Magazine March 7, 2011, Issue

Letters

Against the Seventeenth Amendment

In an otherwise excellent article about the U.S. Senate (“The Sense of the Senate,” February 21), William Voegeli errs in saying that “the Lincoln–Douglas debates were the first step on the road to the Seventeenth Amendment,” which provided for the election of senators by the people of each state, and that “the Seventeenth Amendment had the unintended consequence of reaffirming the distinct role of the states, as such, in discharging governmental responsibilities and engaging the people in self-government.” His reasoning is that during the debates, Lincoln and Douglas, as candidates for the federal Senate, had to encourage citizens to vote for state legislators who shared their views on federal issues — and this turned the state’s “legislative elections into proxy fights over national policy on slavery and the western territories.”

It is a stretch to assign a cause-and-effect relationship to the Lincoln–Douglas contest and the amendment, two events separated by 55 years, since the former occurred during the gathering slavery crisis and was thus anomalous, and the latter was a product of a “progressive” intellectual movement (see Thomas Sowell) that would have seemed alien to both Lincoln and Douglas. Further, that the Lincoln–Douglas debates forced candidates for the Illinois legislature to declare themselves on federal issues was a good thing.

The people who elect senators should be the very ones who have to concern themselves with “discharging governmental responsibilities and engaging the people in self-government” at the state level — that is, state legislatures. If that were the procedure today, perhaps we would not face a real threat of nationalized medicine. Instead of being a check on democracy run amok, the Senate is a body of 100 squabbling, self-interested politicians with campaign chests stuffed by public-employee unions, lawyers, etc.

Voegeli also cites the difficulty of stalemated senatorial elections — in which the houses of a state’s legislature are run by different parties and cannot agree on a senator — but this problem could have been resolved more moderately in 1913 simply by excluding the lower houses of state legislatures from the process. Or maybe it isn’t a difficulty at all, since the stalemated state is the one that’s forgoing representation as the fight drags on, and it has the power to remedy the situation.

Robert D. Francis

Westminster, Calif.

William Voegeli replies: I am sympathetic to the conservative argument, ably presented by Mr. Francis, that the Seventeenth Amendment is one more lamentable Progressive idea we should unwind if we could. The authors of the Constitution were wise; however, they were not clairvoyant. They did not anticipate that the ethic of deference that gave them so much latitude in Philadelphia in 1787 would yield to enthusiastic and widespread engagement in self-governance. The Illinois contest in 1858, in which politicians urged citizens to vote for state legislators solely on the basis of their partisan commitment to sending either Abraham Lincoln or Stephen Douglas to the U.S. Senate, reflected this political transformation. The logic of the Lincoln–Douglas race lent itself to electing senators directly. It was the first clear sign that Americans wanted to close the constitutional space created by the indirect election of senators, and the Seventeenth Amendment was the culminating manifestation of that desire.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

Jailbreak Conservatives

To hear state representative Jerry Madden describe it, his effort to shrink Texas’s sprawling, 170,000-inmate prison system was pretty simple. “I figured we could either speed people coming out, or ...

Features

Politics & Policy

Pawlenty to Like

Kevin Krawczyk is disappointed. A manager at the Family Christian Store chain, he is hosting a book-signing for Tim Pawlenty in Lombard, Ill. “We were expecting more,” he says. The ...
Politics & Policy

A Frightful Democracy

What if the fundamental terms of our debate over Egypt’s revolution are wrong? Supposedly, the revolt that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak presented American policymakers with an agonizing choice: Do ...
Politics & Policy

With the Warriors

Patrol Base Fires, Sangin District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan The view from this platoon outpost in southern Afghanistan is unobstructed, both visually and strategically. On all sides stretch flat, bare, ...

