He addresses first the qualifications for election to the Senate, which are pretty straightforward. Senators are meant to be older than Representatives, he writes, because "the nature of the senatorial trust, which, requiring greater extent of information and stability of character, requires at the same time that the senator should have reached a period of life most likely to supply these advantages."
Seventeenth Amendment. That consensus stood for a long while, but lately some have advocated a return to the legislative election of Senators as a method for re-establishing the states' role in the federal government. Is this a return to early federalism or just a flash in the pan?
I think repeal is unlikely, but it might be a good idea.
In any event, Madison quickly moves on to the equality of representation in the Senate, which merits more discussion. He sees the Senate as the place for the states to have a voice in the federal sphere: "[T]he equal vote allowed to each State is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual States, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty." This equality was important to the Founding Fathers. Indeed, it was so important that it is the one part of the Constitution that may not be amended.
In dealing with the number of Senators and the length of their term, Madison really digs in to the purpose of the Senate. Having two houses, he believes, "doubles the security to the people, by requiring the concurrence of two distinct bodies in schemes of usurpation or perfidy." The last few papers have given the impression that early Americans were very concerned that their government might be bribed. Perhaps the parlous state of Poland's parliament made them fear that our own would be similarly corrupted; in any case, two houses are harder (or more expensive) to bribe than one.
Next, Madison addresses the more common explanation for the Senate: protecting against sudden whims and swings of public opinion that might otherwise sweep through a fickle government. This excerpt from the Senate's website recounts the tale of the Senate's purpose:
An oft-quoted story about the "coolness" of the Senate involves George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who was in France during the Constitutional Convention. Upon his return, Jefferson visited Washington and asked why the Convention delegates had created a Senate. "Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer?" asked Washington. "To cool it," said Jefferson. "Even so," responded Washington, "we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it."Madison next explains that Senators, by virtue of their longer terms of office, will be more familiar with legislation and governance than the House. While the House changed overnight with the addition of many new members, the Senate's six-year staggered terms mean that there are likely to be more members there familiar with how to make laws than in the other house. This argument carries less weight now, when professional congressional staff and the parliamentarian carry this institutional knowledge with them from member to member and safe districts keep some House members in office as long as Senators. Most of all, the persistence of Senators in office frustrates those who wish for change, in whatever form. Then again, perhaps that frustration is deliberate.
Having a consistent government, Madison believed, rendered us more trustworthy to other nations. Who would trust a nation that flips its opinion every other year? In this, the Senate still serves its purpose. Getting a novel treaty through the Senate is no easy task, as President Wilson found when he sought to abandon America's long-standing isolationism in 1919. For better of worse, the Senate resists fads.
Even domestically, Madison writes, instability in government harms the people. Constantly shifting laws lead to cautious capitalists sitting on the sidelines. "What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not but that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed?" This is more true than ever. Amity Shlaes made precisely this point in her The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, where she argued that by changing the rules and regulations so often the FDR administration undermined business confidence and prolonged the Great Depression. We see the same problem today, where one part of the government tells banks to increase their capital ratios, and another tells them to lend more money. What "prudent merchant" would risk any of his capital in such an environment?
Even beyond financial concerns, Madison writes, there is a larger reason for the Senate's stability. "[T]he most deplorable effect of all is that diminution of attachment and reverence which steals into the hearts of the people, towards a political system which betrays so many marks of infirmity, and disappoints so many of their flattering hopes. No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a certain portion of order and stability."