U.S. Senate

Last week we began a series of history lessons based on the Constitution and how the provisions of our Constitution set up three branches of government—each supreme in his own designated area. This has usually been referred to as the “separation of powers,” as each branch has no control or authority over either one of the other two branches.
The Founding Fathers acted wisely, as the history of our country over the last 200 years bears witness. Dividing the powers of government between three equal branches—the Congress or legislative branch, the courts or judicial branch, and the President or the executive branch—has worked well.
Today we take a look at the Upper House of the Congress, the United States Senate. How many senators are there in the Senate? One hundred, two from each state regardless of a state’s size or population. Who is the presiding officer or, the President of the Senate as he is called? The Vice President of the United States. The President of the Senate does not have a vote in that body except to break a tie vote.
The Senate, which is sometimes called the most exclusive club in the world, has different rules than the House of Representatives. One rule is that they have no time limits. Once a senator gains the floor by being recognized by the President of the Senate, he can hold the floor as long as he can hold out. This allows for what is called “filibusters.” A small group of senators opposed to a bill can organize a “filibuster” and try to talk the bill to death or have it amended more to their liking.
This happened when the Senate was debating some of the civil rights bills in the 1960s. To counteract this strategy, Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson scheduled round-the-clock sessions to wear down the speakers. The senators who were filibustering retaliated by repeated “no quorum calls” at all ours of the day and night. Every time the “no quorum” is called the presiding officer has the Clerk call the roll and a bell is sounded throughout the Capitol and Senate office buildings and senators come to the floor to answer to their names.
One night at a very late hour, it took the presiding officer and the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate over four hours to round up a quorum so business could proceed. This gave those who were filibustering a much-needed rest. Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and Minority Leader Everett Dirksen then decided to have cots brought in and placed in the reception rooms just off the Senate floor, so that all senators could stay close by twenty-four hours a day. This way the filibuster was finally brought to an end and the bill brought to a vote.
The Senate has been considered a high prestige post and many of our foremost citizens have served in this august body. For instance, there are 87 statues in the Hall of Fame in the Nation’s Capitol and 33 of these represent men who have served in the United States Senate. There is one statue from the state of Illinois representing a senator that I think is most unusual. The name is not familiar to many of us from states other than Illinois—General James Shields. And what is so unusual about Gen. Shields? He was elected and served in the Senate from three different states—Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri, which is quite a record.
The Senate has also been fertile field for Presidential candidates. I did not check on the also-rans, Vice Presidents and Cabinet members who previously served in the Senate, but I did note that 16 of our 38 presidents saw previous service in the Senate. The list is quite impressive—James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, Warren G. Harding, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.
The Senate is a continuing body. One third of the senators are elected each general election every two years, and they are elected for a term of six years. Congressmen are only elected for a term of two years. Senators were originally elected by the state legislatures and were considered by the writers of The Constitution to be the representatives of the state government while the members of the House represented “the people.”
Robert LaFollette, when he was Governor of Wisconsin, called for direct election of United States Senators, and soon all the states in the Union followed suit, so now the people elect their senators as well as the members of the House.
The United States Senate has a long and cherished tradition as one of the great parliamentary bodies in all of history and many distinguished citizens have graced its marble halls.

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