The following is the fifth entry in Chredon's examination of the Constitution and where the Founders went wrong. Today, we look at direct election of the Senate.
James Madison said, during the convention, that “The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with more system, & with more wisdom, than the popular branch.” His Virginia Plan included “that the members of the first branch of the National Legislature (the House) ought to be elected by the people of the several States... [and] that the members of the second branch of the National Legislature (the Senate) ought to be elected by those of the first, out of a proper number of persons nominated by the individual Legislatures.”
Charles Pinckney of South Carolina proposed that “The members of the House of Delegates shall be chosen … by the people of the several States [and] the Senate shall be elected & chosen by the House of Delegates.
On June 7th, which was only in the second full week of the convention, a resolution was passed that the Senate should be appointed by the state legislatures. While the concept was revisited from time to time, it was never seriously challenged and so we have in the Constitution “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof.”
“It is equally unnecessary to dilate on the appointment of senators by the State legislatures. Among the various modes which might have been devised for constituting this branch 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, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.”
I think the most likely reason for the change was the growing power of the Populist Movement in America. Owing to the power of huge corporations and the influence of political elites, general distrust of concentrated power emerged. This led to Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting, the rise of unions, and the belief that ultimate power should be in the hands of the people. By 1910, progressives in 31 state governments had instituted a popular referendum for Senators. By the time the Seventeenth Amendment was passed, only two state legislatures were still selecting Senators with no input from the people. The passage of the Seventeenth Amendment was only putting into law what had already been put into practice.