The Total Number of the House of Representatives
From the New York Packet.
Friday, February 15, 1788.

Author: Alexander Hamilton or James Madison

To the People of the State of New York:

THE number of which the House of Representatives is to consist, forms another and a very interesting point of view, under which this branch of the federal legislature may be contemplated.

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.

The charges exhibited against it are, first, that so small a number of representatives will be an unsafe depositary of the public interests; secondly, that they will not possess a proper knowledge of the local circumstances of their numerous constituents; thirdly, that they will be taken from that class of citizens which will sympathize least with the feelings of the mass of the people, and be most likely to aim at a permanent elevation of the few on the depression of the many; fourthly, that defective as the number will be in the first instance, it will be more and more disproportionate, by the increase of the people, and the obstacles which will prevent a correspondent increase of the representatives. In general it may be remarked on this subject, that no political problem is less susceptible of a precise solution than that which relates to the number most convenient for a representative legislature; nor is there any point on which the policy of the several States is more at variance, whether we compare their legislative assemblies directly with each other, or consider the proportions which they respectively bear to the number of their constituents. Passing over the difference between the smallest and largest States, as Delaware, whose most numerous branch consists of twenty-one representatives, and Massachusetts, where it amounts to between three and four hundred, a very considerable difference is observable among States nearly equal in population. The number of representatives in Pennsylvania is not more than one fifth of that in the State last mentioned. New York, whose population is to that of South Carolina as six to five, has little more than one third of the number of representatives. As great a disparity prevails between the States of Georgia and Delaware or Rhode Island. In Pennsylvania, the representatives do not bear a greater proportion to their constituents than of one for every four or five thousand. In Rhode Island, they bear a proportion of at least one for every thousand. And according to the constitution of Georgia, the proportion may be carried to one to every ten electors; and must unavoidably far exceed the proportion in any of the other States. Another general remark to be made is, that the ratio between the representatives and the people ought not to be the same where the latter are very numerous as where they are very few. Were the representatives in Virginia to be regulated by the standard in Rhode Island, they would, at this time, amount to between four and five hundred; and twenty or thirty years hence, to a thousand. On the other hand, the ratio of Pennsylvania, if applied to the State of Delaware, would reduce the representative assembly of the latter to seven or eight members. Nothing can be more fallacious than to found our political calculations on arithmetical principles. Sixty or seventy men may be more properly trusted with a given degree of power than six or seven. But it does not follow that six or seven hundred would be proportionably a better depositary. And if we carry on the supposition to six or seven thousand, the whole reasoning ought to be reversed. The truth is, that in all cases a certain number at least seems to be necessary to secure the benefits of free consultation and discussion, and to guard against too easy a combination for improper purposes; as, on the other hand, the number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude. In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason.

Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.

