THE COLUMN: To Save America, Repeal the 17th Amendment

Michael Walsh17 Oct, 2022 7 Min Read
Wilson and Taft: the faces of "progress."

Last week we looked at the pernicious effects of the 16th amendment, and how for more than a century it has destroyed almost any chance the middle classes ever had of accumulating wealth, since their money is confiscated at the source, and has taught working Americans that the first call on the fruits of their labor belongs not to themselves and their families but to the federal government. (Real estate used to be the exception, although that too is now the province of the rich.)

Whereas the feds managed to scrape by from 1788, when the Constitution was ratified, to 1913, when the 16th was endorsed by 38 states (two more than the requisite number), on tariffs, and excise taxes, with only occasional resort to some sort of temporary income taxes, the way was now open for Washington to reach directly into the pockets of every American. This was a sea-change in the relationship of the federal government to the citizen, and the beginning of federal dominance over the very states which had given it birth and thus the entire population of the nation—not as members of sovereign states but as individuals.

The 16th, as several readers noted, was also significant in that it overturned the constitutional language regarding taxation under Article 1, Section 9: "No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken." That went out the window with the 16th and its game-changing language that "the Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration."

Why is this man laughing?

In other words, the idea that states could be subject to an individual "head count" tax of their residents only in direct proportion to their share of the overall population was now gone. This malevolent blunder turned out to be the first of several colossal blows to the nation-as-founded during the so-called "Progressive Era" headed by presidents Theodore Roosevelt (what in the world is he doing on Mount Rushmore?), the gloriously corpulent William Howard Taft, and the cadaverous Woodrow Wilson.

In other words, two unabashedly warmongering presidents—Wilson lied, men died—with Taft, an able administrator and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, somewhat of an outlier, although he was governor of the conquered Philippines under TR's boss, William McKinley.

According to the liberal Khan Academy, the period was:

an era of intense social and political reform aimed at making progress toward a better society. Progressive Era reformers sought to harness the power of the federal government to eliminate unethical and unfair business practices, reduce corruption, and counteract the negative social effects of industrialization. During the Progressive Era, protections for workers and consumers were strengthened, and women finally achieved the right to vote.

That's one way to look at it. The problem is, it's looking at the era through the wrong end of the telescope by people who love the intentions and can afford to ignore the results. Left unquestioned is whether the federal government had the right under the Constitution to what it did. And the answer is clearly no—so it simply changed the Constitution via the perfectly legitimate amendment process, and induced a gullible and resentful populace to go along; recall that nobody thought the Income Tax had a snowball's chance in hell of ratification, and yet it was ratified. (Don't start yapping at me that the 16th was "illegally ratified." It wasn't, which makes things even worse.)

A more accurate and pertinent assessment, is that the "Progressive Era" was a time of wholesale overturning of the original compact among states that resulted in the creation of the federal government. Recall that the Revolution was not fought by the citizens of some proto-United States of America, but by rebellious colonists of thirteen separate and distinct political units under the sovereign control of the King of England. At the start, the states controlled the feds—Maryland and Virginia even ceded territory to the new capital city; now the feds own huge swaths of the states, especially in the west—not the other way around. But as the U.S. moved into the 20th century, beginning with the assassination of McKinley in September of 1901, ambitious "progressives" seen their opportunities and they took 'em.

Which brings us to the 17th amendment. The relevant bit reads: "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. " Prior to its ratification in 1913, the same year as the 16th and a spectacularly disastrous year for our real democracy, senators were chosen by the various state legislatures, in order to keep them tethered and answerable to their state governments: they were senators from the Great State of Whatever, not interchangeable "United States senators."

Why is this man laughing?

Problems arose when individual states whose bicameral legislatures were split between Republican and Democrats had trouble on agreeing upon a choice of senator, which meant that states might go without a full complement of senators for months or in some cases years at a time. In others, normal human greed and lust for power took over, leading to complaints that "special interests or political machines gained control over the state legislature. Progressive reformers dismissed individuals elected by such legislatures as puppets and the Senate as a 'millionaires' club' serving powerful private interests."

One Progressive response to these concerns was the "Oregon system," which utilized a state primary election to identify the voters' choice for senator while pledging all candidates for the state legislature to honor the primary's result. Over half of the states adopted the "Oregon system," but the 1912 Senate investigation of bribery and corruption in the election of Illinois Senator William Lorimer indicated that only a constitutional amendment mandating the direct election of senators by a state's citizenry would satisfy public demands for reform.

