History

227 years ago, the thirteen independent and sovereign States joined together to form the UNITED STATES of America.  They created a central Federal government for the specifically enumerated purposes of common defense, a national postal system and Article I judges to resolve disputes between the States. The Founders were so concerned with limiting the powers of the central government that they also included the 10th Amendment at the ratification of the Constitution, which further limited the Federal government’s power by reserving all powers not enumerated in the Constitution  “ to the States, respectively, or to the people”.

Congress was carefully designed to include the House of Representatives to represent the people, and the Senate to represent the States. The Senators were to be the “ambassadors” of the States to the Federal government that the States had created, and were chosen by the State legislatures. This was one of the most fundamental checks and balances that the Founders created to limit the Federal government and ensure the continuing sovereignty of the States. This was also intended to prevent the Federal government being subject to “special interests “instead of the States.

 

This system worked well for our country’s first 124 years, until the passage of 17th Amendment in 1913 that disenfranchised the States.  Starting in 1826, there were various attempts in 1855 and the 1890’s to adopt direct election of the Senators by the people in a popular election, and cut out the State legislatures. The 17th Amendment was supported by the Populist Party, the No-Nothing Party and the Democrat Party. William Jennings Bryan campaigned for it in his presidential races, and the House passed it on several occasions in 1900, 1904 and 1908, only to see it die in the Senate.

The arguments for the 17th Amendment were deadlocks in the State legislatures that temporarily deprived the State of its representation, and possible corruption where a candidate would bribe the legislators to gain election as a Senator. The movement gained momentum in 1906 when an unholy alliance of William Randolph Hearst, the national unions and certain large corporations decided that it would be easier to try to control a few key Senators rather than have to pursue their special interests in then forty-eight separate State legislatures.

At that time, before even talking pictures, the public only received its news through the print media of newspapers and magazines. Hearst created the first media empire of 28 newspapers in the major cities, and most of the national circulation magazines including Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Esquire, and many more. He had unprecedented national power and influence, and desired to be the king maker on both the national and international scene.

In 1908, Oregon was the first State to change its selection of its Senators from the legislature to a popular vote. Over the next four years, thirty one States either changed to a popular vote or adopted resolutions urging Congress to pass the 17th Amendment allowing direct election of Senators. Finally it was passed by Congress in 1912, and ratified by the States in 1913.

We have now over one hundred years of experience with the 17th Amendment and its unintended consequences. It was supposed to make the Senators more responsive to the people. Instead it has made the Senate non responsive to both the people and their home States. One only has to receive the usual dismissive form letter when you contact your Senator to realize that only the special interests that fund their campaigns have access today.

It was promoted by the Big Media, Unions and Corporations using the Progressive Movement smokescreen of populism. In reality, the individual voters have absolutely no ability to talk to, much less influence their Senators. The Senators now neglect their duties to spend most of their time raising money and doing favors for the special interests and lobbyists who fund their elections.  Prior to the 17th Amendment, the cost to run for Senator was perhaps a few drinks for the legislators who elected them, now the average Senatorial election costs $18,800,000.00 !

The States and their taxpayers have been greatly harmed by the 17th Amendment. When the States controlled their Senators, there was no such thing as an unfunded mandate. The Federal government ran balanced budgets just as the States must do. The Federal agencies did not tell the States what to do. The abuses of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management and the rest of the alphabet soup of Federal agencies did not exist.

There are many other benefits to the original system of the State legislatures electing the Senators. This acted as term limits since the State would not return an ineffective Senator to Congress. Better candidates were available because they did not have to raise huge sums and endure endless expensive races. Repealing the 17th Amendment would truly take the money, and the corruption, out of these political races.

         

Just as the 18th Constitution Amendment of Prohibition was repealed by the 21th Amendment because it was a failure, it is now time to repeal the 17th Amendment and restore the rights of the States as the Founders originally intended. It is time to restore the checks and balances between the sovereign States and the Federal government. Again the genius of our Founders original design of our Constitution has been proven and must be restored.

©  Equal Justice Coalition