No, Madison was not an Advocate of the Original Design of the Senate (17th Amendment Repeal Edition)
Via the Douglas County Sentinel comes the latest odd (IMHO) musing from politicians who don’t like the 17th Amendment: State reps propose repealing 17th Amendment.
At first, I was not going to comment, but then I was struck by this”:
“It’s a way we would again have our voice heard in the federal government, a way that doesn’t exist now,” Cooke said Monday afternoon. “This isn’t an idea of mine. This was what James Madison was writing. This would be a restoration of the Constitution, about how government is supposed to work.”
If one is going to assert that one is motivated by a restoration of the past, at least understand what happened in the past.
First, the plan that James Madison wanted for the second chamber of the legislature that came to be known as the Senate was a body chosen by the first chamber of the legislature, not by state legislatures. Moreover, he wanted the seats in the Senate to be allocated based on the population of the states (see: The Virginia Plan). As such, one cannot attribute the design of the Senate to James Madison.
Second, the decision to represent the states in the Senate on a co-equal basis, also known as the Connecticut or “Great” Compromise was a practical political move that emerged because the states had been utterly co-equal in a political sense under the Articles of Confederation and to get the smaller states in particular to agree to the new constitution it was necessary to provide them with some assurances that they would not be swallowed up, from a power perspective, by the larger states. Further, the original process of selecting senators via state legislatures was a way of placating the politicians at the state level who were losing power under the new constitution. Really, the design for the Senate was an adapted version of the Congress under the Articles of Confederation (just with states getting two votes instead of one).
I cannot say this more plainly than this: the original basic design of the US Senate was not some masterful cog in a glorious machine, but was a political compromise agreed upon to guarantee ratification. In that way the Great Compromise is not different than the 3/5th Compromise: both were sweeteners to entice specific states to abandon the failed Articles and to adopt the new constitution. In this way the writing of the constitution was no different than the way legislation is crafted: choices are made to build a coalition so that passage can be achieved.
The main problem is this: there is a romantic view that some hold that the Framers had a perfect plan that carefully considered, and fully understood, the implications of their institutional choices. The fact of the matter is: they did not. They were smart fellows, to be sure, but they were not human supercomputers who took into consideration all the variables and then determined all of the possible permutations and ramifications of their decisions.
It is very much worth keeping mind that the conventioneers in Philadelphia were largely sailing in uncharted waters; they had no clear examples to guide their choices. How could they? After all: much of what they were doing was brand new.
And yes: Madison defended the new constitution as a whole after it was drafted, but that is because at that point the political goal was not philosophical purity, it was the practical political task of getting the document ratified and the institutions up and running.
As a parting note, I would point to this post from over two years in which I pointed out that we should remember that it took 3/4th of the state legislatures to shift the election of Senators from the hands of those legislators to the people, which should put the conversation into perspective.