The framers believed that having state legislatures elect senators would strengthen the states’ ties to the national government and increase the chances for ratification of the Constitution. They hoped that this arrangement would give state political leaders a sense of participation, calming their fears about a strong central government. They also wanted to provide a filter between the Senate and the passions and pressures of the populace. As the authors of the Federalist Papers explained, election by the state legislatures “is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems” (Federalist No. 62). (Beautiful language—would that our education system made it possible for us to be able to fully comprehend it!)
Question: What is the Great Compromise?
Answer: Two plans were put forth during the Constitutional Convention to create the new branches of government. The Virginia Plan wanted a strong national government with three branches. The legislature would have two houses. One would be directly elected by the people and the second would selected by the first house from people nominated by the state legislatures. Further, the president and national judiciary would be chosen by the national legislature. On the other hand, the New Jersey Plan wanted a more decentralized plan amending the old Articles yet allowing for a somewhat stronger government. Each state would have one vote in Congress.
The Great Compromise combined these two plans creating our current legislature with two houses, one based on population and elected by the people and the other house allowing two senators per state being appointed by state legislatures.
Why did the framers of the constitution set up the Senate that way? The smaller states were afraid of being run over by the more populous. Virginia was by far the bigger with a population of almost 750,000. Several states had fewer than 100,000 citizens. By allowing each state only two senators, regardless of the population, and giving that body responsibility for confirming Presidential appointments, a balance was achieved to protect minority rights.
Because of abuses by some states of the rules regarding interim appointments of Senators, etc., the 17thAmendment in 1912 changed the method of choosing Senators from selection by State legislatures to popular election—just like the House. This change, widely hailed by many when instituted, has the effect of making those Senators more beholden to the Senate Majority (or Minority, for that matter) Leader than to the state that he ostensibly represents. That leader can be more instrumental in effecting his re-election than close ties to the electorate of his state.
Good move for the states? What do you think NOW?
Certainly, the Democrats employing the nuclear option makes future elections a great deal more important to each party.