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The New Nation
The United States Constitution
Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

During the four months delegates met in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention, many issues were raised and debated. One such issue was the process for electing senators. In the excerpt that follows, viewpoints held by some of the delegates are presented. What differences separated the delegates on this issue? What was the result of the vote on the resolutions? Do you know how the issue (Article I, Section 3, Clause 1) was resolved in the final draft of the Constitution?

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The committee proceeded to the fifth resolution, that the second (or senatorial) branch of the national legislature ought to be chosen, by the first branch, out of the persons nominated by the State legislatures.

MR. SPAIGHT contended that the second branch ought to be chosen by the State legislatures, and moved an amendment to that effect.

MR. BUTLER apprehended that the taking of so many powers out of the hands of the States as was proposed tended to destroy all that balance and security of interests among the States which it was necessary to preserve, and called on Mr. Randolph, the mover of the propositions, to explain the extent of his ideas, and particularly the number of members he meant to assign to this second branch.

MR. RANDOLPH observed that he had, at the time of offering his propositions, stated his ideas, as far as the nature of general propositions required; that details made no part of the plan and could not perhaps with propriety have been introduced. If he was to give an opinion as to the number of the second branch, he should say that it ought to be much smaller than that of the first; so small as to be exempt from the passionate proceedings to which numerous assemblies are liable. He observed that the general object was to provide a cure for the evils under which the United States labored; that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy; that some check, therefore, was to be sought for against this tendency of our governments, and that a good Senate seemed most likely to answer the purpose.

MR. KING reminded the committee that the choice of the second branch, as proposed (by Mr. Spaight), viz, by the State legislatures, would be impracticable unless it was to be very numerous, or the idea of proportion among the States was to be disregarded. According to this idea there must be eighty or a hundred members to entitle Delaware to the choice of one of them.

MR. SPAIGHT withdrew his motion.

MR, WILSON opposed both a nomination by the State legislatures and an election by the first branch of the national legislature because the second branch of the latter ought to be independent of both. He thought both branches of the national legislature ought to be chosen by the people, but was not prepared with a specific proposition. He suggested the mode of choosing the senate of New York, to wit, of uniting several election districts for one branch in choosing members for the other branch, as a good model.

MR. MADISON observed that such a mode would destroy the influence of the smaller States associated with larger ones in the same district, as the latter would choose from within themselves, although better men might be found in the former. The election of Senators in Virginia, where large and small counties were often formed into one district for the purpose, had illustrated this consequence. Local partiality would often prefer a resident within the county or State to a candidate of superior merit residing out of it. Less merit also in a resident would be more known throughout his own State.

MR. SHERMAN favored an election of one member by each of the State legislatures.

MR. PINCKNEY moved to strike out the "nomination by the State legislatures."

Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia--no, 9.

Delaware, divided.

On the whole question for electing by the first branch out of nominations by the State legislatures, Massachusetts, Virginia, South Carolina--aye, 3.

Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia--no, 7.

So the clause was disagreed to, and a chasm left in this part of the plan.
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