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Senators Elected by State Legislatures

Cartoon portraying the time needed to pass the 17th Amendment allowing the direct election of U.S. senators
By Spencer, for the Omaha World Herald, 1912 Reproduced from Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789­1989

In 1913 the Seventeenth Amendment officially became a part of the U.S. Constitution, providing for the direct popular election of senators. This was a major departure from the plan adopted by the framers in 1787. According to Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof for six Years.” The framers believed that in electing senators, state legislatures would cement their ties with the national government. They also expected that senators elected by state legislatures would be freed from pressures of public opinion and therefore better able to concentrate on legislative business and serve the needs of each state. In essence, senators would serve as “states’ ambassadors” to the federal government. Unfortunately, problems with this system soon arose, particularly when state legislators failed to agree on a Senate candidate, causing frequent Senate vacancies. By 1826 proposals for direct election of senators began appearing, but it took reformers nearly a century to achieve this constitutional change.


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