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Of the House of Representatives.
THE house of representatives is founded on the principle of the representation of the people, yet not purely and abstractedly, but with as much conformity to it as was practicable.
It is composed of representatives of the people of the several states, not of the people at large, and in this respect there is still something of a federative quality. If the whole had been thrown into one mass, it would certainly have been more consistent with a full representation of the entire people, but many would have been the objections to it. It would have been desirable that the qualifications of the electors should be uniform, but considerable variety of opinion and practice in this respect exists. In some states, the system of universal suffrage prevails, in others a freehold or other estate is required of more or less value in different states. Residence for a longer or shorter time is requisite, and when the constitution was framed, different qualifications were required in two of the states for electors of the different branches of the legislative body. The people of each state were naturally attached to their own institutions, and would unwillingly have surrendered them in favour of others. Indeed, if the qualification of property had been required, the people of those states wherein universal suffrage was established, would probably have refused altogether to accede to the Union.
Again. If the representatives were to be all chosen by a general ticket, the consequences would be that thousands of voters must give their suffrages in favour of persons of whom they had no knowledge. If it was required that the candidate should reside in a particular district, the inhabitants of Georgia would either have to select a resident of Massachusetts on their own judgment, or implicitly follow the suggestions of the voters in Massachusetts.
Under these difficulties the principle of exact représentation was necessarily abandoned, and in lieu of it representation was apportioned among the several states. The medium of not more than one representative for 30,000 inhabitants, was first agreed on, and is a fundamental part of the system by which the inhabitants of every state, although it might possess a fractional part however large of 30,000, consented to relinquish the benefit of the ultra number. But every state is to be represented, and if any one should by casualties, be reduced below that number, she is still to have one representative, as she will still retain two members of the senate. (10)
At one time it was conceived by congress, that without invading the constitution, the principle of apportionment might be reformed to advantage. The object was to prevent the loss in the number of representatives arising from the fractional parts.
With a sound political view to retain the just relation of representation to numbers, it is provided in the constitution, that within three years an actual enumeration should be made of the inhabitants of the United States, which should be repeated every ten years. In fixing the number of the first house of representatives,
(10) In the articles of confederation it was also a fundamental provision that each state should have one vote, (art. iv,) and it was made an express condition in the instructions given by the state of Delaware to its delegates in the convention of 1787.
the population was estimated, not ascertained. When the census, (as it is now commonly termed,) was taken in 1790, it appeared that, in many states, there would be considerable fractional parts, which, whether the quotient was fixed at 30,000, or a greater number, would be unrepresented. To increase the number of the house of representatives as far as the constitution would permit, was deemed most conducive to the public security, against the preponderancy of executive influence, which however was denied and resisted by a considerable minority. A bill, after great struggles, passed both houses, which it seems difficult to reconcile to the constitution.
The whole number of inhabitants according to the recent census being ascertained, it was divided by 30,000, and produced the number of one hundred and twenty representatives, which were, in the first place, apportioned among the several states, until as many representatives as it would give were allotted to each. The residuary numbers were distributed among the states having the highest fractions. But the correct and independent mind of the illustrious man who then held the office of president, rejected the bill. It was returned to the house of representatives, with the observation, that the constitution bad provided that the number of representatives should not exceed one for 30,000, which is to be applied to the respective numbers of the states, and the bill allots to eight of the states more than one for 30,000.
As there was not a constitutional majority to pass it again, the effort failed, and probably will never be renewed. Another law was immediately passed, allotting one member to 33,000 inhabitants, which still left some fractional parts unrepresented.
The same objection also exists in the representative bodies of states, where the apportionment is made among counties--but a state legislature possesses the power of enlarging or reducing counties, and of adding two or more together, whereas the United States have no power to alter the boundaries of a state, although they may give their assent to an alteration by the state itself. The decennial enumeration, as required by the constitution is, like many other parts of it, deserving of praise both for its wisdom and its novelty. It is not to be found in the constitution of any other state formerly established, and if occasionally practised by a government, it was not obligatory on them to continue it.
The census of Rome was directed by a law passed three hundred years after the commencement of the state—was occasionally intermitted, and finally abolished; but the institution itself was rather of a military than a representative character.
By conforming the representation to the actual number of citizens, as it is ascertained from time to time, the evils experienced in the country, to which, on account of its bearing the greatest resemblance to our civil polity, we so frequently allude, are avoided. The decline of population in some parts of England, and its increase in others, have produced the utmost inequality in the formation of their house of commons. London, which contains about one-seventh of the inhabitants of England, is entitled to send four members to parliament. The inconsiderable united borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, containing seventeen hundred inhabitants, sends the same number. Manchester and Birmingham, two very populous' towns, have no representatives, while the small deserted borough of Old Sarum, without a house or an inhabitant, is the vehicle through which two members obtain their seats; the largest county in the kingdom sends only two.
Thus a rigid adherence to an ancient system of representation, which may perhaps have been not unsound at the time it was formed, is now productive of the grossest abuses. The name, the tegument are preserved, when the substance, that ought to be enclosed, is almost entirely gone.
The beneficial effects of our system will appear by referring to the following table, in which the increase of general population may be deduced from the increased number of representatives from most of the states.
Number of Representatives.
1789. | 1791. | 1803. 1813. | 1823.
ginia in 1791)
and New York, 1791) Tennessee, (from North Caro.
Territories sending Delegates.
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