Books, Arts & Manners

City Desk

Usable Past

I first started buying other people’s pasts when I wore second-hand clothes. Wide silk ties, tweed pants heavy as iron, cabana sets made “for the Stars of Hollywood” — I ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

Letters

Against the Seventeenth Amendment In an otherwise excellent article about the U.S. Senate (“The Sense of the Senate,” February 21), William Voegeli errs in saying that “the Lincoln–Douglas debates were the ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ People do have a lot of false ideas about Obama. Some of them think he’s a moderate. ‐ The guiding theme of President Obama’s new budget is “more.” Compared with ...
The Bent Pin

The Middling Class

When American Anglophiles need a fix our drug of choice is Masterpiece Theatre, but the days of savoring Edwardian class hierarchies may be over. Our all-time favorite, Upstairs, Downstairs, needed ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

SAYING NOTHING ON WALNUT STREET For once thinking of the right Thing to say, not later on: At a Beckett play at Annenberg A Penn student snapped open A can as the second act started And ...

Most Popular

The Makings of Modern Madness

The paradigm of mind–brain dualism, like the story of syphilis, is by no means virgin territory. However, Allan Ropper and Brian Burrell’s How The Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness puts both the legacy of dualism and the story of syphilis under the microscope, and offers a ... Read More

The Makings of Modern Madness

The paradigm of mind–brain dualism, like the story of syphilis, is by no means virgin territory. However, Allan Ropper and Brian Burrell’s How The Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness puts both the legacy of dualism and the story of syphilis under the microscope, and offers a ... Read More
Immigration

The Party’s Over — No More Guest(worker)s

Last month's Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations "to stimulate the United ... Read More
Immigration

The Party’s Over — No More Guest(worker)s

Last month's Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations "to stimulate the United ... Read More
U.S.

Unsustainable America

Americans are having fewer babies than ever, or at least than since the government began tracking the general fertility rate in 1909. The total fertility rate ticked down to 1.7 in 2019, meaning that the average number of babies an American woman would have over her lifetime is well below replacement ... Read More
U.S.

Unsustainable America

Americans are having fewer babies than ever, or at least than since the government began tracking the general fertility rate in 1909. The total fertility rate ticked down to 1.7 in 2019, meaning that the average number of babies an American woman would have over her lifetime is well below replacement ... Read More

John Wayne: The Hero We Need Now

America fits into John Wayne's filmography, and this does not make America small. It makes John Wayne huge. The coronavirus has brought us back to the Wild West. Lonely lives, deserted streets, looks of distrust, and whiskey for throat disinfection; the scientific community has not made an official statement as ... Read More

John Wayne: The Hero We Need Now

America fits into John Wayne's filmography, and this does not make America small. It makes John Wayne huge. The coronavirus has brought us back to the Wild West. Lonely lives, deserted streets, looks of distrust, and whiskey for throat disinfection; the scientific community has not made an official statement as ... Read More
World

‘Professor Lockdown’ Modeler Resigns in Disgrace

Neil Ferguson is the British academic who created the infamous Imperial College model that warned Boris Johnson that, without an immediate lockdown, the coronavirus would cause 500,000 deaths and swamp the National Health Service. Johnson’s government promptly abandoned its Sweden-like “social ... Read More
World

‘Professor Lockdown’ Modeler Resigns in Disgrace

Neil Ferguson is the British academic who created the infamous Imperial College model that warned Boris Johnson that, without an immediate lockdown, the coronavirus would cause 500,000 deaths and swamp the National Health Service. Johnson’s government promptly abandoned its Sweden-like “social ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Biden’s Progressive Gamble

A few hours after this column appears on the Internet, more than 30 liberal activists will meet online to plan your future. The gathering is called the “Friday Morning Group.” It comprises, according to the New York Times, “influential figures at labor unions, think tanks and other progressive ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Biden’s Progressive Gamble

A few hours after this column appears on the Internet, more than 30 liberal activists will meet online to plan your future. The gathering is called the “Friday Morning Group.” It comprises, according to the New York Times, “influential figures at labor unions, think tanks and other progressive ... Read More