The Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution was ratified on April 8, 1913. The first part of the amendment, which is the subject of this discussion reads:
“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof for six years…”
Unbeknownst to most people, this amendment has had a dramatic effect on our nation’s government. The 17th Amendment amends Article 1.3.1 of the Constitution which reads:
“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six years…”
The only difference the 17th Amendment has, while it may seem small, is to have Senators elected by the people instead of chosen by the state legislature. Why did the Founders want Senators chosen by the legislature? Why did the people in 1913 want to elect senators themselves? What effect has this amendment had?
THE FOUNDER’S WISDOM AND REASON
Our Nation is a democratic republic. We choose our representatives; we grant them the authority to administer the laws and affairs of the Nation or our behalf. The checks and balances devised by the Founders to restrain the passions of men were brilliant. The Legislative branch, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch all have checks and balances against one another to make sure no one branch gains too much power.
The Senate is in the Legislative branch along with the House of Representatives. Currently there are 435 Representatives, and 100 Senators which form the Legislative body of our nation. The House of Representatives were to be elected by the people, by popular vote every two years (Article 1.2.1). “This provision is what gives the American people the RIGHT to vote for their own representatives, thereby making the United States a democratic republic.”i Thus, we the people have representation in our government through the Representative in our district.
Each person in the United States lives in a sovereign state. As sovereign states, each has an interest in its own well being, rights, respect, and fair dealings with its neighbors. (Just like you personally, or the United States as a whole, in relation to other nations of the world.) Our country is a union of sovereign states banded together for common defense, trade, commerce and diplomacy. Thus as each state is part of a union, the Founders wanted each State to have a representation in the federal governments process just like the people have representation.
As previously mentioned in Article 1.3.1, “this provision was to give each state legislature the RIGHT to choose its special representatives in the United States Senate.”ii Pay close attention to the following quote by Cleon Skousen regarding the importance of State representation in the federal government:
“Since Representatives in the House are elected by the general population of a state, they represent the individual citizens of the state. People have different anxieties and desires as individuals than they do collectively as a state. In fact, most individual citizens are not even aware of what the state must do to protect its people and their rights. The sovereign state therefore stands on different ground than the individual sovereign citizen. This is why it was important to have the state legislature appoint two of its most experienced and popular elder statesmen to go to Washington as the guardians of the interests of the whole state. Their original purpose was to sublimate the constantly shifting demands of the individual citizens who are represented in the House. The idea was to provide balance.”iii
The Founders had devised a system that provided competition in government! Competition in economics leads to increased efficiency, innovation, better services, and a non centralized form of government. History supports the argument that government is constantly seeking greater power. The federal government’s natural inclination would be to assert its power over the states, while each individual state would be naturally inclined to assert its own power against the federal government. The Founders and early Americans saw themselves as both citizens of their home state and the United States equally, and had a divided allegiance.
Frank Chodorov illustrates this point further with the following excerpt:
“To the early American his state government was at least on a par with the federal government in his esteem. Illustrative is the following incident: President Washington was about to arrive at Boston on a visit, and Governor Hancock was perturbed over a matter of protocol; would he be compromising the dignity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts if he went to meet the “father of his country” on arrival, or would it be more proper that the President call at the state Capitol? The Governor finally settled the problem by pleading illness…. The sequel to that incident is worth noting. President Washington was asked to review the Massachusetts militia; he refused on the ground that the militia was the military arm of the state, not the federal government; after all, the tacit understanding in those days was that the militia might be called upon to face the federal army.”iv
James Madison in number 45 of The Federalist writes: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite.” Madison continues that it was the duty of the federal was on external forces such as war, peace, negotiation and foreign affairs. The states were to be responsible for internal affairs, daily commerce, and things that happen in the daily lives of their citizens. The idea was, the more local the government, the better it could serve your needs and the more accountable it would be. If this concept seems foreign to you, it is because it has been almost completely lost from our thought process. Yet it was such a critical feature to the smooth and efficient operation of our government, not to mention a barrier to the erosion of personal freedom and prosperity. Why did the people choose to amend this article of the Constitution that provided state legislatures the right to choose Senators?
