Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brown v. Coakley and the 17th Amendment

Today's Cape Cod Times editorializes on Tuesday's upcoming special senatorial election by noting that "this election is about representing the people of Massachusetts on all things."

Amendment XVII notwithstanding, it was not always thus. Ratification of the nascent Constitution emerging from the Convention of 1787 was hostage to the small states' fear of domination by the larger states and of the House's popular electoral base. They insisted on the protection of equal representation in an upper body having a loftier, more statesmanlike agenda than simply relecting the majority will of their own constituencies.

Consequently, the French political and social observer Alexis de Tocqueville who visited the Senate in session in 1832 could later write that it was "composed of eloquent advocates, distinguished generals, wise magistrates, and statesmen of note, whose arguments would do honor to the most remarkable parliamentary debates of Europe."

Regrettably, human nature intervened, and the election of senators by state legisislatures subsequently devolved into such a factional and party-riven contest for political advantage that progressives were able -- in 1913 -- to push through an amendment that would, more democratically, put upper-chamber power into the hands of the people by allowing for direct election of senators.

Not all -- surely including DeToqueville -- would agree that the result has been consistently salutary.

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