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Petition from the Patrons of Husbandry, State Grange of Illinois, January 1, 1898

The State Grange of Illinois, an organization of men and women that promoted the interests of rural communities, petitioned Congress in 1898 for direct election of U.S. senators. By then many people regarded the Senate as a millionaires’ club, where wealthy individuals could obtain seats by bribing state legislators. They wanted senators to be more accountable to their constituents.

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

Excerpt:
Whereas, The United States Senate is largely composed of millionaires, who frequently owe their election to the lavish expenditure of money; Resolved, In order to make them more directly accountable to the people, they should be elected by popular vote.

Petition from the Patrons of Husbandry, State Grange of Illinois, January 1, 1898 Petition from the Patrons of Husbandry, State Grange of Illinois, January 1, 1898 Petition from the Patrons of Husbandry, State Grange of Illinois, January 1, 1898

The Seventeenth Amendment: Senate Elections

The Constitution’s framers chose to have U.S. senators elected by state legislatures rather than by direct popular vote. They wanted to ensure senatorial independence, but the system had unintended consequences, including bribery of state lawmakers and Senate vacancies due to party deadlocks. The call for election reform began in 1826, but it was not until 1912––after a corruption scandal drew national attention to the issue––that Congress approved a resolution for direct election of senators. The states ratified it as the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913.