The Seventeenth Amendment
The 17th amendment is an amendment to the constitution of the United States. This was meant to change a previous article in the constitution, which allowed for the elections of the United States’ Senators only by individual state legislatures. This amendment changed this article in order to allow for US senators to be elected by popular vote. Therefore, the 17th amendment to the constitution is mainly concerned with the election of senators in the United States. Nonetheless, the laws in the United States, which are primarily concerned with the US Senate, are found in Article one, section three of the constitution of the United States. Here, the law allows for two senators for each state in the United States. In addition, the minimum term allowed by law to all senates is six years, with each senate having one vote. This part of the US constitution also has a provision that the senators will be elected into office by the specific legislatures of the state in which they seek rulership.
Nonetheless, the 17 amendment has the same provisions like those in the article one, section three, except one difference with regard to the method of election for the senators. Therefore, while the number of senators, number of votes, and term of office is similar in both cases, the 17th amendment considers popular vote or electors as the main method of election of senators. In addition, the 17th amendment included that each senator seeking office must meet certain qualifications, including specific age and residency qualifications (Gailmard 324). Nonetheless, this amendment is responsible for various changes in the United States.
Before the 17th amendment, the constitution of the United States had specified that only the legislatures of a senate would elect a senator. Therefore, the American citizens did not participate in the election of their senators. However, beginning the mid 1850’s this election system of senators by the government began to raise concerns among the American citizens, who felt they were being excluded from this important practice. Meanwhile, in 1866, in order to control this election approach, the US Congress passed a law, which was considered the main influence of the 17th amendment. However, this law did not change the election method of senators, thus was less useful, as most people wanted to be involved in voting in their senators.
In the year 1893, the proposal for constitutional amendment in favour of direct elections of senators was first made. However, for a long time, this was not implemented, despite it being proposed every year. In 1903, this proposal was made in the US Congress, but the senate rejected it. However, in May 1912, the Congress passed direct elections of senators as the 17th amendment, and had it ratified in April 1913. Apart from allowing for direct elections of senators, it also allowed for a way of replacing senators, when the senate seat became vacant before the end of a term (Gailmard 324).
As seen the government of the United States only allowed the legislatures in a state to elect the senator of their state. Various parties, including the founding fathers who wrote the constitution, as well as President James Madison, influenced this decision. In 1787, various delegates from different states were invited to Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention meant to improve various confederation articles. James Madison attended and kept he took notes during the convention. From Madison’s notes, it is possible to understand the main reasons why the founding fathers, who created the US constitution, were opposed to a Congress made up of a single house, thus, supporting the senate. In addition, one might understand why the founding fathers were of the opinion that state legislatures, and not the majority, elect senators.
Nonetheless, deciding that state legislatures appoint senators was in a bid to prevent or avoid the election of unethical or incompetent individuals into the senate. The founding fathers did not trust the majority to elect qualified and competent senators. Probably, the government believed that the majority would elect their senators based on less important factors, instead of focusing on important factors. Therefore, the framers believed that the elected officials were in a better position to elect the right senators.
In addition, it can be argued that the when state legislatures appointed senators, this would strengthen the relationship between the national government and the elected senators, thus, promoting the interests of the national government. Furthermore, this would provide the senators with ample time to conduct government business without pressure from the people. On the other hand, the founding fathers who wrote the US constitution probably wanted constitution to be ratified successfully without any opposition from the majority people. Therefore, this was to ensure consistency and stability in the running of government business, devoid of opposition or interference by the majority people. Therefore, this might point out that during this era, the founding fathers did not embrace democracy, since they were opposed to the involvement of people in the election of their senators. Additionally, there are elements of oppression in this era, as the authorities subjected people to their decisions, without involving them.
The 17th amendment of the United States Constitution had different consequences, both negative and positive. On the positive side, this amendment boosted democracy of the people. The people were now free to vote in their preferred senators, a task that had been previously dedicated to state legislatures. Therefore, the majority people were given an opportunity to exercise freedom of choice, by choosing their desirable senators, instead of having one imposed on them by the state legislatures. Nonetheless, this was the major positive consequence of the 17th amendment, increasing democracy level in the country. However, most people today show great concern and propose that the 17th amendment be repealed in order for USA to regain orderliness in its political system (Holcombe WEB). The 17th amendment was not consistent with what the founding fathers had intended with the constitution. When the founding fathers wrote the constitution, they wanted the senators to be independent from politics and maintain high quality. However, this intention was superceded by the 17th amendment. Senators today are involved in politics, thus increasing politicization in the senate and lowering the ability of the senate to remain competent in their performance and responsibilities (Gailmard 325).
The majority election of senators is one of the factors responsible for the culture of corruption in the country. Before the 17th amendment, senators were answerable to the state legislatures who elected them. They therefore, had to adhere to the directions and instructions form the state legislatures. However, today, these are answerable to the people, whom they represent. The state legislatures had more authority and power than the other citizens, therefore, this determined the standards of performance of the senators (Gailmard 325). Today however, there are incidences of corruption involving senators, but it is challenging for every state to hold accountable their senator, since this would require sufficient media attention and offence to a large number of people. Overall, the 17th amendment is considered to have more negative consequences than positive consequences. Nonetheless, the 17th amendment has made people in the USA to be more vocal in important constitutional matters compared to previous years, when the people’s voice and opinion did not count much.
Gailmard, Sean. “Agency Problems, the 17th Amendment and Representation in the Senate.”
American Journal of Political Science. 53 (2): 324-342. 2009. Viewed 20 April 2013 < http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~gailmard/ajps.gail-jenk.pdf >
Holcombe, Randall. “Repeal the 17th Amendment.” The Independent Institute. 6 February 2013
Viewed 20 April 2013 < http://blog.independent.org/2013/02/06/repeal-the-17th-
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