What do transportation laws, public education, and welfare programs have in common? All of them are not instituted solely by the state governments but by the central government. These are just a few examples that show the power of the central government has dramatically increased from when it was first instituted (Nosotro). There are many factors that have fueled this increase, but one major cause is the Seventeenth Amendment. The Seventeenth Amendment was added to the Constitution in the early 1900’s and called for the direct election of senators. Ironically, this amendment, which was sold as an expansion of democracy, greatly increased the power of the United States federal government.
In order to understand how this amendment has increased the power of the federal government, one must have a good understanding of the background to this amendment. It was not proposed and ratified due to a fanatical last minute whim of a few senators. Rather, a combination of bribes, scandals, electoral deadlocks, malapportioned legislatures, and the changing of the political tastes combined to make direct election of senators a popular option at the turn of the century (Schiller 2). At the time the House of Representatives was the only body directly elected by the people, and senators were elected by their respective state legislatures rather than by straight vote from their constituents (Keesee 51). The idea for the direct election of senators was not a new idea. Reformers as far back as the 1800’s were interested in limiting the role of state legislatures in Senate elections. Even Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president of the United States, proposed an amendment that would elect senators through popular election (Levin 44).
The direct election of senators originated on depression party platforms. These depression parties were a number of small parties that sprung up during economic depression. They usually gathered strength in the rural pockets of the south and mid-west. One of the more well known depression parties was the Populist Party (Keesee 174). Depression parties, progressive influence, and democratic participation all influenced the creation of the Seventeenth Amendment. Several patterns have been observed from these influences. As progressives grew in influence, so did the federal government (Levin 30). As democratic participation expanded, the limitations found in the Constitution, such as the indirect election of senators, were viewed as too restrictive. The final result of the democratic view during this time was the Seventeenth Amendment (Keesee 105).
Consequently, on May 13, 1912, congress proposed the Seventeenth Amendment. This amendment called for the election of senators directly through popular vote. It stated “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote” (Keesee 51). On April 8, 1913, almost a...