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

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, ...
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 ...

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

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 ...
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 ...

Most Popular

White House

The Damning Inspector General’s Report

It is hard to believe that the run-up to the presidential-election year has plumbed such a depth of farcical degradation. It must be that Trump’s influence has contributed to unserious responses, but he can’t be blamed for the unutterable nonsense of his opponents and the straight men of the political class ... Read More
White House

The Damning Inspector General’s Report

It is hard to believe that the run-up to the presidential-election year has plumbed such a depth of farcical degradation. It must be that Trump’s influence has contributed to unserious responses, but he can’t be blamed for the unutterable nonsense of his opponents and the straight men of the political class ... Read More
Elections

Diversity Panic Hits the Democratic Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An Asian guy, two black guys, three white women (one of whom spent much of her life claiming to be Native American), a Pacific Islander woman, a gay guy, a Hispanic guy, two elderly Caucasian Jews (one a billionaire, the other a socialist), a self-styled Irishman, and a ... Read More
Elections

Diversity Panic Hits the Democratic Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An Asian guy, two black guys, three white women (one of whom spent much of her life claiming to be Native American), a Pacific Islander woman, a gay guy, a Hispanic guy, two elderly Caucasian Jews (one a billionaire, the other a socialist), a self-styled Irishman, and a ... Read More
World

The U.K. Elections Were the Real Second Referendum

In the end, it wasn’t close at all. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party met a fate to which it has been accustomed for most of the last half-century. Once again, the British roundly rejected socialism. Boris Johnson and his conservatives will form the next British government. This was no slight rejection. Labour ... Read More
World

The U.K. Elections Were the Real Second Referendum

In the end, it wasn’t close at all. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party met a fate to which it has been accustomed for most of the last half-century. Once again, the British roundly rejected socialism. Boris Johnson and his conservatives will form the next British government. This was no slight rejection. Labour ... Read More
World

Well . . . .

So much for my prophecies of doom. Britain's Conservatives won, and they won with a very healthy parliamentary majority, breaking through Labour’s “red wall” across the industrial (and post-industrial) Midlands and the North. The BBC: Leave-voting former mining towns like Workington, which was seen as ... Read More
World

Well . . . .

So much for my prophecies of doom. Britain's Conservatives won, and they won with a very healthy parliamentary majority, breaking through Labour’s “red wall” across the industrial (and post-industrial) Midlands and the North. The BBC: Leave-voting former mining towns like Workington, which was seen as ... Read More
White House

The Costs of Trivializing Impeachment

Resorting to a vague “abuse of power” theory, the House Judiciary Committee Friday morning referred two articles of impeachment to the full House on the inevitable party-line vote. The full House will impeach the president next week, perhaps Wednesday, also on the inevitable party-line vote. The scarlet ... Read More
White House

The Costs of Trivializing Impeachment

Resorting to a vague “abuse of power” theory, the House Judiciary Committee Friday morning referred two articles of impeachment to the full House on the inevitable party-line vote. The full House will impeach the president next week, perhaps Wednesday, also on the inevitable party-line vote. The scarlet ... Read More