Skip to comments.The Seventeenth Amendment (Amendment XVII) to the United States Constitution
Posted on 06/16/2010 8:28:33 PM PDT by Bean Counter
Originally, although a Senator was elected by a state legislature, he was expected to represent the people of that state (rather than the legislature alone) in the Senate (See Federalist No. 62 through No.66).[Need quotation on talk to verify] Also it was believed that while an unqualified candidate might win a popular-vote majority through demagoguery or superficial qualities, the legislature, which could deliberate on its choice, and whose members had been selected by their constituents and had experience in politics, would be safe from such folly. Finally, election by the legislature was expected to insulate Senators from the distraction of public campaigning for election or re-election, leaving them free to concentrate on the great business of the federal government. This last purpose was also served by the six-year term for Senators, compared to the two-year term for U.S. Representatives.
Election by legislatures generally occurred without major problems up to the mid-1850s. There were frequent vacancies of a few days up to several months, but these nearly always occurred when Congress was not in session, and so were harmless. In the 1850s, the sectional crisis over slavery led to increasing partisanship and strife. As a result, Indiana failed to elect a Senator from March 1855 to February 1857, while California failed to elect from March 1855 to January 1857.
California had previously failed to elect from March 1851 through January 1852, missing two months of the first session of the 32nd Congress, while Delaware failed to elect from September 1839 to January 1841, missing the entire first session and half the second session of the 26th Congress.
After the Civil War, the problems multiplied. In one case in the mid-1860s, the election of Senator John P. Stockton from New Jersey was contested on the grounds that he had been elected by a plurality rather than a majority in the state legislature. Stockton asserted that the exact method for elections was murky and varied from state to state. To keep this from happening again, Congress passed a law in 1866 regulating how and when Senators were to be elected from each state. This was the first change in the process of Senatorial elections. While the law helped, there were still deadlocks in some legislatures and accusations of bribery, corruption, and suspicious dealings in some elections. Nine bribery cases were brought before the Senate between 1866 and 1906, and 45 deadlocks occurred in 20 states between 1891 and 1905, resulting in numerous delays in seating Senators. In the worst case, Delaware failed to elect from March 1899 to March 1903; by the end of this period both of Delaware's seats were vacant for two years.
Reform efforts began as early as 1826, when direct election was first proposed. In the 1870s, citizens petitioned the House of Representatives for direct election. From 1893 to 1902, support for direct election increased considerably. Each year during that period, a constitutional amendment for direct election was proposed in Congress, but the Senate rejected it. In the mid-1890s, the Populist Party put direct election of Senators in its platform, but neither the Democrats nor the Republicans paid much notice at the time.
Direct election was also part of the Wisconsin Idea championed by Republican Senators Robert M. La Follette, Sr., a progressive, and George W. Norris, a reformer. In the early 1900s, Oregon pioneered direct election of Senators. Oregon tried various procedures until success in 1907, and was soon followed by Nebraska.
Popular support of Senatorial election reform grew rapidly at this time. In 1905, William Randolph Hearst acquired Cosmopolitan (then a general-interest magazine), and made it an advocate of direct election. In 1906, Cosmopolitan published "The Treason of the Senate", a series of scathing articles by "Muckraking" reporter David Graham Phillips, which described Senators as corrupt pawns of industrialists and financiers. A prime example was Senator William A. Clark of Montana.
Increasingly, Senators were elected based on state referenda, similar to the means developed by Oregon. By 1912, as many as 29 states elected Senators either as nominees of party primaries, or in conjunction with a general election. These de facto directly elected Senators supported legislation to promote direct election, but to make direct election general, a constitutional amendment was required.
The Senate had consistently rejected the proposed amendment, and so direct election advocates acted through the states. Amendments to the Constitution are normally proposed by Congress, a two-thirds vote of both Houses being required. However, under Article V, two-thirds of the states may apply for the creation of a convention to propose amendments and the Congress must then create one.
By 1910, almost two-thirds of the states had called for such a convention, which put pressure on the Congress to propose the amendment and eliminate the need for the convention.
Consequently, in 1911, Senator Joseph L. Bristow of Kansas submitted an amendment, supported by Senator William Borah of Idaho, himself a product of direct election. Eight Southern Senators and all of the Republican Senators from New England, New York and Pennsylvania opposed Bristow's amendment. However, the Senate now included many Senators recently chosen by de facto direct election, and they supported the amendment. The Senate passed the amendment on June 12, 1911.
The House debated for almost a year, and passed the amendment on May 13, 1912.
The campaign for ratification was led by Borah and other directly elected Senators. Another important figure was Professor George H. Haynes of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a political scientist whose scholarly work on the Senate showed the need for direct election.
The amendment was ratified by three states within a month (Massachusetts, Arizona, and Minnesota). However, there was no further progress until 1913, when state legislators elected in 1912 took office. Nine states ratified in January 1913, seventeen in February, four in March, and three in April. On April 8, 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment was adopted when Connecticut became the 36th state (out of 48) to ratify. Louisiana also ratified the amendment in June. Utah was the only state to explicitly reject the amendment.
The Seventeenth Amendment took effect a year and a half prior to the 1914 Senate elections.
A popular point of discussion these days is direct repeal of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, and return the selection of US Senators to the State Legislatures. Glenn beck has been all over this to some degree, and I do give him credit for bringing the subject up, but I worry about the "Law of Unintended Consequences".
Remember the 12th Commandment: (Thou Shalt Cover Thine Arse")...
Many people believe that the 17th Amendment removed an important "Check and Balance" in the Constitution that the Founders deliberately put in, in order to balance the power of the Executive, with the Power of the People (The House of Representatives) with the Power of the separate States (The Senate).
For discussion purposes:
** Is direct repeal of the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution advisable, practical or possible??
** What other changes would a repeal of the 17th Amendment trigger in subsequent Amendments? Would some other Amendments be rendered invalid automatically??
** What about subsequent SCOTUS decisions that were based (at least in part) on the 17th Amendment??
** Considering the growing political logjam that prompted the 17th Amendmdent in the first place, was the Amendment as written, the best answer to the "problem"??
** Was that logjam a "problem" in the first place, or was it a healthy product of exactly what the Founders intended??
** What would be the practical results of returning to or at least attempting to head back to that course??
** If a State Legislature is so deadlocked that they cannot agree on a Senatorial appointment, is that a bad thing for anyone other than themselves??
** Should State Legislatures be allowed to put the selection of Senators up for "referendums" of any kind, or does that violate the intent of the Founders as well?
** Can any of your State Legislators pick up the telephone and get either or both of your US Senators on the line??
** Why not??
Lots of talk about this these days and I have not seen a comprehensive thread on this subject in quite some time. We have a number of US Senate races going on around the country and as more Dhimmies and RINOs test the political winds, more are opening up all the time...
If this this redundant, forgive me, if not, I look forward to your views.