Happy birthday, 17th Amendment!

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the 17th Amendment (ratified April 8, 1913). Here’s what you need to know:

WHAT IT DOES

The 17th Amendment allowed senators to be directly elected by the people rather than by state legislatures. It also changed the system for filling vacancies in the Senate.

WHY IT WAS ADDED

The idea of directly electing senators had been floating around since the Constitutional Convention. The lone supporter of this measure was delegate James Wilson, who reasoned that “no government could long subsist without the confidence of the people.” He also said it gave too much power to the state legislatures. About a century later, Populist Party leaders led the way for reform, arguing that the election by state legislatures led to corruption and gridlock.

WORD-FOR-WORD

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.

Civic holidays are occasions to commemorate America’s history, celebrate our rights and responsibilities as citizens, and learn about our constitutional ideals. Download a PDF of the 2013 Civic Calendar here.

Holly Munson is the programs coordinator at the National Constitution Center.

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