So, you might have noticed that we’ve made mention of State sovereignty and it’s demise, a few times.
Okay, more than a few times.
The reason we’ve mentioned it is because it’s really, really relevant to what’s going on today. Bear with us and this long post. This is just too damned important.
A lot of people, especially a lot of people involved in State governments, deny that there’s any truth to the rumor that State sovereignty is dead. That’s because they’re in denial. Not surprising; they’d be out of a job if they admitted the truth to their residents.
And a lot of otherwise lucid, logical people, will get all kinds of bent up if you even hint that their particular geographic unit, be it New York, California, Missouri, or even Texas, is really only a province of The District. Okay, maybe we can exclude Texas. Special case, and I don’t want to piss them off. You know how Texans get.
But it’s the truth. States, today, and ever since, like, almost forever, are only around for conveniences like issuing drivers licenses and parceling out money from The District. Money that was taken from the people in that province in the first place, usually. They get to manage some of their own affairs (unless The District forbids it), and the residents get to vote on issues in The District (for all the good it does them), but the State itself has no real power. Not any more. Not for the last 100+ years.
But they used to. The States used to be proud of the fact that they were independent and had voluntarily entered into a kind of marriage, a collaboration, with all the other independent States. United, as equal members, who agreed to use one set of rules among themselves, and to present a unified (there we go with that “united” thing again) a unified front to the rest of the world. Other parts of the country were tickled pink to join up. Bragging rights belonging to the original thirteen colonies, of course.
Here’s a little aside: to become a member of this union of States, even today, a geographic area has to unite itself, identify itself, form its own government (and that has to be a constitutional republican form to qualify), and then create and enact its own constitution. Simply put, it has to become a country, an independent nation. Then it can apply for membership, for Statehood. That’s what all fifty of the States were: sovereign nations, however briefly, who voluntarily joined the Union.
That was before Abe Lincoln so rudely disagreed with their notion that an independent, sovereign State that had voluntarily joined could just as voluntarily decide to un-join, to separate. To secede. Silly States. What were you thinking? That you were sovereign or something?
So Abe broke the dozen or so upstart States to prove his point. I mean, he smashed them. It’s like the Cosa Nostra, the Mob: once you’re in, you’re in. There’s only one way you leave. You don’t get to change your mind.
So much for State sovereignty.
But the Constitution (of the United-whether-you-want-to-or-not States) still left all the States some leverage. James Madison was smarter than Abe Lincoln. Jimmy knew all about how rulers tend to not want to be over-ruled, so he set things up to so that there was a three-way balance: The Executive – the Prez – was in charge of overseeing the running of the government. The Judicial – the Supreme Court – is supposed to be where all the lawyers hang out; lawsuits, interpreting the thorny issues with laws, yada-yada. The House of Representatives was the direct voice of the people. But people are fickle, and change their minds a lot, and get distracted a lot – admit it; you know it’s true. So he made sure their spokesperson was only on board for a short time. Too short to cause much damage. And he let the general population of each State pick their new reps, so they’d have a voice that echoed whatever it was they thought was important that day. And he set the minimum age to be a Representative low enough that a relative kid could get in there. And he made the House flexible in size, so that, as the country grew, so would the House. This means that the House of Representatives is controlled by the States with a lot of people. The only really important job Madison gave the House is called “the power of the purse”. (They haven’t been doing a great job at handling that, lately, but we’ll wait for another episode to talk about that debacle.)
James Madison knew that the House, so large and so disorganized (think “Animal House” and you won’t be far off base), couldn’t stop the President. He knew the Supreme Court couldn’t stop the President because it takes, like, frickin’ forever to get those dudes (and dudettes) to even consider doing any work, and when they do, nobody understands what the frick they’re saying anyway, senile old farts that they are. So Madison, on the third day, created the Senate, and Madison looked upon the Senate, and it was good. I mean, it was really, really good. Madison knew that the States, who considered themselves sovereign equals in a solemn compact, were jealous of their own power, and wouldn’t stand for being dissed by some Supreme Ruler. So he made the Senate their voice. The States, by any method they wanted, appointed two Senators each, so every State, no matter their size, would have an equal voice in whatever went on. That meant that the Senators weren’t subject to being micro-managed by the people of their State and could focus on what was good for their States, long-term. He set it up so the Senators were older, presumably wiser, heads – think Council Elders – and gave them the longest terms of anyone so they could balance out the hot-heads in the House, and, more importantly, so they were there longer than the Prez. And the States, if they didn’t like the way either of their Senators was handling their business, could recall them – fire them – before their term was up, and replace them with someone who would follow orders.
Is that a beautiful thing, or what? I mean, seriously. The dude was a genius. (And a cynic about human behavior, but we won’t go there.)
And then the railroad came to town. And corrupt/corrupting corporations were born.
