One of the most heated topics in all of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 concerned the protection of the states from an overpowering national government. In the beginning, the large states wanted both houses of congress to be representative of the population of the different states. The small states, of course, saw this as a means by which they would be robbed of their voices and the large states would have total dominance in congress. This problem nearly split and destroyed the convention. It wasn't until Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed his Great Compromise that the influential leaders began to see the wisdom of this new system—the House would represent the states according to population and the Senate would represent the states equally. Each side of the issue would thus be represented. It was at this time that Washington admitted he was wrong at first and that this new idea truly had merit in forming a more perfect union. What some may not have realized fully was the protection this new idea gave to the people against an abusive national government. When the Founders had finished their work in Philadelphia, they had created a government that was limited, divided, and balanced. Graphically, it could be represented as follows:
Even though Washington became a foremost proponent of the senators being chosen by the state legislatures, some of the others were slow to see the wisdom of that system. One of those was Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson was not at the convention and was not privy to the many heated debates prior to the Great Compromise. He was a great populist and always thought representation should be by population. Even though he had tutored Madison by sending him many books prior to the convention, still he had questions about this new procedure. When Jefferson finally returned from France, he asked Washington why the senators were not elected by the people. Washington asked him why he poured his hot drink in his saucer before drinking it. And Jefferson replied, “To cool it.” “And that,” Washington replied, “is what the Senate is for.”
The Senate is to cool down any hotheaded or imprudent legislation coming out of the House.
One might ask, “What is there about the House members that would engender hotheaded or imprudent legislation?” They are elected every two years, which means they have to campaign for re-election every two years. Since Representatives in the House have mostly to do with raising and spending money (all revenue bills must begin in the House) they just might be tempted to say to their constituents, “Look what I have done for you! I have brought you all of this federal money down into our district, down into our schools, our towns and cities, our hospitals, our county, our health care systems, etc. Re-elect me so I can keep these monies coming to us.” In other words, the House members would be the most likely ones to get the people hooked on federal money by building a “money bridge” from Washington , D.C. directly to the people. And, of course, they would fall prey to the age-old technique of taking from those who have in order to give more and more to those who have not. If this happens, what level of government would be completely left out of the process? The states! The very level of government meant to stand between the national government and the people!
“These [the ‘have-nots'] may in time outnumber those [the ‘haves'] who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of suffrage [each person has one vote], the power will slide into the hands of the former. No agrarian attempts have yet been made in this country; but symptoms of a leveling spirit, as we have understood, have sufficiently appeared in a certain quarter to give notice of the future danger.”He then explains that the Founders created the Senate to prevent leveling from occurring:
"How is this danger to be guarded against, on the republican principles? How is the danger, in all cases of interested coalitions to oppress the minority [the ‘haves'], to be guarded against? Among other means, by the establishment of a body, in the government, sufficiently respectable for its wisdom and virtue to aid, on such emergencies, the preponderance of justice, by throwing its weight into that scale. Such being the objects of the second branch in the proposed government [the Senate], he thought a considerable duration [six-year terms] ought to be given to it."Madison words above explained why the Senate was to guard the property of those who “have” against those who “have-not” but the Senate also protected the people from the very wealthy “haves” who sought power over everybody else. The original Senate also stands in the way of those who want centralized government The Founders' formula for the Senate also prevented some of the super-wealthy ‘haves' from gaining power by centralizing power in Washington . The Industrial Revolution produced some very wealthy capitalists, a few of which sought to control the machinery of the national government. In their attempts to do so, the states stood in their way. It was difficult to centralize power in Washington when those pesky states are always there to say “no” to proposals which would usurp power from the states and infringe on states' rights. One of the things these wealthy people did, however, is get control of much of the media in order to influence public opinion. This set the stage for major changes in the structure of the national government. It was dubbed the “progressive” era.