The cure, however, has proven to be worse than the disease. In trying to solve a problem of "special interests," rather than the states having two powerful advocates for their interests in Washington, Washington got two powerful advocates of its interests in each of the states, greatly assisting what we now call the Swamp in cementing its control over the nation. The sinister Left, currently fretting about losing "our democracy" remains hell-bent on finishing off republicanism in both its senses; for them, only a government by national plebiscite will do. As any student of early-20th century "reform" knows, the cure for "reform" gone awry was and is always more "reform" rather than a return to first principles.

Prior to the adoption of the 17th amendment, presidential candidates were generally drawn from the ranks of statesmen, victorious generals, diplomats, jurists, state governors, and other prominent public figures. Washington won the Revolutionary War, and the four Founding presidents who came after him—Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—gained renown in the struggle for independence and its immediate aftermath as custodians of the revolution. Only Monroe spent some time in the senate, representing Virginia.

Abraham Lincoln had served only a single term in the House before becoming president. Ulysses S. Grant won the War Between the States for the Union; Rutherford B. Hayes and James Garfield were also Civil War generals, and did stints in the House before achieving the White House. Martin van Buren, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Grover Cleveland, and Wilson had been state governors.

What's so funny?

Some of the post-Founding presidents, true, had also served in the Senate as representatives of their states prior to become president. In addition to Monroe, their number includes John Quincy Adams (not only the son of the second president but a distinguished jurist and diplomat); Andrew Jackson (but it was his fame as a general during the War of 1812 and as the man who wrested Florida from Spain that got him elected president); and Benjamin Harrison, who was also a brevet general during the Civil War. Others such as van Buren, made brief stops in the Senate before become governors of their states and then entering national politics.

The first senator to go directly to the White House was Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920 after the passage of the 17th amendment. Widely viewed as one of the worst presidents, Harding got the Senate-to-Oval Office express off to an inauspicious start. In his wake came John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, and Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. (Harry Truman and Richard Nixon had been senators, then vice-presidents.)

Consider also who their opponents in either the general or conventions/primaries were. JFK had to beat senator Lyndon Baines Johnson before tapping him for veep; Johnson defeated senator Barry Goldwater; former senator and veep Nixon beat senators Hubert Humphrey (also a veep) and George McGovern; Bill Clinton, a former governor, dispatched Kansas senator Bob Dole at his re-election in 1996; Obama defeated senator John McCain in 2008 as well as former governor (and now senator) Mitt Romney four years later; businessman Donald Trump defeated former senator Hillary Clinton; and senator/veep Biden won the office from Trump in 2020.

Many of these senators hailed from dynastic-wealth families, in some part thanks to the income tax. Some married their money, such as Kerry and McCain; some like Jack Kennedy were born into it, the fruits of his criminal father's shenanigans as a bootlegger and Wall Street executive; Willard M. Romney is the son of George Romney, a wealthy automobile executive, former governor of Michigan, and failed presidential candidate in 1968. More recently, some have achieved great wealth simply by being elected to office and then cashing in either after or even during their terms of of high office. Lunch Bucket Joe, the current occupant, has never held an honest job in his life, but somehow has become obscenely wealthy from a lifetime of "government service" —including 36 years in the senate, eight years as vice president and (so far) nearly two years as president.

Today, therefore, the Senate is no longer regarded as the equally apportioned voices of the states in the upper house of Congress, but rather a way station for ambitious individual senators eyeing the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As the Washington saying goes, every morning one hundred senators wake up, look in the mirror, and see a future president looking back at them.

A repeal of the 17th would largely remove mediocrities of no accomplishment like these from the scramble up the greasy pole. Men are not angels; no doubt corruption in their choice at the state level was very great, as it is in all human enterprise. But by returning the selection of senators to their now-nominal home states would elevate the importance of state legislatures and state elections, returning the power of republican democracy in D.C. back to the states and their residents, where it started and where it still belongs.

Impossible, you say? Well, no. Next week we'll take a look at the third of the four destructive "progressive" amendments, the 18th, and what we can learn from its passage—and, better yet, its repeal.

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints, and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace and its sequel, The Fiery Angel. Last Stands, a study of military history from the Greeks to the present, was published by St. Martin's Press in December 2019. He is also the editor of Against the Great Reset: 18 Theses Contra the New World Order, published on Oct. 18, 2022.

