The history of government of the United States of America is quite interesting as it also continues to be an ever-evolving story. The original form of government with its subsequent changes, the creation of the Senate along with the change in how Senators have been chosen coupled with current proposals in the selection of Senators has got me pondering.
It was the Second Continental Congress that approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. However, it was not until 1781 that the United States of America adopted its first form of national government under the Articles of Confederation. While each state was granted much independence, the Articles of Confederation did not provide the national government with the authority to make the states work together to solve national problems. Under this early form of federalism, early Americans were not all that happy with the national government and decided a change was needed. Consequently, the call for governmental change resulted in throwing out the government entirely with the adoption of a new form of government under the Constitution of the United States in 1789.
Article 1 of the Constitution is known as the legislative article because it establishes the national legislature for the United States. In compliance with this article of the Constitution, the national legislature is composed of a two-chamber Congress consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate, as stated in Article 1, Section 1: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
According to the Article 1 Section 1 of the Constitution, members of “the House of Representatives shall be … chosen … by the people of the several states, …” with each state having proportionate representation, i.e. each state having its number of representatives determined proportionately by the size of its population.
In regards to the Senate, the Constitution provided that each state shall have two senators regardless of the population size. Additionally, the Constitution stipulated that those senators were to be chosen by each state legislature. Section 3 of Article 1 states, in part: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, ....“
Note that the Constitution as ratified in 1789 provided that each state be allowed two senators with each state legislature choosing those two senators. This is how United States Senators were chosen for the next 124 years.
It was in 1913 that the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. It is the 17th Amendment, adopted 124 years after the Constitution of the United States was ratified, that changed the manner in which United States Senators are chosen. It is the 17th Amendment that took the responsibility, authority, and power of electing senators from the state legislatures. It is the 17th Amendment that gave the power of electing Senators directly to the people of the states. Amendment 17 to the United States Constitution states, in part: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two senators from each state, elected by the people thereof … “
Now, 97 years later, there is a group of people, most of whom have aligned themselves with the Tea Party movement, who wish to change the method of choosing Senators by going back to the original method of having Senators chosen by the individual state legislatures.
So, if we are to essentially repeal the 17th Amendment, are we taking a step backwards or are we correcting the error of our ways to go back so that we may move forward?
I have heard some pundits criticize this proposal of having the state legislatures choosing U.S. Senators as taking away the right of people to vote. If we return to that method of selecting Senators, do the people really lose power? In our republican government, our representative democracy, are not the state legislators elected by the people and empowered to act on the behalf of the people? If we do not trust our state legislators, why did we elect them? If it concerns a matter of having a direct vote and a direct voice, why do we have a representative democracy, why not just go to a direct democracy form of government?
Why do we keep going back and forth about how we select members of the United States Senate? I get so confused with the arguments, pro and con. Do we want a representative democracy, a direct democracy, or what?