University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Debate Over the Senate

Because most states had bicameral legislatures, there was little debate at the Philadelphia Convention over the establishment of a bicameral legislature that would replace the unicameral Confederation Congress. However, there was considerable debate over representation in each house.

During the debate over ratification, large-state Antifederalists attacked the equal state representation in the Senate as inequitable. If Delaware, with less than ten percent of Virginia’s population, had the same representation as the Old Dominion in the Senate, how could anyone imagine that Virginians were fairly represented? Antifederalists also denounced the aristocratic nature of the Senate. Senators were to be elected by their state legislatures to six-year terms. Because Senators did not face mandatory rotation in office and were not subject to recall (as was the case in the Confederation Congress), Antifederalists feared they would serve for life.

Additional concerns focused on the Senate’s blended functions with the executive branch in appointments and making treaties. For Antifederalists this was a lack of a separation of powers between the branches of government. Additional concerns centered on the placement of the Vice-President as the president of the Senate with voting powers in the event of a deadlock. Antifederalists were also critical of the Senate’s role in judicial nominations as well as in the impeachment process. Because of this blending of powers, they speculated that the Senate would not convict anyone who was impeached.

Large-state Federalists justified the equality of the states in the Senate largely on the basis of expediency. Without this concession to the small states at the Philadelphia Convention, consensus would have been impossible. Furthermore, the different constituency of the Senate, coupled with the six-year term with one-third of the Senators being elected every two years, promised greater stability for Congress as a whole. The Senate’s role in advising the President was justified in several ways. It was argued that the Senate would be a repository of experience and wisdom, and as such, should be made available to the President. To counter the charge that the Senate was an aristocratic body, Federalists pointed out that it could do nothing by itself. In passing legislation, the Senate needed the agreement of the House. In treaty-making and appointments, the Senate acted in conjunction with, and most probably in response to, the actions of the President. If Senators violated their trust, they would not be re-elected by their state legislatures.

(F) Federalist Essays/Speeches

(AF) Antifederalist Essays/Speeches

As an Aristocratic Body

(F) An American Citizen II: On the Federal Government, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 28 September 1787 (pdf)
(F) Americanus II, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 19 December 1787 (pdf)
(F) Remarker, Boston Independent Chronicle, 17 January 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Centinel II, Philadelphia Freeman’s Journal, 24 October 1787 (pdf)
(AF) John De Witt III, Boston American Herald, 5 November 1787 (pdf)
(AF) Cato V, New York Journal, 22 November 1787 (pdf)
(AF) Cincinnatus IV: To James Wilson, Esquire, New York Journal, 22 November 1787 (pdf)
(AF) Luther Martin: Genuine Information IV, Baltimore Maryland Gazette, 8 January 1788 (pdf)

Comparison to British System

(F) A Democratic Federalist, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 26 November 1787 (pdf)

General Criticism of Senate

(AF) Brutus XVI, New York Journal, 10 April 1788 (pdf)
(AF) A Native of Virginia: Observations upon the Proposed Plan of Federal Government, 2 April 1788 (pdf)

General Praise of Senate

(F) Americanus II, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 19 December 1787 (pdf)
(F) Marcus I, Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal, 20 February 1788 (pdf)
(F) Publius: The Federalist 62, New York Independent Journal, 27 February 1788 (pdf)

Powers of Appointment in Senate

(F) Publius: The Federalist 66, New York Independent Journal, 8 March 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Federal Farmer: An Additional Number of Letters to the Republican, 2 May 1788 (pdf)

Powers of Senate Blended with Other Branches

(F) An American: To Richard Henry Lee, Draft Found in Tench Coxe Papers (pdf)
(F) Aristides: Remarks on the Proposed Plan, 31 January 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Cato IV, New York Journal, 8 November 1787 (pdf)
(AF) Cincinnatus IV: To James Wilson, Esquire, New York Journal, 22 November 1787 (pdf)

Powers-Treaty Making in Senate

(F) Marcus III, Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal, 5 March 1788 (pdf)
(F) Cassius I: To Richard Henry Lee, Esquire, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 2 April 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Federal Farmer: An Additional Number of Letters to the Republican, 2 May 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Patrick Henry Speech in the Virginia Convention, 18 June 1788 (pdf)

Powers-Impeachment in Senate

(F) Publius: The Federalist 65, New York Packet, 7 March 1788 (pdf)
(F) Publius: The Federalist 66, New York Independent Journal, 8 March 1788 (pdf)
(F) A Freeholder, Virginia Independent Chronicle, 9 April 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Cincinnatus V: To James Wilson, Esquire, New York Journal, 29 November 1787 (pdf)
(AF) Federal Farmer: An Additional Number of Letters to the Republican, New York, 2 May 1788 (pdf)

Representation in Senate

(F) Robert R. Livingston Speech in the New York Convention, 24 June 1788 (pdf)
(F) Alexander Hamilton Speech in the New York Convention, 25 June 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Luther Martin: Genuine Information IV, Baltimore Maryland Gazette, 8 January 1788 (pdf)

Size of Senate

(F) Fabius II, Pennsylvania Mercury, 15 April 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Dissent of the Minority of the Pennsylvania Convention, Pennsylvania Packet, 18 December 1787 (pdf)

Terms of Senate

(F) Publius: The Federalist 63, New York Independent Journal, 1 March 1788 (pdf)
(F) Alexander Hamilton Speech in the New York Convention, 24 June 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Luther Martin: Genuine Information IV, Baltimore Maryland Gazette, 8 January 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Gilbert Livingston Speech in the New York Convention, 24 June 1788 (pdf)
(AF) John Lansing, Jr., Speech in the New York Convention, 24 June 1788 (pdf)
(AF) Melancton Smith Speech in New York Convention, 25 June 1788 (pdf)