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Notification of the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, May 31, 1913

In 1911 Senator Joseph Bristow of Kansas proposed a constitutional amendment requiring direct election of all U.S. senators. Supported by senators elected through state primary systems such as Oregon’s, it passed the Senate. The House, after lengthy debate, passed Bristow’s resolution in 1912. In 1913 Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan certified ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment by three-fourths of the states.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

Notification of the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, May 31, 1913

Direct Election of Senators

The framers of the Constitution, believing that senators could act more independently if not popularly elected, made state legislatures responsible for choosing U.S. senators. This system had unintended consequences, including bribery of state legislators and party deadlocks, which resulted in vacant Senate seats. The call for direct election of senators first arose in 1826 and continued for 86 years, gaining momentum after Oregon officially began selecting senators through a popular referendum in 1908. Congress finally approved a resolution for direct election of senators, and the states ratified it as the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913.

I have faith in the judgment of the great mass of the American people and believe that they will eagerly avail themselves of the opportunity to bring the Senate nearer to the people and make it more quickly responsive to the public will, and that the amendment will be speedily ratified.

Senator Joseph Bristow of Kansas, Speech to the U.S. Senate, May 15, 1912