Direct Corruption: The Seventeeth Amendment
By Ed Willing
No doubt, the last several years in America have been challenging to everyone, on all sides.
It has both challenged those on the left as they see so many millions question their policies and principles, and has infuriated said millions on the right because they cannot believe how quickly America has turned away from its founding principles. Both sides agree there’s problems in education, costs of health care and national security – they differ widely in how to address them. Interestingly, their differences are not usually as wide as they think. In policy, yes; in principle, no.
Experiments in government benevolence are nothing new, and neither are the poor and needy. Jesus of Nazareth said, “you will always have the poor among you,” and Apostle Paul said “your plenty will supply what they need.” So we as Americans, an overwhelmingly religious people have invented many ways to see the needs of people met – both physically and spiritually – since long before our Constitution was formed. Caring for the poor isn’t a new idea, just the concept of forced compassion.
What was new in 1787 was the unique opportunity for free, moral men to establish their own government in a fair and enduring manner for all men. What was new turned out to be the specific system of checks and balances between governments; the acknowledgement of fallen human nature; government’s suspicion of their own power and the preservation of innate liberties that would create the most successful society in human history
Our system was not perfect, but as the Founders wrote, they sought a “more perfect union,” and fortunately, because of the character of her people the nation has found its way around the pragmatic decisions at the time to extend liberty to everyone as equally as possible before or since. We inspired a world in slavery; we liberated a continent under siege; we invented entire industries among our creative people; we ushered in the greatest economic improvement in the global community ever in history, and have managed to maintain it for longer than any other time in history.
And yet, never before has this legacy been more threatened by the very mindset that results from such long-lasting prosperity. Complacency, removal from struggle, disassociation from organic, neighborly concern is birthed in societies where we assume someone else can take care of this or that; we have allowed collectivism to creep into a society where collectivism had no part. Yet, we use the benefits of its absence (true liberty and free markets) to make an argument for it.
We have been doing this for over 120 years. The chickens have come home to roost; as they’d say in the northwest, the salmon have come back to spawn. And spawn they have – last year, 40,000 new laws were passed and enacted into law. Tacitus, the Roman orator and considered the world’s greatest historian warned us: “The more corrupt the state, the more it legislates.”
How did this happen? It didn’t happen overnight, but it didn’t happen by accident either, nor by mere neglect. Good people were sold on false ideas proven faulty by the Founders, and the liberty baby was proverbially thrown out with the bathwater of a young and imperfect republic. The notion of the fallibility of man was replaced with the belief we could improve the human condition collectively. Every man has a voice; good government must surely follow, yes? No. It has never worked in human history, and unless we intervene now, history will replay itself once again and we will have failed to learn from it.
The Progressives’ war has been engaged for well over 150 years, but it received its greatest and most imperative successes about 100 years ago. After a series of failures in the Supreme Court, and multiple attempts to expand government taxation and service programs throughout the country in the late 19th century, Progressives, who had been working on reforming public education for years, finally got what they wanted in the early 1900’s with the democracy movement fueled by unions, women’s suffrage and increased civil liberties in the South. They saw the opportunity to seize on legitimate cultural reforms to change the very structure of American government, and our relationship to it. Real abuses in the corporate world and the harsh adjustment of cities to transition during the industrialization era led people to believe investing more power in government could be the best solution. They abrogated local power to state and federal power, and the consolidation of this authority was cemented when the idea of direct elections became the emphasis, rather than representative republicanism. From 1901-1913, nearly every republican structure in the nation had changed. In 1913, democratic energy finally came to a zenith with the passage of the 16th and 17th amendments – the power to tax, and the direct election of U.S. Senators, respectively.
The “federation” of government, by definition was intended to be a dispersed concentration of power, where the States individually retained the appropriate powers, “innumerable” as they were, and collectively delegated, few and “enumerated” as they are, in the central “national” government. This was by design.
In Federalist No. 46, James Madison asserted that the states and national government “are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers.”
Alexander Hamilton, writing in Federalist No. 28, suggested that both levels of government would exercise authority to the citizens’ benefit: “If their [the peoples'] rights are invaded by either, they can make use of the other as the instrument of redress.”
The birth of the Progressive reforms at the turn of the 20th century was the destruction of the only preventive-check on manipulated democracy. The 17th amendment fundamentally changed the balance of federal and state power by eliminating the accountability the Senators had with their states and transforming them into 6 year versions of the 2 year House. The result was 5 years of unaccountable, easily-corrupted de-governance determined more by lobbyists than that alleged “direct voice” everyone was looking out for. The clarification in the 16th amendment gave this new imbalanced government the power to confiscate as much money as it deemed necessary to its ambitions.
In the Founders’ vision of the Senate, the distance for positive action is as close as the state capitol and its legislature. Senators used to represent their state and the people’s need within that state.
The Founders understood that the failures of the Roman Republic and the Greek Democracy could both be gleaned from; their respective falls into extinction showed that no perfect government existed and could be manipulated by a flawed human nature, individual OR collective, for which the Founders had a profound fear of. They intended to create a dispersed power structure that both maintained the wisdom of republican representation, while protecting the right of a self-governing people to direct the behavior of their own government. The 17th destroyed the balance, and the results are the last 100 years of Progressive havoc. Prior to ratifying the amendment, citizens saw much more of their Senators. They also usually retained the ability to vote for their most popular choice, and the State legislatures would then most often appoint the most popular choice, subject to their discretion and the needs of their state. As a result, the Senate was essentially an advisory board to the House and Executive branch, not a mere politicking body as it is now.
