Bear with me here; I believe this to be the most critical point in American history besides the Civil War and I haven’t seen anyone else address it. Of course, I’m no scholar. I could be wrong, off my meds or just plain freaking wacko, but I seriously doubt it.
The United States began as a Democratic Republic, meaning the citizens grant power to their representatives through democratic elections and the representatives are then the voice of their constituents in the halls of Congress.
But that is an oversimplification. When the Constitution was ratified, the only legislators elected by popular vote were in the House of Representatives.
The Senators were in fact selected and appointed to the federal level from their respective State Legislatures. This was done intentionally so that, hopefully, Senators would be faithful, or beholden to their home State and not the Federal Government. This procedure worked in concert with the Tenth Amendment in protecting the States from federal overreaching meddling and intrusions into State affairs.
The founders saw the mechanics of the Senate/House relationship being rightly contentious in that
Unlike the lower House, where fleeting and often emotionally charged issues could lead to the passage of unconstitutional laws, it is the role of the Senate to slow the process of inquiry and foster longer and more analytical debate on important issues. Source
In other words, Senators, with their six-year terms were regarded as the elder statesmen, Constitutional experts and simply wiser and thus less apt to jump on a bandwagon of some shiny, sparkly new scheme. They were, after all, betrothed to their State and not the people per se.
That was then.
In 1913 President Woodrow Wilson and the Congress passed the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution which made the election of Senators by popular vote resulting in the States losing representation and removing some of the States’ power to defend themselves against Federal usurpation.
More than anyone, Woodrow Wilson advanced the new Progressive theory of human nature and human institutions and the corresponding Progressive critique of the principles of the American Founding and the Founders’ Constitution. Wilson… [snip] …was the first American national chief executive to openly criticize the U.S. Constitution, once comparing it to “political witchcraft.” So hostile was he to the self evident truths of the Founding that, in a 1911 address, he remarked, “if you want to understand the real Declaration of Independence, do not repeat the preface.” (emphasis added)
The Seventeenth Amendment was one of Wilson’s first acts as President for a reason.
The difference between before and after the 17th Amendment is enormous. The impact it has had cannot be understated. The 17th was a pivotal moment in American history because it is the point where America became less of a Democratic Republic and more of a Democracy; people living in democracies are more easily manipulated. Everybody wants more stuff. If your representative keeps giving you more stuff then why wouldn’t you keep voting for them, right?
What’s good for you may not be good for your state or for the country as a whole. The Senate has ceased being the wise grandfather or patriarch of the family, calmly and rationally advising a hormonal teenager who is looking for guidance and has unfortunately become something entirely different. The Senator of today is like any other Congressman, seeking to grab whatever morsels he can to bring back to the nest to distribute among the hungry chicks.
The moment the 17th Amendment was enacted, we traded our elder statesmen for American Idol. We might as well have combined the House and the Senate and made them one parliament. They are, for all intents and purposes in modern times, just about equal. The 17th Amendment weakened the State and in doing so it moved the Federal government closer to the people. Need I say this is not good?
I suppose by now you could guess that the 17th Amendment would be on my “repeal” list. And you would be correct.
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.- Unknown
Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage. Author unknown. Attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. Unverified.
Beware the gifts of a compassionate government, lest it engulf you in a fog of deceit, for one day the fog will lift and you will find that all that you have been given has morphed into chains of slavery and you are now the provider for someone else who is no more deserving than you once were.
For my list of the 20 most damaging events in the history of the Constitution see the History of Constitutional Decline.
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