Conflicted from the Start

May 31, 1913

May 31, 1913 marks the day that William Jennings Bryan announced the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. From this point forward, United States Senators would no longer be elected by their respective state legislatures. Instead, they would be elected by popular vote.

Looking back from our vantage point, the change seems simple enough…logical enough. The controversy surrounding the Seventeenth Amendment, however, caused a “few” years to pass from the initial conversations to the actual ratification. In fact, it was debated first somewhere around the year 1787 by a Scottish-born man named James Wilson. Mr. Wilson was not only a member of the Constitutional Convention, he was one of the first six Supreme Court Justices appointed by George Washington.

James Wilson served on a committee with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to define the term “treason,” and on the Committee of Detail, which penned the first draft of the US Constitution. He was the only member of the committee to support the idea of US Senators being elected by popular vote, and was forced to acquiesce his position in order for the final document to be produced.

Within just a few short decades, calls for reform were proposed and constitutional amendments were drafted and struck down. Advocates for US Senators to be elected by popular vote tried in 1828, 1829, and again in 1855. In 1893, an amendment proposal won the two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives before dying in the Senate. Again in 1900, then in 1904, and yet again in 1908. By the year 1910, 31 states had passed motions asking for reform, and approximately 90 years after the amendment had first been proposed, Secretary of State Bryan was able to declare the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment.

Conflict over the Seventeenth Amendment continues to this very day, with political groups calling for reform. In the interest of protecting states’ rights and reducing the power of the federal government, there are politicians who believe the amendment should be completely repealed, and others who simply want portions of it to be revised.

Shortbread from Mr. Wilson’s Homeland

8 oz butter
8 oz white flour
4oz cornstarch
4oz powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cream the butter and powdered sugar together until pale and smooth. Add the flour and cornstarch and mix until a dough is formed.

Roll out the dough to approximately 1 cm. thickness and cut out the cookies with a shaped cutter. Place on a baking sheet and poke the tops with a fork.

Bake for 45 minutes or until they begin to look golden, keep a watchful eye on the baking process as cooking times may vary. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool before taking them off the baking sheet.

*Scottish Shortbread recipe adapted from

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