Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

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Ratified on April 8, 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment (Amendment XVII) to the United States Constitution changed the method by which United States Senators were elected.[1] For the first 125 years Article 1, section 3 of the Constitution required US Senators to be elected by the state legislatures.[2] A number of problems in the United States Senate created the need to change how Senators were elected from indirect to direct elections by the people of the United States.[3]

Text[change | change source]

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.[4]

Background[change | change source]

When the Constitution was adopted in 1788, Senators were to be elected by the state legislatures.[2] This remained in effect for 125 years. By the late 19th century it became clear there were many problems with this procedure. In addition to long vacancies that lasted for months and even years, political machines had gained control over state legislatures.[2] This corrupted the process and the Senate was seen as a "millionaire's club" who served private interests instead of the people.[2] Beginning in the 1890s, the House of Representatives passed several resolutions for a constitutional amendment which proposed Senators be elected by direct election. The Senate refused to even take a vote on these proposals.

At this point, many states changed their strategy. Article Five of the United States Constitution offers two methods for amending the Constitution. In addition to the common method of a two-thirds vote by both houses of Congress, was another method. It stated that if two-thirds of the state legislatures apply for one, Congress must call a constitutional convention.[2] The method had not been used before. When it appeared two-thirds of the states wanted the change, Congress acted.[2]

Joint resolution 39 was passed by the House of Representatives in 1911 proposing a constitutional amendment to directly elect US Senators.[2] The Senate accepted the resolution but since it included a change, it went back to the House. The amended Joint resolution was sent to the states for ratification a year later.[2] The required three-quarters of the states ratified the amendment and the Seventeenth Amendment became official on April 8, 1913.[2]

Clauses[change | change source]

Clause 1[change | change source]

The people of the United States are to elect two Senators from each state, for six years.[3] Each Senator will have one vote in the Senate.[3] There are 100 Senators and 100 votes. "The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures" means that anyone who can vote in a state election in their state, may also vote for a Senator.[5] In the archaic language of the Constitution this was written in such a way to allow for states having different qualifications for persons eligible to vote for their Senator.[a]

Clause 2[change | change source]

The vacancies clause. Previously, when vacancies occurred, several state legislatures were not able to agree on who would fill the position.[7] Before the Seventeenth Amendment, vacancies could last for months and even years in some cases.[7] Under the Seventeenth Amendment, if a Senator dies or has to leave office, his state governor may appoint a temporary Senator until a special election can be held.[8]

Clause 3[change | change source]

This is a simple addition to prevent the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment from interrupting the election or term of any Senator chosen before the amendment was passed. The United States Senate elections, 1914 were the first nationwide popular elections for Senators.

Notes[change | change source]

  1. For example, in 1913, women did not have the right to vote in every state.[6] That would come with passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920.[6]

References[change | change source]

  1. "17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Direct Election of U.S. Senators (1913)". OurDocuments.gov. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 "17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Direct Election of U.S. Senators". The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Seventeenth Amendment - Popular Election of Senators". FindLaw. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  4. "The Constitution of the United States Amendments 11–27". The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  5. "17th Amendment". Law.com. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Elections". Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "17th Amendment". NOLO. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  8. "What is the 17th Amendment? - Definition, Summary & History". Study.com. Retrieved 6 March 2016.

Other websites[change | change source]