The House of Representatives
From the New York Packet.
Friday, February 8, 1788.

Author: Alexander Hamilton or James Madison

To the People of the State of New York:

FROM the more general inquiries pursued in the four last papers, I pass on to a more particular examination of the several parts of the government. I shall begin with the House of Representatives. The first view to be taken of this part of the government relates to the qualifications of the electors and the elected. Those of the former are to be the same with those of the electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

The definition of the right of suffrage is very justly regarded as a fundamental article of republican government. It was incumbent on the convention, therefore, to define and establish this right in the Constitution. To have left it open for the occasional regulation of the Congress, would have been improper for the reason just mentioned. To have submitted it to the legislative discretion of the States, would have been improper for the same reason; and for the additional reason that it would have rendered too dependent on the State governments that branch of the federal government which ought to be dependent on the people alone. To have reduced the different qualifications in the different States to one uniform rule, would probably have been as dissatisfactory to some of the States as it would have been difficult to the convention. The provision made by the convention appears, therefore, to be the best that lay within their option.

It must be satisfactory to every State, because it is conformable to the standard already established, or which may be established, by the State itself. It will be safe to the United States, because, being fixed by the State constitutions, it is not alterable by the State governments, and it cannot be feared that the people of the States will alter this part of their constitutions in such a manner as to abridge the rights secured to them by the federal Constitution. The qualifications of the elected, being less carefully and properly defined by the State constitutions, and being at the same time more susceptible of uniformity, have been very properly considered and regulated by the convention. A representative of the United States must be of the age of twenty-five years; must have been seven years a citizen of the United States; must, at the time of his election, be an inhabitant of the State he is to represent; and, during the time of his service, must be in no office under the United States. Under these reasonable limitations, the door of this part of the federal government is open to merit of every description, whether native or adoptive, whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any particular profession of religious faith. The term for which the representatives are to be elected falls under a second view which may be taken of this branch. In order to decide on the propriety of this article, two questions must be considered: first, whether biennial elections will, in this case, be safe; secondly, whether they be necessary or useful. First. 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. But what particular degree of frequency may be absolutely necessary for the purpose, does not appear to be susceptible of any precise calculation, and must depend on a variety of circumstances with which it may be connected. Let us consult experience, the guide that ought always to be followed whenever it can be found. The scheme of representation, as a substitute for a meeting of the citizens in person, being at most but very imperfectly known to ancient polity, it is in more modern times only that we are to expect instructive examples. And even here, in order to avoid a research too vague and diffusive, it will be proper to confine ourselves to the few examples which are best known, and which bear the greatest analogy to our particular case. The first to which this character ought to be applied, is the House of Commons in Great Britain. The history of this branch of the English Constitution, anterior to the date of Magna Charta, is too obscure to yield instruction. The very existence of it has been made a question among political antiquaries. The earliest records of subsequent date prove that parliaments were to SIT only every year; not that they were to be ELECTED every year. And even these annual sessions were left so much at the discretion of the monarch, that, under various pretexts, very long and dangerous intermissions were often contrived by royal ambition. To remedy this grievance, it was provided by a statute in the reign of Charles II. , that the intermissions should not be protracted beyond a period of three years. On the accession of William III. , when a revolution took place in the government, the subject was still more seriously resumed, and it was declared to be among the fundamental rights of the people that parliaments ought to be held FREQUENTLY. By another statute, which passed a few years later in the same reign, the term “frequently,” which had alluded to the triennial period settled in the time of Charles II. , is reduced to a precise meaning, it being expressly enacted that a new parliament shall be called within three years after the termination of the former. The last change, from three to seven years, is well known to have been introduced pretty early in the present century, under on alarm for the Hanoverian succession. From these facts it appears that the greatest frequency of elections which has been deemed necessary in that kingdom, for binding the representatives to their constituents, does not exceed a triennial return of them. And if we may argue from the degree of liberty retained even under septennial elections, and all the other vicious ingredients in the parliamentary constitution, we cannot doubt that a reduction of the period from seven to three years, with the other necessary reforms, would so far extend the influence of the people over their representatives as to satisfy us that biennial elections, under the federal system, cannot possibly be dangerous to the requisite dependence of the House of Representatives on their constituents. Elections in Ireland, till of late, were regulated entirely by the discretion of the crown, and were seldom repeated, except on the accession of a new prince, or some other contingent event. The parliament which commenced with George II. was continued throughout his whole reign, a period of about thirty-five years. The only dependence of the representatives on the people consisted in the right of the latter to supply occasional vacancies by the election of new members, and in the chance of some event which might produce a general new election.

