Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Majority rules

“We must forget our local habits and attachments. The general government should not depend on the State governments. ... Equality of representation cannot be established, if the second branch is elected by the state legislatures.” –James Wilson

“The State legislatures are more competent to make a judicious choice, than the people at large. Instability pervades their choice. In the second branch of the general government we want wisdom and firmness. ... We know that the people of the States are strongly attached to their own constitutions. If you hold up a system of general government, destructive of their constitutional rights, they will oppose it.” –Oliver Ellsworth

“All agree that a more efficient government is necessary. It is equally necessary to preserve the state governments, as they ought to have the means of self-defense. On the motion of Mr. Wilson, the only means they ought to have would be destroyed.” –George Mason

One of the most contentious debates at the Constitutional Convention was the form of representation in Congress. One camp, exemplified by James Wilson of Pennsylvania, wanted states’ congressional delegates to be determined by population. The other camp, exemplified by Connecticut’s Oliver Ellsworth, wanted states themselves to be equally represented.

In the end, the lower house, or House of Representatives, was constituted directly by the votes of the people, in accord with Wilson. The upper house, or Senate, was constituted by the votes of the state legislatures, in accord with Ellsworth. The lower house represented the people’s interests, the upper house represented the state’s interests.

It was a brilliant compromise. It ensured no bill would pass Congress without both the consent of the states and the people. In its nascent years, America was more susceptible to majoritarianism than it is now. Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and one other state could have dominated the other 9 former colonies. Thanks to state’s equality in the Senate, an alliance of large states would not be able to molest the rights of small states. Nor would a simple majority be able to nationalize laws that would in effect dissolve the states’ essential characters. To guard against an overreaching central government, the Senate would defend against nationalist sentiment in the House of Representatives.

But James Wilson ultimately got his wish. In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment, the brainchild of progressives, stripped appointments to the Senate away from the state legislatures and gave them to the people. The original intent of the Senate, to protect the states, became another instrument of the people’s will. The national government has been on a rampage ever since, thanks to progressives who imposed their worst ideas on the states. The current distinct characters of the states is watered down considerably.

It’s no surprise the rise of secession movements in Maryland, California, and elsewhere comes amid an era of increasing government presumptuousness. The people yearn for self-determination, for relief from the authorities, and the best their state governments do to protect them from Leviathan is nothing. The less lucky ones, like the residents of Maryland and California, are put upon even more.

William Murchison looks at Scotland’s potential secession from Britain:

As for the modern tendency to disassociate, to move apart from, to cease collaboration with, to center intellectual activity within tighter and tighter bounds—that’s not going away. Community, and the partial submersion of crotchets and quirks and inner visions, lacks a future. We’re right; everybody else is wrong—that’s the future.

Wrong; the modern tendency of large states to consolidate power over its subdivisions has produced this reaction. As I’ve said before, why should people with little in common determine the other’s affairs?

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