The 17th Amendment was ratified by ¾ of the States as required by law to amend the U.S. Constitution, on April 8, 1913. What the 17th Amendment accomplished was a complete overhaul of half of the Congressional election process. The Amendment changed the election of U.S. Senators to a direct election by the American people. Yes, prior to the 17th Amendment Senators were not voted into office by the American People.
The U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1788 and since that time prior to 1913, Senators were chosen by individual State Legislatures, who were directly elected by the states populace. The Founding Fathers wrote the provision in Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution:
“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”
The purpose for the election of Senators by State Legislatures was meant to be at the behest of the will of the States and Senators were sent to Washington to vote on their behalf. Senators who voted to increase Federalism and not protect the rights of States could then be replaced.
The framers structured our Government as a representative republic with three branches of Government, not a pure democracy. The people and their elected representatives were to possess the supreme power, hence a Republic with fair and equal representation of the People, States, and Federal Government
Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution: “The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one.”
The 17th Amendment was in response to an outcry
from the people and states whose Senate representation was stalled do to partisan
deadlock in the State Legislatures for weeks, months and even years. In
addition allegations of treason, corruption and bribery of Legislatures by
special interests to gain Federal influence and favor were rampant. Consequently,
States rights were being trumped by powerful and financially abundant organizations, and the movement for of the 17th Amendment with direct elections of Senators
was born. The momentum increased year after year following the end of the American
Civil War and grounded solidly early in the 20th Century. But came to fruition during the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson.
The original framework of the Constitution allowed the states to have a proper say in National policy but the 17th Amendment altered the very fabric of the balance of power between State and Federal Governments, which was meticulously debated by the founders prior to the writing of the Constitution.
The direction has continued to shift over the decades in favor of Federalism, an unintended consequence of the progression of the Amendments passing. After all, who doesn’t regularly witness Senators from their home state casting votes in favor of large Federal programs, regulations and taxes in direct opposition to the best interests of the State and constituents they represent.
Even though a movement from some has surfaced in recent years to repeal the 17th Amendment, there is no definitive way of knowing what the difference would have been without its passage or the effects and consequences of repealing it now, more than 100 years later. Others suggest term limits for Senators as the solution and that debate is moving forward and quite popular among a high percentage of the America People. But for now the 17th Amendment is the Constitutional Law of the United States and term limits for Senators is not.
In this modern world of politics, I can’t imagine any diligent voter agreeing to give up the right to cast a vote for their U.S. Senator, would you?
The 17th Amendment modified Article I, section 3, of the Constitution as follows:
“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures. When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, that the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct. This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.”Back to top of 17th Amendment Page