“Intimidation and bribery marked some of the states’ selection of senators. Nine bribery cases were brought before the Senate between 1866 and 1906. In addition, forty-five deadlocks occurred in twenty states between 1891 and 1905, resulting in numerous delays in seating senators. In 1899, problems in electing a senator in Delaware were so acute that the state legislature did not send a senator to Washington for four years.
“The impetus for reform began as early as 1826, when direct election of senators was first proposed. In the 1870s, voters sent a petition to the House of Representatives for a popular election. From 1893 to 1902, momentum increased considerably. Each year during that period, a constitutional amendment to elect senators by popular vote was proposed in Congress, but the Senate fiercely resisted change, despite the frequent vacancies and disputed election results. In the mid-1890s, the Populist party incorporated the direct election of senators into its party platform, although neither the Democrats nor the Republicans paid much notice at the time. In the early 1900s, one state initiated changes on its own. Oregon pioneered direct election and experimented with different measures over several years until it succeeded in 1907. Soon after, Nebraska followed suit and laid the foundation for other states to adopt measures reflecting the people’s will. Senators who resisted reform had difficulty ignoring the growing support for direct election of senators.
“After the turn of the century, momentum for reform grew rapidly. William Randolph Hearst expanded his publishing empire with Cosmopolitan, and championed the cause of direct election with muckraking articles and strong advocacy of reform. Hearst hired a veteran reporter, David Graham Phillips, who wrote scathing pieces on senators, portraying them as pawns of industrialists and financiers. The pieces became a series titled “The Treason of the Senate,” which appeared in several monthly issues of the magazine in 1906. These articles galvanized the public into maintaining pressure on the Senate for reform.
“Increasingly, senators were elected based on state referenda, similar to the means developed by Oregon. By 1912, as many as twenty-nine states elected senators either as nominees of their party’s primary or in a general election. As representatives of a direct election process, the new senators supported measures that argued for federal legislation, but in order to achieve reform, a constitutional amendment was required. In 1911, Senator Joseph Bristow from Kansas offered a resolution, proposing a constitutional amendment. The idea also enjoyed strong support from Senator William Borah of Idaho, himself a product of direct election. Eight southern senators and all Republican senators from New England, New York, and Pennsylvania opposed Senator Bristow’s resolution. The Senate approved the resolution largely because of the senators who had been elected by state-initiated reforms, many of whom were serving their first term, and therefore may have been more willing to support direct election. After the Senate passed the amendment, which represented the culmination of decades of debate about the issue, the measure moved to the House of Representatives.
“The House initially fared no better than the Senate in its early discussions of the proposed amendment. Much wrangling characterized the debates, but in the summer of 1912 the House finally passed the amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. The campaign for public support was aided by senators such as Borah and political scientist George H. Haynes, whose scholarly work on the Senate contributed greatly to passage of the amendment.
“Connecticut’s approval gave the Seventeenth Amendment the required three-fourths majority, and it was added to the Constitution in 1913. The following year marked the first time all senatorial elections were held by popular vote.
“The Seventeenth Amendment restates the first paragraph of Article I, section 3 of the Constitution and provides for the election of senators by replacing the phrase “chosen by the Legislature thereof” with “elected by the people thereof.” In addition, it allows the governor or executive authority of each state, if authorized by that state’s legislature, to appoint a senator in the event of a vacancy, until a general election occurs. xxx”
Returning the selection of the States’ representatives to the federal legislative process might not cure all our aches and pains, but it would be another blow for federalism!