Some citizens, especially those on the political left, are pushing hard for the further democratization of America. They call for the elimination of the electoral college, popular election of the President, and further measures that would promote the concept of one man, one vote. I am also certain that many wish to eliminate the Senate or make some other provision to change a situation in which a senator from Wyoming, representing fewer than 300,000 people, has as much political weight as a California senator representing 20,000,000.
Of course, to make these changes would require major amendments to the United States Constitution, and the Constitution dictates an amendment process that would require approval by three fourths of the states. Furthermore, no state can be deprived of equal representation in the Senate without its consent.
Many progressives are not happy with this situation, but political realities dictate that it is extremely unlikely that major structural changes can occur anytime in the foreseeable future. That is why we sometimes hear a few radicals bewailing the fact that the American Revolution was not “complete” and the Constitution referred to as a “flawed document”. It would take another revolution to satisfy all their demands.
Our founding fathers did not wish to create a true democracy. They were aware of the perils of that type of government and probably feared, as did the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero, that it would lead to mob rule. Instead of a democracy, our founders opted for a representative republic in which powers were carefully balanced between an executive, a bicameral legislature, and a judiciary. These men were well informed on history. They knew the foibles of men, the corrupting influence of power, and the dangers of mob rule. They made it so that a strong, power-hungry executive could be checked by the legislature and the courts, the legislature was structured so that the Senate could act as a brake on the more volatile House of Representatives, and the courts could ensure that everyone played by the rules.
Those who wrote the Constitution were very concerned about the possibility of a dictatorship of the proletariat, and the several articles reflect their concern. Senators were to be chosen by state legislatures rather than by the peoples’ vote, and the President was to be chosen by electors appointed by the legislatures of the several states in a manner to be determined by them. These procedures were later democratized. By constitutional amendment, Senators are now elected by popular vote, and state legislatures allow their citizens to choose their slate of electors.
As originally conceived, much of the government of the United States was left in the hands of the several states and local governments. The role of the Federal government was very limited. It was the Great Depression, the “New Deal”, and World War II that saw a rapid expansion of Federal power. That expansion has continued since that time, and central direction is largely exercised by Washington’s control of the purse strings. This process of centralization has placed great power in the Federal government, power beyond anything visualized by the men who wrote the Constitution. In some ways this has made the nation more susceptible to the danger of dictatorship, but that threat is minimized so long as the Constitution continues to hold as the supreme law of the land.
I suggest that progressives would be well advised to think carefully before they push for popular election of the President, limiting the power if the less democratic Senate, or taking other steps that would make our Federal government more responsive to the often capricious and easily manipulated wishes of the general public.
The Founding Fathers were wise men indeed. Let us respect their handiwork.
One thought on “Democracy”
As usual, well-written. I’m curious on your thoughts for term limits for U.S. Senator. It will also be interesting to the impact of the current administration on the Constitution.