The 17th Amendment: A danger to the republic

We know from their writings and the actual makeup of the Constitution that the Founders had pretty strong ideas about some concepts.  They wanted to avoid a pure democracy, and they wanted a system of checks and balances with separation of powers. 

James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper #10, "[D]emocracies 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 in their deaths."

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as defining democracy as "two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.  Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote."

We know also that the Founders wanted the individual states to retain certain rights and powers, such as the ability to write laws.  This concept was important enough that they dedicated the 10th Amendment to ensuring those rights: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

One important way they used to ensure the individual states had a voice was in the brilliant creation of the bicameral Congress.  The House of Representatives is the voice of the majority of people in each state, with the number of representatives based on population, a principle of democracy.

The Senate is the intended check on the pure democracy of the House.  As the founders wrote in Article 1, Section 3, "[t]he Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the Legislature[.]"

Then, in 1912, Congress approved the 17th Amendment, calling for direct popular election of senators, and it was ratified by three fourths of the states.

This effectively negated the important concept the Founders put in place, specifically checks and balances.  The state legislatures would no longer have a say in the Congress.  Federalism took a major hit.

What was the background that led to passing of this amendment?  In The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, Ralph Rossum, professor of American constitutionalism at Claremont McKenna College, points to four factors.  These included legislative deadlocks when different parties controlled the Assembly and state Senate, scandals stemming from charges of bribery and corruption in the election of senators, and the growing strength of the populist movement.  The fourth factor, significantly, was "the rise of Progressivism and its conviction that the solution to the problems of democracy was more democracy — in this case, popular election of Senators."

None of these factors appears to provide a strong enough argument for overturning one of the most important concepts of the Constitution as written by the founders.

Now, 109 years later, we have the progressives within the Democrat party calling for abolition of the Electoral College.  This is another attack on the states, specifically those with smaller populations, in order to negate their influence in the election of the president.  Federalism will take another hit.

We can only hope there are enough conservative voices left in the Congress to squash this nonsense.  The Founders are probably tired of all the rolling over in their graves.

Image: Pixabay.