History of the Senate
First convened in 1789, the United States Senate continues to play a vital role in our democratic government. Often called the greatest deliberative body in the world, the Senate is a place where every state has an equal say in crafting federal legislation. It also has a unique role in ratifying treaties and confirming the President’s nominees to federal offices and judgeships.
The Senate, though, almost never was. At the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, there was serious disagreement over how the states should be represented in Congress. The largest of the thirteen original states desired a proportional system, in which the population of a state would determine the number of its representatives. However, the smaller states, like Delaware, favored equal representation in Congress. Following lengthy debate and deliberation, a compromise was reached, today known as the “Great Compromise.” The Congress, it was decided, would consist of two houses, one based on proportional representation, the other based on the equality of states. As a result, the House of Representatives favors the larger states, but smaller states like Delaware are equal in the Senate.
The Framers of the Constitution, once they had settled on the Senate’s creation, set out to design it to be more independent and stable than the House of Representatives. Where members of the House must run for re-election every two years, making it very dependent on popular opinion, senators need only face the voters every six. Where the minimum age for service in the House is twenty-five years, senators must have reached the age of thirty to be eligible. As a result, senators are not as beholden to sudden political changes and can serve as a body of “sober second thought” on issues of national importance.
Originally, senators were to be elected by the legislature of their respective states rather than by popular vote, but this practice ceased with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1913, a victory for government reformers of the Progressive Era.
For more information on the history of the Senate and to learn about what business is pending before the Senate today, click here.