In our previous post, I talked about Article One’s second section, which developed the House of Representatives. The third section likewise develops another branch of the government
Section Three: The Senate
In the Articles of Confederation, our original constitution, there was only a single body legislative branch. It gave each state one vote, with the ability to have a delegation team making said vote. Many people wanted to keep this when they sat down to revise and come up with a new Constitution. The Senate is inspired by the Ancient Roman equivalent, which each region had Senator representing them. These were meant to be wise statesmen who had the best interests of their people at heart.
Well, in compromise with those who wanted more democracy and less republic, they made two. The House of Representative which contains representation by population, and the Senate which has representation by set amount.
Under Section Three, the senate gives each state two votes. This has not changed. We continue to have 2 Senators per state admitted to the union (So the first Senate had 26 Senators. much smaller room then the 100 Senators we have now.)
Each Senator had to abide by a few guidelines. They had to be over 30, been a US citizen for at least 9 years. This was important because when the nation first started, there were no technical “naturally born” US Citizens as the country hadn’t existed at the time. Now, it allows for immigrants to be a part of their new country’s government.
Term limits were given at 6 years per term to provide them an ability to avoid being caught up in short term trends and fads on the political scene. Starting during the first congress in 1789, they began a three class rota of elections (Class A would be elected the first 2 year election, Class B would be at 4 years, class C would be at 6 years, this making sure that every six years we didn’t end up with all our Senators running for re-election.
Section three also talks about the Senate leadership. The House of Representatives chooses their own head, known as the Speaker of the House. The Senate on the other hand does not, instead the Vice President (and Section 3 is the first to mention the post) is the lead officer. There are various other leadership positions that are elected by their fellow senators but the Vice President presides over the Senate, only voting when there is a tie.
When it was originally written, the constitution supplied Senators by appointment rather then public elections. They were voted on by the state legislatures. However in 1913, this was changed to public elections with the 17th Amendment, which we still hold. It also allowed for the Governor to have a election to fill the spot if there was a vacancy for some reason during a non election year. Originally they could only fill the vacancy until the next meeting of the legislature who when then choose who would fill in.
The Senate also has the power to try all impeachments made by the House of Representatives. I have decided that because it would take up a lot of space to do a separate post on Impeachment. In summary however, the basic process is the House makes the charge, and then the Senate is the jury/judge.
The Senate convened for the first time, according to their website, on March 4, 1789 in New York City’s Federal Hall. It had to wait till April 6 to complete business, as that required that half +1 of the elected were present. (Currently that would be 51 people). Their first act was to elect a doorkeeper, who kept the public out till the Senate was open for public viewing in 1790, and afterwards kept the galleries in order as well as make sure any shipment of Senate materials be kept in order as the Capital changed.
That position still exists, actually. Currently it is held by Frank J. Larkin. The position is elected by the Senate and serves as an officer of the law, protocol enforcement, and administrative managing.
The US Senate: Origins and Development (Senate.gov)
Senators of the 114th Congress (Senate.gov) – You can find contact information for your senator here. They have it available to filter by class, state or last name.
Office of the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper (or the dude who does everything but sit and vote) (Senate.gov)
The Constitution (2007 Edition, GPO.gov)
The Articles of Confederation (Yale Law School: Lillian Goldman Law Library)