Constitution Day and How We Have Strayed

On September 17, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the United States Constitution to send it to the states for ratification. The major issue in the discussion of the new Constitution was representation. States with larger population wanted representation based on population. States with smaller populations feared being overpowered by a few states and called for equal representation for each state.

The Connecticut Compromise gave us the legislative organization that we have today. The House of Representatives is based on population. The Senate provides two votes for each state regardless of size. This presents the unusual situation for seven states, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming having more Senators than members in the House of Representatives.

The Constitution as originally adopted provided that members of the US Senate would be elected by State Legislatures. In 1912, Congress passed a resolution for the 17th amendment of the Constitution which provided that Senators would be elected in statewide elections rather than appointed by the state legislatures.

I first heard about the 17th amendment from former Governor and US Senator Zell Miller. He proposed repeal of the 17th amendment and a return to the election of Senators by the state legislatures. I agree with Zell Miller. Interesting side note is that Georgia never ratified the 17th amendment.

The era of big government began with the adoption of the 16th amendment giving the federal government the power to tax income (the conception of Rosemary’s baby named the IRS). The 17th amendment changed the US Senate from a body that represented the interests of the individual states to just a statewide version of the House of Representatives.

Here are a few comments from Senator Miller’s address to his colleagues in the Senate on April 28, 2004 as he introduced Senate Joint Resolution 35.

No matter who you send to Washington, for the most part smart and decent people, it is not going to change much because the individuals are not so much at fault as the rotten and decaying foundation of what is no longer a Republic. It is the system that stinks, and it is only going to get worse because that perfect balance our brilliant Founding Fathers put in place in 1787 no longer exists.

Perhaps, then, the answer is a return to the original thinking of those wisest of all men, and how they intended for this government to function. Federalism, for all practical purposes, has become to this generation of leaders, some vague philosophy of the past that is dead, dead, dead. It isn’t even on life support. The line on that monitor went flat some time ago. You see, the reformers of the early 1900s killed it dead and cremated the body when they allowed for the direct election of U.S. Senators. Up until then, Senators were chosen by State legislatures, as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had so carefully crafted.

As Americans we need to learn, understand, and apply the wisdom of our Founding Fathers in the US Constitution. Word of warning though. When you begin to see the simple, understandable, system that our Founding Fathers put in place, you will wonder if you are living in the same nation.

On this Constitution Day, I recommend that you read Senator Miller’s address and the SJ Resolution 35 below. You can read it in the time it takes to read a newspaper article and it is far more educational.

From the Congressional Record April 28, 2004

By Mr. MILLER:
S.J. Res. 35. A joint resolution to repeal the seventeenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. MILLER. Madam President, we live in perilous times. The leader of the free world’s power has become so neutered he cannot, even with the support of the majority of the Senate, appoint highly qualified individuals endorsed by the American Bar to a Federal court. He cannot conduct a war without being torn to shreds by partisans with their eyes set, not on he defeat of our enemy but on the defeat of our President.

The Senate has become just one big, bad, ongoing joke, held hostage by special interests, and so impotent an 18-wheeler truck loaded with Viagra would do no good.

Andrew Young, one of the most thoughtful men in America, recently took a long and serious look at the Senate. He was thinking about making a race for it. After visiting Washington, he concluded that the Senate is composed of:

A bunch of pompous, old–

And I won’t use his word here, I would say “folks”–

listening to people read statements they didn’t even write
and probably don’t believe.

The House of Representatives, theoretically the closest of all the Federal Government to the people, cannot restrain its extravagant spending nor limit our spiraling debt, and incumbents are so entrenched you might as well call off 80 percent of the House races. There are no contests.

Most of the laws of the land, at least the most important and lasting ones, are made not by elected representatives of the people but by unelected, unaccountable legislators in black robes who churn out volumes of case law and hold their jobs for life.

A half dozen dirty bombs the size of a small suitcase planted around the country could kill hundreds of thousands of our citizens and bring this Nation to its knees at any time, and yet we can’t even build a fence along our border to keep out illegals because some nutty environmentalists say it will cause erosion.

This Government is in one hell of a mess. Frankly, as Rett Butler said–my dear, very few people up here give a damn.

It is not funny. It is sad. It is tragic. And it can only get worse — much worse. What this Government needs is one of those extreme makeovers they have on television, and I am not referring to some minor nose job or a little botox here and there.

