Ever since the framers of the United States Constitution created the Senate, senators, scholars, journalists, and other observers have sought to explain its role in the federal system of checks and balances. What is it that makes the Senate stand apart from other legislative bodies? Why have its seemingly arcane rules and traditions survived, and what purposes do they still serve?
The Idea of the Senate features thoughtful analysis of the Senate’s rules and procedures, its history and traditions, and its personnel and prerogatives. Covering more than two centuries of political thought, each entry in this collection provides a quotation from the original source placed into historical context.
As a deliberative institution and a body of equals—among individual members and among states—the Senate has frustrated presidents, members of the House of Representatives, and even Senate leaders, who seek speedy enactment of legislation. There have been many efforts to modernize the Senate in order to meet new challenges. Yet despite more than 200 years of pressures to change, the Senate as an institution remains remarkably similar to the body created by the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It retains all of its original powers, including its authority to give advice and consent to presidents on nominations and treaties, to serve as a court of impeachment, and to have an equal say with the House of Representatives on all legislation.
As these selected writings indicate, the debate over the Senate’s role in our constitutional system is as old as the Senate itself, and has often stirred thoughtful commentary and critique.