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Joseph L. Bristow: A Featured Biography

Joseph L. Bristow

Kansas senator Joseph L. Bristow is best known for introducing the resolution that led to the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution. Ratified in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment removed the power given to the state legislatures to elect senators and provided for direct popular election. As a Kansas newspaper editor in the 1890s, Bristow became active in Republican Party politics, serving as secretary of the state’s Republican committee. Prior to his election to the Senate in 1908, he was among the state’s progressive Republicans who supported the adoption of a statewide senatorial primary, a popular vote that would determine the state legislature’s choice for United States senators. Kansas adopted the primary system in 1908, and Bristow became the first Kansas senator elected in this manner. Upon entering the Senate, Bristow allied himself with a group of “insurgents” who favored expanding popular government, including amending the Constitution to provide for the direct election of senators. “We must place more responsibility on the average citizen,” Bristow argued.

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