It is necessary also to recollect here the observations which were applied to the case of biennial elections. For the same reason that the limited powers of the Congress, and the control of the State legislatures, justify less frequent elections than the public safely might otherwise require, the members of the Congress need be less numerous than if they possessed the whole power of legislation, and were under no other than the ordinary restraints of other legislative bodies. With these general ideas in our mind, let us weigh the objections which have been stated against the number of members proposed for the House of Representatives. It is said, in the first place, that so small a number cannot be safely trusted with so much power. The number of which this branch of the legislature is to consist, at the outset of the government, will be sixty five. Within three years a census is to be taken, when the number may be augmented to one for every thirty thousand inhabitants; and within every successive period of ten years the census is to be renewed, and augmentations may continue to be made under the above limitation. It will not be thought an extravagant conjecture that the first census will, at the rate of one for every thirty thousand, raise the number of representatives to at least one hundred. Estimating the negroes in the proportion of three fifths, it can scarcely be doubted that the population of the United States will by that time, if it does not already, amount to three millions. At the expiration of twenty-five years, according to the computed rate of increase, the number of representatives will amount to two hundred, and of fifty years, to four hundred. This is a number which, I presume, will put an end to all fears arising from the smallness of the body. I take for granted here what I shall, in answering the fourth objection, hereafter show, that the number of representatives will be augmented from time to time in the manner provided by the Constitution. On a contrary supposition, I should admit the objection to have very great weight indeed. The true question to be decided then is, whether the smallness of the number, as a temporary regulation, be dangerous to the public liberty? Whether sixty-five members for a few years, and a hundred or two hundred for a few more, be a safe depositary for a limited and well-guarded power of legislating for the United States? I must own that I could not give a negative answer to this question, without first obliterating every impression which I have received with regard to the present genius of the people of America, the spirit which actuates the State legislatures, and the principles which are incorporated with the political character of every class of citizens I am unable to conceive that the people of America, in their present temper, or under any circumstances which can speedily happen, will choose, and every second year repeat the choice of, sixty-five or a hundred men who would be disposed to form and pursue a scheme of tyranny or treachery. I am unable to conceive that the State legislatures, which must feel so many motives to watch, and which possess so many means of counteracting, the federal legislature, would fail either to detect or to defeat a conspiracy of the latter against the liberties of their common constituents. I am equally unable to conceive that there are at this time, or can be in any short time, in the United States, any sixty-five or a hundred men capable of recommending themselves to the choice of the people at large, who would either desire or dare, within the short space of two years, to betray the solemn trust committed to them. What change of circumstances, time, and a fuller population of our country may produce, requires a prophetic spirit to declare, which makes no part of my pretensions. But judging from the circumstances now before us, and from the probable state of them within a moderate period of time, I must pronounce that the liberties of America cannot be unsafe in the number of hands proposed by the federal Constitution. From what quarter can the danger proceed? Are we afraid of foreign gold? If foreign gold could so easily corrupt our federal rulers and enable them to ensnare and betray their constituents, how has it happened that we are at this time a free and independent nation? The Congress which conducted us through the Revolution was a less numerous body than their successors will be; they were not chosen by, nor responsible to, their fellow citizens at large; though appointed from year to year, and recallable at pleasure, they were generally continued for three years, and prior to the ratification of the federal articles, for a still longer term.

They held their consultations always under the veil of secrecy; they had the sole transaction of our affairs with foreign nations; through the whole course of the war they had the fate of their country more in their hands than it is to be hoped will ever be the case with our future representatives; and from the greatness of the prize at stake, and the eagerness of the party which lost it, it may well be supposed that the use of other means than force would not have been scrupled. Yet we know by happy experience that the public trust was not betrayed; nor has the purity of our public councils in this particular ever suffered, even from the whispers of calumny. Is the danger apprehended from the other branches of the federal government?

But where are the means to be found by the President, or the Senate, or both? Their emoluments of office, it is to be presumed, will not, and without a previous corruption of the House of Representatives cannot, more than suffice for very different purposes; their private fortunes, as they must all be American citizens, cannot possibly be sources of danger. The only means, then, which they can possess, will be in the dispensation of appointments. Is it here that suspicion rests her charge? Sometimes we are told that this fund of corruption is to be exhausted by the President in subduing the virtue of the Senate. Now, the fidelity of the other House is to be the victim. The improbability of such a mercenary and perfidious combination of the several members of government, standing on as different foundations as republican principles will well admit, and at the same time accountable to the society over which they are placed, ought alone to quiet this apprehension. But, fortunately, the Constitution has provided a still further safeguard. The members of the Congress are rendered ineligible to any civil offices that may be created, or of which the emoluments may be increased, during the term of their election.

No offices therefore can be dealt out to the existing members but such as may become vacant by ordinary casualties: and to suppose that these would be sufficient to purchase the guardians of the people, selected by the people themselves, is to renounce every rule by which events ought to be calculated, and to substitute an indiscriminate and unbounded jealousy, with which all reasoning must be vain. The sincere friends of liberty, who give themselves up to the extravagancies of this passion, are not aware of the injury they do their own cause. As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be, that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.

PUBLIUS.

I am still reading the fabulous Contest Entries!! I want to thank all of the students who have taken the time to blend creativity with the Constitution. They are all fantastic!! I am reading the wonderful essays, watching all of the cool videos, PSAs, and listening to the fabulous songs in preparation to sending them to our judges.

Thus, I will have to write my essays for Federalist Papers 54,  55 and 56 starting on Thursday night. I will catch up!!!

In the meantime, I have been pondering a realization:

With our national debt, I do believe we have found ourselves on the cusp of a new age of national sacrifice. These are the times when we are to bridge our thoughts, our motives, our missions with the evaluation: is this best for me or for my country?

Are we, a country of such plenty, able to delay our addiction to immediate gratifications? Without a new national sense of sacrifice –  we will have no life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. We will have no rights at all. They will disappear with our national entitlement mentality.