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5 comments on “THE COLUMN: To Save America, Repeal the 17th Amendment”

  1. I like the article. Unfortunately at this point however our brokenness cannot be solved by political changes. The founding fathers themselves admitted that no form of government would work unless the people itself were moral and deserving. We are not the same country that formed the Constitution. That country was not without faults, but overall the people believed in God and had a moral. positive outlook on life. There was never a law against a President holding office for more than two terms until FDR. They all followed George Washington's lead and stepped down voluntarily, for the good of the country. Try to imagine that happening today without term limits being legislated. You can make the most benevolent form of government in the world, but if the people are immoral, corrupt and debased, the government will devolve as well.

    If this country will be saved it will be saved by raising moral children or importing a new people with strong morals. At this point I see little hope for either, but I certainly hope I'm wrong.

  2. Excellent essay, extremely insightful and informative. In this time of a restless citizenry engaging in idle talk of an Article V convention (and a political realignment that might make it possible), it is very reassuring to hear articulate voices such as yours cautioning otherwise well-meaning Americans to “return to first principles” and beware the paramount danger of tinkering with our Constitution: Further destructive tinkering! (Much like the sophomore mechanic who naively thinks that he can make his car faster by simply increasing the power, only to discover that additional power then requires a stronger transmission and transaxle, better brakes, better suspension, better tires, etc.) I don’t want to get ahead of you, but I hope that you will reflect on the The Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 as well as the Presidential term limits contained in the 22nd amendment as possible examples of further destructive tinkering that may be the legacy of the insidious 17th Amendment. I say repeal 16 (go back to an excise tax as an incentive to bring manufacturing back home, among the many other good reasons); repeal 17 (but, to sustain the proper balance between pure and representative democracy, concurrently repeal and rewrite TPAA of 29 and return representation back to the recommended 1:30,000 as advocated by Madison in Federalist 55); repeal the term limits of POTUS (I blame an institutionally weakened POTUS--guaranteed lame duck after just 6 years--for the corruption and reckless spending in Congress). In other words, return to first principles of representative democracy and federalism.

