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Tennessee State Senator Devises Plan To Circumvent 17th Amendment

Back To Founding Principles

The 17th Amendment is a hallmark of progressivism, passed in 1913 along with other progressive legislation such as the 16th Amendment and the Federal Reserve. It abolished Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution, which specific that:

“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”

The first clause of the 17th amendment replaced the previous phrase with:

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.”

Most people view the 17th Amendment as a good thing. Even most Republicans. But think about what it has led to: more power for lobbyists and an increased blend of the D.C. triopoly. True, “the people” in the democratic sense do have more power. But democracy is not a virture; liberty is. A quasi-democratic system is probably the best way to preserve liberty, and that is what we have. But an increasingly uneducated and unprincipled electorate is one of the main driving forces behind our decline.

Instead, the Founding Fathers understood the need for state representation in Congress.

C.H. Hoebeke explains:

Stability, balance, restraint–there was not a word about responsiveness. The Senate’s manner of election was intended to secure the desired stability in a number of ways.

First, it would help allay the jealousies of Anti-Federalists, inasmuch as it continued a familiar vestige of the old Confederation. The “sovereign” states would continue to send their ambassadors to Congress. The founders expected senators to play a more independent and representative role than congressional delegates under the Articles, but retaining the previous form of election would assure suspicious localists that the states would have a check on any consolidating tendencies of the national government.15

Second, in order to make the chamber more conducive to deliberation, the Senate’s membership would be smaller than that of the House, but this necessitated that each member represent a larger constituency–statewide, in fact. Even in those days of sparse population, direct elections were ruled out as a mockery of the true principles of representation. Candidates would have too little acquaintance with any but the largest or most vocal interests. By the same token, the individual citizen’s vote, and the knowledge upon which it would be cast, counted for so little among the mass electorate that it would more than likely favor the intrigues of a well-organized few, adept at “taking advantage of the supineness, the ignorance, the hopes and fears of the unwary and interested.” Locally elected legislators, chosen with greater competence on the part of the people, would serve as trustworthy intermediaries to select to the Senate “those men only who have become the most distinguished by their abilities and virtue.”

This all derives from the compact theory of the United States-which has been in the stark minority in post-Civil War history. It is the idea that the states came together to form the federal government to serve as an agent for their wishes. The opposing view is that the federal government brought the states under one umbrella in order for uniform dictates to be set.

With the background information out of the way, here is the situation today: Tennessee State Senator Frank S. Nicely, an excellent far-right legislator, has a proposal to bring a semblance of state representation back into the electoral process.

While Senators must still be elected via a state wide ballot, the states have discretion in determining who is allowed to appear on the ballot.

Nicely’s bill would place the nomination of the party candidates in the hand of the state legislature, ending the primary system. The State House and State Senate would form a joint caucus. The Republican legislators would nominate their candidate, and the Democratic legislators would nominate their candidate. Under this system, voters still have the final decision-but if the people of a state vote the same way for federal office as they do for the state legislature, the effective result is that the majority party in the state legislature would have the final say-just as it did before the 17th Amendment. Of course, while this is often the case, it isn’t exclusively so. Although this change, if adopted nationwide, wouldn’t necessarily significantly affect the makeup of the Senate in terms of party lines, it would in theory make Senators more beholden to state interests once again.

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