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October 2014 Policy Study, Number 14-6


Should We Restore Bicameralism?


Indirect Election Under Article V



Originally, the Constitution allowed state legislatures to select senators and allowed the people to directly elect members of the House of Representatives.[2]  The Founders established a bicameral legislature with members from each house selected through different procedures to ensure that the federal government did not trample the rights and powers properly reserved to the states.[3] Federalists and Anti-Federalists alike agreed that a senate composed of members selected by the states and acting as agents on the states’ behalf was necessary to protect the states from an over-reaching federal government.[4] The indirect election of senators distinguished their role from that of their colleagues in the House of Representatives:  The members of the House represented the people, while senators represented the states.[5] The indirect election of senators had several benefits for both the states and the federal government.


First and most importantly, it made the federal government more accountable to state governments.  State legislatures originally selected senators to serve as the state’s agents in the federal government, and act on the states’ behalf.[6]  These agents performed the necessary check on the House of Representatives by ensuring that the federal government did not pass legislation that would impose onerous burdens on the states.[7] Further, because only the Senate can ratify treaties and confirm judicial and executive branch appointees, the original system gave the states voice in these important national issues.[8]


Second, the original method of selecting senators established true bicameralism in the federal government.  The founders established a bicameral legislature to ensure that different interests and constituencies would be represented when legislation was debated.  The House of Representatives represented the people, while the Senate represented the states.  The best way to ensure that the federal government did not pass legislation that benefited special interests was to divide the legislature into different branches, with members that were selected using different systems and were delegated different functions.[9]   




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