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Nelson Aldrich, a pro-industrialist and opponent of income tax, feared that the Bailey Amendment would become law and devised a scheme to ensure its failure. Believing that a constitutional amendment would have little chance of being ratified by the States, Aldrich proposed an amendment to establish a national income tax program (S.J. Res. 40, 61st Cong.). Initially, the ploy worked; the Bailey Amendment was dropped in favor of the resolution introduced by Senator Aldrich.

S.J. Res. 40 was at once referred to the Senate Committee on Finance, which reported the measure favorably and unamended on June 28, 1909.11 Pursuant to a unanimous request, the Resolution was brought before the Senate for debate on July 5, 1909. The proposal passed the Senate as reported by the Finance Committee, 77 to 0, 15 not voting, but not before a number of proposed amendments were rejected: (1) an amendment to substitute conventions for legislatures during the ratification process; (2) amendments striking "and direct Taxes" from Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3; and "or other direct" from Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4; (3) an amendment, in the nature of a substitute, that would have provided for the direct popular election of United States Senators; (4) an amendment authorizing Congress to levy and collect taxes on income without apportioning them among the States on the basis of population.

The Resolution was then sent to the House of Representatives, where it was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee on July 9, 1909. The Committee reported favorably on July 12, and on the same date the Resolution passed the House without amendment, 318 to 14, 55 not voting and 1 answering "present." The House tabled the only amendment offered to S.J. Res. 40, that relating to the ratification procedure.


At the time, there were 48 States in the Union; 36 were required to ratify the Sixteenth Amendment. On July 21, 1909, the Amendment was delivered to the States by Secretary of State Philander C. Knox. Contrary to Senator Alrich's expectations, one State after another ratified the Sixteenth Amendment, Alabama being the first on August 10, 1909. Less than 4 years later, New Mexico became the 36th State to ratify, and the Sixteenth Amendment was law.

Below are the ratification dates of each of the States:

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Arkansas (after
rejection Jan. 9,
New York......

Mar. 16, 1911
Mar. 31, 1911
Apr. 7, 1911
Apr. 22, 1911

May 26, 1911
Jul. 12, 1911


West Virginia.

New Mexico.

Apr. 6, 1912
Jun. 11, 1912
Jun. 28, 1912
Jan. 31, 1913
Feb. 3, 1913

Feb. 3, 1913
Feb. 3, 1913

More than 36 having ratified the Sixteenth Amendment, it was certified by Secretary of State Philander C. Knox on February 25, 1913 as part of the Constitution. Thereafter, the Amendment was ratified by New Jersey on February 4, 1913; Vermont on February 19, 1913; Massachusetts on March 4, 1913; and New Hampshire on March 7, 1913. The proposal was rejected by Rhode Island on April 29, 1910; Utah on March 9, 1911; Connecticut on June 28, 1911; and Florida on May 31, 1913. Both Virginia and Pennsylvania failed to complete action on the Amendment.

The Sixteenth Amendment appears officially as 37 Stat. 1785.


1. U.S. Reports, Pollock v. Farmer's Loan and Trust Co., 1895, Washington, 157:429.

2. Statutes at Large of the United States of America, 1789-1873, (Washington, 1861).

3. Harry Edwin Smith, The U.S. Federal Internal Tax History From 1861-1871, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1914), XI-XIV.

4. Sidney Ratner, Taxation and Democracy in America, (New York, 1964), 136–137. 5. Messages and Papers of the Presidents, XII: 5892.

6. Congressional Record, 53rd Congress, 2nd Session, 1894, 26, Pt. 2: 1594-1597.

7. Ibid., 2nd Session, 26, Part 1: 5.

8. Ibid. 26: 462-469.

9. Ibid., 1655-1658.

10. Ibid., 7136.

11. Ibid., 61st Congress, 1st Session, 1909, 44: 4440-4441.


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 for 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 shali 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 amended Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, which prescribes the mode of electing U.S. Senators by State legislatures. The first clause of Section 3 states:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislatures thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.

The Seventeenth Amendment changed the electoral process for U.S. Senators from selection by State legislatures to a popular vote. By the early 1900's, it had become a concern of many of the Nation's leaders that, under the system of indirect election by State legislatures, many Senators were indifferent to popular demands, obligated to corporations that could often influence the Senators' elections. During the debates over the Seventeenth Amendment, such concerns were frequently voiced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. For example, Senator Joseph Bristow complained.

