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Congress: Chosen by the People

Selections from the Willard Saulsbury, Jr., papers

Congress Week 2012 exhibition poster.

The University of Delaware Library joins the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress in a national celebration of the third annual Congress Week, September 16-22, 2012. Coinciding with the commemoration of Constitution Day on September 17, the theme of Congress Week 2012 is "Congress: Chosen by the People," reflecting the constitutional language about election of members (Article 1, section 2, and Amendment XVII).

Saulsbury was the last U.S. senator selected by the Delaware state legislature before direct popular elections enacted by the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1913.

Article 1, section 3 of the Constitution held that the "Senate of the United States shall be composed of two senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof for six years," which worked until the mid-nineteenth century when numerous factions in state legislatures delayed elections of senators. By the turn of the twentieth century, between 1891 and 1905, forty-five election deadlocks occurred in twenty states and Delaware's contentious state legislature notoriously failed to elect a senator in 1895, 1899, 1901, and 1905. Between 1901 and 1903, both seats were vacant and Delaware had no representation in the United States Senate.

Willard Saulsbury, Jr. (1861-1927) was the scion of one of Delaware's most storied political families. His father Willard Saulsbury, Sr. (1820-1892) served two terms in the U.S. Senate, 1859-1871, during the tumultuous years of the Civil War and was known for passionate speeches against Union abuses of states' rights. He faced competition for election to a third term in the Senate from both of his brothers, one of whom (Dr. Gove Saulsbury), was the governor of Delaware. Willard, however, supported his other brother, Eli Saulsbury, who succeeded him and served three terms in the U.S. Senate (1871-1889).

Willard Saulsbury, Jr., who had become active in Democratic Party leadership at the state and national level, was widely credited for orchestrating the nomination of Woodrow Wilson as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1912 and managing a large part of the national campaign leading to Wilson's election. After six attempts to win nomination from his state party, Saulsbury, Jr., finally succeeded and was elected by the Delaware legislature to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1913. The Seventeenth Amendment, which was passed in 1913, replaced the phrase "chosen by the Legislature thereof" with "elected by the people thereof" and the first direct elections of senators were held in 1914. When Saulsbury ran for re-election to a second term in 1918, he lost the popular vote in Delaware to L. Heisler Ball, who served one term.

The Willard Saulsbury, Jr., papers document a remarkable period in Delaware and national politics. Selected items from the collection, which is housed in Special Collections in the University of Delaware Library, reflect Saulsbury's leadership in the U.S. Senate, where he served as President Pro Tempore, campaign ephemera from the lost 1918 election, and early 1920s Delawareana attesting to Saulsbury's continuing political clout. The Willard Saulsbury, Jr., papers were acquired in the late 1940s with the assistance of the late Dr. John A. Munroe, H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus of History, from Judge Hugh Morris. Judge Morris, after whom the Library is named, was Willard Saulsbury, Jr.'s law partner and executor of Saulsbury's estate.

The University of Delaware Library is an institutional member of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC), which was founded in 2003 to support a wide range of programs designed to inform and educate students, scholars, policy-makers, and members of the general public on the history of Congress, legislative process, and current issues facing Congress. The ACSC encourages preservation of material that documents the work of Congress, including the papers of representatives and senators, and supports programs that make those materials available for educational and research use. In addition to the Saulsbury papers and the papers of George Gray (U.S. Senate, 1885-1899), the University of Delaware Library holds a stellar collection of modern congressional holdings: John J. Williams (U.S. Senate, 1947-1971); J. Allen Frear, Jr. (U.S. Senate, 1949-1961); Thomas C. Carper (U.S. House of Representatives, 1983-1993); Michael N. Castle (U.S. House of Representatives, 1993-2011); and Edward E. "Ted" Kaufman (U.S. Senate, 2009-2010). The most recent addition to these important resources is the collection of senatorial papers from Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (U.S. Senate, 1973-2009), which arrived in June 2012.


President Pro Tempore, U.S. Senate: Willard Saulsbury, Senator from Delaware, as his colleagues regard him. Campaign broadside, 1918.

Manuscript notes on voter population and delegate counts in Delaware, with campaign ephemera advocating union support for Saulsbury in the 1918 election.

"Sketch" of Saulsbury by Gee Tee Maxwell in Blue Hen's Chicks in Caricature. Newark, Del.: Press of Kells, 1921. With George T. (Gee Tee) Maxwell letter to Saulsbury, 25 September 1921, urging Saulsbury to run as the Democratic candidate for U.S. senator in 1922.

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