The Seventeenth Amendment and the Destruction of Federalism

The following is reprinted with permission from the National Center for Constitutional Studies (  They have the best version of a pocket constitution that I have found, study guides, and other resources for adults and children.
The Senate's side of the Capitol Building in DC.

The Senate’s side of the Capitol Building in DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most heated topics in all of the Constitutional Convention
of 1787
concerned the protection of the states from an overpowering
national government. In the beginning, the large states wanted both
houses of congress to be representative of the population of the
different states. The small states, of course, saw this as a means by
which they would be robbed of their voices and the large states would
have total dominance in congress. This problem nearly split and
destroyed the convention.

It wasn’t until Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed his Great
that the influential leaders began to see the wisdom of this
new system—the House would represent the states according to population
and the Senate would represent the states equally. Each side of the
issue would thus be represented. It was at this time that Washington
admitted he was wrong at first and that this new idea truly had merit in
forming a more perfect union. What some may not have realized fully was
the protection this new idea gave to the people against an abusive
national government.

When the Founders had finished their work in Philadelphia , they
had created a government that was limited, divided, and balanced.
Graphically, it could be represented as follows:

Notice how:

  1. Each level of government is separate and distinct and has its own duties which it does best.
  2. The national government is in the balanced center of the
    political spectrum—not too little and not too much governmental power.
    It is divided into three heads or branches.
  3. The lines coming from the national government stop at the
    states. The states deal directly with the national government. The
    states provide the great bulwark of protection for the people against
    any overpowering move by the national government.
  4. The Senate is made up of senators who are sent by the states to
    see to it that the national government never intrudes into states’
    rights and reaches down to the people. They are chosen by the state
    legislators who know better than the people when the national government
    is encroaching onto states’ rights.

Even though Washington became a foremost proponent of the
senators being chosen by the state legislatures, some of the others were
slow to see the wisdom of that system. One of those was Thomas

Thomas Jefferson was not at the convention and was not privy to the
many heated debates prior to the Great Compromise. He was a great
populist and always thought representation should be by population. Even
though he had tutored Madison by sending him many books prior to the
convention, still he had questions about this new procedure.

When Jefferson finally returned from France , he asked Washington why
the senators were not elected by the people. Washington asked him why
he poured his hot drink in his saucer before drinking it. And Jefferson
replied, “To cool it.” “And that,” Washington replied, “is what the
Senate is for.” The Senate is to cool down any hotheaded or imprudent
legislation coming out of the House.

The Temptation of Representatives in the House

One might ask, “What is there about the House members that would
engender hotheaded or imprudent legislation?” They are elected every two
years, which means they have to campaign for re-election every two
years. Since Representatives in the House have mostly to do with raising
and spending money (all revenue bills must begin in the House) they
just might be tempted to say to their constituents, “Look what I have
done for you! I have brought you all of this federal money down into our
district, down into our schools, our towns and cities, our hospitals,
our county, our health care systems, etc. Re-elect me so I can keep
these monies coming to us.” In other words, the House members would be
the most likely ones to get the people hooked on federal money by
building a “money bridge” from Washington , D.C. directly to the people.
And, of course, they would fall prey to the age-old technique of taking
from those who have in order to give more and more to those who have

If this happens, what level of government would be completely left
out of the process? The states! The very level of government meant to
stand between the national government and the people!

The Eminent Danger of a Leveling Spirit

James Madison felt this whole balanced system would be destroyed
because of this weakness of human nature. He described it this way:

“These [the ‘have-nots’] may in time outnumber those [the ‘haves’]
who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal
laws of suffrage [each person has one vote], the power will slide into
the hands of the former. No agrarian attempts have yet been made in this
country; but symptoms of a leveling spirit, as we have understood, have
sufficiently appeared in a certain quarter to give notice of the future

He then explains that the Founders created the Senate to prevent leveling from occurring:

“How is this danger to be guarded against, on the republican
principles? How is the danger, in all cases of interested coalitions to
oppress the minority [the ‘haves’], to be guarded against? Among other
means, by the establishment of a body, in the government, sufficiently
respectable for its wisdom and virtue to aid, on such emergencies, the
preponderance of justice, by throwing its weight into that scale. Such
being the objects of the second branch in the proposed government [the
Senate], he thought a considerable duration [six-year terms] ought to be
given to it.”

