Time to repeal the 17th Amendment

BY Rohn Bishop

The states created the federal government, the federal government did not create the states.

Following the Revolutionary War, America was governed by the Articles of Confederation, which set up an extremely weak national government. Each of the 13 states pretty much did their own thing, from printing money, to making agreements with foreign nations. There was no stable economy, or military to defend the fledgling states.

In fact, each state ran its own affairs exactly as it saw fit, with no concern for the needs of fellow states, or the republic as a whole. There were a dozen different currencies; neighboring states taxed each other’s imports, while at the same time; many states passed laws that enabled debtors to escape paying debts from the Revolutionary War.

After eight years, the states realized they needed a stronger national government. One that could raise a military force, negotiates trade agreements, and governs interstate commerce.

Again, the states realized they needed a stronger national government.

Representatives from the states met in Annapolis, Maryland in 1786. They proposed that the states appoint commissioners to meet in Philadelphia and consider revising the Articles of Confederation. Congress agreed to the proposal and suggested that each state select delegates to a constitutional convention.

The Great Compromise
The task of creating this new national government, and creating the supreme law of the new government, a constitution, would be no easy task.

The states wanted a stronger national government that could defend and hold the republic together, while at the same time maintaining each state’s sovereignty; a federal government that was a coming together of the states.

The biggest hurdle to this new national government was who would have the most power.

Delegates from the large and more populous states disagreed with those from the small states about representation in the national legislature.

The larger states favored the Virginia Plan, under which population would determine the number of representatives a state could send to the legislature. The smaller states supported the New Jersey Plan, which proposed that all the states would have an equal number of representatives.

The Connecticut delegates suggested a compromise that settled the problem. Their plan provided for a bicameral Congress, meaning there were two houses of congress, with equal representation in the Senate, along with representation in proportion to population in the House of Representatives. This proposal became known as the Great Compromise.

The two memberships of the two houses were also to be chosen differently.

Members of the House of Representatives were to be elected directly by the people, thereby being the closest to the people, and representing the needs of the people directly with each member of the House to be elected every other year and representing a small district of several thousand people.

The United States Senate was created to represent the states in the federal government, and the issues most important to those states.

Originally the constitution required each state legislature to appoint two senators to represent that state in the senate. The founders believed that senators elected by state legislatures would be able to concentrate on the business at hand without pressure from the populace. And to further isolate senators from dramatic changes in public sentiment, senators served six year terms, a third of the senate up for election every two years, and when a senator’s term was up, the state legislature decided whether to re-elect that senator or choose someone new.

Each Senator was directly responsible to the state houses, the issues important to that state, and the sovereignty of the state, while each state legislator, whose votes would determine our senate representation, were directly responsible to us, the voters. And because state legislative districts are quite small, held responsible they were. This allowed for a check of federal government’s power by the states.

A republic not a democracy
Having lived under a dictatorial power of a King, the people of the new United States were worried about an abusive or run away federal government, so they created a system of three co-equal branches of government, to keep checks and balances on each other. It’s important to remember we live in a representative republic and not a democracy, this is an incredibly important distinction as the founding fathers wanted to ensure the rights of the minority. Thomas Jefferson said, “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of 49%.”

The Legislative Branch
The House elected by the people to represent the people, and the senate appointed by the states to represent the states in the federal government.

The Executive Branch
A president, elected by the people in state-wide elections, with each state having a number of electoral votes, based on the size of their congressional delegation, was to represent all the people, the nation as a whole, and enforce laws passed by congress.

The Judicial Branch
Make sure laws don’t violate constitutional rights of the people.

A great example: Illinois 1858
Under the constitution you did not need to be a multi-millionaire who could self fund a state wide campaign to get elected to the senate.

A great example was the now famous senate campaign of Illinois in 1858, when Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen A. Douglas for Douglas’s senate seat. They traveled the state and held what have become famous as the “Lincoln-Douglas” debates. In reality, neither Mr. Lincoln nor Mr. Douglas was asking for the votes of the voters.  They were asking voters to vote for a Republican or Democrat member of the Illinois State House.

Obviously, Republican members would have voted for Lincoln, while Democrat members would have voted for Douglas.

This method of electing senators, along with the Electoral College, maintained state’s sovereignty, and ensured that the federal government was a government made up of the states, and not a central government governing over the states.

The 17th Amendment
In 1913, during the progressive movement, when government started telling us how to live our lives, progressives successfully pushed through the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave the people direct election of our senators.

In theory, more democracy for more people sounds like a great idea, in fact that argument is why the 17th amendment was ratified in record time with little opposition, but the amendment threw off the balance of the states and federal government.

Article 6 of the Constitution-the Supremacy Clause-guaranteed that federal law would always supersede state laws, so the senate was to serve as the brake pedal to the house’s gas pedal of direct democracy, thus balancing federal supremacy with states sovereignty.

After 102 years the amendment has allowed for an ever increasing centralized federal government that runs roughshod over the states. State’s sovereignty is not only something of the past, but currently the federal government is suing states, and 24 states are suing the federal government, all because the states lost their voice in the congress.

Without the balance of state control of the senate the feds more easily force mandates on states. Today, the feds tax our money; then graciously return the money to the states with rules attached. If states don’t like the attached rules, the feds give the money to some other state. This is how we end up with annoying federal mandates like a national speed limit, national education mandates, national health care, 1 gallon per flush toilets, obnoxious EPA regulations, and a ban on drug testing welfare recipients, to name a few.

Today a senator’s primary concern is not for their state, but for their next re-election bid, and the easiest way to get re-elected is to tax the few and spend on the many, causing ballooning deficits, empowering special interest groups, and forcing multi-million dollar re-election campaigns on the American people. Senators who had been representing their respective state for 150 years were now representing those special interest that bankroll multi-million dollar campaigns, and instead of opposing over-burdening mandates on their states, they support them, and while seeking masses of voters, now focus more attention on populated metropolises, whereas the state legislature equally represents the most rural of area with that of its biggest cities.

We’ve turned the Senate into a “super” House of Representatives. It wasn’t intended to be that, and it’s not working.

The Federal Government no longer cares about the states. The 17th Amendment has been a failure, and like the 18th Amendment, it deserves repealing.

Some 17th Amendment tidbits
Had the 17th Amendment not been ratified it is likely most of FDR’s New Deal would have been in real trouble, as Republicans likely would have controlled the U.S. Senate.

Republicans would not have won the senate with the Reagan Revolution in 1980, as Gaylord Nelson, not Robert Kasten, would have been appointed to the Senate.

The 1994 Republican Revolution would not have resulted in a Republican controlled senate.

Today, the GOP would have a filibuster proof majority in the US Senate, and Tammy Baldwin would not be in the senate.

For the record, I also support repealing the 22nd, 23rd, and 26th, amendments to the constitution. (Look them up)
Rohn W. Bishop is a monthly contributor to the Scene, a former member of the Waupun City Council, Bishop currently serves as treasurer for the Republican Party of Fond du Lac County.

Contact Rohn: e-mail:

Follow Rohn on Twitter: @RohnWBishop

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