Orientation and Getting Started
Early Development of the Legislative Branch and the Problem of Representation
Enumerated Powers of Congress
Implied, Expansive, and Limited Powers
The Two Congresses: Representation and Lawmaking
Bicameralism
Separation of Powers and Interaction between the Branches
Institutional Development and Change
Congress and the American People

The “States” House: Senate in Constitutional Context

The representational requirements for the Senate were designed very differently than those of the House in terms of qualifications for office (age and citizenship status), electoral terms (6 instead of 2 years), rotation of elections, and the electors themselves. In terms of lawmaking, the Constitution ensures that the Senate is a smaller body than the House and grants the Senate distinct powers regarding executive and judicial appointments and ratifying treatises. Thus, the constitutional provisions regarding bicameralism complicate further the representational and lawmaking functions of the Congress described in Module 4. 

Equal Representation and Term of Six Years

Article I, Section 3, Clause 1 articulates the result of the Great Compromise: “the Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years, and each Senator shall have one vote.”  As noted in Module 1, Madison strongly supported the principle of proportionality and opposed equal numbers of Senators for each state. During ratification, Madison stated “a government ought to be founded on the principles of a mixture of proportional and equal representation” (Federalist, No. 62), and the composition of the Senate was a result of compromise not of theory. He did concede, though, that the equal vote of the states would be “an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty” of the states. The selection of senators by state legislatures also had the prospect of improving representation and strengthening federalism.  Giving state legislatures a role in the process had a “double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former.” (Federalist, No. 62) 

The Anti-Federalists took a very different view of both the “equal vote” of two senators per state and the election by state legislatures. Rather, they argued, the Senate “is constituted on unequal principles. The smallest state in the union has equal weight with the great states of Virginia, Massachusetts, or Pennsylvania…”  As for the six-year term and appointment by state legislatures: “The term and mode of its appointment, will lead to permanency…” Thus, the Senate would be “devoid of all responsibility or accountability to the great body of the people, and that so far from being a regular balanced government, it would be in practice a permanent ARISTOCRACY.” (Centinel, No. 1, 1787)

The six-year term for Senators, according to Madison, would achieve several purposes. First, it would allow the Senate to be a check on the popular inclinations of the House. Second, longer terms would allow more time to study issues and thus give Senators, “due acquaintance with the objects and principles of legislation.” (Federalist, No. 62) Better knowledge of issues, combined with the requirement that both chambers must pass the same bill into law, would increase stability in the law and in the Congress. Madison noted specifically the Senate’s role in preventing Congress from having the problems with state legislatures and state laws that he highlighted in Vices of the Political System of the United States: mutability, instability and injustice.

The higher age threshold (35) and greater length of time as a citizen (9 years) for Senators compared with members of the House reflected the “nature of senatorial trust.” Age provided “greater extent of information and stability of character” and since the Senate would be participating immediately in transactions with foreign nations, Senators should be “thoroughly weaned from the prepossessions and habits incident to foreign birth and education.” (Federalist, No. 62)