Legislative Branch

April Feature: The 17th Amendment

Americans did not directly vote for senators for the first 125 years of the Federal Government. The Constitution, as it was adopted in 1788, stated that senators would be elected by state legislatures. The first proposal to amend the Constitution to elect senators by popular vote was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1826, but the idea did not gain considerable support until the late 19th century when several problems related to Senate elections had become evident. Several state legislatures deadlocked over the election of senators, which led to Senate vacancies lasting months and even years. In other cases, political machines gained control over state legislatures, and the Senators elected with their support were dismissed as puppets. In addition, the Senate was seen as a “millionaire's club” serving powerful private interests. The rise of the People's Party, commonly referred to as the Populist Party, added motivation for making the Senate more directly accountable to the people.

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