The craftsmen of American freedom, our Founding Fathers, established the United States Senate to protect those in the minority. An example of republican government, the Senate defied the fundamental problem with pure democracy: the tyranny of the majority. In this government body, each state has equal representation, and no state, no matter how much more populated, controls more legislative authority than another. It has been said that “democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” The existence of the Senate allows that “lamb” to contest legislative oppression.
However, since the passage of the 17th Amendment, the Senate has deviated from its original intent. With direct elections of Senators by the people, Senate campaigns have become popularity contests that represent national agendas, rather than a contest to see who could best represent the interests of their individual state. Even the demographics of the United States Senate have been changed by the 17th Amendment; Senators have become older, richer, and longer serving. Once a delegation of ambassadors of the states, the Senate now more closely resembles an association of delegates who have no direct connection with their states and who represent their own individual interests.
Ironically, the 17th Amendment was championed by Progressives during its inception as a cure for corruption. However, it is the 17th Amendment that is responsible for the most legislative deception in America. It is no coincidence that shortly after it’s adoption, the income tax was enacted, the Federal Reserve established, and the United States joined a unpopular war, World War I. There is no amendment more inconsistent with the Founder’s original intent than the 17th. To preserve the republic from further erosion, the 17th Amendment needs to be repealed. For the advancement of states’ rights, original intent, and republican government, a return to The Constitution’s legislative blueprint is imperative.
The architects of American liberty diagnosed the causes of tyranny and oppression. They contended that tyranny not only stems from oppressive government, but from excessive democracy as well. A quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson described democracy as “…nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” The dangers of democracy were clear to The Founding Fathers, and they sought to limit oppression from the majority in the Constitution. James Madison articulated the need for republican government rather than democracy in the Federalist Papers:
Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths…A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.
The Federalist Papers: James Madison
The United States Senate was established as a subsequent of the Framers’ calls for republican government. With each state granted two Senate seats, smaller states have representation equal to the largest states, a stark contrast to the composition of the U.S. House of Representatives. Surely with equal representation, those in the minority would not be oppressed. The Constitution also specifically mandated that Senators be appointed by their State’s legislatures: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote.” This would bind the Senators legislative agendas to that of their respective States. In Federalist #45, James Madison declared, “The Senate will be elected absolutely and exclusively by the State legislatures… Thus, each of the principal branches of the federal government will owe its existence more or less to the favor of the State governments, and must consequently feel dependence.” Even Alexander Hamilton, who notoriously opposed the level of states rights advocated by Madison and Jefferson, supported a marriage of Senators and State Legislatures:
When you take a view of all the circumstances which have been recited, you will certainly see that the senators will constantly look up to the state governments with an eye of dependence and affection. If they are ambitious to continue in office, they will make every prudent arrangement for this purpose, and, whatever may be their private sentiments or politics, they will be convinced that the surest means of obtaining reelection will be a uniform attachment to the interests of their several states.
Alexander Hamilton on the US Senate
The composition of the United States Senate was an idea that the Founding Fathers generally agreed upon. Until 1913, their original framework remained intact, and generally met their intentions. Thomas Dilorenzo, Ph. D, describes an instance of strong states’ rights in the Senate during Andrew Jackson’s administration:
“State legislatures were instrumental in Andrew Jackson’s famous battle with the Bank of the United States which ended with the Bank being de-funded and replaced by the Independent Treasury System. State legislatures throughout the U.S. instructed their senators to oppose the Bank in the Senate. Senator Pelog Sprague of Maine was forced to resign in 1835 after ignoring his legislature’s instructions to vote against the Bank. The U.S. Senate voted to censure President Andrew Jackson for opposing the Bank, but the states responded by forcing seven other senators to resign for taking part in that vote.”
Andrew Jackson and the Bank of the US
In this brilliant display of states’ rights, the genius of the Founders’ design was exhibited. The interests of the states prevailed, while the wishes of the Federal government were curtailed. With the state-orientated design, Senators are mere legislative vehicles for the states. In contrast, direct election of Senators usually means that Senators represent their own interests; the only check on their power being a direct election every sixth year. Since the 17th Amendment’s inception, Senators have become more powerful than the States they represent.
The Founding Fathers had a strong belief in the idea of democracy, but recognized its pitfalls. What makes a democracy dangerous is its vulnerability to the ignorance of the majority. Winston Churchill once said “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” The dangers of democracy are clear. With the implementation of the 17th amendment, Senate campaigns can be about what candidate can offer the most goods to the electorate. With the creation of the National Income Tax in 1913, voting permits legal theft from one demographic to another. The Framers of the Constitution knew this, which is why they almost unanimously sought to limit democracy. John Adams wrote:
Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy; such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man’s life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit, and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable [abominable] cruelty of one or a very few.
John Adams on Democracy
John Adams’ fears have sadly been vindicated by the 17th Amendment. Senators have become the candidates with the public bribery techniques, who appeal to the electorate solely because of their superficial promises. This is not what the Framers envisioned. State legislators would not elect the candidate with the best curb appeal, but rather the candidate who would represent the interests of the State best. No longer are Senators ambassadors of the States, but ambassadors of their own political agendas. Their only vulnerability lies in direct elections every six years, but the failure of democracy is evident from the statistics from the most recent election. Despite a historically low approval rating, 90% of incumbents were reelected to the House of Representatives and 91% reelected to the Senate in 2012.
This is a remarkable discrepancy. Why is it when only 13% of Americans approve of Congress, over 9 out of 10 members of Congress are reelected? This exemplifies the unfortunate problem of democracy. With the current electoral system, the most disliked congress in history will continue to wreak havoc upon American public policy, with the incoherent consent of the American electorate. Adams’ writings predicted the fall of democracy so well: ““Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” The United States of America began to cease as republic with the creation of the 17th Amendment. The Senate no longer represents the wishes of the States, and the electorate does not seem to mind.
While it is easy to blame the individuals who have corrupted the purpose of the Senate, blame must lie on those who allowed them to do so. The threat of overreaching government is not as alarming as the threat of a citizenry content with overreaching government. Tyranny does not necessarily derive from government; excessive democracy is also a parent of tyranny. The 17th Amendment is a document of tyranny disguised as electoral freedom. Every since the people have been directly electing Senators, freedom has been curtailed to alarming extents. The rights of the States, championed and held dear by our Founding Fathers, have been suffocated by the 17th Amendment. The United States are no longer represented in government by their own interests, but by individuals with their own aspirations and agenda.
If the 17th Amendment is not effectively curtailed, this once benevolent republic will continue to erode into a turbulent democracy, sadly fulfilling the fears of Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and their contemporaries.