    Looking forward to Part III and IV

  3. Solutions
    Education is Wretched

    Credentials. Credentials identify a person’s attributes, but they don’t qualify a person, or do they? Education should mean more than a credential. An educated person should be astute in some disciplines and capable of learning others. An educated person should be moral, ethical, and honest.
    Think of the early American successes in the space program. The 1960s space programs used sixty-foot dish antennas to track satellites, and cellular phone communication was a distant cartoon dream. Sending commands to these satellites used a Space Ground Link System. Does anyone remember who built the first systems? Engineers would design something theoretical, and someone had to build it and make it work. Educated people accomplished extraordinary things without a diploma from an accredited college.
    Does anyone know the credentials of the people who actually built the first systems? They had no degrees or titles to establish identity. Are the names of the Playtex bra seamstresses who sewed the American spacesuits recognized by credentials? These talented men and women lacked the identity qualifications required to get employment for similar jobs today.
    In a market dominated by identity, who pays attention to the talents of anyone? Is your doctor identified as a surgeon or qualified to be one? That reads like a silly question, but the American Medical Association considers the importance of identity when suggesting critical race theory be taught in Medical School. The acceptance rates at American medical schools also reveal racial identity preferences. Does identity infer skill?
    Fortunately, some qualifications are still reflected in test scores and acumen, but those qualifications can also vary based on identity and, in turn, credentials.
    Identity is more than skin color, gender, body weight, uniforms, or hairstyle. Degrees, certifications, awards, medals, and who you know are also identifiers.
    Unfortunately, who you know can override all the other identifiers in the list by exemplifying notoriety or garnering the endorsement of an influential figure. In such cases, no qualifications are necessary as the association predetermines the required credentials. We must consider this is not always an alarming occurrence. Knowing someone is capable and trustworthy can circumvent unnecessary vetting that delays action. This should be an allowable exception.
    However, in a corrupt enterprise, even a drug-addled miscreant can achieve success by obtaining the proper association with a powerful influencer. Nepotism and patronage have provided paths to power and success for centuries. Not everyone can be king, but it pays to know him.
    Education is inconsistent in quality, content, and objectivity. Public schools through K12 cost too much, operate as a monopoly and often provide inferior services to children. Some higher-level schools contribute to a divisive culture by indoctrinating students with propaganda. Those educators focus on teaching students what to think instead of how to think.
    The single most significant cultural impact on society is the education of future citizens. The solution to poor and inadequate instruction is to put control of educational choice directly into the hands of parents and guardians and depose the existing monopolies of public schools.
    Schools are funded by State taxes, fees, and the extortion of property owners. Property taxes provide over forty percent of school expenditures. Property owners must support the schools (even if they do not use them) or lose their homes, livelihood, inheritance, or legacy. Less than ten percent of school costs come from Federal grants and programs.
    Citizens can vote on taxes and fees, and the choice of curriculums, teachers, and campus domains is not totally beyond the parent’s and guardian's control.
    Schooling is the responsibility of the locally elected school board. If a parent disagrees with a school board's decisions, they can become board members. Becoming a school board member is the best avenue and solution to poor education, but it will not impart complete control over unionized teachers.
    Only school choice for K12 education can return control of education to parents and guardians.
    Twelve school vouchers can be allocated for each student and directed for distribution by the parent guardian. The State would determine the voucher value applied to each pupil. The yearly voucher’s redemption would be assigned to a school selected by guardians of the pupil at the beginning of each year of attendance.
    The school can charge whatever fees they desire to be competitive. However, if their charges exceed the value of the voucher, the parent must pay the difference. No pupil will receive more than twelve vouchers.
    Being expelled loses the total value of the current year’s coupon. State vouchers are not transferrable, and the number of vouchers will never exceed twelve regardless of location, as some states may not choose to employ a voucher system. Students already attending school or moving into the state are eligible for coupons for each remaining year of a twelve-year education. In the case of an eighth-grade student moving into a voucher state, four coupons would be available.
    If a student graduates high school before all twelve vouchers are used, the leftover vouchers can be applied to higher education facilities within the state. An inspired school or student may complete a typical High School graduate equivalency in ten years, leaving a student with two vouchers for college.
    The voucher system presents a problem as a ‘school’ must be defined as an educational construct. A solitary tutor can be a school. Homeschooling parents can also be a school and eligible for vouchers. End-of-year tests can verify the effectiveness of the education. Still, the coupon is expended regardless, and the final judge of education quality is the parent’s acknowledgment and a certificate issued after twelfth-grade level tests are passed.
    According to a 2012 U.S. Department of Education report, seventy-nine percent of the Chicago Public Schools are not grade-level proficient in reading–eighty percent are not grade-level proficient in math. Therefore, giving a parent a voucher to teach their children cannot be considered riskier than paying more for unionized instructors who provided such results. The updated 2019 data shows seventy-one Chicago public schools are considered underperforming, the lowest designation, after a decade of improvement. The spending ranges from $19,000 to $22,000 per student per year.
    Not all public schools are abysmal, but they share the concepts of gathering taxes, fees, grants, and extorting property owners to achieve varying results at a high cost. Competing public schools performing excellent jobs will garner vouchers from empowered citizens who will decide what school serves best.
    The bureaucratic regulation of schools must also be eliminated. Federal and state dictates must be replaced with parental choice. A parent can choose a school that employs a Common Core curriculum or not. A parent can avoid a school that teaches racism or endorse another that indoctrinates children with communism. Educational choice is not just about vouchers.
    In a world where credentials are more important than knowledge, skill, or desire to learn, people should realize how those credentials are acquired.
    Taking and passing every mathematics course offered by a University like Drexel will not provide the student with ‘credentials.’ Employers will consider such a student uneducated or only partially educated.
    On the other hand, when a person takes that last course indoctrinating racial tension and the cruelty of American history, the clouds part, and the student becomes a graduate. However, a beam of light does not descend from the heavens with an angel-voiced chorus of “Ahh” to impart a student with a new level of expertise. Instead, a sheet of paper falls into the graduate's hand with the promise of providing a job. The student may be educated or not, but the document certifies a capability. Trades have similar certificates garnered through tests and apprenticeships.
    Employers consider people with degrees superior to those without degrees, usually because they have spent a similar effort in obtaining a degree. Thus, they prefer hiring people like themselves. Promotions often follow the same paradigm. Each ‘new’ face performs like the old one because a copy is generally more acceptable than an unknown. Sometimes this business model works well, but it is a roll of the dice and a downfall of old companies seeking new talent while simultaneously avoiding it.
    Employers can provide an educated employee solution by hiring people out of high school and training them in the areas that support their needs.
    Employers who want educated people should consider educating the people they hire and providing them with employer-certified credentials. Degrees can often be an untrustworthy identification of an ‘educated’ person.
    The effects of discouraging meritocracy in schools have crept into corporate management. A mission-oriented viewpoint is also discouraged. Managers are hired to get along and go along. Removing a recalcitrant or unproductive worker is undesirable–until a goal or mission must get accomplished. The primary deference of non-decisiveness has promoted ineffectual people who will follow any order regardless of moral integrity. A high-level order will instantly be obeyed by a non-thinking minion who may disagree with the command but is willing to abandon ethical behavior to achieve fellowship and job security. These ‘followers’ incentivize the misbehavior of their leaders. Teaching ethics and morals in schools is a necessary solution to replace false history and indoctrinated hate. Courage is also an individual attribute taught by example in schools, home, and media.
    Unfortunately, some politicians desire indoctrinated individuals to serve as police, investigators, district attorneys, and judges willing to perform as criminals when ordered. These elected people have ruined cities in America, and only sycophant minions will be hired to replace defunded servants of peace and safety. The plan to replace incorruptible police and justice defenders with guards willing to perform any violence to retain the power of their overlords is ongoing. The insidious indoctrination of the end justifies the means demands brainwashed guards capable of ensuring the means. Cities are becoming ‘camps’ controlled by dictatorial administrators served by dedicated followers we pay to educate. Oligarchs and foreign countries have spent fortunes influencing elections and placing representatives who do not support the safety, welfare, or education of the misinformed people who elected them. Only a thinking population of citizens educated with honor, integrity, and honesty can avoid the insidious creeping darkness of some, but not all, indoctrinating school curriculums.
    Many high-level colleges and universities should bear a specific attribute not associated with accreditation. That is, security clearances for graduating individuals from schools teaching Critical Race Theory or promoting anti-American histories, economics, or political courses should disqualify graduates for any security clearances. Graduates from such schools deserve extreme scrutiny and should not be trusted to work in positions impacting citizens after being subjected to academic propaganda and brainwashing. This denial of trust may appear unjustified to universities, but the teaching of anti-American sentiment and propaganda is rampant throughout our education system. The negative processes begin in lower grades and continue through higher education facilities where most instructors are politically biased and even deny free speech to students. Graduates indoctrinated in social progressive and socialist dogma cannot be trusted to serve America. This decree of untrustworthiness must be publicly disseminated to allow students a choice of education quality. This solution does not ask for outright denial of clearances. Still, it demands extra investigation and proof of trust before granting any graduate or student critical positions requiring ethical conduct, secrecy, or the protection and safeguarding of other Americans. Even military schools that teach CRT, for example, would not graduate guaranteed trustworthy officers for the military.
    As in any American solution, the individual is primarily responsible for learning. Students who have no desire for formal schooling should not attend school until the desire manifests internally or through external motivations. Experience is also a good teacher. Desire and curiosity are hallmarks of a good student.
    Employers may demand a degree, but no honorable person should want a job in an enterprise that requires accepting false history narratives like critical race theory or the rewriting of the English language that obfuscates science, biology, and physics.
    If you wish to gain knowledge–learn to read. Ask questions and read, read, read. If you want wisdom, learn to think. Employers often seek persons filled with a desire to learn and apply what they know. It may seem challenging to find them, but anyone filled with desire will be surprised after looking. Many employers would rather hire a person who desires to achieve and support a mission over someone just looking for a job.

