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March 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-5


A Commentary on the American Constitution


Part 19



Quite some time ago, in the late fifties when I was still attending a small rural grade school, we learned that Congress was comprised of two chambers.  The upper chamber was the Senate, and the lower chamber was the House of Representatives.  The lower chamber was elected by a direct vote of the people and was known as the “people’s chamber” or “people’s house.”  (A good many of you have probably received this same instruction.  For those of you who did not, try to find an old civics or history textbook from that era or older.  There is a very good chance you could verify this for yourself.)  This bit of information that was at one time taught in our schools generates a question that fairly screams for an answer:  if the lower chamber is the people’s chamber, whose chamber is the upper chamber?  Following are several excerpts from The Federalist Papers.  Please give them your utmost attention.  As you study them, keep in mind that they applied to the Constitution as it was originally ratified, for they are not applicable to the Constitution of today in the least:


The House of Representatives . . . is elected immediately by the great body of the people.  The Senate . . . derives its appointment indirectly from the people.  (Emphasis added).  (No. 39).


The exception in favor of the equality of suffrage in the Senate was probably meant as a palladium to the residuary sovereignty of the States . . .  (Emphasis added).  (No. 43).


There is a peculiarity in the federal Constitution which insures a watchful attention in a majority both of the people and of their representatives to a constitutional augmentation of the latter.  The peculiarity lies in this, that one branch of the legislature is a representation of citizens, the other of the States . . .  (Emphasis added).  (No. 58).


It is certainly true that the State legislatures, by forbearing the appointment of senators, may destroy the national government . . . So far as that construction may expose the Union to the possibility of injury from the State legislatures, it is an evil; but it is an evil which could not have been avoided without excluding the States, in their political capacities, wholly from a place in the organization of the national government.  If this had been done it would doubtless have been interpreted into an entire dereliction of the federal principle, and would certainly have deprived the State governments of that absolute safeguard which they will enjoy under this provision.  (Emphasis added).  (No.  59).


It is recommended by . . . giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems . . . In this spirit it may be remarked that the equal vote allowed to each State is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual States and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty.  (Emphasis added).  (No. 62).


The proposed Constitution, so far from implying an abolition of the State governments, makes them constituent parts of the national sovereignty, by allowing them a direct representation in the Senate, and leaves in their possession certain exclusive and very important portions of sovereign power.  (Emphasis added).  (No. 9).


Men who were not merely active, but who undertook leading roles in the debates, passage, and ratification of the Constitution, wrote these excerpts.  After careful study of the above excerpts, there may still be some question as to just what they bequeathed to us; but there can be very little doubt as to what they “believed they were” bequeathing to us.  The Senate was not only to be elected by state legislatures, but it also was to be, in Madison’s words, “a representation . . . of the States.”  And this “representation” of the States was to very literally represent those states, in Hamilton’s words, “in their political capacities.”  This was done to give the states, “a place in the organization of the national government.”  To not have done so would have been a “dereliction of the federal principle.”  This method of electing Senators was designed to “secure the authority” of the states and to provide an “absolute safeguard” to the sovereignty of the respective states.




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