Golden Nuggets from U. S. History

The Blue Quill Series
Concord Learning Systems


Direct Election of U.S. Senators

In 1913, the United States ratified two Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Both were important "states rights" issues. Amendment XVI gave the federal government power to levy directly an income on individuals and corporations. The other evil deed was ratification of Amendment XVII; direct election of U.S. Senators.

Reading through James Madison's daily minutes of debates and activities of the 1787 Constitutional Convention reveals one over-riding theme: The founding fathers, who worked so long and hard to construct an acceptable federal constitution, had a great fear of a federal government with authority over an individual citizen's life, or a central government with power to meddle in the affairs of a state and its citizens.

Recognizing the need for individual liberties and a passionate determination for states rights, the drafters carefully defined and limited the authority of the federal government with the clear understanding that the ONLY POWERS delegated by the states were those spelled out in the Constitution. However, this understanding was not enough for most states. Several states ratified the document with the proviso that modifications would be made immediately after ratification. Congress agreed to these stipulations and sent out proposed amendments to the states which were ratified in 1791 with these words as preamble to the Bill of Rights:

"The Conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution;..."

Soon after the union was formed a citizen with a grievance against a state, other than his home state, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the other state. This was a bad omen to Madison and the founders. It demonstrated a reliance on the federal government rather than the state's systems. Congress re-acted at once and proposed the 11th Amendment which was ratified in 1795 and reads:

"The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state."

That is the entire amendment and the intent is clear. The federal system may NOT be EXTENDED to personal redress against a state. Notice the careful wording of the amendment. It is worded so that the barrier is not placed on the individual, but so that the federal courts are BARRED from extending jurisdiction to such cases. Such is the theme of the entire Constitution.

The Constitution's existence authorizes a federal government; the document then proceeds to place restrictions on the federal government and on the will of the majority. The concept is simple: In a Representative Republic, the majority does not need written confirmation of its power, but the minority must have written guaranties of its rights. States rights are spelled out: States RETAIN all rights NOT delegated to the federal government. The people RETAIN all rights not delegated to the state or to the federal governments.

To make the concept work, the founders embedded several safe-guards. One was the three branches of the federal government: legislative (congress), executive (President) and judiciary (courts) to look over each other's shoulder. Another was that the Constitution restricted the federal government from DIRECT taxation of an individual; Article I. Section 9. clause 4., original wording:

"No capitation, or other direct, tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken."

The federal government could place taxes on imports, exports, and other federal activity but if the federal government needed additional taxes it would have to levy those on the states based on population (census) as determined for representation in congress; the states would have to raise and remit the money.

To provide further protection, the Constitution left it to each state to select their own state governments, but the document spelled out that members to the federal House of Representatives would be chosen by direct election of the people. There was considerable concern about controlling the relationship between the federal and state governments, especially with respect to taxation. To address this concern the Constitution provided for appointment of U. S. Senators by the state legislature's "most numerous" body. The idea was to assure that a "republican form of government would exist within each state." The Senators, appointed by the legislatures, would be guardians against excesses of the central government, AND protect states rights. The state legislatures would be accountable to the people for the conduct of U.S. Senators. The writers of the Constitution knew that "power corrupts" and that "absolute power, corrupts absolutely." They understood that sending two people from a state to the federal government for six years was very risky.

For the next 120 years the federal government was able to do everything it needed to do, but could not do many of the things it wanted to do. During this time the state governments found that they were having to answer to the people for their own actions, as well as the acts of U.S. Senators. This left the state politicians in a very uncomfortable position. When the feds got the idea of legalizing the income tax law (which had been illegally passed in 1868) with a constitutional amendment, the states were happy to climb on board provided that a monkey would be taken off the backs of state politicians; the appointment of U.S. Senators.

An amendment for direct income tax was passed by congress July 12, 1909, but three years later it was languishing in the state legislatures and looked as if it might fail ratification. In May 1912, an unpublicized agreement was reached between the state politicians and the federal power mongers. The feds could have the direct taxation authority if they would also provide for direct election of U.S. Senators. The deal was made and on February 3, 1913, the income tax amendment was ratified. Two months later the states ratified the 17th Amendment which relieved the state legislatures of the responsibility for appointing U.S. Senators.

To fully comprehend the importance of the 17th Amendment one needs to take notice of the term of office for various officials. Notice that the founders understood that the people would have little direct control over a President once elected to office. There were about 3,500,000 people in the entire country at the time the Constitution was approved. The President's term was four years: A Senators six. If the President got out of line he could be impeached by the congress. If a Senator got out of line, he would answer to his state's legislature. The people's control was through the state legislatures, serving for whatever term the people may decide, and through their Representative in the U.S. House who had to run for election every two years.

Each Representative was to have approximately the same number of constituents so that the "playing field" of VOTER POWER was level throughout the country. With direct election of Senators, the field tilted considerably toward the smaller, less populated states. In North Carolina, each Senator represents about 7,700,000 people; more than twice the number the President represented in 1789. In Wyoming, each Senator represents less than 500,000 people while other members of the House of Representatives represent about 650,000 people. Wyoming is allocated only ONE Representative in the House but like all other states has two Senators. A Senator from California represents 33,000,000 people, giving Wyoming's Senators a 66:1 voting advantage over California Senators.

BULLETIN! Front page of:

The Charlotte Observer, July 13, 2000...

"N.C. bans open beers, but wants to sue feds."

"Under threat of losing millions in federal highway money, the N.C. General Assembly on Wednesday grudgingly voted to ban passenger's possession of an open beer on the highway -- ..."

According to the newspaper article, State Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne and Sen. Frank Ballance, D-Warren were claiming that many Senators believe that N.C. should sue the federal government over this meddling in state affairs.

[NOTE: North Carolina already had a law against open beer containers in automobiles. The objections above, as claimed by the Senators, were to an absolute ban for any motor vehicle, including chartered or private buses (with a partition between driver and passengers) used for vacations or trips to ball games, fishing parties, etc. However, the required new law was especially onerous for state legislatures who charter bus trips for official visits to different parts of the state... And have been observed sharing chartered bus trips for social outings such as the annual NC-South Carolina football game. smile]

How long do you suppose that these Senators have had a reading deficit disorder? The U.S. Constitution uses just over 100 words to describe a remedy for the problem. These flappy lips, who were simply posturing because of an election year, know full well that the situation is created by the 16th and 17th amendments, and that these intrusions may be stopped by repealing Amendments XVI and XVII. STATES could take the necessary action at any time under Article V of the Constitution which says in its entirety:

"Article. V.

"The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth Section of the first Article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate."

If 34 states demand it, congress "SHALL CALL" a convention. If three-fourths of the states then ratify the repeal of the 16th and 17th amendments, congress has no say in the results. The President has no say in any case... Constitutional Amendments, whether initiated by congress or the states, do not go to the President for signature.

Philosophos Historia


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