America is not a democracy … it is a republic. This is not an accident. The Founders of our country, those who wrote the Constitution, intended it to be that way.
Most of us were poorly served when we were instructed in civics. Our teachers themselves had been taught by professors who were imbued with a century of Progressive propaganda aimed at distorting the meaning the Constitution and the clouding of the reasoning behind the tenants of that August document. We are constantly told that America is a “democracy” … that we should venerate the idea that democracy is absolute equality, that “one man, one vote” is the utopian goal. We are told by the purveyors of Progressive and Socialistic thought that elements of the Constitution are “anachronistic” (out of step with time); we are told that the electoral college that elects the President is a confusing dinosaur of the past that has no present usefulness; we are told that the Constitution is a “living” document; we are told that the “interstate commerce clause” was intended to allow the Federal government to regulate all business in all the States no matter where or how it is conducted; that the “supremacy clause” means that any State law can be overturned merely by passing a contrary Federal law; that the “general welfare clause” or “necessary and proper clause” empowers the Federal government to spend any amount of the people’s treasure to help the “disadvantaged.” Are these and other intrusive actions in which the Federal government engages what the Founders of the Republic had in mind?
Consider the men who wrote the Constitution. They were not exposed to the propaganda of massive newspapers and magazines. There was no radio or TV blaring their incessant commercial yammering. What they had, for this was the Age of Enlightenment, was the history of the travails of antiquity and the reality of their own times. They knew about the governments of men, not only in their present, but of the triumphs and failures of the past. There had never before been individual freedom anywhere on Earth and they were determined to save that freedom for themselves and their posterity now that they had gained it. These men had all been subject to the will of an autocrat. Either they, their father or not too distant grandfather had fled from serfdom or deep tyranny, mostly from Europe, to this new place of hope. They were all traitors to their beginnings … they were all revolutionaries, but most importantly they were all individuals that respected the individuality of their peers.
Their revolution had been overseen by a mostly anemic organization, the Continental Congress, but the war had been fought by volunteer militia from 13 separate Sovereign States. After the war, these sovereign states continued on their separate ways, but because of shared common interests, they attempted a common national front before the rest of the world under the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles many of the problems among the states could be and were solved, take for instance the “Northwest Ordinances which allowed for the westward expansion of the country. But there were many shortcomings among which were … the inability to finance the government; the inability to act in a timely fashion on issues of commerce and navigation; and the inability to provide for the common defense. After a failed meeting in Annapolis, Maryland in 1786, leaders, including Madison, Hamilton and Washington, decided to meet in Philadelphia in May of 1787 to address the problems and suggest solutions. Very soon after the meeting convened, the delegates mutually consented to attempt a radical overhaul. Thus began the epic meeting that lasted, overcoming many contentious debates, from May 14 to September 17, 1787.
What were the issues? Of course the main consideration was to protect individual freedom. Secondarily, they had to devise a national government to promote harmony among the States and with foreign governments and to protect their common interests from outside influences and dangers.
Because the members had a “classical education,” they had become experts in comparative government, and because they knew what had happened in the past, they, to a man, distrusted mass democracy. They opted instead for a Republic of limited governmental powers. A national Republic of State Republics wherein the individual voter democratically elected from among those he knew or could know, his peers, those of known integrity to represent him at the state level and through those legislators or electors, the Senate of the national government.
There hadn’t been many democracies in the past, but those that had existed had all devolved into chaos, the most notable being the example held up to us by our teachers as being a beacon of freedom, Athens. Perhaps the Founders distrusted democracy because many of them had studied the Greek language and knew that the word, democracy, could be translated as “mob rule.”
