Repeal the 17th Amendment

The 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913 and stipulated that members of the United States Senate would no longer be appointed by the legislatures of the various states, but instead would be elected directly by the people.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “that’s a good thing. We should elect our Senators. They should be beholden to the people. To have them appointed by the legislatures of the various states, would be, well, undemocratic.” Indeed it would be, and gloriously so.

Democracy has in recent times been deified by our leaders and the press. They peddle it abroad and when it doesn’t sell, they send in the army to impose it by force. It’s God’s work, they say. Yet they miss key points. It was not democracy, but the idea that each of us has a right to our life, liberty and justly acquired property that made this country great. Our so-called leaders forget, fail to mention, or purposefully omit that democracy is not liberty, that liberty is not democracy, and that it is liberty that is most important! Though touted as such, democracy should not be an end in and of itself. We must have a form of government that stands for more than two wolves and sheep deciding what to have for dinner.

Great, so now that’s out of the way. Let’s take a look at the structure of the United States government. I know this information can be found elsewhere, namely in the U.S. Constitution itself, but a refresher never hurts. The diagram below depicts what bodies of people are responsible for appointing the various governing bodies in the United States. As you can see the people are the foundation of the system.

Specific to this discussion, however the 17th Amendment replaced the blue arrow with the green arrow. Actually that is somewhat simplified. Prior to the ratification of the 17th Amendment each state legislature could decide by law how the Senators in their state were chosen. Some deffered to the people, while some continued to appoint Senators themselves. Of course the people of each state elected their state representatives.

Flow chart depicting By Whom the various governing bodies are chosen

Flow chart depicting by whom the various governing bodies are chosen

My argument for repealing the 17th Amendment is not based in history, though there are several good historical, and in fact theoretical arguments for repealing it. For me it simply comes down to money.

Consider the number of people a Senator must reach in order to get elected. For the state of California or New York it is literally tens of millions. Even for a small state like New Mexico, which has a population of about 1.2 million, a Senate campaign is a daunting task. An expensive one too, no doubt.

We have all decried the influence of money on our system of government, that our representatives are bought by special interests. Repealing the 17th Amendment would change this drastically. A prospective Senator, instead of having to reach millions of individuals for their vote, would only have to reach the members of his own state legislature, which is in no case larger than 2000 individuals. This would nearly eliminate the need for any campaign contributions.

Repealing the 17th Amendment would not be a cure all for the system, however it would restore some much needed balance to the system. The various states, instead of having to pay lobbyists in Washington would have true representatives. It would mean that not every single Senator would necessarily be bought by bankers and defense contractors.

Another positive effect would be that the people would become more interested in state politics. And the people, by replacing their state legislators would still have a strong say about who was appointed to the U.S. Senate. In fact some states might opt to pass laws that continued the method of direct election, but most importantly every state would be able to decide for itself how to appoint U.S. Senators.

Of course the U.S. House of Representatives would still be subject to monied interests, but their constituencies are much smaller, only about 500,000 people. However because Senators would be beholden to different constituencies it would tend to check rather than reinforce the bias toward monied interests in House of Representatives. Finally, and it is just a hunch, a repeal of the 17th Amendment would noticeably weaken the national political parties. And this could only be a good thing.

Like I said above there are other arguments for repealing the 17th Amendment, but they are often historical or rather complex. I believe this is a pretty straight forward easy to understand, and forward looking argument. A reason that a repeal of the 17th Amendment would help us with our problems now. I would appreciate your comments.

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  1. #1 by Lee Gonzales on Friday, November 21, 2008 - 22:03

    If I had a choice on which two amendments to repeal first- the 16th or the 17th I would opt for the 17th. A perfect example is the recent vote to bail out the bankers. The House at first succumbed to pressure from their constituents and voted down the bailout. Up stepped the Senate and with a slight of hand tacked on an amendment to a House bill that had nothing to do with funding the banks and saved the bankers’ hides. A few days later the House voted again and the bailout passed.

    The senators have essentially become another branch of the House of Representatives but with 6 year terms instead of the two year terms of the House. That is the problem and as Craig points out in his chart the election of senators is a costly affair campaign wise and costly in that the republican form of government has been democratized, which does not fit the design of the Republic. Republics separate power whereas democracies concentrate power. The people that pushed for the direct election of senators knew exactly what they were doing in creating a democracy by eliminating this key feature of representation of the states in congress.

    New constituencies have been formed outside the direct influence of the people through their local state legislators. It turned out that the people are worse off by voting directly for US senators than they were before the 17th amendment was passed in 1913!

    In regards to the bailout bill, the lobbyists, in this case the bankers, pulled their trump card and the senators folded like deck chairs. The lobbyists have become the constituents instead of the voters back home who every 6 years are reminded by the political parties and the media who to vote for.

