No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.
Article 1, Section 3, Clause 3
3: No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.
In setting out the framework for the fledgling government, the founders grappled with the most basic issue of creating a government that would not be so powerful as to overwhelm the citizenry, but still strong enough to withstand the test of time. The Senate, created as an analog to the upper house of Britain’s parliament, was meant to be a more deliberative body than the House of Representatives.
As such, the qualifications are rather different than those set out for House members. House members need only be 25 years of age, American citizens for only seven years, and need not be actual residents of their congressional district at the time of the election.
In fact, the qualifications set out in this section are rather more proscriptive than those set out in other sections, and it begs the question, “why.” Keeping in mind that this project will discuss the 17th Amendment at a later time, suffice it to say that initially United States Senators were to be selected by the legislatures of individual states. Because those doing the selection would be a narrower group in size and scope, the founders wanted to make certain that appropriate choices would be made by these state legislators. While there is tremendous accountability in having legislators do that selecting, nevertheless the authors of the Constitution thought it best to place strict rules on those qualifications.
Digging deeply into those qualifications themselves, what first jumps out is that the age requirements are greater than those for the House. If we are to understand that the Senate was to be the more deliberative of the houses of the US Congress, then this makes perfect sense. The founders recognized that the Senate ought to have a greater level of gravitas (given the limitations on size)—and such gravitas generally comes with age and experience. Even in the 18th Century, there was a tremendous leap in maturity between the ages of 25 and 30 (which, given life expectancies at the time was approaching middle age). Madison, in Federalist #62, referred to this as “stability of character.”
This requirement also opens the possibility of potential Senators gaining federal legislative experience by first being members of the US House of Representatives.
Most people are surprised to learn that there are no actual “residency” requirements for US House members—they must merely inhabit the states whose districts they are supposed to represent. The Constitution’s authors had tremendous faith in the people in terms of being able to decide the propriety of those they would directly elect. In both the requirements for House members and for Senators, they use the word “inhabit” to make it abundantly clear that they wanted these elected officials to live in their states—and again, the founders came down somewhat more strictly on potential Senators. According to various historical accounts, Convention Delegate (and member of the committee to author the Declaration of Independence) Roger Sherman moved specifically to substitute “inhabit” for “resident” for these reasons.
While there may have been adequate reasons for not requiring habitation in House districts in the 18th and early 19th centuries, given the finite number of Senators from each state the founders wanted to ensure that someone from that state would be representing that state’s interests in the Senate. This was especially important when one considers that given the realities of travel and transportation at this time, as well as prevailing political perceptions (as evidenced later by the 9th and 10th Amendments), the states themselves were viewed as sovereign entities in their own right.
According to the Senate’s official history, the 9-year citizenship requirement was a compromise—between those who believed that anything less would allow for people with a remaining “dangerous attachment” to their mother countries to gain undue influence in American affairs (especially given the Senate’s role in ratifying treaties with foreign nations), and those who believed that anything more would hinder “positive immigration” and offend those nations in Europe who had lent support for our revolution.
It is interesting to note in this regard that this qualification differs greatly from that of the President’s. The founders recognized that because the Senate’s power was diffused among many members, the President, as Commander-in-chief and the Chief Executive of the United States, acts with a solitary and unilateral power (within limits). So while the President must be a natural-born citizen, the same does not hold true for Senators.
All in all, while relatively straightforward, once again the founders demonstrated their brilliance in laying out a strong yet simple framework for our nation’s government.
Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty http://www.instituteforliberty.org/