The ability also of the Irish parliament to maintain the rights of their constituents, so far as the disposition might exist, was extremely shackled by the control of the crown over the subjects of their deliberation. Of late these shackles, if I mistake not, have been broken; and octennial parliaments have besides been established. What effect may be produced by this partial reform, must be left to further experience. The example of Ireland, from this view of it, can throw but little light on the subject. As far as we can draw any conclusion from it, it must be that if the people of that country have been able under all these disadvantages to retain any liberty whatever, the advantage of biennial elections would secure to them every degree of liberty, which might depend on a due connection between their representatives and themselves. Let us bring our inquiries nearer home. The example of these States, when British colonies, claims particular attention, at the same time that it is so well known as to require little to be said on it. The principle of representation, in one branch of the legislature at least, was established in all of them. But the periods of election were different. They varied from one to seven years. Have we any reason to infer, from the spirit and conduct of the representatives of the people, prior to the Revolution, that biennial elections would have been dangerous to the public liberties? The spirit which everywhere displayed itself at the commencement of the struggle, and which vanquished the obstacles to independence, is the best of proofs that a sufficient portion of liberty had been everywhere enjoyed to inspire both a sense of its worth and a zeal for its proper enlargement This remark holds good, as well with regard to the then colonies whose elections were least frequent, as to those whose elections were most frequent Virginia was the colony which stood first in resisting the parliamentary usurpations of Great Britain; it was the first also in espousing, by public act, the resolution of independence.

In Virginia, nevertheless, if I have not been misinformed, elections under the former government were septennial. This particular example is brought into view, not as a proof of any peculiar merit, for the priority in those instances was probably accidental; and still less of any advantage in SEPTENNIAL elections, for when compared with a greater frequency they are inadmissible; but merely as a proof, and I conceive it to be a very substantial proof, that the liberties of the people can be in no danger from BIENNIAL elections. The conclusion resulting from these examples will be not a little strengthened by recollecting three circumstances. The first is, that the federal legislature will possess a part only of that supreme legislative authority which is vested completely in the British Parliament; and which, with a few exceptions, was exercised by the colonial assemblies and the Irish legislature. It is a received and well-founded maxim, that where no other circumstances affect the case, the 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. In the second place, it has, on another occasion, been shown that the federal legislature will not only be restrained by its dependence on its people, as other legislative bodies are, but that it will be, moreover, watched and controlled by the several collateral legislatures, which other legislative bodies are not. And in the third place, no comparison can be made between the means that will be possessed by the more permanent branches of the federal government for seducing, if they should be disposed to seduce, the House of Representatives from their duty to the people, and the means of influence over the popular branch possessed by the other branches of the government above cited. With less power, therefore, to abuse, the federal representatives can be less tempted on one side, and will be doubly watched on the other.


Howdy from the air! I am traveling to Boston for an historic event! For those of you who watch our videos and read these essays, you know that Juliette and I traveled to Boston in June. We visited the birthplace and homes of my favorite forefather and foremother, John and Abigail Adams!

We visited the burial place that holds the crypts of John Adams, Abigail Adam, John Quincy Adams and Louisa Catherine Adams. When we walked into the crypt, I wept. It was wondrously moving to be standing that near to the great beginnings of America and to the great human beings who sacrificed so much to make it happen.

While I was there, I was informed by Arthur, the Director of the Visitors, that no President, Vice-President, Senator, Congressman or woman, or Governor had ever come to pay respects and lay a wreath on their graves.

I was shocked. I decided then and there I was going to try to do something about it. Graciously, Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts, agreed to meet with me – this crazy Texan who wanted to have homage paid to the heroes of our Revolution, patriots whose lives are beyond compare.

To my joy, Senator Scott Brown was familiar with my cause and was aware of a ceremony for the Adam’s family that he had been asked to attend in October. “Wonderful!” I shouted. We proceeded to reminisce about the Adam’s legacy.

A week later, I called Arthur at the Church of the Presidents and told him about my mission and my meeting with Senator Scott Brown. That same moment I received an e-mail from Senator Scott Brown’s office that the Senator was going to lay a wreath on John Quincy Adam’s grave in July. “Fabulous!” I exclaimed.

Hence, this is why I am on the plane! Juliette and I are traveling to Boston to be a part of this historic moment.

John Adams, Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams and Louisa Catherine Adams are shining, brilliant treasures in our American history. Homage is due to them on a large scale.

My next mission is a monument for John Adams in Washington, DC and a portrait of Abigail Adams in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.!

The memories of John and Abigail are calling to me. They were not infallible, as men are not angels, but they had a devotion to America that was remarkable in its scope and a work ethic that I may only aspire to emulate.

As I like to say, Knowledge is to power what action is to results.

In regard to our great Constitution and Federalist Paper No. 52, the awe continues, not only in its enlightenment but with the continued precedent it sets. Publius’ mission was to educate the public on the Constitution and it is rich with the historical references. Not to mention that  their willingness to explain the “bill,”  exhibited a respect for “the people.”

There is another interesting aspect to the process of the Federalist Papers. In the written word, it is hard to deceive and deviate away from the question or explanation of intent. In speeches, our modern day equivalent, doublespeak prevails and “spin” prohibits true assessment of the meaning.

Not only should all bills written by our legislature be published for public consumption, as mentioned in Publics 48, but our representatives should write an essay, or two or three, on why they believe in it and how it best represents their state and America.

It was interesting to read about other countries and how their legislatures worked and did not work. Our Constitutional forefathers were very intent that our representatives remain accountable to the people knowing that a frequent asking of the people for justification, by their vote, would keep the Representatives humble and accountable.

We should reflect as modern day patriots the voter turnout for midterm elections. They are as valuable and viable as Presidential elections, yet so few Americans vote. Our vote is our voice! Let us reach out to inspire our fellow citizens to vote this midterm. To presume that they do not matter is the surest way to continue the downward spiral of our liberties and our Republic.

The Adam’s family is calling to us. Their intellect, honor, dignity and love for America illuminate the path for us. Let us take the road less traveled. Let us journey forth in the pathway of their sacrifices. What a privilege to walk in the shadows of their sublime statures.

God Bless,

Janine Turner

Friday, July 9th, 2010


Greetings from Mt. Vernon, Virginia!  Having spent many years working for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, I am thrilled to see several Federalist Papers devoted to the subject of the U.S. House.

Unfortunately, Congress as an institution and the people who serve there are suffering from a negative public perception.  As with any group of people, there are a few who deserve the public’s disdain.  And there are others who may not be re-elected this November because they have not carried out their constituents’ will.  But based on my experience of working first hand with many of these men and women, I have developed the highest respect for the institution of the U.S. House, and for most of  those elected from their congressional districts to serve, Republicans and Democrats.

The founders designed the U.S. House of Representatives to be close to the people:

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.

Publius argues that an election every two years is frequent enough to maintain the people’s liberty:

“I conceive it to be a very substantial proof,that the liberties of the people can be in no danger from BIENNIAL elections.”

This is true, as long as the people uphold their duty articulated in Federalist No. 33, to “take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.”

Elections every two years keep members of Congress close to their constituents.  There are extended  breaks from votes during January, February, April, July, August, September, and Congress usually breaks for good anywhere from mid-October in election years to mid-November or mid-December in the off years.  During these breaks, most Members of Congress go back to their districts, hold town meetings and other forums, and work hard to meet with their constituents and listen to them.

We have all seen the video footage from town meetings of Congressmen or women who appear to be disengaged, uniformed, hostile to their constituents, or out of touch, especially during the health care debate.    From my experience, these members of Congress are the exception, rather than the rule.

Most members of the U.S. House, of both parties, are well informed, hard working individuals who deeply love their country and sacrifice a great deal to serve the people of their congressional district. Most keep their families in their congressional district, and are in Washington only when they have to be, flying in to vote Tuesday through Thursday, and back home Thursday evenings to spend Friday through Monday working in their congressional district.

Most members of Congress are very accessible to their constituents. Any citizen may “walk the halls,” of Congress, and stop in at their U.S. Representative’s office, or any U.S. Representative’s office, often getting to at least say hello to the member of Congress, even without an appointment, if they are willing to wait.  And if they request a meeting with enough lead time, most people who want to have a sit down meeting with their member of Congress are usually able to get one scheduled.  Janine, Juliette and I walked the halls of Congress recently, and met with Congressman Scott Garrett, Chairman of the Congressional Constitution Caucus, and Congresswomen Blackburn and Bachmann.  We even met with Senator Scott Brown on the Senate side!  We witnessed all taking the time to say hello to visiting constituents while we were there.

Members of Congress also maintain offices and staffs in their congressional district, whose sole purpose is to serve the constituents, untangling them from governmental red tape, facilitating military academy appointments, and participating with citizens in the community on local projects.

It is understandable that people are frustrated and angry when Congress passes a bill so large no one can read it, with provisions that go against the U.S. Constitution and our founding principles of limited government and free enterprise.  But that is where elections every two years come into play.  It is the people’s responsibility to make their views known, and the most effective way to do that, is on election day.

In 1994, and in 2006, the people’s voice was heard. Despite gerrymandering (which I agree with Jon and Professor Rowley, is a terrible modern day development) control of the U.S. House shifted, because the people were unhappy.

As we have said many times on these pages before, knowledge is power. Before you judge your member of Congress, get to know him or her, or at least try! Find out their voting record, their attendance record. Do they hold town meetings? If so, attend! Ask a question. Send an email. Write a letter. Request a meeting.  Sit down with their congressional district staff. You may be surprised to find out how hard your member of Congress is actually working for you, or you may have your worst suspicions confirmed, and decide a change is needed.

“The definition of the right of suffrage is very justly regarded as a fundamental article of republican government.”

Let’s use that powerful tool granted to us by the Constitution!

Thank you to all of you for your continued participation, and your insightful comments.

Good night and God Bless,

Cathy Gillespie

Thursday, July 8th, 2010


Guest Essayist: Charles K. Rowley, Ph.D., Duncan Black Professor of Economics at George Mason University and General Director of The Locke Institute in Fairfax, Virginia

Let me commence this discussion with an important caveat.  There are two ways in which to evaluate the contributions of the Founding Fathers in drafting and pursuing the ratification of the various Articles and Sections of the United States Constitution.  The first way is by reference to the circumstances of the emerging nation and the knowledge available to the Founders.  The second way is by reference to the circumstances of our time and the accumulated knowledge that is now available.  I shall focus primarily on the first way, given the exigencies of space.

The Federalist, No. 52, written by Hamilton or Madison, explains and justifies Article I, Section 2 of the draft Constitution, with particular regard to the qualifications both of the electors and of those elected to the House of Representatives, and to the length of term for which the representatives were to be elected.  These are centrally important considerations for any Constitution that seeks to establish a Federal Government of strictly enumerated powers, to ensure that elected representatives will faithfully reflect the preferences of a majority of their constituents and yet will not be overly tempted to discriminate against vulnerable minorities.  If the People are to govern, then a suitable definition of the People, and how the People are to impact on government, is of crucial importance.

A key circumstance influencing the Convention was recognition that any shift from the existing Confederation to a new Federation inevitably constituted a fundamental challenge to States’ rights, and must be perceived as a threat to the less populous states.  In order to ratify the Constitution, those issues must be addressed effectively by PUBLIUS.

Naturally, therefore, PUBLIUS emphasized the good sense in requiring that the qualifications of the electors would be the same as those required by each State’s own Constitution for the most numerous branch of that State’s legislature.  Of course, this implied that electoral qualifications might vary across the several States.  Yet, individual States could not manipulate the suffrage by simple legislation to gain advantage in the House of Representatives.  If they engaged in high cost constitutional manipulation, they could do so only by imposing upon their own State legislature any inherent disadvantages of such a manipulation.

Inevitably, norms of the day governed the extent of the suffrage.  For the most part, only propertied male citizens qualified.  Non-citizens (which of course included slaves), male citizens without property, and women need not apply.  This restricted the electorate to some twenty-five percent of the adult population.  But remember that the United States was one of only two emerging democracies.  And Britain, albeit without the taint of slavery, similarly limited the suffrage at that time to a suitably-propertied male minority.

The qualifications of the representatives were a different matter.  They were much less clearly defined by the State Constitutions and more susceptible to uniformity.  PUBLIUS defended the proposal by the Convention that a representative must be at least of the age of twenty-five years, must have been seven years a citizen of the United States, must, at the time of the election, be an inhabitant of the State he was to represent, and, during the time of his service, must be in no office under the United States.  This left the door widely open to would-be candidates, including women and persons without property.  Of course, slaves could not be citizens and, therefore, were excluded from candidacy.

The Convention had decided that the House of Representatives should be composed of Members chosen every second year by the electorate.  This was a truly important judgment, defended by PUBLIUS.  The Founders were well aware of a British history, where monarchs not infrequently had failed to call Parliament for several years when threatened by its fractiousness towards their objectives.  So the regularity of the election would avoid any such deviance on the part of fractious States.  They were also aware that some long-lived parliaments had lost significant contact with their electors, and had culminated in widespread corruption and inefficiencies.

A two-year term was deemed appropriate, in that it would maintain a close linkage between individual representatives and the People without imposing an excessive urgency on their deliberations.  The Founders were not disposed to introduce direct democracy into the federal legislature, recognizing its high cost and limited effectiveness in a geographically dispersed country with a rapidly increasing population of potential voters.

With respect to the two-year term, my judgment is that the Founders were correct.  The House of Representatives would become the engine of the legislature and the Senate, with its six-year staggered terms, would become the brake, especially when transient passions were running high.  Sadly, the great expectations of the Founders regarding the linkage between the People and those that they elected to office would be disappointed.

The Founders failed to anticipate the emergence of powerful political parties that would demand loyalty from their members even when such loyalty conflicted with constituents’ interests.  They failed to anticipate the gerrymandering of districts that would provide incumbent re-election probabilities as high as in many dictatorships.  They failed to anticipate the growth of political action groups and other special interests that would flood political campaigns with funding designed to distort election results away from the interests of the People.  They failed to anticipate the willingness of the United States federal courts to loosen the strictly enumerated powers of the Federal Government by inappropriately redefining key Articles of the Constitution designed to limit the range of collective actions that might impact adversely upon the People.  These developments, however, were products of changing circumstances and advancing political acumen unavailable to the Founders in the dying years of the eighteenth century, and at the very beginning of a great experiment in constitutional republicanism.

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Charles K. Rowley, Ph.D. is Duncan Black Professor of Economics at George Mason University and General Director of The Locke Institute in Fairfax, Virginia.  He is the co-author (with Nathanael Smith) of Economic Contractions in the United States: A Failure of Government. The Locke Institute He blogs at