independent check on the other, and the legislative powers will be advantageously balanced.” They also thought it essential to secure the rights and sovereignty of the states. Oliver Wolcott, a delegate from Connecticut, wrote, “The Senate…are appointed by the states, and will secure the rights of the several states. The other branch of the legislature, the Representatives, are to be elected by the people at large. They will therefore be the guardians of the rights of the great body of the citizens. So well guarded is this Constitution throughout, that it seems impossible that the rights either of the states or of the people should be destroyed.” And Fisher Ames, a Massachusetts assemblyman wrote, “…The Senators represent the sovereignty of the states; in the other house, individuals are represented…” and in response to what would happen if Senators were elected by individuals, he stated, “This would totally obliterate the federal features of the Constitution. What would become of the state governments, and on whom would devolve the duty of defending them against the encroachments of the federal government?” A question as yet unanswered.
The Founders believed that the anxieties and desires of individuals differed from that of the sovereign state, whose job it was to protect the sovereign individual. Therefore, the individual and the state stand on different grounds and should be represented accordingly. James Iredell, a delegate from North Carolina stated, “The Senate is placed there for a very valuable purpose – as a guard against any attempt of consolidation…There ought to be some power given to the Senate to counteract the influence of the people by their biennial representation in the other house, in order to preserve completely the sovereignty of the states.”
So how did the 17th Amendment come about when The Founders were so clear in their position on this issue? As stated previously, there were those at the Constitutional Convention who thought the Senators should be elected by popular vote, but that idea didn’t win out. During the Civil War, the people began to abandon their local loyalties, and the idea of a central government was being discussed. An amendment to change the way Senators were appointed was first introduced in 1828, but was defeated. Again in 1893, 1894, 1898, 1900 and 1902, the House passed a bill to change the appointment to a general election, but it was defeated in the Senate each time. After a series of scandals in state legislatures involving corruption, bribery and coercion, and some say, a push by special interest groups to gain more control over Senators, another bill made its way to the Senate in 1913. By this time, 29 states were already electing their Senators by popular vote, with their state legislatures ratifying the votes to elect their Senators. As state legislatures became labeled by Progressives as too conservative, too far removed from popular Democratic influences, and too associated with big business, it became apparent the inevitable would happen. The Senate voted to pass the 17th Amendment, and it became law on April 8th, 1913.
With the passage of this amendment, states lost the right to be represented in the Senate and are no longer considered sovereign commonwealths at the federal level. They also have no veto power over Congress when federal statutes violate their rights. Senators now represent the people of the state “at large”, and with no one appointed to watch over states’ rights and sovereignty, these have deteriorated since the 17th amendment was passed. Just look at the current debacle of states’ rights vs BLM/USFS (or ANY Federal agency) and the unconstitutional legal battles currently ongoing.
The state governments claim to address the citizens’ concerns on transportation, education, health care, public safety, marriage, property rights, disaster relief and employment among others. But these areas are primarily regulated, mandated and controlled in Washington, DC now. Our Founders knew the state legislators, who live and work among the people of their state, would be the citizens’ best representatives and would hold their Senators in Congress accountable. The 17th amendment took the primary responsibility of the local governments and moved it far away from the people it would affect. The local governments now have secondary authority to a larger and ever-expanding federal government.
So – the question today is: WHO represents the People’s interests against an ever-expanding Federal government since states’ rights seem to be sitting on a shelf somewhere in the storage room? Remember, when the Constitution was written, it was STATES’ rights that were paramount in order to keep the federal government in check, because it was We, the People who had a much better chance to control what happened on a state level. Who do we beseech when our Constitutional rights are being trampled now? The people we elected who are more and more openly dependent on Federal largesse (through OUR tax dollars) and shadowy political donors? And do We, the People even understand the ramifications of giving state control to a federal bureaucracy accountable to none of us? How’s that working out for us?
Prominent current senators loudly calling for appeal are notables such as Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Jeff Flake of Arizona as well as former governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Rick Perry of Texas among others. Even the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia – a formidable Constitutional scholar – supported repealing this Amendment.
The other side of the argument shows that it was the state legislatures themselves who voted to ratify the Amendment and had chosen every senator who voted to propose it in the first place! 41 out of 48 state legislatures ratified the Amendment – far more than the required three-fourths of the total.
So – is the 17th Amendment a GOOD thing or a BAD thing? What say you,
References: www.usconstitution.net, www.huffingtonpost.com, Heritage Guide to the Constitution, US Constitution, The Making of America by W. Cleon Skousen