Recently, some political candidates in Idaho have supported a return to having U.S. Senators appointed by state legislators instead of being elected by the public. To do this, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1913, would have to be modified. Such an ambitious project is not likely to get underway anytime soon, but it may be interesting to review the reasons Senators were selected by state legislatures for the first 125 years of the Constitution’s existence.
To understand the thinking of the writers of the U.S. Constitution a series of letters, called The Federalist, is often consulted. The letters were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay and printed in newspapers in 1787. The letters urged the states to ratify the Constitution. The following discussion uses excerpts of James Madison’s comments in The Federalist and arranges them in a question-and-answer format.

If we have a House of Representatives, why do we need a Senate?
The genius of republican liberty seems to demand on one side not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those intrusted with it should be kept in dependence on the people by a short duration of their appointments; and that even during this short period the trust should be placed in not a few, but a number of hands [speaking of the House of Representatives]. Stability, on the contrary, requires that the hands in which power is lodged should continue for a length of time the same [as is the case in the Senate].
Is providing a Senate merely a concession to the states so that they will ratify the Constitution?
It may be remarked that the equal vote allowed to each State [in the Senate] is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual States and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty. So far the equality ought to be no less acceptable to the large than to the small states; since they are not less solicitous to guard, by every possible expedient, against an improper consolidation of the States into one simple [or national] republic.
If power belongs to the people, why not have them select Senators, instead of having the state legislatures do it?
The next relation is to the sources from which the ordinary powers of government are to be derived. The House of Representatives will derive its powers from the people of America; and the people will be represented in the same proportion and on the same principle as they are in the legislature of a particular State. So far the government is national, not federal. The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States as political and coequal societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they are now in the existing Congress. So far the government is federal, not national…. The proposed Constitution, therefore … is, in strictness neither a national or a federal Constitution, but a composition of both. […] Among the various modes which might have been devised for constituting this branch [Senate] of the government, that which has been proposed by the convention is probably the most congenial with the public opinion. It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment [a candidate of high caliber], and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation [or an influence in the operation] of the federal government as must secure the authority of the [States], and may form a convenient link between the two systems.

The century that has passed since the creation of the Seventeenth Amendment may mark the peak of power for big government, business and news media. If the future belongs to smaller enterprises, The Federalist, written for a smaller America, may once again become a valuable guide for the operation of government.

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