What do you know about the 17th Amendment?

There’s probably a limited audience to be reeled in by the title of today’s blog post, but I couldn’t think of a more creative way that might trick some unsuspecting readers to dive in.

If US Constitutional History is not your cup of tea, please visit my blog again next week. I’m not sure what the topic will be, but I’ll try to avoid the US Constitution.

You might recall that I mentioned the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in my May 31, 2021 blog post because I’d read that it was ratified on May 31, 1913. After discovering that it was actually ratified on April 8, 1913, I had to come up with another topic for May 31. I’ll explain the confusion somewhere below.

Here we go…

Thank goodness for the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America!

Even though I majored in political science in college, if asked out of the blue what the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was about, I’d be hard-pressed to give you the correct answer.

Photo credit: Anthony Garand on unsplash.com

The 17th Amendment, in a nutshell

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States mandates that the two Senators from each state “shall be” elected by the people of each respective state. It also states that U.S. Senators shall serve six-year terms and each Senator shall have one vote.

What about before the 17th Amendment?

The 17th Amendment was passed by Congress on May 13, 1912. Prior to the amendment’s ratification on April 8, 1913, each state’s U.S. Senators were chosen by the state legislatures. Whoa! Let that sink in for a minute! I shudder to think about the possibilities.

Living in the state of North Carolina, I tremble to think about who the NC General Assembly would have chosen for the US Senate, especially over the last decade or more. Granted, the general populous has rarely elected the people I would have preferred for these offices since Senator Sam Ervin died, but at least a fair and open election gives the citizens some measure of confidence in the people we send to Washington, DC. What they do after they get there is a whole other story. But I digress.

The reasoning behind the way it was before 1913

The framers of the United States Constitution weren’t sure the average citizen was smart enough to vote. They formed our government as a democracy, yet the white men who were in charge in our country’s infancy didn’t completely trust the general populous to elect the right people.

Come to think of it, the white men in charge in Washington, DC and in many state legislatures today don’t trust us to “vote right” either. It seems like we would’ve made more progress than this in more than 200 years, but I digress again.

The framers of the Constitution wanted the United States Senate to be a check on the masses. James Madison assured the attendees of the Constitutional Convention that cooler heads would prevail in the Senate than in the House of Representatives where representatives were elected by popular vote of the people. (Well, not really “the people,” for you could only vote then if you were a white male who owned some real estate. The Electoral College was also instituted as a buffer between the people and the US President. But that’s a topic for another day.)

The reasoning behind having the state legislatures elect US Senators was that the senators would be insulated from public opinion. To borrow a question from Dr. Phil McGraw, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

An examination of Senatorial elections, 1871-1913

The political scientist in me found a study online of how the system worked from 1871 until 1913. Written by Wendy J. Schiller, Charles Stewart III, and Benjamin Xiong for The University of Chicago Press Journals, their article, “U.S. Senate Elections before the 17th Amendment: Political Party Cohesion and Conflict, 1871-1913,” can be found at U.S. Senate Elections before the 17th Amendment: Political Party Cohesion and Conflict 1871–1913 | The Journal of Politics: Vol 75, No 3 (uchicago.edu). (If this link doesn’t work, please do a search for the article.)

I was eager to see what their study found. My hunch was that the election of US Senators was viciously fought over in the state legislatures and the said elections, no doubt, took up weeks and weeks of the legislatures’ time.

Unfortunately, it would have cost me $15 to gain access to the study, so I’ll just give you this quote from the article’s abstract: “We find significant evidence that under the indirect electoral mechanism, Senate elections were contentious, and winning majority control of the state legislature did not always ensure an easy electoral process. Specifically, the breakdown of caucus nominating processes, the size of majority coalitions, and whether the incumbent senator was running for reelection each exerted an effect on the probability of conflict in the indirect election process.”

Point of confusion

In my opening remarks, I promised to explain the confusion over the date of the 17th Amendment’s ratification. It was ratified on April 8, 1913, when the Connecticut legislature approved it. With Connecticut’s vote, three-fourths of the state legislatures had approved it. That met the requirement for an amendment’s ratification. It was not until May 31, 1913, that Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan officially announced the ratification in writing. Some sources have picked up that date as the date of ratification.

More than a century later, that’s probably all we need to know. This blog post probably already falls into the category of “too much information” for many of you, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been busy working on my novel. The working title is still either The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon. Unless I self-publish it, I won’t get to choose the title. The manuscript stands at just over 91,000 words. That number fluctuates from day-to-day as I make changes.

I’m re-reading World of Toil and Strife: Community Transformation in Backcountry South Carolina, 1750-1805, by Peter N. Moore. As more of it “soaks in,” I’m making some changes in my novel manuscript – changes that should result in a richer story and an additional layer of setting authenticity.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash. I’m trying to finish reading it by tomorrow night, so I can write about it in my blog post next Monday.