Madison words above explained why the Senate was to
guard the property of those who “have” against those who “have-not” but
the Senate also protected the people from the very wealthy “haves” who
sought power over everybody else.

The original Senate also stands in the way of

those who want centralized government

The Founders’ formula for the Senate also prevented some of the
super-wealthy ‘haves’ from gaining power by centralizing power in
Washington . The Industrial Revolution produced some very wealthy
capitalists, a few of which sought to control the machinery of the
national government. In their attempts to do so, the states stood in
their way. It was difficult to centralize power in Washington when those
pesky states are always there to say “no” to proposals which would
usurp power from the states and infringe on states’ rights. One of the
things these wealthy people did, however, is get control of much of the
media in order to influence public opinion. This set the stage for major
changes in the structure of the national government. It was dubbed the
“progressive” era.

The scheme to rip the states out of the

machinery of the national government

Because the state legislatures were the ones who elected U. S.
Senators, there were a few charges of irregularities or corruption in
the process in a couple of states. This is all the centralized
power-schemers needed. When the charges of bribery began to surface in
some states, the media picked up the stories and cried out to the
people, “Do you really want those politicians in your state capitals
electing your senators? Wouldn’t it be more ‘democratic’ (a new
progressive era term) to let the people elect the senators?” This
scenario was the perfect storm to destroy the states influence in the
national government.

When the proposal was made in congress to amend the Constitution to
require election of senators by the people it was first resisted by the
Senate. It knew what this would mean—a total destruction of the great
states’ bulwark of protection of the people. But the media frenzy was
too strong and enough senators finally caved in to the pressure and
Congress approved what was to become the Seventeenth Amendment to the

Many of the states also at first refused to ratify the amendment,
knowing they would be giving up their ability to hold a check on the
national government. But once again, enough state legislatures
eventually yielded to the pressure and the amendment eventually received
the required three-fourths approval of the states to become the
Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution. The states had just given up
their trump card to protect the people from powerful influences in
Washington . They no longer had real power in the workings of national

The sad result of this destruction of the beautiful balanced,
divided, and limited federal system the Founders gave us was to give way
to those who so desperately wanted to centralize power in Washington so
they could work their power schemes to begin to control nearly every
aspect of American life. The very year the Seventeenth Amendment was
passed, the Federal Reserve Act was passed which institutionalized
control of our monetary system in the hands of very powerful private
banking interests. Also in the same year, the Sixteenth Amendment was
ratified, which allowed congress access to huge sums of money through
income tax. With all this money and control, the national government
began moving to the left on the political spectrum. Over the decades
since, the so-called progressive movement has changed our federal system
to look like this:

Notice how:

  1. The national government has moved far to the left, usurping more and more power.
  2. Because the state legislatures no longer send their
    representatives into the U. S. Senate, the states are powerless to
    protect the people from an overpowering national government.
  3. The national government, with all its agencies, bureaucracies,
    regulations, and enforcement powers, comes right down into the
    pocketbooks, homes, schools, and communities of the people dictating
    nearly every aspect of life.
  4. The states are left powerless, except to pass resolutions and beg Washington, D. C. for mercy.

We, at NCCS, are convinced that this monstrous power combine
will soon crumble from its own weight of unwieldy power. At that time,
the millions of freedom loving Americans will be able to restore the
beautiful system the Founders gave us. But, of course, Americans must
first learn the Founders’ marvelous formula for freedom. That is the
continuous mission of NCCS.


Earl Taylor, Jr.

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