So if you believe in the individual and distrust the crowd, will democracy work anywhere and if so where? The answer is that democracy works and is fair where there is reasonable discourse. It works in small groups where all can participate, like the town hall meeting, the coffee klatch, the school board and the commissioner’s meeting or small bodies like the Houses of the Legislature. It works in those places where people are willing to give and take and are willing to cede some of their individual interests to the majority will of their immediate community for their own security. But consider the fairness of a majority vote in a large stadium full of people where the issue is contrary to your own personal interests. Chances are that you will have no personal input in this scenario, or if you do, your voice and interests are lost in a sea of other people’s voices and interests, generally in issues in which you may have no cause. Since you do not well know the motivations or needs of the others, isn’t it likely that you will follow the lead of some “expert?” In ancient Athens there were those experts, the demagogues. This word translates to “mob teacher.” Now, common sense will tell you that the demagogues will plead to the crowd in their own self interest in order to gain power or fame. Always have and always will. Common sense also suggests that the unscrupulous teacher might lie, stretch the truth, omit, slander, obfuscate or otherwise distort to gain his point. This was the experience in Athens. As the story goes, the assembly would require you to drink poison hemlock one day and then build a statue to you the next, all depending upon the message of the last speaker. And so it goes today … “I will close Guantanamo my first day in office;” “if you make less than $250,000, I will not raise your taxes one dollar;” “you can keep your present health care policy;” “unemployment will never go over 8%.” And on and on. Our Constitutional Founders knew the scenario well and feared it … you can read about it in the Federalist papers and in the histories of the Convention.
James Madison and his fellow Virginians opened the Convention by proposing a three branched Federal government where the executive, legislative and judiciary were all elected popularly. If you think about it, under this arrangement, it was only necessary for Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston to vote, because that is where the majority of the population resided. (By the same token, the entire western United States could be democratically represented today by the votes of San Diego, LA, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Denver) The suggestion was not well received by the Convention. Why would or maybe how could the “small states” participate in such a scheme? Where was the protection for the interests of the States? An answer soon came from the small states, New Hampshire, Delaware, New Jersey and Connecticut. The President would be elected by the popular vote in each state, state by state; the Congress would have two houses, the Senate to represent the interests of the States and the House of Representatives would represent the interests of the people. The Senate would have two members from each state regardless of the size of the state; the House would have members in proportion to each state’s proportion of the total population with the caveat that each state would have at least one member, so that no state was precluded from representation in that body. The Senate was to be elected by the state legislatures. Since Senators were, in essence, ambassadors from the state to the national government and since, in addition to their legislative duties, they were to supplement the executive by ratifying both treaties and the appointment of members of the judiciary, it was thought that they needed longer terms of office that would span several Congresses and the term of the President. This was done in order to enable them to be free of momentary exigencies in their deliberations. Since the legislatures that elected them, in most states, changed every two years, the terms of the Senators were staggered so that those in office more accurately reflected the views of the Legislature.
It has often been said that the Constitution is a document of genius. The genius is in the division of powers. Each of the three arms of government has Constitutional controls of some nature over each of the others. This is also manifested in more subtle “checks and balances.” The Congress is constrained by the necessity of legislation having to be passed by both bodies; the Senate by the fact that any appropriations must originate in the House; the executive and judiciary by the fact that the legislative must pay them; the President has his veto, but the Congress can override him. And if any or all of the branches of the Federal government should take on powers not delegated to them, after the adoption of the 10th Amendment, the States can reject their actions. Any study of the Constitution informs us of the aforementioned, but we must look more deeply to discover why our system has been so successful.
Looking deeper into the problem, we were never informed as to the political benefits of this system. How did it enfranchise the individual? It is without question that the persons selected by this process to the United States Senate would always be among the most ardent advocates for their particular state. That is because they would be selected for that high office by the most honored members of the state’s local communities, the legislators. The individual legislators, in turn, had been democratically elected from communities where they were not only known, but were leaders. The individual voter knew or could easily know the local legislator, because the legislator was, like himself, a visible participant in local affairs. The avenue for the individual to make his vote count for something was to be an active participant in local political and civic institutions. By doing this, the individual could know and communicate with his local representative … the local representative would then know the individual and could use that person’s expertise and experience as a resource. Symbiosis! If candidates for the United States Senate were to campaign locally, it is probable that the interested local individual would come to know their stances on issues, but not likely that he would ever know the candidate’s true character … but his friend, the legislator would. Through this truly republican mechanism, now gone up in the smoke of the 17th Amendment, the individual had a direct personal link from himself to the floor of the United States Senate. As the system stands now with “one man, one vote” the individual’s vote disappears into a black morass of yeas or nays with no one responsible for the veracity of his efforts. The 17th Amendment coupled with court mandated re-apportionment has destroyed the once vibrant institution of local and state politics.
