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Constitution Monday: Why we have Senate

Note: Throughout this series, items that are hyperlinked were in the Constitution as written in 1787 but have since been amended or superseded.

Article I of the Constitution of the United States established the Legislative Branch, known as Congress. Here is Article I, Section III, which sets up the US Senate:

Section. 3.

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.

Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.

No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

When the Constitution was orginally drafted in 1787, Senators were chosen by state legislatures and not directly by voters. The intention is that the House of Representatives would by the peoples House and the Senate would look after the interests of State governments. Through this process, State legislatures could be assured that Senators interests were aligned with their interests.

By the early 1900s, voters had decided that it would be better if the Senate were also directly responsible to a state’s voters and so the 17th Amendment to Constitution was ratified in 1913.

Some people feel the 17th Amendment was a victory for democracy and others have complained that even a directly elected Senate holds the country hostage to small population states such as Alaska and Montana. What say you? Or hold your peace until we cover the 17th Amendment.

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