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Daniel Petry: How Progressives Killed Democracy

The 17th Amendment took power away from the people, but it's not too late to reclaim it

On April 8, 1913, the progressive movement, with the backing of President Woodrow Wilson, passed the 17th Amendment. It was a grievous blow to freedom that has allowed Washington to become increasingly abusive toward the states and the citizens of this country. Its enactment is one of the most destructive freedom-crushing events to take place within the past 230 years.

Daniel Petry
Daniel Petry

Once powerful, the states are now slaves, on their knees, begging for crumbs. We see headlines such as “Dem Leaders Plan Secret Bill Talks,” “Governors Complain Unfunded Mandates Will Destroy Their Budgets” and “California Governor Goes Begging to the Feds for Education Grants.” It never seems to end, and we begin to realize that this “train” is out of control.

Bear with me as I muse about what could have been.

Imagine a Constitution that gives power to the people and allows states to have a direct impact in federal decisions. Imagine what a California governor could do if he could pick up the phone and tell Sen. Barbara Boxer not to vote for a bill that passes along billions of dollars in unfunded mandates to the people of California.

Just a pipe dream, you say?

Look at our current nightmare. We have politicians who have become so imperial that they tell their employers to sit down and shut up. Their allegiance is only to those who pay for their eternal campaigns. They only “listen” to the people during election cycles. They pass laws that are written by political ideologues and special interests. And they’re doing all of this while refusing to read the bills.

Now imagine that the framers of the Constitution wanted the federal government to have its hands tied and only given the power to exercise those duties specifically authorized by the Constitution.

If they could have just done that, we’d be far better off, right?

Imagine that the House of Representatives would represent the people and the Senate would represent the states. Wow. That would really put the brakes on this unbridled monster that is consuming us.

What if Thomas Jefferson had said something like, “The people, to whom all authority belongs, have divided the powers of government into two distinct departments — the national and state governments, the ... functions of which are foreign and domestic. These they have made ... checking and balancing each other ...”?

That would have been brilliant, yes? OK, now I’m excited. Let’s go a little further with this dream of mine.

Imagine if Jefferson also had said something like, “To take a single step beyond the boundaries drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.” In 21st-century speak, that would translate as, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so don’t allow it to happen.

I can just hear Jefferson saying something like that. Especially since the founders knew a little about the dangers of absolute power and tyranny.

The framers designed the Constitution to control government power. An example is the people’s right to vote. Yet this is not enough, because politicians tend to take off the sheep’s clothing once they are elected. The minute they win an election by claiming to support constitutional principles, they immediately forget their oath.

Here’s the rub. Every quote I just made by Jefferson is exactly what he said.

The founders guaranteed states’ rights by writing the 10th Amendment, but since they knew evil would try to corrupt the process, they didn’t stop there.

This is what is truly amazing. Many Americans are unaware that the Constitution had a provision that was more powerful than all other controls combined. What was it? The Senate. Simple, powerful — and representative. But the Senate of today is not the Senate the founders created.

For more than a century, senators were elected by state legislators rather than by popular vote. The founders had organized Congress so that the people would be represented in one house, the state legislatures in the other. Thus, the states were a controlling part of the federal government and had a strong voice in the formation of law.

As James Madison put it, “No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then of a majority of the states.” Now you can imagine hearing the governor of California calling up a senator and telling him or her not to vote for a specific bill. The senator owed his or her allegiance to the state and not to lobbyists and national special interests. Amazing.

That’s strong, but for the dark figures lurking in the wings, far too strong.

The system worked great, but progressives chaffed at the fact that they couldn’t increase their power with this inconvenient situation remaining as it was designed. They wanted all the power. 

And with the 17th Amendment they got that power. So, on April 8, 1913, the American people lost one of the strongest roadblocks to tyranny. From that day forward, senators have been elected by popular vote — and the states lost official representation in Washington.

The result? Utter disaster. And so goes one of Jefferson’s sternest warnings, “When all government ... shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided on one government on another, and it will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we [just] separated (England).”

But don’t despair. A revolution is taking shape in many states. The states are beginning to reclaim their rightful place in the American checks and balances system. But it is an uphill battle. The quickest path to success would be to repeal the 17th Amendment. We can do it. It will just take hard work. Your freedom depends on that success.

So when you hear of people who want to repeal the 17th Amendment, cheer them on. They are fighting for your freedom.

— Santa Barbara resident Daniel Petry is the CEO and founding partner of Petry Direct Inc., a 20-year-old management firm that specializes in content production and marketing management. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, class of 1976, and received a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Colorado.

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