The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Will the Senate Keep the House in Line?

June 12, 1787

Summary: The delegates discussed various aspects of the legislature and judiciary. They decided to refer the Constitution to the people of the states for ratification. The terms of what became the House of Representatives was set at 3 years with “liberal compensation” supplied to the members. On this day, the term of a Senator was set at seven years with a required age of 30.

Influences

Naturally, the delegates looked to Britain for models of the legislature. Virginia’s William Pierce said in opposition to a seven year term for Senators:

Mr. PIERCE proposed three years. Seven years would raise an alarm. Great mischiefs have arisen in England from their Septennial Act, which was reprobated by most of their patriotic statesmen.

Mr. Randolph argued in response that the democratically elected body needed a stable influence and used Maryland as a negative example.

Mr. RANDOLPH was for the term of seven years. The democratic licentiousness of the State Legislatures proved the necessity of a firm Senate. The object of this second branch is, to control the democratic branch of the National Legislature. If it be not a firm body, the other branch, being more numerous, and coming immediately from the people, will overwhelm it. The Senate of Maryland, constituted on like principles, had been scarcely able to stem the popular torrent. No mischief can be apprehended, as the concurrence of the other branch, and in some measure of the Executive, will in all cases be necessary. A firmness and independence may be the more necessary, also, in this branch, as it ought to guard the Constitution against encroachments of the Executive, who will be apt to form combinations with the demagogues of the popular branch.

Madison followed in the debate by agreeing that the Maryland Senate had not caused problems by longer terms.

Another day in Convention and another day without appeals to religion or the Bible.