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Sunday, April 08, 2018

I Am Not A Crackpot

I think the 17th Amendment is just grand, and not just because it's a perennial target for repeal by whackjobs and GOP candidates who claim a deep love for federalism.  I bring it on this 105th birthday because:

Connecticut had the distinction of being the requisite thirty-sixth state to ratify the Seventeenth Amendment, thereby making it a part of the Constitution. The governor, Simeon K. Baldwin, noted in his inaugural address on January 8, 1913, the importance of ratifying the proposed amendment.

Although the original resolution calling for ratification was adversely reported from the House committee on federal relations on March 27, the House was able to adopt a substitute resolution on April 8 by a vote of 151 to 77, and, five minutes later, the Senate concurred by a voice vote." While Connecticut was the last requisite state to vote ratification and did so on April 8, the Seventeenth Amendment did not become a part of the fundamental law of the land until May 31, 1913, because of the failure of the proper officials in a number of the states promptly to notify the State Department of the favorable action of their state legislatures.

Of course you're going to have certain inefficiencies in such a clunky mechanism, so it's not suprising that there were delays officially amending the Constitution because of failures on the part of various state officials (see Mississippi and the 13th Amendment).  What's interesting about that in this case is there appear to be some discrepancies between what various records say was the ratification date.

Okay, that might not seem interesting at first blush, but such things fuel conspiracy theories.  I mean, we've got some folks claiming there are "missing" amendments.  Others who assert the 14th Amendment was never ratified.  And let's not forget the 16th and 19th Amendments!

Even the 17th has its nutjob haters (including those who see it as part of a greater conspiracy to destroy America).  For example:

The amendment was declared ratified on April 8, 1913

According to the official documents from the National Archives, Arkansas ratified April 14, 1913; Connecticut ratified April 15, 1913; Wisconsin ratified May 9, 1913.

How is it the ratification process could be completed April 8, 1913, when three states didn't vote until after that date?

All it takes a little bit of misreading and misunderstanding to use such things as evidence of anything nefarious or otherwise faulty.  

First of all, the amendment was declared ratified on May 31, not April 8.  You certainly can read contemporary accounts of what transpired back then which mark April 8 as the date when the 36th state approved, but it's not like the White House announced anything official on Twitter that day.  

But what of this claim that Connecticut didn't actually ratify until April 15?  I've found both a Connecticut government source and a Federal document which suggest that is the case.  Yet the GPO indicates April 8 is correct.

So who's right?  Lemme just observe that the GPO also shows Pennsylvania as having ratified on April 2.  Yet that same Congressional document above says April 15.  A series of typos?  A deliberate attempt to conceal the true dates so we don't see the process as illegitimate?

I suspect it has something to do with delays in reporting to the US Secretary of State.  The history excerpted above seems to bolster that idea, as does Vermont's experience ratifying the Constitution itself.  Our Convention did its work on January 10, 1791, the Secretary transmitted results on January 21, and Congress received the necessary paperwork on February 9.  So on what date did we ratify?

Hardly something to hang your conspiracy on.  But these are the same people who see smudge marks, typos, etc, as indicative of something other than simple errors.  So, you know, whatever.

What's so strange to me is that I've not seen any similar conspiracy theories--the magically "lost" amendment notwithstanding--about the abolition of slavery.  Many years later after the 13th Amendment's passage, Lincoln's secretaries, Nicolay and Hay, collaborated on an article about it:

The ever-vigilant public opinion of the loyal States, intensified by the burdens and anxieties of the war, took up this far-reaching question of abolishing slavery by constitutional amendment with an interest fully as deep as that manifested by Congress. Before the joint resolution had failed in the House of Representatives the issue was already transferred to discussion and prospective decision in a new forum.
...
The logic of events had become more powerful than party creed or strategy. For fifteen years the Democratic party had stood as sentinel and bulwark to slavery; and yet, despite its alliance and championship, the peculiar institution was being consumed like dry leaves in the fire of war.

For a whole decade it had been defeated in every great contest of congressional debate and legislation. It had withered in popular elections, been paralyzed by confiscation laws, crushed by Executive decrees, trampled upon by marching Union armies. More notable than all, the agony of dissolution had come upon it in its final stronghold--the constitutions of the slave States. Local public opinion had throttled it in West Virginia, in Missouri, in Arkansas, in Louisiana, in Maryland; and the same spirit of change was upon Tennessee, and even showing itself in Kentucky.

Here was a great revolution of ideas, a mighty sweep of sentiment, which could not be explained away by the stale charge of sectional fanaticism, or by alleging technical irregularities of political procedure. Here was a mighty flood of public opinion, overleaping old barriers and rushing into new channels. The Democratic party did not and could not shut its eyes to the accomplished facts.

I particularly like the part about how final emancipation couldn't be "explained away...by alleging technical irregularities of political procedure."  Brings to mind a favorite, goofy ruling by the Utah Supreme Court regarding the subsequent amendment.  After summarizing how regular everything was in passing the Thirteenth, it then went into great detail about just how illegitimate the Fourteenth was.

But maybe everybody was just waiting for the Trump Era to twist Spielberg's movie into a new conspiracy.  Or perhaps they don't need to...

ntodd

April 8, 2018 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink

Comments

The 16th Amendment has a lot of haters. Every weirdo handing out fliers on a street corner would have you believe that one is illegitimate, and there are more than a few people who believe that in federal prison.

I've been hearing the complaints about the 17th only lately, though... mostly by people who don't like John McCain, oddly enough.

And as for the 14th... I know that the 1st and the 4th Amendments are fantastic and important and all that... but the 14th is brilliant, just brilliant, and thank goodness it is there in all of its brilliance. Some amazing thinking went into that and it's helped the major changes that we've managed since then.

Posted by: Harry | Apr 8, 2018 9:28:23 PM

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