Elected v. Appointed: Senators & the Seventeenth Amendment [POLICYbrief]
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Elected v. Appointed: Senators & the Seventeenth Amendment [POLICYbrief]


The framers had two things in mind with the
original composition of the Senate who they essentially thought that in contract to the
House, which would always be populist and sort of defined by hardscrabble political
campaigning, the Senate instead would elevate the best people; business people, war heroes,
lawyers; and so they would bring probity and judgment into the body. The House and the Senate were two parts of
one whole, the U.S. Congress, and the House was elected every two years. They had smaller districts, and people could
register their satisfaction or dissatisfaction pretty easily. They wanted to make sure that popular sentiment
didn’t really determine whatever the whole Congress produced, and that’s why they had
s- state legislators elect U.S. senators. The senators would be sort of ambassadors
for the state, protecting the powers of the state by protecting the powers of the state
legislature to prevent federal encroachment and federal overreaching against the states. It was supposed to accomplish the goal’s bicameralism. Bicameralism is the idea that by having two
bodies that are chosen in two different ways, it would increase the potential that laws
that were enacted would promote the public interest rather than the interest of what
they called factions and what today we call special interests. There were unique powers given to the Senate
that were tied to the idea that the Senate would be elected in a different way from the
House, so for example, the ability to ratify treaties was tied to the idea that senators
would be these people who were worldly people. The power to sit as a jury for impeachment,
that makes sense in a world in which senators are indirectly chosen for their character
and rather than in partisan political elections. There were numerous difficulties with electing
senators in state legislatures. It was bound with corruption, it was very
insular, and it was detrimental I think to democracy. Nearly 30% of all the elections from 1870
to 1913 were deadlocked. Even when you had the same party controlling
the House and Senate at the state level, they would fight with each other over who would
get to go to Washington and be the senator. Although the state legislatures are often
blamed for being the ones who are incapable of doing their job to- to select senators,
the real problem was actually federal law that required state legislatures to select
a senator by a majority vote rather than simply a plurality. This happens quite frequently in senate elections
today where if you have a third party involved, you might end up with the winner getting 45%,
the second place person getting 40%, and the third-place person getting 15% or something
like that. Objection to the state legislature election
of U.S. senators started right after the Constitution was adopted, but it didn’t really catch fire
until the 1880s. There were a lot of social movements where
people were getting directly involved in politics at the grassroots level and they were coming
into full fruition during this time, so it began to seem very anachronistic to have a
mechanism where people couldn’t vote directly for senators when all around the population
social movements, grassroots activism, political participation was increasing each decade. States started adopting various means to introduce
popular election into their senate elections. First, the rise of party primaries where the-
the- the candidate for each party would be chosen by voters in a primary. Eventually, many states adopt what was called
the Oregon Plan, which is a situation in which a state legislator would actually put on the
ballot a statement that said whether or not they would support the people’s vote for United
States senator, or they remained free to use their own judgment. The Seventeenth Amendment, which was the amendment
that created direct election of senators and it was adopted in 1913, grew out of this large
movement for greater personal and individual representation in American politics, so a
lot of different forces converged to want this amendment to come to fruition, and it-
it came about because the politicians running for office knew that voters would respond
to their messages of greater inclusivity and more participation. There was opposition to the Seventeenth Amendment
led forcefully by senators such as Henry Cabot Lodge, who was a republican of Massachusetts. He was a traditionalist. He believed that the people shouldn’t have
a direct say, that the Senate’s rule was to check popular sentiment and popular passion,
and that if direct elections occurred, the wrong types of people would be elected to
the U.S. Senate and the power of the Senate would diminish relative to its counterpart,
the House of Representatives. One significant difference we see between
the current Senate and the Senate prior to the Seventeenth Amendment is that prior to
the Seventeenth Amendment, rotation through government and in and out of government was
much more common for senators. So for example, Daniel Webster left the Senate
to become Secretary of State and then stepped back into the Senate because he knew he could
step aside and essentially the state legislature would hold his seat for him. If you still had state legislators selecting
senators, it might be more likely that the senators would themselves feel more beholden
to the state as a unit rather than their own individual careers. On the other hand, there are times when individual
senators act on their own in the Senate. For example, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky
is known for going off on his own trail in the Senate to preserve individual rights,
particularly the right to speech and the right, uh, to be protected from government search
and seizure. These are fundamental rights, and if senators
didn’t feel that they had some sense of independence by virtue of being directly elected, they
might not pursue those avenues and then you might see a further erosion of individual
rights.

3 Comments

  • Mark R. Mnich

    I cannot believe the Federalist Society would put out a video that DEFENDS the passage of the 17th Amendment which DESTROYED FEDERALISM! Henry Cabot Lodge was CORRECT when he said Senators were NOT sent to Washington to represent the "people" because he knew that's what the HOUSE was for; Senators were sent to Washington to protect the interests of THEIR OWN STATE so the national government could not take advantage of them as it does today. Before the 17th Amendment, the "special interests" could NOT gain control of our Congress because it would take corrupting a majority of the legislatures in EVERY STATE which did NOT HAPPEN. In fact, when William Randolph Hearst put out his "expose" in the early 1900s about such corruption, out of the 84 seats that comprised the Senate at that time, ONLY ONE was found to have ANY HINT of corruption and, when it actually went to court, it was DISPROVEN! But, as the media does and it continues to do today, it HYPED that ONE CASE to make the people think it was happening EVERYWHERE and THAT'S what led to public support of the 17th Amendment. Sadly, it was my own state of CT, the home of Roger Sherman (who put forth the idea of a bicameral legislative body called the "Sherman Compromise" without which our Constitution WOULD NOT EVEN EXIST), that became the final state to ratify the 17th Amendment and led to the destruction of true federalism where the state and national government had EQUAL FOOTING. Now, the states are just another lobbyist in a sea of "special interests" instead of an equal partner as our Founding Fathers intended.

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