    A good teacher creates a good student.

    01100111 01101111 01100100
    Computers and electronic communication are amazing inventions, all accomplished by a coordinated series of zeros and ones. Each zero or one is known as a ‘bit.’ A byte is most often comprised of eight bits whose combined series of zeros and ones can denote a character–like the letter ‘A.’
    Changing one bit from a zero to one can impact the meaning of a word, command, or piece of information held in a coordinated world comprising quadrillions of bits. The binary nature of a powerful bit could launch a nuclear weapon or crash an airplane. Every cell phone message, electronic video, and document is comprised of bits that rapidly change from zero to one without the conscious knowledge or freedom to make the changes they perform. This is a fortunate circumstance because if bits were self-aware like humans, they might deny the existence of a computer.

  4. End our nations membership in the United Nations and move the whole lot to Moscow we can turn the UN facility into a Homeless Shelter

  5. Repeal of the 17th also mutes, to a degree, large municipalities from securing their preferred candidate in a national office election like the current US Senate suffers. Besides diminishing DC's money influence, or at the very least, complicating its ability to outright BUY the desired outcome, a state's interest takes center stage again.
    If one even objectively looks at the partisan make-up of the US state houses, it's easy to see a veto-proof Republican majority in perpetuity. Which is why RINO's will feign confusion at a repeal while democrats will obviously be opposed to any 17th Amendment repeal.

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