We, the “genius of the people” must prevail against this debt that will doom us. We will.

God Bless,

Janine Turner

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

 

Greetings from Mt. Vernon, Virginia!  Ed and I make our home on land that once belonged to President George Washington.  His home, Mt. Vernon, is not far from our house!   I find today’s issue of the total number of the House of Representatives even more fascinating because it was the only issue on which President Washington offered an opinion during the Constitutional Convention!  As our distinguished Guest Constitutional Scholar, David Bobb points out, George Washington seconded a motion to reduce the ratio of House Members to people from 40,000: 1 to 30,000: 1.  This must have signified Washington’s strong feelings that the U.S. House be “of the people.”

I’ve spent most of my career working in and around Congress and never knew that the original ratio in the U.S. Constitution of U.S. House Member to constituents was 30,000: 1 !!  I do know that the average Congressional district today contains roughly 700,000 people.  I also know that the immense size of these districts, both by population, and often geographically, makes it expensive to run campaigns, and demanding, schedule-wise, for U.S. House members to be all the places they need to be.

Dr. Bobb points out the last time an adjustment was made in total size of the U.S. House was 1912, when it was adjusted to 435, the current number today. Despite the fact that the size of the U.S. House has not been adjusted since the early 1900’s, I believe it would be very difficult, expensive, and not necessary for quality of representation, to increase the size of the U.S. House.

Increasing the size of the U.S. House would necessitate adding more office space and staff, a difficult proposition on crowded Capitol Hill. Staff are already crammed into every nook and cranny that exist in the House office buildings, and many Committee staff are blocks away in “annex” office space.  One could argue that if the size of the U.S. House were to be increased, individual staff sizes per Member and office budgets per member could be reduced. In practice, it is hard to imagine Members of Congress voting to reduce their staff or office budgets, even if the number of constituents they represented decreased.

With today’s technology, members of Congress are able to represent much larger congressional districts, yet be in touch with their constituents in more direct and intimate ways than their 1912 counterparts ever dreamed possible.  Members of Congress “tweet”;  answer messages on Facebook; participate in “tele-Town Hall Meetings” (large dial in conference calls); hold interactive polls on their websites; hire pollsters to conduct professional polls; receive instantaneous input on legislation via email (rather than wait days for snail mail to catch up with their votes cast); field thousands of telephone calls to their offices, and of course still hold the traditional town hall meetings.  In geographically large congressional districts members often traverse the district via airplane.  Youtube, 24 hour cable TV news, the plethora of radio and internet talk shows and blogs, all put members of Congress at an engaged citizen’s fingertips.

Many would argue that despite new ways of communicating with constituents, Congress doesn’t seem to be listening.  Increasing the size of Congress would not change this phenomenon. Congress listens at the ballot box.  Citizens must become educated and engaged, and remember that as Janine so eloquently put in one of her op-eds, your vote is your voice.

As I encouraged in a recent essay, get to know your member of Congress.  Go to a town meeting and ask a question.  Write a letter, send an email, request a meeting in DC or your congressional district.  Visit with his or her staff. Research your U.S. Representative’s voting record.  You may be either pleasantly surprised, or have your worst suspicions confirmed.  But either way, you will be able to make an educated decision in November.

I am unable to conceive that the people of America, in their present temper, or under any circumstances which can speedily happen, will choose, and every second year repeat the choice of, sixty-five or a hundred men who would be disposed to form and pursue a scheme of tyranny or treachery.—Federalist No. 55

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Howdy from Texas! Juliette and I have returned from our second trip to historic Boston! I have been immersed in the joyous task of reading the hundreds of our We the People 9.17 Contest essays, as well as watching the creative videos, PSAs and listening to the
wonderful songs.

How fabulous it is to see these great young patriots combine their Constitutional knowledge with creativity. The fact that they are thinking about the Constitution is a great step. The fact that they now have the realization that they may influence their peers with their knowledge and passion about our country’s foundation, and cultivate the culture in the process, bodes well for our country’s future.

As I have been speaking across the country, I have been encouraging a new movement among the youth. It is to form, Patriot Clubs! One of the missions of the Patriot Club is to gather and read the Constitution, as well as, discuss the possibility of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the flagpole outside of the schools in the morning. This may be incorporated into the prayer time that is currently occurring around the outside flagpoles at schools across the country.

In Federalist Paper No. 55, James Madison once again refers to the genius of the people in regard to the fact that the people would be well guarded by the Federal legislatures.

