During the Philadelphia Convention, the Constitutional framers sought to create a check against the potential excess of “mob” rule and legislative tyranny emanating from the House and the executive branch. They also wanted to give the States the ability to check Federal power.
Remember that the Founders considered themselves citizens of their States first and a general government or nation second.
Under the Constitution as ratified, Senators were appointed by the States. As James Madison explained in Federalist No. 62, the design of the Senate was “probably the most congenial with the public opinion. It is recommended by the double advantage of favouring a select appointment, and of giving to the state governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government, as must secure the authority of the former; and may form a convenient link between the two systems.”
The Senate was designed as a check on all three branches of government. It has the power to block legislation coming from the House, it can block executive appointments to the executive and judicial branches, it can block foreign treaties and it tries impeachments. It was understood by the Founders as the chamber that States could use to check the authority of the general government.
Trench Coxe of Pennsylvania wrote as “A Freeman” in 1788. He argued that the Senate’s check on appointment powers was the surest safeguard for State interests.
The Senate can reject them all, and independently give their reasons to the people and to the legislatures. They will often do so, we cannot doubt, when we remember where their private interests, affections and connexions lie, to whom they will owe their seats—to whom they must look for future favors of some kind.
Their “private interests, affections and connexions” lay, of course, with the States.
Madison believed that sufficient safeguards were in place to shackle the Senate from “lawless ambition.” In Federalist No. 62 he wrote:
Before [the Senate can become a ‘dangerous preeminence in the government’ it] must in the first place corrupt itself; must next corrupt the state legislatures, must then corrupt the house of representatives, and must finally corrupt the people at large… Is there any man who can seriously persuade himself, that the proposed senate can, by any possible means within the compass of human address, arrive at the object of lawless ambition through all these obstructions?
What Madison didn’t count on was the 17th Amendment. It changed the appointment of Senators to direct election and removed a barrier to corruption. It led to what George Mason feared: a group of “citizens” of the “federal town” rather than of their own States.
The Founders would have opposed the 17th Amendment. They would have opposed vehemently Senator Harry Reid’s power grab, which lowered the threshold for executive and judicial appointments to a simple majority. Overturning a precedent that worked for more than 200 years has served to turn the Senate from a deliberative body into one ruled by a “mob.”
Source: The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution by Brion McClanahan