The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “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.”
This amendment changed the way U.S. Senators are elected. Prior to the ratification of it, Senators were appointed by their state legislatures for the purpose of representing their sovereign state. This amendment changed the Senators’ representation from their state to the people and caused Senators to be elected by popular vote.
W. Cleon Skousen explained, “The Founders had assigned the Senate the responsibility of representing the states as sovereign entities, which is why they were appointed by the state legislatures rather than being elected directly by the people of the state. This was so that Senators would not be compelled to involve themselves in the popular issues of the day but could concentrate primarily on the protection of states’ rights and on maintaining the established order. Theirs was the primary assignment of balancing the budget, keeping taxes as low as possible, tempering the radicalism of the House, and serving as the `elder statesmen’ of the Congress.
“Despite the Founders’ intentions, all of this was changed by the Seventeenth Amendment.
“In effect, this made both the Senate and the House a reflection of the popular will without reference to the sovereign interests of the states, or the checks and balances which the states were to have provided through their Senators.” (See The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 746.)
I think it would be wonderful to have Senators that were not involved in the popular issues of the day. Imagine a Senate that was more concerned about the security and business of our nation rather than supporting the agendas of their parties. Imagine Harry Reid doing what he was supposed to be doing (leading the Senate) rather than rubber-stamping the decisions of Barack Obama!
Ralph Rossum of The Heritage Foundation further explained: “On May 12, 1912, the Seventeenth Amendment, providing for direct popular election of the Senate, was approved by the Congress; the requisite three-fourths of the state legislatures ratified it in less than eleven months. Not only was it ratified quickly, but it was also ratified by overwhelming numbers. In fifty-two of the seventy-two state legislative chambers that voted to ratify the Seventeenth Amendment, the vote was unanimous, and in all thirty-six of the ratifying states the total number of votes cast in opposition to ratification was only 191, with 152 of these votes coming from the lower chambers of Vermont and Connecticut.
“Although state ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment came quickly and easily, congressional approval of the idea of popular election of the Senate did not. The first resolution calling for direct election of the Senate was introduced in the House of Representatives on February 14, 1826. From that date, until the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment eighty-six years later, 187 subsequent resolutions of a similar nature were also introduced before Congress, 167 of them after 1880. The House approved six of these proposals before the Senate gave its consent. By 1912, Senators were already picked by direct election in twenty-nine of the forty-eight states….
“The Seventeenth Amendment was approved and ratified to make the Constitution more democratic. Progressives argued forcefully, persistently, and ultimately successfully that the democratic principle required the Senate to be elected directly by the people rather than indirectly through their state legislatures. By altering the manner of election, however, they also altered the principal mechanism employed by the framers to protect federalism. The framers understood that the mode of electing (and especially reelecting) Senators by state legislatures made it in the self-interest of Senators to preserve the original federal design and to protect the interests of states as states (see Article I, Section 3, Clause 1). This understanding was perfectly encapsulated in a July 1789 letter to John Adams, in which Roger Sherman emphasized that `[t]he senators, being eligible by the legislatures of the several states, and dependent on them for re-election, will be vigilant in supporting their rights against infringement by the legislative or executive of the United States….
“In addition to its impact on federalism, the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment has also had demographic, behavioral, and institutional consequences on the Senate itself. Demographically, popularly elected Senators are more likely to be born in the states they represent, are more likely to have an Ivy League education, and are likely to have had a higher level of prior governmental service. Institutionally, the states are now more likely to have a split Senate delegation, and the Senate now more closely matches the partisan composition of the House.” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, 413-414.)
As you can see, we have the progressives to thank for this amendment whether or not we like it. I personally believe this amendment was the beginning of the decline of the sovereignty of the States and the breakdown of one of the most important balances inserted into the Constitution. I was surprised to learn that progressives began working on this change as early as 1826, a time less than fifty years after the adoption of the Constitution! I believe we need to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment in order to restore the sovereignty of the States because the States must be sovereign in order to protect the people from a tyrannical federal government.
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