WHAT HAPPENED IN 1913?
The income tax began (16th Amendment), the 17th Amendment was passed, and the Federal Reserve was created. These three acts alone had the effect of a revolution in terms of the power given to the federal government. It was peaceful, but it was a revolution because of the implications each of these acts had on the future of our government.
The movement to give people the right to choose senators for their state began to gain its momentum at the time of the Civil War.v C. H. Hoebeke, in his book “The Road to Mass Democracy: Original Intent and the Seventeenth Amendment” provides insight into reasons for the momentum:
“…It was thought that the nation’s highest legislative body was no longer serving the country in the capacity for which it was intended. Steadily since the Civil War, it seemed whatever esteem a senator might claim lay more in “money-making talent” than in any civic or intellectual virtues…Senatorial elections had ceased to be determined by the deliberated concurrence of the state legislators, hinging instead on the dictates of the party bosses who ruled the legislative “machines.” The senators, themselves, no longer valued as the sagacious and disinterested legislators of the national welfare, more closely approximated, in the opinion of Henry Jones Ford, a “Diet of party lords, wielding their powers without scruple or restraint in behalf of those particular interests” responsible for placing them in office.”vi
In short, corruption in the selection process created the anger in the general populace which fueled the fire. A number of Senators at the time were charged with corruption, bribery, and were perceived as being in bed with large companies. This hasn’t changed much today. Skousen maintains however that “historians admit that a majority of those in the Senatorial Old Guard were honorable and upright men of high personal integrity, but from the standpoint of agrarian radicals and progressives, they were to generally associated with large business enterprise, too conservative, and too far removed from popular Democratic influences.”vii
In 1909, William Lorimer, a Republican, was selected by the Illinois state legislature to be a United States Senator. It was soon discovered by the Chicago Tribune, that Lorimer had paid $1,000 to an Illinois Assemblyman for his vote for U.S. Senator.viii This event, coupled with several similar circumstances over the years gave the final push needed for the 17th Amendment’s ratification. Lorimer’s election to the Senate was declared invalid by the United States Senate on July 13, 1912.
The politicians of that day, and those who serve currently do such incredible harm and disservice to freedom and liberty when they become corrupt. Truly we can “see the great wickedness [wicked men] can cause to take place.”ix Corrupt politicians looking after their own interests instead of the well being of the people or states they were elected to represent have caused unfathomable harm.
While corruption in the selection process of U.S. Senators has a much longer list of grievances than will be mentioned here, it is sufficient to say the passage of the 17th Amendment was a result of corruption. The Senators or the companies who bribed them, had an allegiance to something else (most likely dollars) other than states they represented (in the case of the senator, not the companies).
WHAT EFFECT HAS THIS HAD?
Instead of 435 members of the House, we now have an additional 100. The House remember, is elected by the people directly by popular vote. Now that Senators are elected by the exact same process, they are nothing more than an additional 100 representatives. Each sovereign state however, has lost all representation in the federal government.
The federal no longer has to compete with each individual state in terms of power. Instead of being focused on the external events associated with a nation as we have discussed, the federal has decided it needs to do what the states were originally supposed to do. This is an infringement on the states sovereignty. But who is going to stick up for the states? Their representation was swept away with the 17th. In addition people’s allegiance which had heretofore been divided between the state and the federal was now removed.
Chodorov points out the critical importance of divided allegiance:
“The citizen of divided allegiance cannot be reduced to subservience; if he is in the habit of serving two political gods he cannot be dominated by either one. History supports this argument. No political authority ever achieved absolutism until the people were deprived of a choice of loyalties. It was because the early Christian put God above Caesar that they were persecuted, even though they paid homage and taxes to the established political establishment.”x
With no other government to compete against, the federal government only had the will of the people to contend with in order to expand its power. Chodorov and Hoebeke assert in their writings that the party system was a major factor in the corruption of government. On thinking about this point, one remembers the warning given by our first President George Washington regarding political parties.