Well, not exactly, but close. Corporations had been around, but they were pale weak little things, compared to today. The States saw to that. After the debacle with the King’s East India Company and the revolution, powerful corporations were not welcome here. No, sir.
But, people being people, and memories being short, and money being the root of, and all that…
Railroads, as you can imagine, aren’t cheap to build or to run. State-of-the-art technology never is. Only groups of rich people could afford to do it. (This was back before the government thought it was okay to dabble in private enterprise, of course.) So they formed corporations. And those corporations became very powerful, and financial politics was re-born in the United States. We never learn. Sigh. The bigger the corporations got, the more powerful they got and the richer they got. And the more powerful and richer they got, the bigger they got. They branched out. They ran amok. Completely, gob-smack, amok. And big corporate banks were born. Born, and invested in by both now uber-rich Americans, and uber-rich Europeans. With very little regulation, the corporations did pretty much as they damned well pleased, buying and selling politicians and political influence included.
At the same time, average literacy levels were on the rise. Colleges and Universities were springing up, under every other rock, it seemed. Universities, like railroads, aren’t cheap to build, or to run. Guess who invested in them. (Note: we’re not talking about the land-grant, State-run universities. We’re talking about the private, liberal arts kind.)
And in those private liberal arts colleges, bought by the uber-rich, incubated the First Progressive Era. Those first progressives, had no respect for their elders, or what their elders had built. Typical frat boys, they knew they could change the world, if only they were in charge.
And the mega-corporations and their mega-rich stockholders quietly supported them, and eased their paths, and helped them to prominence. Now, you have to realize: in the 100-plus years since the Constitution was adopted, only 5 amendments had been ratified, and 3 of those were right after Lincoln won his war, and dealt mostly with establishing the rights of the former slaves (for all the good THAT did them. Another story, another time.)
But these Progressives, needed only a couple more amendments, and some extra legislation, to change the world. It had been over 100 years since Madison’s time. The world had changed, you see. People were “evolving”. Things were more complicated. Bullsh*t like that was everywhere those days. So, with the mega-corporations funding and fueling their efforts from behind the scenes, they pushed the 16th Amendment, establishing a new, collectivist-friendly way of taxation that only needed one more new department to manage it – the Infernal Revenue Service. And they got it, and the Devil smiled. Oh, and while we’re at it, the country had grown too much to be bogged down with something as pesky and limiting as a hard currency, and they had this nifty new idea about how they could pay for things by just letting this international bank print paper money as they needed it, giving government issued IOU’s to that international bank to keep it propped up. That way they could save the world. And so the Federal Reserve Act was created, and the Devil chuckled. And then, because letting the States appoint Senators just wasn’t democratic, they pushed the 17th amendment. And they got it, and the Devil laughed and laughed and laughed.
And that, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, is how the First Progressive Movement, in 1913, destroyed our republic and turned our States into nothing more than provinces.
We’ll get into the 16th Amendment and the Federal Reserve Act another time. Right now we’re looking at what the 17thA did to us.
Before the 17th, if you were, let’s say, a chicken farmer in Arkansas, and you read something in the paper about a Representative from California, up in DeeCee, submitting a bill that says chickens must have so many square feet of space per chicken in their growing pens, you could march down the street to the local drug store, pick up that new-fangled telephone thing, and call your district representative down in Little Rock, and say “Hey! George! I want you to tell the Governor that I don’t like this crap those morons in California are trying to pull! I want it stopped, you hear? How’s your momma ‘n them?” And George, being your neighbor, would tell the Governor. And the Governor would pick up the phone and call DeeCee and get the senior Senator from Arkansas on the line and say, “Listen, Bob, our people don’t like what that California dunderhead down the House is trying to pull. When that Chicken thing comes up for a vote in the Senate, you will vote No. Got it? Good!” And Bob, liking his job and wanting to keep it, would dutifully vote “No”. Because, if he didn’t, the next time he came up for re-appointment, the State legislature would count how many times he didn’t follow their orders and decide to replace him with someone who would. Or, maybe they wouldn’t even wait that long, if he turned out to be a really crappy Senator.
After the 17th, that chicken farmer in Arkansas could pretty much do the same thing, and his local representative to Little Rock could do the same thing. But when it came time for the Governor to call the Senator…well, that’s where the rub comes. Because the Governor can’t fire the Senator anymore. The Governor, in fact, has nothing to do with the Senator’s job. He gets elected by “the people” now, just like the Representatives down in the House. Which means the Governor isn’t his boss. His boss is the people who help him get re-elected, and we all know who they are. So, now, when the Governor calls old Bob, up in DeeCee, Bob’s secretary tells him that Bob is out having lunch with a lobbyist from General Dynamic Chicken Coop Mfg Corp., and can’t be disturbed, but he’ll get back to him “real soon”.
James Madison would be furious. I know that I am.