Congressional Quarterly recently devoted an issue to the mandate wars, with headlines blaring: “Unfunded Mandates Add to Woes, States Say; Localities Get the Bill for Beefed Up Security; Transportation Money Comes With Strings, and Medicare Stuck in Funding Squabbles,” et
cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

One would think that the much heralded Unfunded Mandate Reform Act of 1995 never passed. The National Conference of State Legislatures has set the unfunded mandate figure for the States at $33 billion for 2005.

This, along with the budget problems they have been having for the last few years, has put States under the heel of a distant and unresponsive government. That is us. And it gives the enthusiastic tax raisers at the State level the very excuse they are looking for to dig deeper and deeper into the pockets of their taxpayers.

It is not a pretty picture. No matter who you send to Washington, for the most part smart and decent people, it is not going to change much because the individuals are not so much at fault as the rotten and decaying foundation of what is no longer a Republic. It is the system that stinks, and it is only going to get worse because that perfect balance our brilliant Founding Fathers put in place in 1787 no longer exists.

Perhaps, then, the answer is a return to the original thinking of those wisest of all men, and how they intended for this government to function. Federalism, for all practical purposes, has become to this generation of leaders, some vague philosophy of the past that is dead, dead, dead. It isn’t even on life support. The line on that monitor went flat some time ago.

You see, the reformers of the early 1900s killed it dead and cremated the body when they allowed for the direct election of U.S. Senators. Up until then, Senators were chosen by State legislatures, as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had so carefully crafted.

Direct elections of Senators, as great and as good as that sounds, allowed Washington’s special interests to call the shots, whether it is filling judicial vacancies, passing laws, or issuing regulations. The State governments aided in their own collective suicide by going along with that popular fad at the time.

Today it is heresy to even think about changing the system. But can you imagine those dreadful unfunded mandates being put on the States or a homeland security bill being torpedoed by the unions if Senators were still chosen by and responsible to the State legislatures?

Make no mistake about it. It is the special interest groups and their fundraising power that elect Senators and then hold them in bondage forever.

In the past five election cycles, Senators have raised over $1.5 billion for their election contests, not counting all the soft money spent on their behalf in other ways. Few would believe it, but the daily business of the Senate in fact is scheduled around fundraising.

The 17th amendment was the death of the careful balance between State and Federal Government. As designed by that brilliant and very practical group of Founding Fathers, the two governments would be in competition with each other and neither could abuse or threaten the other. The election of Senators by the State legislatures was the lynchpin that guaranteed the interests of the States would be protected.

Today State governments have to stand in line because they are just another one of the many special interests that try to get Senators to listen to them, and they are at an extreme disadvantage because they have no PAC.

You know what the great historian Edward Gibbons said of the decline of the Roman Empire. I quote: “The fine theory of a republic insensibly vanished.”

That is exactly what happened in 1913 when the State legislatures, except for Utah and Delaware, rushed pell-mell to ratify the popular 17th amendment and, by doing so, slashed their own throats and destroyed federalism forever. It was a victory for special-interest tyranny and a blow to the power of State governments that would cripple them forever.

Instead of Senators who thoughtfully make up their own minds as they did during the Senate’s greatest era of Clay, Webster, and Calhoun, we now have too many Senators who are mere cat’s-paws for the special interests. It is the Senate’s sorriest of times in its long, checkered, and once glorious history.

Having now jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge of political reality, before I hit the water and go splat, I have introduced a bill that would repeal the 17th amendment. I use the word “would,” not “will,” because I know it doesn’t stand a chance of getting even a single cosponsor, much less a single vote beyond my own.

Abraham Lincoln, as a young man, made a speech in Springfield, IL, in which he called our founding principles “a fortress of strength.” Then he went on to warn, and again I quote, that they “would grow more and more dim by the silent artillery of time.”

A wise man, that Lincoln, who understood and predicted all too well the fate of our republican form of government. Too bad we didn’t listen to him.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the joint resolution be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the joint resolution was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S.J. Res. 35

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within 7 years after the date of its submission for ratification:

 

“Article —

“Section 1. The seventeenth article of amendment to the
Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

“Section 2. The Senate of the United States shall be
composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the
legislature thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall
have one vote.

“Section 3. If vacancies happen by resignation or
otherwise, during the recess of the legislature of any State,
the executive thereof may make temporary appointments until the next meeting of the legislature, which shall then fill
such vacancies.

“Section 4. This amendment shall not be so construed as to
affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it
becomes a valid part of the Constitution.”.


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