A Restoration of the Constitutional Intent of our Founding Fathers: Repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment

The views expressed in this article are those of a subject matter expert and do not necessarily reflect model policies adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

In 1789, the thirteen independent and sovereign States joined together to form the United States of America. In the U.S. Constitution, Congress was carefully designed to include the House of Representatives to represent the people and the Senate to represent the States. The Senators were to be the “ambassadors” of the States to the Federal government that the States had created, and were chosen by the State legislatures. This was one of the most fundamental checks and balances that the Founders created to limit the Federal government and ensure the continuing sovereignty of the States. This was intended to ensure that the Federal government remained accountable to the States, instead of to “special interests “, and was kept in check by the States.

This system worked well for America’s first 124 years, until the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913 that disenfranchised the States. Beginning in 1826, and over the course of the next ninety years, there were various proposals introduced in Congress to disenfranchise the States from the selection of their Senators and instead switch to a system where Senators would be chosen by direct election by the voters in a popular election. The 17th Amendment was supported by the Populist Party, the Know-Nothing Party and the Democrat Party. William Jennings Bryan campaigned for it in his presidential races, and the House passed it on several occasions in 1900, 1904 and 1908, only to see it die in the Senate.

Those who supported disenfranchising the States argued that direct election of senators would prevent deadlocks in the State legislatures that could temporarily deprive States of their representation and possible corruption where a candidate would bribe legislators to gain election as a Senator. The movement gained momentum in 1906 when an unholy alliance of William Randolph Hearst, the national unions and certain large corporations decided that it would be easier to try to control a few key Senators rather than have to pursue their special interests in the then forty-eight separate state legislatures.

At that time, before television, radio and even talking motion pictures, the public received its news through the print media of newspapers and magazines. Hearst created the first media empire of 28 newspapers in the major cities and owned most of the national circulation magazines including Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Esquire and many more. He had unprecedented national power and influence and aspired to be the king maker on both the national and international scene.

In 1908, Oregon was the first State to change its selection of its Senators from the legislature to an effectively binding popular vote. Over the next four years, thirty-one States either changed to a popular vote or adopted resolutions urging Congress to pass the 17th Amendment allowing direct election of Senators. Finally it was passed by Congress in 1912 and ratified by the States in 1913.

There are now more than one hundred years of experience with the 17th Amendment and its unintended consequences. It was supposed to make the Senators more responsive to the people. Instead it has made Senators unresponsive to their constituents and their home States. Receiving the usual dismissive form letter after contacting a Senator is evidence enough to convince a constituent that only the special interests that fund Senatorial campaigns have access today.

It was promoted by the Big Media, Unions and Corporations using the Progressive Movement smokescreen of populism. In reality, the individual voters have absolutely no ability to talk to, much less influence their Senators. The Senators now neglect their duties to spend most of their time raising money and doing favors for the special interests and lobbyists who fund their elections.  Prior to the 17th Amendment, the cost to run for Senator was perhaps a few drinks for the legislators who elected them. Now the average Senatorial election costs $18,800,000.00!

Repealing the 17th Amendment would restore the rights of the States, and restore the balance of power between the branches of government, as it was originally intended. It will also take the money out of the Senate campaigns by eliminating the need to raise vast sums for the average Senate race. This constant need for campaign funds is the modern source of corruption. It is the root cause of the special interests and lobbyists who now control Congress.

The States would regain their position of control and the ability to check the excesses of the Federal Government and its agencies. There would no longer be unfunded mandates forced upon the States. And just as the States must balance their budgets, this may be the only way the Federal budget ever gets balanced, because the States will insist on it.

There are many other benefits to the original system of the State legislatures electing the Senators. This acted as term limits since a State would not return an ineffective Senator to Congress. Better candidates were available because they did not have to raise huge sums and endure endless expensive races. Repealing the 17th Amendment would truly take the money, and the corruption, out of these political races.

Just as the 18th Constitutional Amendment regarding prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment because it was a failure, it is now time to repeal the 17th Amendment and restore the rights to the States as the Founders originally intended. It is time to restore the checks and balances between the sovereign States and the Federal government. The genius of the Founders’ original design for the U.S. Constitution has been proven.