Redefining Bicameralism

Charles Pinckney. By: Henry Benbridge.

Looking to the state governments’ creation of their respective senates, as explained in The Birth of the Senate, the creation of the Senate in the Constitution was a given, when the Constitutional Convention began. See Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 553.

George Mason proclaimed that the collective American mind was “firmly established in its ‘attachment to Republican Government’ and its ‘attachment to more than one branch in the Legislature.'” Id. quoting Mason and Madison, in Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention, I, 339, 48, 151. While the House of Representatives would be “the grand depository of the democratic principle of the Government,” the United States Senate was “expected to be a body that would act ‘with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom, than the popular branch.'” Id.

Some drew parallels between the proposed Senate and the House of Lords of Britain, the epitome of an aristocratic political body. See Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 554. Individuals, like Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, said that there was “but one great and equal body of citizens composing the inhabitants of this country,” rejecting the notion that any aristocratic political body should have a place in American government. Pinckney, in Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention, I, 153, 398-404, 412. While some, like Oliver Ellsworth, argued against Pinckney’s analysis of American society, instead stating that the Senate should have the wisdom that the House of Representatives would not have. See Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 556.

Alexander Hamilton insisted that the Senate “must be so formed as to exclude, as much as possible, from its own character, those infirmities, and that mutability, which it is designed to remedy.” Hamilton (N.Y.), in Elliot, ed., Debates, II, 301-17. Hamilton believed that while the House of Representatives “would be ‘peculiarly endowed with sensibility,’ the Senate would be endowed ‘with knowledge and firmness.'” Id.

Ultimately, the Convention rejected a system where senators would be elected by the House of Representatives “in proportion to either wealth or population of the states.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 558. Instead, the large states and equal states would have equal footing in the Senate, as it would be comprised of two senators from each state.

Many concluded that this created “a perfectly democratical form of government.” Gorham (Mass.), in Elliot, ed., Debates, II, 69. Whether one can agree that perfection was achieved or not, it is quite clear that the Senate was modeled to achieve a balance in the legislature unlike any other known at the time.

The creation of the Senate was centered on balancing the aristocratic and democratic elements of government. The Founding Fathers realized that this was a unique opportunity to preserve democracy, eliminate aristocracy, and create a more vibrant, lively government that fostered participation of all Americans. Because the Founding Fathers took that bold risk and departed from the status quo, modern Americans have reaped the rewards many times over.

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