Pondering the US Constitution

I wonder about the wisdom of the 17th Amendment. The explanation given was corruption and confusion about the process originally intended to elect senators from each state. Yet changing the election of senators to a state-wide popular vote has the unintended consequence of further empowering the people to place their personal appetites above the good of the state. This tendency is the achilles heel of democracy.

Now I’m all for democracy, yet I believe in Original Sin first. That means the people doing the voting don’t always know or do what’s best for them. The House of Representatives was intended to provide representation for the people, and the Senate for the states. The people and the states are not identical, nor are their interests identical. I don’t mean that only in the sense that senators represent more people than representatives, but that senators were intended to represent the interests of the states themselves. Each senator ideally had one constituent: the state that sent him/her/it. (Dontcha just love inclusive language?)

As for the corruption and confusion, it seems to me that there are other ways to minimize or avoid it. But consider why else a senator would have voted for the 17th Amendment. Instead of answering to each state’s legislative branch, he would answer to the mass of statewide voters, who are much less likely to hold him strictly accountable for his representation, due to the diversity of their interests, and their preoccupation with productive life. Similarly, a congressman would also vote in favor of that amendment, because the people he represents would anticipate — rightly or wrongly — that they would have greater influence over their senators than they had before. The same notion would carry the amendment through ratification by the state legislature, with the added impetus that the legislators would subsequently have less work to do.

All of these practical, though unvirtuous reasons for the 17th Amendment can easily be covered and obscured by the notion that the new system is “closer to genuine democracy,” and that the senators will work “more in line with the will of the people.” Thus have the victors written the history books. Yet who were the real victors here? The people may have thought they were, but though I am unsure of several things, I tend to doubt that more than anything else.

What if the 17th Amendment were repealed? We’d have to resolve the corruption and confusion that supposedly gave it birth. Another good thing I would anticipate is a shift in the balance of powers within the United States, such that the states would have more influence upon the governance of the nation, the particular interests of each state would be better served, and the senators would be held more strictly accountable for these things. I’d also expect the importance of the House of Representatives to increase, as it undertakes in full the representation of our nation’s people. The most promising effect, though, would be a reduction in the tendency of this democratic republic to self-destruct from voters’ desire to satisfy their own appetites without regard for wisdom, prudence and justice.

One thought on “Pondering the US Constitution

  1. The 17th Amendment has been a major factor in the demise of the Republic,which is now a Democracy. Could FDR’s New Deal have been passed by Congress without the 17th Amendment? We will,of course,never know. But we do know that the Constitution would never have been ratified without Senators being required to be elected by the State legislators.

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