How the 17th Amendment Has Stolen Your Freedom

July 23, 2009

As a young Air Force Lieutenant I got into a heated discussion with my squadron commander about the US Constitution. It was one of those perplexing but educational moments in a young life, where a bright young officer, commonly called a “butter bar,” attempts to lecture a 20 year military veteran who’d seen and done it all. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I made the statement that ‘originally United States Senators were nominated by their state’s governor and confirmed by the state legislature in a process not unlike the one that the President’s senior cabinet members undergo today’. He emphatically denied this was ever the case. Our voices became a decibel higher, but mine, in deference to his seniority, stayed one notch below “raised.” I wasn’t going to be deterred but he brought the discussion to an abrupt end, giving me that same look my father had mastered that indicated further pursuit would have negative repercussions.

It takes a certain amount of belligerence, determination and intellect to become the commander of an Air Force flying squadron. And as a squadron commander he lacked none of it. There was no one who knew our particular model of aircraft better or who was smarter on the numbers and procedures required for its operation. His belligerent side won out as evidenced by his outright refusal to discuss the issue or even to acknowledge the evidence presented the Seventeenth Amendment. He had the intellectual capability – he just didn’t want to look.

During the late 18th and through most of the 19th centuries average Americans discussed many things around the dinner table. Besides farming and other daily activities, intellectual conversations were centered on the two most readily available printed documents of their time, the Bible and the US Constitution. Most households had both and they were used to teach reading, rhetoric (debate) and values to themselves and their children. These early Americans had a far better understanding of the values and principles our Founding Fathers put forth on paper than at any other time in American History. This knowledge by the mass of people prevented an overreaching government from infringing on the people’s liberty in a way that validated Thomas Jefferson words when he said,

"Of all the views of this law [for public education], none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe (sic) as they are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty."
Knowledge indeed is a powerful thing. If you don’t know where the Constitution draws the line then how will you ever know that it has been crossed? This of course happened in 1913 when the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified under Woodrow Wilson, the first President to dramatically take power and liberty from an unwitting public.

By 1913 America had changed significantly from their 18th and 19th century counterparts. The Industrial Revolution had come to fruition. America was becoming more metropolitan as young men and women moved to cities to take up jobs in factories. Farming improvements had allowed fewer people to grow more food thus sustaining this urban migration and undercutting the agricultural nature of American society. Fewer people were eating and learning around their family dinner tables, and when they did they had an enormous amount of options to choose from: local newspapers; books; and flyers of every sort were more widely available now than previously. By 1913 over a generation of America’s urban educated had intellectually lost their Constitution, and it was now beginning to slip away from them.

For some time leading up to the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment senate seats often stood empty, leaving Congress almost too paralyzed to conduct business. This was frustrating on both national and state levels. It occurred because inter-party bickering in state legislatures with narrow majorities left them unable to confirm the state’s senators to send to Washington. As Americans we have one great shortfall – our inclination to look for the first available solution without consideration to the long term implications. This combined with the loss of our institutionalized Constitutional intellect is what allowed the Seventeenth Amendment to happen.

What the Seventeenth Amendment did was remove the right of the state in choosing their senatorial representatives and allow for their direct election by the people. On the surface this may seem like a noble and honorable thing to do, seemingly empowering the people through democratic reform. But the result was little more than another house of representatives that was balanced by state and not population. The Senate became a body politic no longer answerable to the states. And this was exactly contrary to what our Founding Fathers originally intended – which was not a democracy, but a Federal Republic.

The Connecticut Compromise that led to our bicameral legislature was far more than an attempt to balance representation between population-based and state-based entities. It was an intentional effort by our Founding Fathers to empower the states that comprised the Federal Republic as autonomous political entities in their own right. They understood that only state representation could protect the rights of the states and thus the people, to whom they were closer to. They knew that senators, answerable to their state authorities would never willingly give up state power and authority to the federal government. It served as a check against the growth of federal government, of which Washington said:

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”