MacGillis on the Senate

Alec MacGillis has a great piece in the Post on the evils of the U.S. Senate. Probably little of it will be strikingly new to anyone who’s read my extensive whining on this subject, but this bit of history—how the GOP manipulated the entrance of new states into the union in order to artificially preserve control of the senate—isn’t as well-understood as it should be:

After the Civil War, the Senate became the bastion of the GOP as the party pushed to admit pro-Republican states to the union. Nevada was admitted in 1864 to help ratify the Civil War amendments despite being virtually empty; the Dakotas joined in 1889, split in two to provide more votes in the Senate and the Electoral College; Wyoming joined a year later with 63,000 residents.

With these added votes in the Senate and the Electoral College, the Republicans dominated throughout the late 19th century despite Democratic strength in the House. High tariffs, land giveaways in the West, lax regulation of railroads and a pro-business Supreme Court were all thanks partly to the underpopulated new states, says MIT historian Charles Stewart III.

It turns out that if territories had been turned into states in order of their population, rather than in order of the partisan needs of the Republican Party, that control of the legislature would have looked quite different in the late nineteenth century.