It is not by the consolidation, or concentration, of powers, but by their distribution, that good government is effected. – Thomas Jefferson
Separation of Power is one of the most fundamental tenets of our great Constitution.
When power is consolidated in the hands of the few, the needs of the many are ignored. Our Founding Fathers recognized this great trap and sought to put in place lasting safeguards against the natural tendency of national government to gain undue political power.
Safeguards that sought the preservation of individual and state rights against the natural process of power consolidation at the federal level.
Diffusion of power is good.
It is the very reason we are a Republic as opposed to a Democracy (dictatorship by the majority). We are a Republic with a Constitutionally Limited Government.
Which brings us to the 17th Amendment. The 17th Amendment provided for the popular election of Senators by the people of each state. Prior to the amendment, Senators were elected by each state’s legislature – not by popular vote.
There were very specific reasons why our Founding Fathers created this structure.
Under the original framing of the Constitution, the people of each state elected the House members and the legislature of each state elected the Senate members. House members serve two years and Senate members serve six years.
The shorter term of the House members ensured they would be held accountable to the people’s daily or current issues.
The longer six year term of the Senators meant they could remain more detached from populism – allowing for Senators to take longer views on issues.
This structure also ensured that the House and Senate were each responsible to separate constituencies.
Prior to the 17th amendment, Senators were intrinsically linked to their home state’s interest. Since Senators were elected by state legislatures, they were directly responsible to those same state legislatures. If a Senator began to vote against the interest of the state he represented he could immediately be recalled.
This system prevented the undue influence of special interests at the Congressional level.
This cannot be stated strongly enough. States, not special interests, held the greatest sway and control over a Senator’s votes.
The underlying premise was simple. States are better equipped to understand and respond to the needs of their citizens than the national government – because state governments are closer to the people than the national government.
There were legitimate criticisms of senate seats being chosen by state legislatures – the greatest of which surrounded corruption – accusations of senators effectively buying their seats from state legislatures.
But there existed inherent checks against such an issue already.
The people elected their state legislature – who appointed members of the senate – and the people elected members of the House – who can act as checks on the senate. The people would watch the state legislatures and the state legislatures would watch the senate.
This falls into line with the principal of “one voice-one vote” whereby entities are represented only once at each level of government – citizens through the House, states through the Senate.
The Constitution sought to diffuse power wherever it was able and was structured to push power down governmental levels – towards the people – not away from them.
Citizens were directly represented by the House. States were directly represented by the Senate. Both were naturally aligned against an overbearing federal government.
Congress was originally created to be an arena for competition between citizens, states and national government’s competing interests.
The Congressional structure was specifically and thoughtfully put in place – to protect states and individuals against power consolidation by the national government. It was one of the greatest barriers to undue increases in power and size of the federal government.
It’s in direct response to the passage of the 17th amendment that the federal government began its exponential growth. The primary brake on federal government expansion was removed.
The 17th amendment did nothing to cure the easily fixable problem of any existing corruption. Instead it opened the floodgates to special interest groups and torrents of cash poured into Washington.
Senators were no longer beholden to states, they were now beholden to the federal government. Senators became incentivized to promote unchecked growth of the federal system because Senators were now part of the federal system.
The states power, voice and inherent ability to resist the federal government was gone overnight. And, as citizens, so was ours.
The 17th Amendment should be repealed. For the good of citizens. For the good of states. And for the good of our nation.
In questions of powers, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution. — Thomas Jefferson
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