The turn of the 20th century brought a tremendous amount of change to the United States, its government and its citizens. A greater amount of prosperity and technology increased citizens exposure to information. With this information came empowerment, with empowerment came the ability to make more informed decisions about government at all levels. As people learned more they were no longer accepting of the status quo of the States appointing their Senators. With this, pressure came and ultimately the 17th Amendment, allowing people to directly elect their Senators. The 17th Amendment came relatively easy but it was not without its own controversy then or now.
The 17th Amendment is a relatively simple and straight forward document. It states simply that Senators will be elected by popular vote and that Senators will serve for six years and have one vote in the senate. This supersedes Article 1, Section 3, Clauses 1 and 2 of the Constitution:
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.
With the founding of the United States the founding fathers understood that the primarily agrarian society would not necessarily have the information on hand to elect their senators. “The argument was that legislatures were more able than the electorate to give sober and reflective thought to the selection, and by doing so would take a greater supportive interest in the fledgling national government” (Guide to Congress, 6th ed., vol. 2, 968). Thus the Constitution was written to give the states that power in order to have qualified educated men and after all, the members of the Constitutional Convention had been picked by the state legislatures. Although in a draft of the Constitution “The Senate to consist of persons elected to serve during good behaviour; their elections made by electors chosen for that purpose by the people” (Senate Report No. 691). As the United States developed after the civil war and people gained greater access to news and education they began to see the corruption within the senate appointment process. This started a push for electoral reform and the progressive movement.
It should not be over looked either that the election of Senators by popular vote would not only leave the nomination and election of the members of the legislature upon the simple issue of their fitness, but it would place every candidate before the people, where his views and relationship to the public interests of the State could be known and understood by all.
In the first eighty years of Congress, only nine resolutions proposing a constitutional amendment for direct election of senators were introduced in Congress. In the 1870s and 1880s the number increased, and by 1912 no fewer than 287 such joint resolutions had been introduced. Not until 1892 was a resolution reported favorably from committee in the House. From 1893 to...