Brion McClanahan

            With the ongoing debate over Obamacare and socialized medicine occupying much of the collective attention of the American public the past few months, Americans have become more familiar and focused on Senate rules and procedures, particularly the possibility of a Senate filibuster to stifle a vote on national healthcare.  This has angered many Democrats, particularly those who seek to ram through bigger and more expensive government at a time when many Americans want to pump the breaks on irresponsible spending, higher debt, and higher taxes.  This led Massachusetts representative Barney Frank to call for and end to filibusters in a 16 January interview on the now bankrupt Air America radio network.  Frank said that a Senate rule requiring a 60 vote majority to end a filibuster is “anti-democratic” and that “it’s time to shut it down.”  Small States from the “Mountain West,” in his estimation, continually conspire to retard progress in the Senate.  Mr. Frank has never been more correct, at least concerning the “anti-democratic” nature of the Senate.  In fact, this is precisely what the founding generation wanted when they designed the Upper House.

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            The original Senate was elected by the State Legislatures in an attempt to check democracy.  The Virginia Plan proposed by James Madison and Edmund Randolph called for proportional representation in both houses and for Senators to be selected by the House of Representatives from a list submitted by each State.  Randolph argued that “the general object [of the Senate] was to provide a cure for the evils under which the United States labored; that in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy; that some check therefore was to be sought for against this tendency of our governments; and that a good Senate seemed most likely to answer the purpose.”  Piece Butler of South Carolina agreed, and added that “taking so many powers out of the hands of the states…tended to destroy all that balance and security of interests among the states which it was necessary to preserve.”  States’ rights, the essence of the “Mountain West” minority that Frank criticizes, served to stop mob rule in the Congress.


Brion McClanahan

Brion McClanahan is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers.