I had the great pleasure recently of reading The Baltimore Principles and I must say, I’m quite impressed. By the way, you can find the website at http://www.baltimoreprinciples.com and the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/BaltimorePrinciples.
The Baltimore Principles is a historical look at the principles which ultimately were behind the drafting of the Constitution. Our founders weren’t necessarily the first ones to come up with these principles, but what they accomplished should not be discounted (and the book agrees).
The history lesson begins in 1650 with Cecilius Calvert (aka The Lord Baltimore), who was owner of the Maryland colony. I won’t go too much into the details (for that, you’ll have to buy the book – and believe me, it’s well worth it), but Lord Baltimore introduced the idea of separate branches of government, along with a system of checks and balances. His was a system of vertical checks and balances.
The 17th Amendment
The 17th Amendment, ratified on April 8th, 1913, reads as follows:
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. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.
The 17th Amendment replaced parts of Article I, Section 3, Clauses 1 & 2 of the Constitution, which read (the text that is struck through is what the 17th Amendment modified):
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State,
chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.
Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year;
and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.
Chances are, if you’re like me, you believed in the “of the people, by the people, and for the people” mantra for most of your life. So it stood to reason that the 17th Amendment was a good thing. But it often made one wonder why then there were two bodies of representatives, both elected directly by the people. Sure, each body has different duties, but how could you tell the difference?
Thoughts such as this were partially responsible for the transition to a Unicameral type of legislature in my home state of Nebraska. Those responsible for the transition viewed it as a way to eliminate duplicated efforts and costs.
My entire life I never realized exactly why the Constitution was written the way it originally was (pre-17th Amendment). It didn’t seem to make sense to me, until I read The Baltimore Principles.
The chart to the left illustrates perfectly the Baltimore Principles, and shows us exactly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind (clicking on the chart will expand it so you can examine it further).
I suspect I will find that nobody disagrees with me when I say that we live in a very “top down” government. The federal government creates laws, which then get imposed on the states and the people thereof. An excellent example is the Patient Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which pushes many associated costs onto the states. An even better example is medicaid, which is responsible for the budget shortfalls experienced by numerous states.
This is a very top-down, almost mafia style of governing. The lower levels of government (states, counties and municipalities) have zero say in federal laws that get imposed on them.
But that wasn’t always the case. Before the ratification of the 17th Amendment, state legislatures were responsible for selecting the senators to represent their state at the federal government level. The senators answered to their respective state legislatures only, and were not able to be influenced by “popular opinion” or political party goals (in fact, it seems to me that political party affiliation would have no bearing at all on the decisions a senator would make, as he answered only to the state legislature that selected him). A senator could likewise not be bought by special interests.
The Baltimore Principles also applied to the lower level governments. Under this system, each member of a state’s upper house would be selected by the upper houses of each county, and on down. This insured that we had a bottom-up government; that each level of government had direct representation in the level above it. I honestly believe that if we had such a system today, you would find things to be very different than they are now.
What can be done?
The book specifically states that it is not a call to action, but an educational experience that hopes to “get Americans thinking.” Bravo, Carl Douglas, you have gotten this one thinking.
I’m ashamed to say that I thought very little of the 17th Amendment and the impact it had until reading this book. I knew very little of the purpose for the original selection of upper body members. I can no longer claim ignorance, however.
So, to answer what can be done, we’ll use a single word: Educate. Make sure that we educate as many as possible about The Baltimore Principles. For I can tell you that I learned none of this in school, and I’m quite certain many of you did not either. Once people learned and understood the principles, we could explore the application of them at all levels of government. We could hopefully restore that which was intended.
I give this book an overall 5 star rating. The author kept on topic, and provided a succinct study on the principles and the history around them. I found it very enlightening and thought provoking, and can already see the way I view certain aspects of government changing. I highly recommend you read it, and go on talking about it and sharing it with others. The more people we can get educated on this, the more possibilities open up to us. After all, it is we the people that founded this government. If it is going to change, that too will come from we the people. A government will never vote itself out of power. It will never voluntarily make itself smaller, and it will never yield power that it has acquired. It is up to us to effect real change.