US senators once chosen by state legislatures


By Harold B. Wolford - Veterans Corner



Editor’s note: This is part nine of an 11-part series on the Constitution of the United States. This article contains the text as written and explanations of articles and amendments. Spelling and grammar are as the original text was written. Explanations contained in this article are not based on the writer’s opinion; they are based on interpretations mainly from Congress and the Supreme Court. The explanations are contained in brackets [] to distinguish them from the actual text of the Constitution. Italicized text indicates words and passages of the Constitution that were changed or affected by amendments.

Amendment XIV (1868) – Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

[The Fourteenth Amendment granted United States citizenship to former slaves and to all persons “subject to U.S. jurisdiction”. It also contained three new limits on state power: a state shall not violate a citizen’s privileges or immunities; shall not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; and must guarantee all persons equal protection of the laws. These limitations dramatically expanded the protections of the Constitution. This amendment, according to the Supreme Court’s Doctrine of Incorporation, makes most provisions of the Bill of Rights applicable to state and local governments as well. It superseded the mode of apportionment of representatives delineated in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, and also overturned the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857).]

Amendment XV (1870) – Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

[The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits the use of race, color, or previous condition of servitude in determining which citizens may vote. The last of three post Civil War Reconstruction Amendments, it sought to abolish one of the key vestiges of slavery and to advance the civil rights and liberties of former slaves.]

Amendment XVI (1913) – The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

[The Sixteenth Amendment removed existing Constitutional constraints that limited the power of Congress to lay and collect taxes on income. Specifically, the apportionment constraints delineated in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4 have been removed by this amendment, which also overturned an 1895 Supreme Court decision, in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., that declared an unapportioned federal income tax on rents, dividends, and interest unconstitutional. This amendment has become the basis for all subsequent federal income tax legislation and has greatly expanded the scope of federal taxing and spending in the years since.]

Amendment XVII (1913) – 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.

[The Seventeenth Amendment modifies the way senators are elected. It stipulates that senators are to be elected by direct popular vote. The amendment supersedes Article 1, Section 2, Clauses 1 and 2, under which the two senators from each state were elected by the state legislature. It also allows state legislatures to permit their governors to make temporary appointments until a special election can be held.]

Amendment XVIII (1919) – Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

[The Eighteenth Amendment (1919) prohibited the making, transporting, and selling of alcoholic beverages nationwide. It also authorized Congress to enact legislation enforcing this prohibition. During prohibition, it is estimated that alcohol consumption and alcohol related deaths declined dramatically. But prohibition had other, more negative consequences. The amendment drove the lucrative alcohol business underground, giving rise to a large and pervasive black market. In addition, prohibition encouraged disrespect for the law and strengthened organized crime. Prohibition came to an end in 1933, when this amendment was repealed.]

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By Harold B. Wolford

Veterans Corner

Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973.

Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973.