Before I entered college, I looked at the issue of the popular election of U.S. Senators as an improvement to the Constitution. The people were now in charge of directly electing who would be their Senatorial representatives, a step-up from the undemocratic way of selection by state legislatures. However, once I started reading more works by political philosophers, it made more sense to me as to why the framers of the Constitution constructed the Senate in the unique way that they did. This topic has been on my mind for a long time, and this conference allows me the opportunity to research it in detail.
The first question I want to answer is why did the framers set up the Senate differently than the House. The representation of the states was a major point in the construction of the Senate, but there were other factors involved. Did they believe that an aristocratic portion of the government would control the excesses of democracy? The prominent political theorists of the day, Montesquieu, Locke, Harrington, etc., all supported a government with a mix of elements that was harmonious with natural law. According to these men, America’s framers set up the Senate as the more deliberative body of the legislature; that the aristocratic elements of the Senate would guide the country in the right direction. So why did it change? Why was there a movement to popularly elect Senators? Did it come from progressives who viewed that a greater amount of democracy in our government would be more beneficial? Claims of corruption and bickering in the state legislatures also motivated the change.
After researching why aristocratic elements were placed in the government, my aim is to then show how the 17th Amendment has altered American government. With senators being elected by the people, many questions arise regarding their loyalties to both the institution and their constituents. I know that this topic has been researched by people in the past, but hopefully with a historical angle from the works of political philosophers, I can bring a unique contribution to the debate.