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House Member Introduces Resolution to Abolish the Senate

April 27, 1911

Photo of Victor Berger

"Whereas the Senate in particular has become an obstructive and useless body, a menace to the liberties of the people, and an obstacle to social growth; a body, many of the Members of which are representatives neither of a State nor of its people, but solely of certain predatory combinations, and a body which, by reason of the corruption often attending the election of its Members, has furnished the gravest public scandals in the history of the nation. . . ."

This text formed the preamble to a constitutional amendment introduced in the House of Representatives on April 27, 1911, by that chamber's first Socialist member, Victor Berger of Wisconsin. Continuing evidence of corrupted state legislative elections for U.S. senators and the Senate's apparent reluctance to follow the House in passing a constitutional amendment to require direct popular election of its members inspired Berger's resolution. It provided that all legislative powers be vested in the House of Representatives, whose "enactments . . . shall be the supreme law and the President shall have no power to veto them, nor shall any court have any power to invalidate them."

In his brief time as a member, the Milwaukee Socialist had made more enemies than friends among his House colleagues, which may explain why many in that body jumped so quickly to the Senate's defense with talk of enforcing the House ban against public criticism of the Senate.

As with nearly all of the more than 11,000 constitutional amendments introduced from 1789 to our own day, Berger's proposal died silently in committee. Yet, less than seven weeks later, perhaps nudged by Berger's gesture, the Senate approved its long-delayed direct-election resolution, which would soon be ratified as the Constitution's Seventeenth Amendment.

Berger left the House in 1913, but remained a prominent social critic. For speaking against U.S. participation in World War I, he was convicted under the Espionage Act and sentenced to 20 years in prison—a sentence that the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated in 1921. In 1918 he lost a three-way race for the Senate, while polling more than a quarter of the votes cast. Later that year, he won back his old House seat, but that body refused to seat him. Following the dismissal of his conviction, he won the next three House elections and served there from 1923 to 1929.