Setting Up the House Of Representatives


washington dc, capital, america

Article I (Article 1 – Legislative)

Section 1

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Section 2

1: The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

2: No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

3: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.  The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolinafive, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, causing the three fifths compromise to be unnecessary.

13th Amendment

Section 1

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Fourteenth Amendment reapportioned the Representatives without slavery:

14th Amendment

Section 1

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5

The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

4: When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

5: The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Writing the Constitution was a long and arduous process done in the hot Philadelphia summer of 1787 with the windows shuttered to avoid making the proceedings public.

With no air conditioning and no open windows allowing a cross breeze, the founders endured stifling conditions to mold the United States Constitution into a document that would forever change the world. Today we examine Sections 1 and 2 of Article I.

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers, a series of letters written to the citizens of New York by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, give us insights into how the founders made decisions about the particulars of our nation’s new governing document.

In some cases the authorship of a particular letter is unclear. Be sure to read my series on the Preamble to the Constitution for more of the backstory.

Article I begins with the establishment of Congress, divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate. This is called a bicameral legislature, meaning two sections of the lawmaking body with independent functions.

James Madison, considered the Father of the Constitution for his ample contribution to its ideas and ultimate form, explained the separation of powers in Federalist Paper #47:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. 

Having recently fought a war to throw off the tyranny of England’s King George III, Madison and the other founders wanted to ensure that the powers of government would be spread widely among its members so that no one person or group could wrest control away from the people.

Elections Every Two Years

Section 2 of Article I establishes the House of Representatives. Federalist Paper #52, written either by Madison or Hamilton, explains why the House of Representatives has elections every two years:

As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people. Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured.

In other words, more frequent elections make the Representatives more likely to behave themselves because we have the power to replace them quickly. Federalist Paper #52 concludes with this analysis:

[T]he greater the power is, the shorter ought to be its duration; and, conversely, the smaller the power, the more safely may its duration be protracted…With less power, therefore, to abuse, the federal representatives can be less tempted on one side, and will be doubly watched on the other. 

In Federalist Paper #57, Hamilton or Madison addresses the selection of the electors, who ultimately choose the Representatives. Each state has its own requirements for voting.

Voting For Representatives

Future Amendments to the Constitution would address national voting rights as they pertain to sex, race, religion, servitude, age, and property ownership, but in the eighteenth century voting was generally limited to taxpaying, free adult males.

The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. They are to be the same who exercise the right in every State of electing the corresponding branch of the legislature of the State. Who are to be the objects of popular choice? Every citizen whose merit may recommend him to the esteem and confidence of his country.

States are divided into Congressional districts according to their population, and the voters of each district choose one Representative.

Qualifications for the House of Representatives

The next paragraph of Section 2 sets the minimum qualifications for a Representative: at least twenty five years old, a citizen of the United States for at least seven years, and an occupant of the represented state.

The Founders did not require the Representative to be landed, white, or male, or to have a specific religious affiliation. They trusted the people to choose their Representatives based on virtue and reason, because all the laws passed by the House would also apply to the Representatives themselves.

If this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty… Duty, gratitude, interest, ambition itself, are the chords by which they will be bound to fidelity and sympathy with the great mass of the people.

The third paragraph contains the Great Compromise, by which it was decided that the House of Representatives would be chosen based on population and the Senate would have two members from each state.

In Federalist Paper #62, Hamilton or Madison explains why they did not go with strict population counts to decide the number of members of both houses.

That would have resulted in the large states making all the decisions. They also did not go with an equal number per state in both houses, because that would give the smaller states an unfair advantage:

[T]he government ought to be founded on a mixture of the principles of proportional and equal representation…No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then, of a majority of the States.

Addressing Slavery

At the time of our founding, slavery had to be figured into the representational system. Delegates opposed to slavery wanted to count only free inhabitants because slaves could not vote.

Advocates of slavery wanted the slaves to be counted as a way to increase the representation of their states. Abolitionists wanted to outlaw slavery because of the evil involved in owning another human.

Taxation was tied to the same ratio. Native Americans were not counted because they were not taxed. Indentured servants, bound to serve for a specified number of years in order to pay off a debt, were considered free.

America had not yet addressed the evils of slavery at this point, and its consequences would continue to bedevil the United States until the Union was nearly severed in the Civil War.

Setting aside the topic of abolition until 1808, when importation of slaves would become illegal, the Founders reached a compromise: a slave would be counted as three fifths of a person.

This provision would be removed from the Constitution when the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery in 1865 and the Fourteenth Amendment repealed the three-fifths compromise in 1868.

I have kept the original wording in this article but in strikethrough format so you can see the parts that were amended.

The Census

The third paragraph of Section 2 establishes a census every 10 years for the purpose of setting the number of Representatives: one for every thirty thousand people, with a minimum of one per state.

Initial numbers were included to give the government three years to accomplish the first census. The number of voting House members was fixed at 435 in 1911, plus nonvoting members from Washington DC and US territories. Madison addresses the census in Federalist Paper #58:

Within every successive term of ten years a census of inhabitants is to be repeated. The unequivocal objects of these regulations are, first, to readjust, from time to time, the apportionment of representatives to the number of inhabitants, under the single exception that each State shall have one representative at least; secondly, to augment the number of representatives at the same periods, under the sole limitation that the whole number shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand inhabitants.

Paragraph four of Section 2 allows the states to hold elections in the case of a vacancy.

The Power to Impeach

Paragraph five allows the House to choose its own Speaker and Officers and gives the House the sole power to impeach, with the Senate deciding whether to convict the impeached officeholder. Hamilton explains the procedure in Federalist Paper #66:

An absolute or qualified negative in the executive upon the acts of the legislative body, is admitted, by the ablest adepts in political science, to be an indispensable barrier against the encroachments of the latter upon the former…the concurrence of two thirds of the Senate will be requisite to a condemnation. 

Throughout the Constitution we will see checks and balances as the power of one section of the government keeps another from overrunning its boundaries. This is the genius of the Constitution.

Stay tuned for the next installment of my series on the Constitution. I will walk you through it one section at a time as we explore the structure of our national government.

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Carla Pittman

Carla is a Speech Pathologist working in Home Health by day and a blogger by night. She married Chris in 2008 and is working to help him unite his love of guns with his passion for teaching others to carry safely. Her other impetus for blogging is to make Americans aware of their Constitutional rights, which are at risk in the current political environment.

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