My Favorite Constitutional Amendment

Is it the first? The one that lets me say whatever I want and worship Satan?

Nooooope, not that one.

Is it the twenty-first? The one that repealed prohibition and brought back booze (even though it never technically left…)?

Getting warmer, but still no.

Is the nineteenth amendment, the one that lets me vote?

No, but that one comes in a very close second.

It’s the seventeenth!

You know… the seventeenth!

Oh, you don’t know? (I understand that certain people reading this WILL know. Obviously I’m not talking to you Constitution-memorizers, so shut up.)

The seventeenth amendment to our Constitution lets us elect our states’ senators.

Americans are often guilty–and I too was often guilty–of forgetting that there was a time in which AMERICANS COULDN’T ELECT THEIR OWN SENATORS. That sounds pretty ridiculous now (or at least it does to me), but even more ridiculous is that people often WANT to forget about this crucial truth about the history of our government because ultimately the reason that we couldn’t elect our own senators was because our founding fathers DID NOT TRUST US. They didn’t trust the masses, whom they believed were uneducated and incapable of making sound, informed decisions. The vast majority of our founding fathers, actually, were anti-democracy. “Okay,” you’re saying, “that’s one step too far.” But no, seriously. First you have to understand that “democracy” referred to “direct democracy”. This is rule by the masses, essentially what was practiced in many places during that whole Greco-Roman period. All native-born, non-enslaved, male citizens (so, okay, not everybody) could vote on literally every single issue that came up within their city. Are we going to war? Should we put a recycling bin in the Temple of Dionysus? Which one of us should be the new magistrate? However, our founding fathers thought that this would be a very, very, very bad idea. Not to mention impossible… With such a large population, nothing would ever get done (not that it does now…) if everybody was allowed to vote on every tiny little thing. There had to be some centralized authority. Which is how we got a representative republic. The “House of Representatives” was meant to represent the general public, while the Senate was viewed as a more exclusive body.The belief was that the masses rarely know what’s good for them, and that a stupid majority would be a dangerously powerful stupid majority within a direct democracy, so the Senate, elected by state legislatures, was meant to counteract this. Seems sane enough, right?

Yeah, no. If you can’t trust the people you’re governing, why even let them into the system in the first place? Oh, yeah, because you need them to do your dirty work for you. We can’t all be plantation owners, some of us have to pick the goddamn oranges. And we need to respect the people who pick the goddamn oranges, who flip the patties, who clean the museum floors at night, because they need to be heard, they are perfectly capable of making informed decisions, and they are people, too.

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3 Responses to My Favorite Constitutional Amendment

  1. Henshaw says:

    They didn’t trust the masses, whom they believed were uneducated and incapable of making sound, informed decisions.

    There’s a magnificent book I read a few years ago by Bryan Caplan titled The Myth of the Rational Voter that confirms that the above is correct.

    You have covered the history pretty well, but why exactly is this your favorite amendment? A majority of Americans can’t name a single member of the Supreme Court and only 1 percent can name all nine justices. I don’t think that means Americans are dumb, but there’s really no reason for them to know.

    The truth of the matter is you can never trust anyone. Mankind isn’t inherently good. The framers of the Constitution understood that greed for power can only be restricted via a republican form of government (at least for a time).

    A case can be made that Senators unburdened by the will of the mob would better represent the long term interests of their states if they weren’t directly elected. Although, I’m not sure it really matters. I’m not sure what my favorite amendment is… I guess it would be the first.

    • Henshaw says:

      I wouldn’t consider what FEMA does a “vast bureaucracy.” All federal agencies are bureaucracies of some kind, but FEMA’s focus is fairly narrow.

      For example, to be more concise, everyone agrees that the health care market is extremely complicated. The idea that a large centralized bureaucracy is going to make a market like that better isn’t support by facts or history.

      My wife has had several brain surgeries for brain cancer. Our insurance is now been thrown into a very scary position with premiums going up, less choice for coverage, and high deductibles. These changes are happening because the government has mandated what insurance companies have to cover instead of letting consumers pick and choose.

      There are just too many variables when it comes to health care and every time the government meddles with the market it gets worse. The government has been meddling now with health care for 50 years and it’s getting worse and worse.

    • mswyney says:

      It’s my favorite amendment because I’m a closet optimist. Personally, I don’t even think the Senate should exist, but that’s a whole other can of beans and it would fail miserably to get rid of it because of our (stupid) current representational system. But I believe that if we could do a better job of informing the public about the issues, then it wouldn’t really matter how stupid or intelligent the American public is. The issues are not as hard to understand as we like to believe, and if we had people who could reliably explain the issues to Americans (The Media, if you’re lurking, this used to be your job), then I believe every single American would be capable of making responsible decisions. Our entire system of government does depend on an informed voting public, though, and that’s currently going to hell in a handbasket. Still, I like to live in a government where I and my fellow citizens are trusted to make decisions that will better ourselves and/or our nation as a whole (and especially make decisions regarding how to balance personal gain with the betterment of the group). I’d rather half our Congress was not an elite group of people with comparatively little accountability to the American public. I chose to be born here so I could live in a republic, not an aristocracy.

      On the topic of the first amendment, I fangirl so hard for that shit it’s not even funny.

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