    If we abolished the Income tax, the banking community would find a way around it and continue to sink our nation into debt and continue to soak the taxpayers by some other form of direct taxation. Therefore I recommend a nation-wide movement to abolish the 17th amendment. However in the interim we could recall a couple of US senators to prime the pump. It’s not that elected officials aren’t appointed since governors appoint replacements due to resignations, deaths and if we are successful recalling of senators.

  2. #2 by Adam J Braus on Saturday, November 22, 2008 - 14:12

    Great article, I thought I would share my agreement with another piece of writing.

    http://heraclitusuu.googlepages.com/nestedpowers%3Atheforgottenfundamentalstru

    enjoy this alternative but affirmative prospective!

  3. #3 by Chesley Elkins on Saturday, November 22, 2008 - 18:58

    I agree with Lee. I once heard it said that the 17th amendment tipped the balance of power away from the individual states towards the federal leviathan. A repeal of the 17th amendment would mean that the population would pay more attention to their local governments and local governments would retain more sovereignty.
    The repeal of the 17th Amendment would be a tough sale to the masses. I recall being taught in school that the 17th amendment recognized that the people had more access to information and could be trusted more to elect their own Senators, and the next logical step was the abolition of the electoral college. Yikes.

  4. #4 by Jonathan Rude on Tuesday, December 2, 2008 - 15:33

    The concept of a US Senator, appointed to a “nominal 6 year term,” by his or her state legislature and governor would immediately change the political dynamic on Capitol Hill. States would no longer have a politician, beholding to his voting constituency, but a now a statesman beheld to the state representation with power to recall a non-performer or a usurper of special interest over state interest. I concur that with an appointed Senator, local elections suddenly become much more important, because their outcomes directly affect that state’s representation in the Senate.

    I mentioned the 6 year term as being “nominal” because the Senator’s length of tenure is suddenly linked to a turn-over in the legislature or via gubernatorial régime change – so long Senator for life – get a real job. The thing that McCain-Feingold attempted to fix now has its roots addressed. The Senator is no longer campaigning to renew his position, but is now forced to actually work on Capitol Hill and perform to keep his position by a truer representation capable of judging that performance. There are no Senate campaign finance issues, because there is no Senate campaign with huge war chests, and long drawn out media and commercial emphasis.

    Furthermore, when the Senate idiot(s), (Honorable of course) decide to run for the Presidency, their seats can now be more promptly filled by a person sent there to be a Senator, and perhaps the Senate becomes a better pool of candidates for the Presidency of the United States.

    The hundred year experiment of the William Jennings-Bryan populists (socialist/communist), of directly elected Senators comes to a close and is declared for what it was – a failure. Then we return to the system originally designed by the Constitution that better served the US for its first 125 years. It’s a clarion call for the return to “statemanship” in the Senate.

  5. #5 by Jim Rongstad on Saturday, December 6, 2008 - 13:41

    Craig,

    I have long supported repealing the direct election Senators just because it was the way the founders intended and it being another check on concentrated power.

    Thanks for providing a more thought out and detailed case for repeal.

  6. #6 by Dick Anderson on Saturday, December 29, 2012 - 17:32

    This was the LAST GASP for State AND Individual Sovereignty!
    This INFAMOUS act enabled the US Senators to be totally UNACCOUNTABLE to their states.

    They now answer to NOBODY!
    (it is very easy to “hoodwink” the millions that vote for them and know NOTHING about them)

    Once we lost the Senate as our representatives for the States, “We the PEOPLE” also lost OUR Sovereignty (the House was already well on its way to UNACCOUNTABLE – When was the last time you heard of YOUR Representative VOTING for something that was good for “The People”?)

    It used to be that the State Legislatures chose the STATE’S representatives (Senators) for the US Senate – and each Senator knew he had to FAITHFULLY represent his state in the US Congress or be REPLACED – the State Legislatures were vigilant to see that they were being fully and competently represented in Washington.

    Now, the People vote for their Senators, which sounds great, but the truth is the People know very little about what their Senators do (which is no accident – the less the Senator tells them, the better chance he has of being re-elected) and largely vote their Parties “ticket”.
    So, as long as they bring in lots of money from “Special Interests” and vote however the “Special Interests” and their Party tells them to, they are ASSURED of being re-elected and increasing their Political Power & Wealth!
    YOU, the Voter, do not even count anymore!

    And, if you don’t vote in the PRIMARIES you have ZERO chance of getting an HONEST Senator!
    (you will have relinquished YOUR opportunity to choose and the Parties are going to pick their Biggest THIEF as their candidate)

    Repeal the 17th Amendment

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