The state representatives who were sent to Philadelphia to fix the Articles of Confederation, then the guidance for the federation of the United States, obviously went a bit beyond what was expected. The creation of our Constitution required not only great understanding of how governments work but also the potential for governments to grow well beyond the intent of the governed. Because the individual states were concerned about their own interests as well as the need for a federal government for limited purposes they were also very aware of the potential for larger, more populated states to overpower the smaller states in the legislature. How to fix that problem and how to equalize the rights of states and the rights of individual citizens on the national scene became the subject of the great compromise.
While strictly avoiding the appearance of upper and lower houses of congress, a rejection of the British Parliament of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the delegates did recognize a need for a substantive balance of power. There was no doubt in their deliberations as to the necessity of a legislative branch that clearly represented the will of the people. There was also a strong opinion that the sovereignty of the states needs to be properly represented. The compromise that resolved both the issue of population and state rights was the creation of the Senate which would consist of two Senators representing each state. In addition, Senators would be appointed by individual State legislatures to preserve the direct link between state sovereignty and federal representation. The system worked until, in 1913, under Progressive leadership, a change was made.
The arguments in support of the Seventh amendment were mainly political in nature. It was argued that the appointment of Senators by Legislatures resulted in state level corruption being visited on the Federal government. Another argument was that states might not be able to reach an internal agreement and a Senator might not be appointed. (How that would matter at the federal level is not clear). In many cases, the efforts by individuals to win the Senate appointment overshadowed the actual election of State legislators with the decisions being based on not the individual candidate’s qualifications or ideas but, rather, on whom that candidate would support for Senator. Various systems were created within the various states to help resolve the voting conflicts. The most common relief was a nonbinding popular vote primary for potential Senate appointees which was then used to elicit essentially binding support from potential legislature candidates. In the end, a sufficient number of votes were found in the US House and Senate to adopt the proposed amendment which was then sent to the states for ratification.
Today the debate over the proper election or appointment of Senators has been rejoined. The growing concern about the meaning and significance of “state’s rights” and “individual rights” as protected by the ninth and tenth amendments is one important concern driving the discussion. There can be no doubt that, with the loss of direct appointment of Senators, individual states have lost voice and power in the US Congress. Senators who are directly elected by popular vote within a state are bound to a constituency that will continue them in office rather than the full state. The actual concerns and matters of importance within a state need not be reflected in Congress by a Senator who is not dependent on minority portions of the state voters. The State level government has no positive means of exerting any influence or control over the Senators that are supposed to be representing the sovereignty of the state. On the other hand, the one-man, one-vote political faction remains in favor of a system that allows popular vote to be the deciding factor in the total make up of Congress. It provides a level of power and assurance of retention of power when a well- controlled Progressive voter base, which may not control the state legislature, can control the elections in state wide races. The process also allows serving Senators to appeal (perhaps pander) to certain constituencies as a means of “earning” support for the next election. That the specific group being appealed to may or may not be of significant importance on the state level appears to have no bearing on the actions of the Senator. As in most politics, winning elections and retaining power appear to overshadow the original intent and purpose of government.
It should be reasonably clear that the original intent of the Constitution is not well served or preserved by the popular election of Senators. It should also be clear that in supporting the 17th Amendment, the individual states did not act in the best interest of state sovereignty and, through ratification, severely weakened the power of the ninth and tenth amendments. After all, without a direct representative of the state government in the US Congress just who will be the champion of or act to protect the rights of states? Perhaps it is past time to reconsider the actual intent of the framers and the adverse impact of the 17th amendment and to repeal that error in judgment.