In 1913, Federal Government spending accounted for just under 3% of Gross Domestic Product (total economic activity). Today, that figure is roughly 24%, siphoning off wealth from the most efficient places and funneling it through the inefficient channels of government bureaucracy – all in the name of “compassion for the poor” that are better served, not by a centralized government, but local communities and families.
While convincing arguments are made of caring for the poor, the mathematical realities are ignored. The concept of forced charity doesn’t register in the minds of the masses, because the masses are increasingly the beneficiaries of that forced compassion, rather than the ones with the gun in the face. Resisting the illogical programs – never mind their constitutionality for a moment – is futile because so many around you have come to depend on those benefits to survive. Very few are principled enough to vote themselves into struggle.
The problems are many-fold, but the most acute symptom of our degrading society is the federalization of these benefits. Local determination has been lost, local control is irrelevant and the consolidation of power in Washington, D.C. has become so great, that many have failed to see the sickening marriage between corporate powers and government powers are equally as frightening. Because the problem appears so daunting, we just vote our heart and hope for the best. But that’s what got us here in the first place.
The direct election of Senators removed the most important safe-guard against the mobocracy and manipulated masses. Where the states once had a direct representation in the Federal government, so they may protect the interests of their local determination, we now have a more corrupt body than the one we had sought to reform in 1913.
And make no mistake, the “reform” to be sought was merely the veneer selling point – the goal of far too many Progressives was the consolidation of power, not merely the improvement of human conditions, and they understood very well what they were doing. It was the manipulated masses that did not. Touché
The way to restore the balance the Founders intended is complicated, and you will never find complete agreement as to how, but we all should agree as to why. Without the repeal of the 17th amendment the 9th and 10th amendments have no value. Article 4, Section 4 of the Constitution promises the States a republican form of government, for a reason.
“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect them against invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.”
Every structure needs tensions on either side to secure the structure and assure stability. The 17th Amendment, in essence, violates the spirit of Article 4, Section 4, and eliminated that guarantee of stability, making the assurance a matter of one’s word only, not enforceable by any legal or practical means.
What I fear may eventually occur is that the imbalance Conservatives find echoing socialist ideals will become far worse, and lead us down a road much more repressive than the economies of Europe. One would think observing their experiments in enlightenment-communalism mixed with convenient shreds of facio-capitalism would have shown us the Founders were right, but it appears that this paradigm realization has not yet happened.
To restore the value of the 9th and 10th amendments, we must repeal the 17th amendment; Senators would once again be directly accountable to State capitals, and could be recalled in the case of malfeasance or counterproductive policy. And in order to accomplish this, I propose that a consistent dedication to education be orchestrated to teach our local communities how important a republican government is, and why our Founders constructed the careful balance they did. The Progressives have de-educated three generations of Americans into believing pure democracy is a human right, and that a representative system is more easily corrupted. Once the people have an understanding and cautious trust in the system, we may have States willing to forcibly restoring that balance. It will take more than a brave politician or two; rather, millions of educated citizens need to understand the need to tell their Federal government that it is too powerful; too presumptuous; too untrustworthy to retain the power once held by their local State governments. If power is forever corrupting, let the corruption be that which I can see and not be hidden; power distanced from the hand which can rightly correct it is forever lost to the ambition of rulers.
When the sovereign States reassert their right to representation and remind the Federal government that federal power comes only from the consent of the governed (states included), you will see Washington, D.C. become what it was intended to be – a watchman abroad, a protector of the States, a mediator between disputing parties, and an ambassador for us in the case of abuse.
Our relationship with government will always be a fluid interpretation; as well it should be. We change as people, and as such, while our principles must remain, our methods of governing should also change. Instead of looking ahead into the unknown and experimenting with proven tenets of good governance, we should trust more the lessons of history than the dreams of planners and manipulators. The modern relationship we currently have in the 21st century with government will assure that we as a people only change in one direction – more dependency, less self-sufficiency, less education, more consolidation of wealth in the hands of few. Harry Browne aptly described the self-perpetuating nature of a benevolent government:
“Government is good at one thing: it knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch and say, ‘see if it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk.’”
It is not coincidence that the transfer of power from State to Federal government in 1913 directly correlates with the rapid increase in spending, government welfare experiments and the radical assumption of public debt. For the same reason credit cards are so easy to fall prey to in personal finance, removing oneself from the direct cost of local subsidies removes all inhibition to passively approving unsustainable debt and dependency.
Local government is so important to a free and successful society, and most people will agree with this. So the relationship with the federal government must change. Our relationship is determined by our status and morality as a community. So it would be reason to say experiments in social services, environmental policies, education structures and the means to pay for them should be retained as locally as possible. We can win hearts, and votes with this logical argument. You may be surprised how many progressive neighbors will agree with this line of thinking.
Our goal should be to know and engage our community as much as possible, not depend on the benevolence of a distant government to perfect the condition of a world it is too far removed from to understand. Education, health care, security, economic freedom, work conditions, civil rights are very personal, intimate areas of our lives, and should be held tightly and locally, even if they affect us as a whole nation. Teach your neighbors the virtues of a local community knowing and controlling its own fate, and you just might see the republic which protects this, find a home in the hearts of the democratic masses once again.
We cannot afford any other option.
Video on the importance of the 17th amendment, and what it’s repeal has led to: