June 14, 2012 – Essay #84 – Proposed Congressional Apportionment Amendment, Essayist: David Eastman, 2011 Claremont Institute Abraham Lincoln Fellow

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http://vimeo.com/44015708

Before we conclude our 90 Day Amendment Study, we now take a look at some pending Constitutional Amendments, which have not been adopted:

The first in this short series is an amendment on Congressional Apportionment – Essayist: David Eastman, 2011 Claremont Institute Abraham Lincoln Fellow

Proposed Congressional Apportionment Amendment

“After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.”

Few today may be able to tell you, but the most immediate concern in the minds of many Americans following the adoption of the Constitution was not first amendment rights concerning freedom of speech, but rather first amendment rights concerning the number of representatives in Congress. And though it receives comparatively little attention in our own day, it was this issue that the Congress was compelled to tackle in the very first constitutional amendment it adopted (September 25, 1789).

Concerns over congressional apportionment predated ratification of the Constitution and were the subject of fully three of the Federalist Papers, in one of which Madison remarked “Scarce any article, indeed, in the whole Constitution seems to be rendered more worthy of attention by the weight of character and the apparent force of argument with which it has been assailed” (Federalist 55). The initial apportionment scheme that generated such high-spirited controversy was as follows:

“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…”

New Hampshire (3)
Massachusetts (8)
Rhode Island (1)
Connecticut (5)
New York (6)
New Jersey (4)
Pennsylvania (8)
Delaware (1)
Maryland (6)
Virginia (10)
North Carolina (5)
South Carolina (5)
Georgia (3)
Total (65)

Madison defended this portion of the proposed Constitution against a two-pronged attack: first, that the number of representatives in Congress, being too few, was inadequate to prevent corruption of the legislative body; and second, that such a number would deprive the body of sufficient knowledge owing to the inability of members of Congress to effectively represent such a large number of constituents. Also relevant was the concern that if the House of Representatives were ever to become too numerous, its character as a representative body would be undermined. Despite Madison’s best efforts to answer these concerns, they persisted, leading several states to propose amendments to this portion of the Constitution, which they submitted to the Articles Congress with their respective ratification documents.

These, and other requests submitted by the states, resulted in the first twelve amendments passed by the United States Congress and submitted to the states on September 25, 1789. Ten of the twelve were soon adopted as the Bill of Rights, and the eleventh would lay silently awaiting ratification until approved by the State of Michigan and finally added to the Constitution 202 years later, on May 7, 1992.

The twelfth and final amendment, the Congressional Apportionment Amendment, was ratified by a majority of states at the time of its passage, but less than the three-fourths required for adoption. This could be due in part to a transcription error that resulted in a mathematically impossible apportionment formula once the population of the United States reached 8 million and before it reached 10 million. The apportionment scheme now in use is determined by Congress, in keeping with the original text of the Constitution.

As it has already secured the approval of Congress, the Apportionment Amendment could follow the path taken by the 27th Amendment and be adopted if ratified by additional states. However, its passage today is unlikely, not only due to the passage of time but also due to the fact that approval would be of limited practical effect as the scheme currently approved by Congress is already in harmony with the Amendment. It seems Congress has been successful, at least as concerns this particular amendment, in fixing a number that is neither so numerous that passions become unwieldy, nor so few that states come to question the ability of their representatives to be independent voices amidst the representatives of other states.

David Eastman is a former U.S. Army Captain, a Claremont Lincoln Fellow. He can be reached at david@davideastman.org.

3 replies
    • Ralph T. Howarth, Jr.
      Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

      Apportionment is now calculated by every tenth year census of -total population-/435 where 435 is the fixed number of members of congress. 435 is considered to be a maximum assembly number to hold in a chamber. Any larger than that tends to stymie communication and such a chamber is duly nick-named a “mad house” due to the large number of shouting representatives.

      Reply
      • David Eastman
        David Eastman says:

        Quite right. A larger assembly would be expected to yield worse, rather than better, government. Madison made the same point in his, rather poignant, observation: “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” (Federalist 55) And as Congress also includes six non-voting members (one for each U.S. Territory), the total in a house assembly already stands at 441. The Representatives elected this year will each represent 710,767 people. It is worth noting that apportionment is currently designed so that no district includes more than one state, which means that some representatives will have larger districts than this, and some smaller.

        Reply

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