The Seventeenth Amendment

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The Historical Context for the Seventeenth Amendment
Ratified in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, replaced the Senators election by state legislators with the system of direct election by the people I every state. The election of Senators had been based on the vote by state legislators as a response to the need to make the Senate represent a constituency different from the House of Representatives and support the political organization of the United States as the constitutional republic (Zywicki, 2010). Since 1826 attempts had been made to ratify amendments to the election of senators (to introduce the direct vote), yet the interest to this scheme became significant only at the end of the 19th century. The House of Representatives approved a bill that called for direct election in 1893, yet the bill faced the senators’ resistance. In 1900s, there was already much pressure on Congress to amend the clause as many states had already evaded the provision as they required the legislature to tell the name of the candidate approved by a popular vote. In 1913, the Amendment was ratified by the states as an attempt to make the system of electing senators more democratic, prevent corruption and bribery, and undercut (the Republicans’) party power (Owen, 2005).

Discussion by the Founding Fathers
The Founding Fathers were against the mechanism that came into use with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment. James Madison in Federalist No. 51 explains that to secure the inalienable rights of all men (asserted in the Declaration) the federal system was supposed to be in place. It would provide double security as two distinct governments would control each other. Moreover, as Madison observed in Federalist No. 51, that system provided the states an opportunity to influence federal legislation and propose constitutional amendments through their senators. That placed the constitutional republic in a superior position to direct democracy, yet empowered the states, served the basis of federalism, and prevented any of the governments from concentration/usurpation of power. Hamilton recognized that such approach was a necessary protection against the states’ losing their autonomy. That approach fixed federalism as a constitutional principle and established parity in the relationship between the state and federal governments (Zywicki, 2010). Those ideas had been expressed during the Constitutional Convention in summer 1787. At that time, American legislators were unwilling to create a wholly national government because they had suffered much under the strong central authority of the initial British system. So, they decided that the state governments had to be provided with means of self-defense. That was achieved as the state governments were made “constituent parts” of what they called national government.

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While the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment was seen as a progress on the way to establish the ideals of democracy, it surely contradicted the vision expressed by the Founding Fathers. Today experts re-evaluate the effects of the Amendment and come to the conclusion that it disrupted the bicameral system developed by the Founding Fathers and brought about the master-servant relationship between the federal government and any state government. In other words, it became the basis of de-facto federalism destruction (McInerney, 1987). Bicameralism sought to frustrate special-interest factions and prevented improper acts of legislation. By resting both houses on the same constituency, the Amendment enabled interest-group rent-seeking and laid the foundations of today’s special-interest state (Zywicki, 2010). Moreover, it did not actually prevent fraud and corruption because that issue was not about the method of election. Instead, it led to the federalism decline and the practices when Washington may commandeer the states “for federal ends – through such actions as “unfunded mandates”, laws requiring states to implement voter-registration policies ad enable fraud (…).” (Zywicki, 2010, p. 20)

The Amendment ratification resulted from the changes in the culture of the United States. On the one hand, it reflected the people’s desire for a more progressive and democratic approach to resolving political issues. On the other hand, it reflected the downgrading political culture of the American legislators, many of whom preferred to serve the interests not of their country, but the interests of their political parties or their personal ambition.

  • McInerney, V. (1987). Repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment: A step toward the restoration of federalism in America. Lonang Institute. Retrieved from http://www.lonang.com/
  • Owen, A.(2005). Seventeenth amendment. In The encyclopedia of civil liberties in America. Retrieved from http://literati.credoreference.com/
  • Zywicki, T. (2010). Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment. National Review, 62 (21), 20-22.

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