The 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1913, marked a significant change in the structure of Congress. This amendment altered the balance of power by shifting the authority to select United States Senators from state legislatures to the people. May 31, 2013, marked the 100th anniversary of its adoption, sparking discussions about its impact and ongoing controversies. This article delves into the history, motivations, and consequences of the 17th Amendment, shedding light on its importance in shaping American democracy.
As readers know, our Constitution in 1787 was a compromise enabling those thirteen separate "nation states" to form the then-tentative United States. The Founding Fathers carefully designed a system with checks and balances, one of which was the method of selecting Senators. Originally, Senators were chosen by state legislatures, ensuring that the interests of the states were represented in the federal government. However, as the nation grew and changed, some began to question the effectiveness and democratic nature of this process.
The 17th Amendment was a response to mounting concerns about corruption, political machines, and undue influence in the selection of Senators. The amendment stipulates that each state shall elect two Senators who serve six-year terms, and these Senators must be elected by the people. This change aimed to increase accountability and transparency in the selection process, giving citizens a direct voice in choosing their representatives.