I’m also still making my way through The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s not a book one can rush through. At least, I can’t.

Note: Get Ready! December is Read a New Book Month!

Thanks for reading my blog today.


14 thoughts on “What do you know about the 17th Amendment?

  1. Well Janet I must say that the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution is a very valid addition to a very worthy document, I sometimes wonder about giving uneducated people the same power of the vote as the ones who are educated and prepared to think for the “polis” as the Greeks had said when they established their democracy in Athens, but…in any event I am so glad to hear that your novel is growing every day richer and more interesting, I would imagine. You are also doing some very good and interesting reading that will help you much in your own writing, that is admirable. The best of luck with your work and a great week to you. I look forward to your next post. All the best from Spain,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think we’re in for some terrible elections in the foreseeable future. It’s hard to be hopeful that our country can survive this onslaught from the right-wing Republicans. The NC Legislature is full of Tea Partiers. Our two US Senators are bad enough, but I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if the our current legislators had the power to choose our Senators. They’ve just completed our new Congressional map and it appears to be done with just as much “surgical precision” as the one thrown out several years ago by the US Supreme Court. I guess they known the present US Supreme Court is more likely to turn a blind eye — although they were more open-minded in most of their decisions this year than I expected. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Glad my blog post gave you something new.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s interesting to consider that in the early days, women and the men who didn’t own land weren’t thought to be trusted to vote. Today the trend in Washington, DC and in many state legislatures is to gerrymander Congressional districts in a way that guarantees that only right-wing Republican candidates can be elected. This not only precludes moderates of either political party from being elected but also makes it almost impossible for racial minorities to have representation. It’s a frightening trend in American politics today, and in the era of Trump the people of those opinions feel emboldened. As a result of the 2020 US Census, Congressional districts throughout the US are being redrawn by state legislatures. The new Congressional map of North Carolina — just like the one after the 2000 Census — guarantees that right-wing Republicans will continue to be sent to Washington to represent the majority of North Carolinians. Sorry — I got carried away. I’m trying not to dwell on politics. It’s not good for my health! Regarding my reading… too many books to read at one time. I’m listening to John Grisham’s new novel, The Judge’s List. It’s suspenseful and intriguing, and it’s a nice change from some of the other things I’ve been reading lately. I’m enjoying making revisions in my novel. Some days are more productive than others, of course. It feels good to be writing again after sort of getting away from it earlier in the pandemic. My best from a cold, windy, and very dry North Carolina. Janet

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That sounds very dangerous to democracy what they are doing in those states I am sorry to say. But you are right, politics, albeit an interesting subject, can be a bit trying on one’s health and mental state, so it is better to pass. I find your reading discipline to be enviable as for me no matter how much I say I am going to read this book or that one, it ends up on the night table unopened for weeks or even months! I have been reading some historical short stories from a Spanish writer from the late 19th Century that is very interesting, it deals with the war to overthrow Napoleon from Spain and the writer is one of our great ones, Benito Pérez Galdós. I have not been able to continue my story “Dino’s Hills” because I still have a family visit and I’ve been dedicating all or most my attention to her. A good thing is that our weather, although cold is nice and sunny so I’ve been sightseeing around my city like a tourist…All the best Janet,

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Janet, this is such important history to recover our bearings in this moment. Thank you. Did you see my response to your Biases 1 post? I suggested you write a piece for Views from the Edge along the lines of your comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The stories you’re reading sound interesting and remind me that I need to work on a couple of my historical short stories. Otherwise, I’ll never get them published on Amazon. It’s a way to get my name “out there” before I try to publish the novel. Enjoy your family and your sightseeing! Janet

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you so much for your reply. I’ve neglected being on the computer this week, so I missed seeing your response. I’ll look for it now. I’m flattered that you’d suggest I write a piece for Views. I’ll check it out and get back to you.


  8. That’s a wonderful idea Janet, getting exposure is always a necessity in the art/literary world. Best of luck! Let me know when you publish them. Family left today, so it’s back to normal/work for me. Thank God the weather is good!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am sitting in Canada awaiting your Civil War or is it already upon you?? Will Canada play a part of NATO with staging to protect you? I try not to be alarmist but it is getting harder by the day!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. There have been many times since the US Presidential election of 2016 that I’ve wished I were “sitting in Canada.” These are times in the US that I never dreamed would ever happen — much less in my lifetime. It seems that half the people have completely gone off the rails and into a ditch. I’m glad I don’t know what the future holds because I’m afraid it’s not good. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that Canada would get dragged into our mess. Unfortunately, you make a valid point. Former US President Jimmy Carter must be tormented by our state of affairs with voting rights, after he traveled the world to help ensure that people in other countries had the right to vote. Don’t get me started….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.