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James Madison, by Charles Willson Peale, 1783

James Madison, by Charles Willson Peale, 1783

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

James Madison

Defining the Senate's Role

How would senators represent the citizens of their states? Under the Constitution, state legislatures (not voters) chose senators, who served longer terms than House members. The Senate gave each state an equal voice in Congress—regardless of its population. Critics of this system warned that the Senate might be too “aristocratic.” Would senators be accountable? they asked. Would they fairly reflect public opinion?

The opposite point of view was given by James Madison, one of the principal framers of the Constitution. He feared that the larger, popularly elected House might too easily “yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions.” Madison argued that senators, serving longer terms and chosen by state legislatures, would be more shielded from popular whims and better able to counter such political frenzy until “reason, justice, and truth” again prevailed.