They [the corporation] have spent enormous amounts of money in corrupting legislatures to elect to the Senate men of their own choosing. Through the influence of the Senators so elected, who have become known as corporation Senators, legislation to control the trusts and monopolies has been smothered in committees and defeated in the Senate.1

Representative George W. Norris of Nebraska added his own commentary:

We have reached a stage in the development of political and social problems where great combinations of wealth have often too much influence in the framing of laws and in the selection of public officials.2

Another objection to the selection of Senators by legislatures was that often a State went unrepresented or only half-represented in the U.S. Senate because of the inability of many State legislatures to agree on any one candidate.3

Such problems ultimately led to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, but not until some 198 previous proposals for popular election of Senators had failed, five of which came to a vote in the

House of Representatives. The measure was first voted on in the form of H.J. Res. 20 (53rd Cong.) on July 21, 1894 and passed in the House, 141 to 50. It was later lost in committee on the Senate side.5 On January 12, 1898, H.J. Res. 5 passed the House, 185 to 11, before the Senate again killed the measure in committee. On April 13, 1900, the proposal (H.J. Res. 28, 56th Cong.) passed the House for a third time, 242 to 15; 7 and for a fourth time on January 21, 1902, without a recorded vote (H.J. Res. 41, 61st Cong.). On February 28, 1911, the proposal finally came to a vote in the Senate. However, S.J. Res. 134 (61st Cong.) failed of the necessary two-thirds majority, the vote being 54 to 33 in favor of the measure.9


During the first session of the 62nd Congress, the House passed H.J. Res. 39. This resolution was the origin of what would become the Seventeenth Amendment. 10 As introduced and reported by the House Committee on the Election of the President, Vice President, and Representative in Congress, H.J. Res. 39 proposed to amend the Constitution to provide for the popular election of Senators; special elections to fill Senate vacancies; and authorization of State legislatures; (1) to provide for temporary appointments by the governors to fill vacancies; and (2) to exercise exclusive power to regulate the time, place, and manner of conducting senatorial elections.11 The Resolution passed, 296-16, with only one minor floor amendment, while amendments to provide 4 year terms for House Members and to eliminate State legislative control over senatorial elections were rejected.12

H.J. Res. 39 was then sent to the Senate, where it was referred to the Judiciary Committee and later reported without amendment.13 However, a minority report also filed called for the elimination of provisions which gave State legislatures exclusive control over senatorial elections. 14 On the Senate floor Senator Joseph L. Bristow offered, as a substitute to H.J. Res. 39, an amendment to give control of senatorial elections to the Federal Government. On June 12, 1911, the Bristow Amendment came before the Senate for final action. It passed by a vote of 64 to 24, 3 not voting. 15

Both Houses of Congress had now passed resolutions calling for the direct popular election of Senators. The two resolutions were considerably different, however, necessitating action by a conference committee. In conference, the Senate repeatedly insisted on its own amendments, and after nearly a year, the House relented and approved the Senate version on May 13, 1912.16


After the Resolution finally gained the approval of Congress, it needed only 11 months to be ratified by the States. With 48 States in the Union, 36 were needed to ratify for the Seventeenth Amendment to become part of the Constitution. On April 8, 1913, Connecticut became the 36th State to ratify. The ratification dates of each of the States appear below:

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8. Ibid., 57th Congress, 1st Session, 1901-1902, 35.2: 1721-1722.

9. Ibid., 61st Congress, 3rd Session, 1911, 46.4: 3638-89.

10. Ibid., 62nd Congress, 1st Session, 1911, 47.1: 243.

11. Ibid., 203.

Apr. 1, 1913
Apr. 2, 1913
Apr. 8, 1913

The Seventeenth Amendment was certified by William Jennings Bryan on May 13, 1913. Thereafter, Louisiana ratified it on June 11, 1914.17 Two States, Utah and Delaware, rejected the Amendment on February 26, 1913 and March 18, 1913, respectively. No action was completed by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. No legislative sessions were held during the pendency of the resolution in Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, and Virginia. 18

The Seventeenth Amendment appears officially as 37 Stat. 1785.


1. Honorable Joseph L. Bristow, Resolution for the Direct Election of Senators, (Washington, D.C.: GPA, 1912), 5.

2. Congressional Record. 62nd Congress, 1st Session, 1911, 47, Pt. 1: 231-232.

3. M.A. Musmanno, Proposed Amendments to the Constitution, H. Doc. 551, 70th Congress, 2nd Session, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1929), 216–217.

4. Herman V. Ames, The Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the United States During the First Century of Its History, presented in the 54th Congress, 2nd Session, 1897, H. Doc. 353: 61-63.

5. Congressional Record, 53rd Congress, 2nd Session, 1894, 26, Pt. 8: 7782.

6. Ibid., 55th Congress, 2nd Session, 1898, 31, Pt. 5: 4925.

7. Ibid., 1st Session, 1897, 4128.

12. Ibid., 241-242.

13, Ibid., 787-788.

14. Ibid., 1428-1429.

15. Ibid., 1925.

16. Ibid., 62nd Congress, 2nd Session, 1912, 48: 4905, 5169-5172, 5433, 6345-6369. 17. Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government, The Constitution of the U.S., (Richmond), 33. 18. Ibid.

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