This Day in the Law
April 8

Seventeenth Amendment Ratified (1913)

On April 8, 1913, the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution officially became law when it was ratified by three-fourths of the states. The 17th Amendment grants the citizens of each state the power to elect their senators by popular vote. Prior to the 17th Amendment, senators were elected by their state legislatures under Article I, ยง 3, Clauses 1 and 2 of the US Constitution.

The system of electing senators by state legislatures worked well for many years, but began to fall apart during the Civil War. State legislatures were sharply divided on many issues, which made electing senator more difficult. After the war, the problems continued, as many state legislatures were in deadlocks and could not reach majority votes. Accusations of bribery and corruption were rampant.

Consequently, in 1911, Senator Joseph L. Bristow from Kansas proposed an amendment to the Constitution. Despite strong opposition from several southern senators, the Senate approved the resolution. It took another year for the House of Representatives to pass the amendment and send it to the states for ratification. Finally, on April 8, 1913, the 17th Amendment was ratified by the required three-fourths majority of the states and became law.

The 17th Amendment also enables a state's governor to appoint a senator when there is a Senate vacancy. Then, a special or regular election is held to elect a new senator.

Text of the 17th Amendment:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

U.S. Constitution