“I must own that I could not give a negative answer to this question, without first obliterating every impression which I have received with regard to the present genius of the people of America, the spirit which actuates the state legislatures, and the principles which are incorporated with the political character of every class of citizen.”

The next paragraph is equally as revealing:

“I am unable to conceive, that the people of America, in their present temper, are under any circumstances, which can speedily happen, will choose, and every second year repeat the choice, of 65 or an hundred men, who would be disposed to form and pursue a scheme of tyranny or treachery.”

These words resonate both a wisdom and a warning. We the people must awaken and pay heed to the affairs of Washington, D.C. As James Madison writes, “which can speedily happen..” Our liberties may be taken from us before we even know it is happening.

The wisdom and subsequent warnings in James Madison’s former paragraph may be broken down to three steps:

1. The genius of the people – we must immerse ourselves in learning and knowledge and then we must act. Our vote is our voice. A discussion regarding the 9th Amendment is one of note on this topic.

2. “The spirit which actuates the state legislatures” – the states must rise and defend the rights of Americans and the states to stop the encroachment of the Federal government upon the states. A complete and thorough study of the 17th Amendment is applicable as well as the revitalization of the 10th Amendment.

3. “Principles which are incorporated with the political character of every class of citizen” – this is our battle cry, so to speak. We MUST become a people whose character is etched with a political desire, relevancy, fervor and savvy.

A national turning of perspectives regarding prerogatives is upon us. Instead of putting footballs in the tiny hands of newborn boys, we should put the “Constitution.” Instead of visualizing our daughters as singers, and such, we should visualize and encourage them to be future leaders of our country. Patriots. Political character. Principles. Leaders of Liberty.

As John Adams said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge of the people.”
God Bless,

Janine Turner

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Guest Essayist: David J. Bobb, Ph.D., director of the Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C.

A republican government is one in which the people rule—indirectly.  How, not if, the people should be represented was one of the vexing questions faced by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention.  Especially tricky was determining the size of the House of Representatives, the topic Madison takes up in Federalist 55.

Until the very last day and hour of the Convention’s debate in 1787, the consensus opinion of delegates was that there would be one member of the House for every 40,000 American citizens.  On September 17, what we now know as Constitution Day, the final day of deliberations, Benjamin Franklin made a last plea for unanimity in the signing of the document.  It was a dramatic speech, and might have made a fitting coda to the Convention but for one last interjection.

Nathaniel Gorham, from Massachusetts, motioned to peg the ratio of each House member per people represented at 1:30,000 instead of 1:40,000, hoping that the new figure might bring on board a few more dissenters who wished federal elected officials to be more accountable to the people.  After the motion was seconded, George Washington, who up to that point had not spoken at all during the Convention, despite presiding over it, intervened to offer his own, weighty, second to the motion.  The new ratio passed unanimously (even if the Constitution did not).

Despite the adoption of the new ratio, and the promise of a 65-member House of Representatives if the Constitution was ratified, some anti-Federalists still thought the numbers, and the principle they represented, were not quite right.  Lower ratios meant less chance of cabal, or undue influence by forces inimical to the common good.

To these complaints Madison offers a direct rejoinder:  “Nothing can be more fallacious than to found our political calculations on arithmetical principles.”  Fiddle with the numbers all you want, he says, but you are still dealing with people who are prone to abusing power.  “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

To avoid mobocracy, then, we must rely upon prudence.  Sixty-five House members seems a good number for now; the nation will continue to grow, of course, Madison says.  The most important point is not to get lost in the debate over numbers, because however vital it is that we get those right, we must without fail take our political bearings from human nature, not numerical calculations.

“As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.  Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.”

Men are not angels.  But they also are not beasts.  Don’t trust human beings too much, Madison says.  Similarly, don’t get so down on human beings that self-government is thought impossible.  Virtue is required for republican, or representative, government.  What sort of virtues—“these qualities” that are mentioned by Madison—do you think are “presupposed” by republican government?

As for the numbers, it’s worth noting that had the original ratio of 1:30,000 held constant, the House today would have more than 10,000 members.  Today, an average of slightly more than 700,000 Americans are represented by a single member of the House of Representatives.  Since 1912 the number of House members has been set by law at 435.  Is this ratio in need of a readjustment?

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

David J. Bobb, Ph.D., is director of the Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C.