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Congressman William Lorimer in 1910

Congressman William Lorimer in 1910

Before 1912, the Constitution directed that U.S. Senators were elected by the members of a state legislature The Billy Lorimer Affair was sometimes called "The Bribe That Changed the Constitution." In 1909. there was a vacancy for U.S. Senator from Illinois and Springfield allies of Congressman Billy Loimer (R-Chicago) placed his name in nomination out of the blue on May 28, 1909 to break a deadlock among members of the General Assembly who were debating a replacement senator. With lightning speed, Billy Lorimer was elected U.S. Senator, receiving 55 Republican and 53 Democratic votes. Even by historic Illinois deal-making standards, this one was breathtaking.
Almost from the start, reporters in Springfield, Chicago, and Washington heard rumors that Lorimer’s allies had “purchased” the Senate seat for him. Some state legislators from both parties were tried and convicted of taking bribes to elect Lorimer but hen Lorimer also bribed two juries to acquit his state legislator allies. Since the Illinois judicial and political system failed to replace Lorimer for two years, he eventually was expelled from the U.S. Senate by a majority of Senators from other states. In part because of the Lorimer bribery scandal and a similar scandal in Pennsylvania about the same time, the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, authorizing the direct election of U.S. Senators by the voters instead of the state legislature passed Congress in 1912 and was ratified by the required number of states including Illinois in less than fifteen months.

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