The 17th Amendment


The 17th Amendment


Unsurprisingly, DailySuffragist readers know their amendments. As 62% of you knew, the 16th Amdt allowed Congress to levy a direct income tax. They needed to amend the Constitution to repudiate a Supreme Court decision that blocked a progressive tax law. The other one? Read on.

The 17th Amendment expanded voting rights. Yup, you heard that right. By 1913 more than ½ of the states let voters choose their Senators more or less directly. In the rest, Senators were still picked by the state legislature, as the Constitution originally designed.

There's an interesting scholarly debate about whether direct election of Senators produced more representative results, or substantially different results at all. Either way, the change did nothing for the vast majority of US women, nor for Black men in southern states.

The ratification of the 17th Amendment in the spring of 1913 is worth another moment of contemplation, perhaps fury. It was the height of the Progressive era. Democrats controlled Congress, and with the election of Wilson they now held the presidency.

Women had been lobbying for the vote for more than 60 years. If their cause had once been fringe, by 1913 it was mainstream and widely-discussed. By 1913 all of the states of the Deep South had adopted white primaries. What's that? Exactly what it sounds like.

Northern legislators understood that southern states had been politically enriched by the Civil War. Instead of a stolen representation bonus of ⅗ of a person, southern states now counted ALL of their Black citizens for apportionment of House seats and Electors - without votes.

But in 1913 the white men of Congress looked at what needed changing about voting in America, and that wasn’t it. Nor that most of the women in the country couldn’t vote. The fact that some white men had more power to choose their Senators than others - well, THAT was unfair.


Daily Suffragist




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Daily Suffragist, “The 17th Amendment,” Daily Suffragist, accessed September 21, 2023,

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