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ETHICS: The 17th Amendment

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posted on Aug, 7 2004 @ 12:46 PM
Many people look at the American government around 1850 and wonder how the government that exists now, in 2004, is even the same government. While some of that change has been positive, there have also been a few negative changes. An often overlooked amendment, the 17th, is responsible for much of the negative change that has taken place. However subtle this Amendment may seem, it is quite possibly one of the biggest mistakes in America's history. Don't be scared away by the size of this issue, it may just be the most important one out there.


This is a very, very, complex issue and before we can realize why this particular amendment has done so much to harm our nation, lets first look at why Senators were elected by state legislatures originally.

Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution states that Senators should be elected by the legislatures of their respective states. The founding fathers believed in something we call federalism, the distribution of power over many levels and the sharing of power by the state and federal government. By allowing the states to select their own representatives, the states would have a voice in the workings of the federal government while not becoming too powerful by themselves. The Senators would also be free from the pressure exerted by the general populace and would then be able to take time and vote in the best interest of the nation instead of the best interest of getting re-elected. Members of state legislatures were more educated on candidates for Senator and could make more educated decisions. All of this also helped fit into the traditional British style of government that the framers of the Constitution were trying to emulate and improve upon, with a House of Lords (The Senate) and a House of Commons (The House of Representatives).

Now lets look at why the 17th Amendment was created. While the plan worked out in the Constitution worked fine, eventually politics grew so hostile in the mid 1800s (due mainly to issues of slavery) that many state legislatures couldn't decide on whom to choose. The Federal government became deadlocked because state legislatures could not choose a Senator in time for the Senate to be in session. After the Civil War, during the Gilded age of politics, bribes became rampant and Senators became Senators due to underhanded tactics, like bribes. In 1899, problems were so tumultuous that Delaware did not have a single Senator for 4 years. So the 17th Amendment was passed in 1913 and in the election of 1914, every person voted for their Senators.

With all of the problems mentioned above, how could the 17th Amendment be a bad thing?

First off, now almost no one is charged with looking out for the states. States rights have been eroded constantly, in a good way starting with the Civil War, but after the 17th Amendment, only in a bad way. No branch of government, except for the Supreme Court is looking out for the states. The federal government grows in power and jurisdiction every day and no one is there to remove that power except for the states. By the repeal of the 17th Amendment, the Senate could now look out for the states like it originally did.

Second, the ever-present issue of Special Interests. At George Mason University, Professor Zywicki has done an in-depth study of the 17th Amendment and it's history. He says that while the reasons for the 17th Amendment are real, they were grossly over-exaggerated and could be fixed with smaller, less all-encompassing laws, without the creation of the 17th Amendment. The real reason the 17th Amendment was passed was due to pressure from lobbyists because they could have no influence over the Senate as long as the states controlled it. By repealing the 17th Amendment then the Special Interest Lobbyists would lose control over half of Congress.

Finally, with the repeal of the 17th amendment campaign spending would be cleaned up as well. Candidates for the House would have more access to more money, due to the funds that are freed up by not being poured in to Senators campaigns. House candidates would have more money and a way to get their voices heard more so the populace could make better decisions on who should represent them.

So, as you can see the many problems we face today, Lobbyists, Campaign Finance, and Federal Power Abuse (i.e. the Patriot Act and Dept. of Homeland Security) could be helped or even solved by the repeal of the 17th Amendment and by allowing states to elect their senators again. Let's hope this becomes an issue in this years election and isn't swept under the rug.


ed: Add sources

[edit on 8/7/2004 by lockheed]

posted on Aug, 7 2004 @ 12:58 PM
I guess my question is...

Are you saying that you want the 17th repealed so that we go back to the legislatures of each state putting senators in office? And if so why is that better?

posted on Aug, 7 2004 @ 01:29 PM
Just curious, but does this post belong in the Ethics category... couldn't really find a category to put it in.

Crmanager, Yes, I'm saying we should repeal the 17th Amendment and states should put Senators in office. It's better because of the 3 reasons I listed in the article above, 1. It cuts away special interest, 2. It restores more power to states and removes abuse of federal control, 3. It helps campaign finance problems.

posted on Aug, 7 2004 @ 02:05 PM
I guess my concern is that unelected officals would be make decisions that affect me.

Say one year democrats or republicans(or libertarians) are in vogue and they are decidedly pro... whatever. Do you want these people putiing your representatives in Washington?

Also I think it would just move the PAC money down to the state level. How much do you think it would take for a backcountry or inner city representative with a ax to grind to be bought by a special interest?

I see where you are going but I am not convinced.

posted on Aug, 7 2004 @ 02:52 PM
The 17th Amendment

Clause 1. The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

Clause 2. When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of each State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

Clause 3. This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

There was reason for the amendment and still is, otherwise it would be an issue. The amendment was first put in place because of several reasons

  • Stalemates within legislatures resulting in empty seats for considerable amount of time.
  • Corrupt political organizations and special interests influence over the legislative process resulting in the purchase of legislative seats.
  • All of the above resulted in Senators who neglected the duties of their seat because they did not have to work for it.[2]

Another thing of note is that by 1912, one year before ratification, 29 states had already passed laws requiring popular election of Senators. (Keep in mind that New Mexico and Arizona were entered into the Union this year and Hawaii and Alaska were still down the road.)[1] So if so many people saw the need for the amendment why should we repeal it now?


posted on Aug, 7 2004 @ 04:01 PM
I am happy to see that our Republican friends also support the popular election of U.S. Senators. I don't think state legislators should be making this all-important decision for us if we can make it for ourselves.

There has also been talk of repealing the sections concerning the Electoral College, with charges that the College is outdated. The Electoral College has both pros and cons, but it seems to me it may have outlived its usefulness. We no longer think of ourselves as primarly "Alabamans" or "Pennsylvanians"; we consider ourselves first and foremost Americans. With the abolition of slavery being well over a century past, is it necessary to perpetuate the Electoral College system?

posted on Aug, 7 2004 @ 09:01 PM

Originally posted by BlackJackal

  • Corrupt political organizations and special interests influence over the legislative process resulting in the purchase of legislative seats.
  • All of the above resulted in Senators who neglected the duties of their seat because they did not have to work for it.[2]

Two of the reasons for the 17th amendment have sneaked back and are now firmly entrenched inside the Beltway. Maybe the Senators have to campaign to get elected, but far too many spend too little time at their duties. And, then there are all those late night sessions where a lot of the pork gets voted on by the skeleton crew of Senators.

I see where you're going with the repeal idea...and we do need to clean house, but I also feel there is a need for electing our Senators.

[edit on 7-8-2004 by DontTreadOnMe]

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