It has been claimed that the 17th Amendment was instituted, among other reasons, because sometimes the state legislature was unable to come to an agreement as to who should serve. As a result some seats were vacant for a considerable period of time. This indeed did happen. The fact is that if the legislature of the state could not agree, it may well have been better to not send an ambassador to the Senate at all. Of course, the legislature apprehending this problem could have easily provided a method by which that fault could have been cured if they had wanted. But it was not a disaster … why send someone with whom you do not agree? And as always happens when dealing with the Federal government, the beast was its self the cause of the problem; in 1866 the Congress had passed a law that forbade the seating of a Senator who had not received a majority vote of the Legislature. Leaving this law un-enacted would have guaranteed that a plurality could have elected Senators and the issue of vacancy would have never arisen. Interestingly, another manifestation of this check to the system follows thusly: if the political content of the legislature changed between the elections of the Senators so, presumably, would the philosophy of the new Senator. In this case, the votes between the two would have cancelled … giving the same political result that would accrue if the state had no Senator at all.
It also has been scurrilously alleged that the 17th Amendment was adopted to end the practice of the bosses, the rich and the influence peddlers who were allegedly bribing state legislators for their votes in Senatorial elections. This allegation is an unconscionable attack on the integrity of not only state legislators, but upon the Legislatures themselves. At the time of the debates on adoption of the 17th Amendment, US Senator Weldon Heyburn, from the State of Idaho, commented, “I should like to see some Senator rise in his seat and say that the legislature of his state which elected him was not competent, was not fit, was not honest enough to be trusted. Then I should be interested to see him go back and say ‘I am a candidate for re-election.’ ”
It is a matter of provable record that bribery or corruption was alleged in only 15 senatorial contests from 1789 until 1913 with only 7 Senators being denied their seats. In that time 1180 men were elected Senator.
So what do we have now? The United States Congress has two popularly elected bodies. In the name of democracy there is no longer a check on “popular sovereignty;” the Senate no longer represents the interests of the State; the Legislature no longer has any viable ambassador to check the actions of the Federal government; the popular actions of the House are no longer balanced by a Senate composed of members with a different agenda; … Congress is essentially a unicameral body.
And is the process better? What could be more corrupt than the lobbyists that the Senator meets each day, in his comings and goings from the chambers of the Senate, being his biggest campaign contributors? Today, the least expensive Senatorial campaign is a multi-million dollar affair. Carpet bagging is rampant … how does an Arkansas lawyer become a Senator from New York State? … Or for that matter a rich politician from the home of the “Red Socks” serve New York? In States where the elections are less expensive, the exceedingly wealthy suddenly appear to rescue the “uninformed.” And if the candidate is not articulate enough to be a demagogue, the media, the newspapers, radio, TV and now the internet do it for him. Elections that should take only a small part of one legislative day and cost very little are now contested for a year or more and cost millions of dollars of in-state and more ominously out-of-state money. Ask yourself which system lends itself to more corruption?
The democratic republic envisioned by our Founding Fathers has been attacked and severely wounded. The political process in this nation is disintegrating into the “mob rule” so feared by our forefathers. The Founders created “a more perfect union” of very limited, albeit important, powers to protect the essence of the American Revolution … the States and their People. Let us repeal the 17th Amendment as the first and most important step in restoring our Republic. This can be done by forming a truly representative Legislature, one where every political subdivision, the Counties, has a voice. The answer is to have a state legislature where each County has a Senator and at least one Representative … where the diversity of problems of the land and the People is represented.