The Seventeenth Amendment: The Great Compromise Undone
Why has the Constitution failed to protect the states from incursion by the Federal Government?
The answer is a complicated one, however, it can be boiled down in its essence to two distinct causes: First, ignorance and un-enforcement of the constitution. Second, amendments causing fatal damage to the original intent of the law-givers.
The solution to the first cause involves a re-institution of a free-market educational system. The solution to the second problem involves a discovery of the various amendments to the constitution and an analysis of its intended and unintended consequences. For the sake of this discourse I wish to concentrate upon the second cause and specifically the Seventeenth Amendment.
The first step in analyzing the effects of the Seventeenth Amendment should be to determine the founders’ intent with regard to the original condition upon which this Amendment acted. According to John Adams in a letter dated April 15, 1814 to John Taylor of Caroline, Virginia the legislatures of the states were to determine the method of electing the Senate as a check in the federal system: “the legislatures of the several states are balanced against the senate”. In other words, the Senate owed its allegiance to the state through which it gained its office and through which it would seek additional terms every sixth year.
Is not the constitution of the United States “complicated with the idea of a balance?” Is there a constitution upon record more complicated with balances than ours? In the first place, eighteen states and some territories are balanced against the national government, whether judiciously or injudiciously, I will not presume at present to conjecture. We have seen some effects of it in some of the middle and some of the southern and western states, under the two first administrations; and we now behold some similar effects of it under the two last. Some genius more prompt and fertile than mine, may infer from a little what a great deal means. In the second place, the house of representatives is balanced against the senate, and the senate against the house. In the third place, the executive authority is, in some degree, balanced against the legislative. In the fourth place, the judiciary power is balanced against the house, the senate, the executive power, and the state governments. In the fifth place, the senate is balanced against the president in all appointments to office, and in all treaties. This, in my opinion, is not merely a useless, but a very pernicious balance. In the sixth place, the people hold in their own hands the balance against their own representatives, by biennial, which I wish had been annual elections. In the seventh place, the legislatures of the several states are balanced against the senate by sextennial elections. In the eighth place, the electors are balanced against the people in the choice of the president. And here is a complication and refinement of balances, which, for any thing I recollect, is an invention of our own, and peculiar to us.
John Adams April 15, 1814 Letter to John Taylor of Caroline, VA
The Works of John Adams, vol. 6 sec. X Online Link
The Seventeenth Amendment altered that allegiance. The Senator now seeks terms directly from the people. How can a Senate elected by the people at large adversely affect the state and federal balance of power? In order to determine the impact of the Amendment one must examine the duties of the Senate.
The Senate Powers include: the sole power to try all impeachments (Art I Sec 3), advice and consent with regard to treaties (Art 2 Sec 2), advice and consent with regard to presidential appointments (Art 2 Sec 2). In addition, the Senate has powers shared with that of the House listed as Congressional powers. The Declaration of War and the concurrence with the House on all legislation is included among these.
When one investigates the origin of the powers of the Senate, one is struck by the fact that the basis for Senate powers originated in the Articles of Confederation. For instance, the treaty power of the Senate is derived from the two-thirds consent required by the states under the Articles of Confederation.
So in summary, the US Constitution was created to strengthen the former Articles of Confederation. The Confederacy proved too weak to “Secure the blessings of liberty to us and to our Posterity”. A union of the states was feared by the framers. The Great Compromise established a hybrid governmental structure. The bicameral legislature was used to combine that part of the confederacy which protected the states and added elements of a union to provide the general government with the power needed to “Secure the blessings of liberty to us and to our Posterity”. The structure of a Confederacy was maintained through the Senate. The strength of union was codified in a House.
The Seventeenth Amendment has helped to foster a full union of the states. The very condition guarded against by the framers is now in place. The wisdom of the founders is evident as their fears have been realized. The states have no ability to check the Senate. Legislation, treaties, appointees and wars flow from the Senate down to the states against the wishes of the several states. It is up to our generation to restore representation of the states in federal government. A failure to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment will lead to continual bickering between the general government and those of the several states and could ultimately lead to separation and civil war.