Abolish the Senate?

Mark D. writes:

You mention that the 17th amendment [under which U.S. senators are popularly elected instead of being chosen by the state legislatures] should be repealed. But I think a better solution in the long-run is to abolish the Senate. We will have to muddle through our current crisis, but once we have, the Senate must go.

I live in large bedroom community of about 500,000 people that most people nationwide have never heard of. My city’s entire federal representation consists of sharing a single member of the House. A member who is so dedicated to Free trade that he also supports open borders. Vermont on the other hand has around 600,000 people and despite having only marginally more people than my city has two U.S. senators and national respectability for its nuttiness.

Liberalism has been able to advance so well over the last 50 years because a region favorable to it (New England) is massively overrepresented in Congress. As long as the senate exists New England will continue to cast a dark shadow over American politics.

LA replies:

Yes, but the Dakotas and Montana have similar populations to Vermont, so that balances things out a bit, I would think. Liberals complain far more about the overrepresentation of small conservative states in the Senate than conservatives complain about the overrepresentation of small liberal states. It’s certainly not all about New England, which I must say is a novel theory of the ascendancy of modern liberalism. (And by the way I didn’t realize until I read your e-mail that Vermont’s population is so small, I just checked it out on the Web to make sure you were correct.)

This problem is built into America’s small “c” constitution, meaning the country’s actual make-up, which is reflected and represented in the big “c” Constitution of the United States, and it is not resolvable within the present existence of the United States. We are not a unitary republic or a single population that is politically represented as a single population. We are a federal republic consisting of fifty states. When we elect a president, we do not do so as a single body; we do so in fifty separate state elections. The dual nature of our society is also represented in the two houses of Congress, with the House of Representatives representing the people, and the Senate representing the states.

It wasn’t as the result of some gratuitous mistake or some abstract idea that our Constitution is like this. It was the result of the actual substantive nature and the actual political requirements of the respective states as represented at the Federal Convention in 1787. The larger states, such as Virginia and New York, wanted a system based solely on population, which would have resulted in the larger states wholly dominating the government, with the smaller states having no effective voice at all. This scheme was presented in the Virginia Plan drawn up by James Madison, who was a delegate from Virginia. The smaller states, such as Rhode Island and New Hampshire, absolutely rejected that idea, as it would have reduced them to nullities in the new system. In opposition to the Virginia Plan, in which representation in both houses of a bicameral Congress would have been by population, they proposed the New Jersey Plan, which delineated a unicameral legislature in which the states would all have an equal vote. In other words, under the New Jersey Plan, the Congress would have consisted of a Senate, but no House of Representatives.

The Constitution was a practical compromise between these opposing interests and their respective visions of government. The Constitution could not have been formed without that compromise. Indeed, Madison, who drafted the Virginia Plan, and who is known, incorrectly, as the Father of the Constitution, was extremely resistant to compromise with the smaller states, as he envisioned a “consolidated” government, with the individual states having very little importance and no true power of self-government, since the national government would directly control the states, having the power to veto state laws.. Madison’s system would have reduced the states to little more than creatures of the federal, or rather the consolidated, government. Again, the smaller states, which were jealous of their independence, would have nothing to do with this, and finally Madison not only reluctantly went along with the mixed, compromise system which he had initially opposed and which made the Constitution possible, but he soon became its eloquent champion as one of the authors of the Federalist. The Constitution that emerged from the Philadelphia Convention was in fundamental respects the opposite of what he initially wanted it to be.

Those built-in tensions—between the small and large states, between the United States as a single nation and the United States as a federation of self-governing states—and the need to accommodate them, have not gone away in our time. Montana, as small as its population is, exists as a state. It and other small states will not accept being reduced to nullities in a government wholly dominated by metropolitan regions with their (need I remind you?) mostly very liberal populations.

March 20

LA writes:

Not only did Madison, after staunchly advocating a consolidated and national (as opposed to a federal) system of government at the 1787 Convention, became, along with Hamilton, one of the two most effective advocates of the mixed Constitution that emerged from the Convention, but in the 1790s he became a follower and ally of Jefferson in fiercely opposing a strong national government (and, covertly, President Washington as its symbol) and pushing states rights. Historians have long puzzled over the mutually contradictory positions Madison took in the course of his career. If a biographer has come up with a Unified Field Theory of Madison, I haven’t seen it. However, the simplest explanation is that Madison was not only a profound political thinker, but a politician.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 19, 2010 06:47 PM | Send

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