Whether it is a master plan of the federal government or the weakness of the people to understand its implications, our two party system is where most people hold their allegiance. There will be no evidence offered in this discussion about the differences between the Democrat party and the Republican party. If you examine what they actually do as opposed to what they say, any rational person must conclude there is little if any difference.
Thus many in today’s society believe they still have a divided allegiance; the party and the nation. The divided allegiance between state and nation is considered an interesting footnote of history. The so called religious right believes their “Christian” principles will be upheld by the GOP, and thus their perceived first allegiance to God remains intact through a political party. The GOP will then uphold their values in their second allegiance the nation, thus maintaining a divided allegiance. The progressive left believe their values will be upheld in their party which will then enact such values on a national basis similar to the Right’s method.
It does not take a deal of pondering to come to the conclusion that nearly all people in the United States have a greater allegiance to their political party than anything else, even the nation! Each person who considers themselves by proclamation or vote, as a Democrat or a Republican, believes their party will save the country.
There are only two powers involved here, but a perceived third has been created. The actual two involved are the people and the federal government. (The 17th removed the third power the state). Now that the political parties are involved, the people are fighting amongst themselves instead of against the federal. Since there is no real difference between the two parties, (yet people have the greater portion of their allegiance to them), the federal is nearly free to continue on providing ever poor service with no accountability.
When President Clinton was in power, he tried to offer Social Security reform similar to the one offered by President George W. Bush. The Republicans killed Clinton’s reform. The Democrats killed Bush’s reform. The result, the same broken Social Security system continues on unfixed, while the two parties blame each other for the failure, and the people blame the other party for the nation’s woes. The real problem, disregard for the Constitution goes unnoticed.
The allegiance of people to the Constitution MUST be greater than allegiance to a political party if we are to maintain our liberty, prosperity, and quality of life. When a Representative, Senator, Judge and President take an Oath to their respective offices, they take an Oath of Allegiance to support defend and uphold the Constitution. Men and women in the military take a similar Oath to support and defend the Constitution. No ONE takes an oath to support a political party above the Constitution. Unfortunately there is a great difference, for nearly all, between what people say and what they actually do.
Please take time to study and understand the Constitution of the Untied States. The original intent of the document was to secure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people. Each article in the Constitution has a purpose. Each article was debated and argued over by people of wisdom and sound understanding. The prosperity of the United States is a testament to that wisdom.
If a generation of people do not understand the Constitution and the reason for certain articles that were included, we run the risk of inadvertently enacting changes that will limit our prosperity. Such is the example of the 17th Amendment. While corruption does exist in our government, ours is a government of the people. The problem is not with the people, but with the system. The current system has departed from wisdom of the Constitution. We still have the document, and it still secures a lot of freedom not enjoyed in many parts of the world.
Too many people however, are unaware of the changes made to the Constitution that have altered is original purpose. Too many people are unaware of the dire unintended consequences that have resulted from a lack of allegiance to its principles. The freedom and prosperity the Constitution has secured has almost no precedent in human history! Pledge true allegiance to the Constitution and not to a party. Support candidates that truly uphold the Constitution. Talk to people about the meaning and intent of that wonderful document so that our lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness can continue.
Let this quote from George Washington find true meaning in your heart:
“The Constitution is the guide which I will never abandon.”
iSkousen, W. Cleon. “The Making of America”. The National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1985. p.264
ivChodorov, Frank. “Income Tax: The Rood of All Evil”. The Devin-Adair Company, New York, 1954. p.59
vAlso known as the war to prevent Souther Independence.
viHoebeke, C.H. “The Road to Mass Democracy: Orginal Intent and the Seventeenth Amendment”. Transaction Publishers, 1995. p.17-18