Political Pistachio

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Temecula Constitution Class: House of Representatives, Article I, Section 2

Temecula Constitution Class: Join us at 6:00 pm at Faith Armory on Enterprise Circle West.

2.3 - Article I, Section 2; House of Representatives

Article I, Section 2 establishes, and defines, the House of Representatives.  The members of the House of Representatives are divided among the States proportionally.  As it is today, The House of Representatives was the voice of the people in the federal government.  Each Representative is chosen to serve for two years, which means every two years every Representative is up for re-election, if they choose to run.

This clause establishes that to be a Representative the candidate must be at least twenty-five years of age, and been a citizen of the United States for at least seven years.  The age is lower than for Senators.  Representatives were not expected to be as politically savvy as the Senators, and tended to have less experience.  The age requirement simply reflected  that.  The younger someone is, the less wisdom and experience they tend to have.  Political knowledge came with age, the founder’s reasoned, so the age for being a representative was not as high as with a Senator.

Divided allegiance was a serious concern to the Founding Fathers, so the reasoning for the Representatives to have been citizens of the United States for at least seven years was largely in order to ensure that the Representative had no split loyalties.  Seven years, for a Representative, was assumed to have been long enough for the Representative to have thrown off any allegiances to other nations.

In the third clause of Article I, Section 2, is the 3/5s clause, which was changed by the 14th Amendment following the American Civil War.

The Southern States used slaves for their agricultural economies.  The southern states were needed to ratify the new constitution.  As a condition for ratifying the Constitution, the southern states demanded that the slaves be counted as one whole person each.  The idea was that if the slaves were counted as whole persons, the apportionment would tip the scales in their favor through increased representation in the new United States House of Representatives. After all, the white populations in the southern states were lower in number when compared to the northern states due to their rural nature.

The Northern States, under the heavy influence of merchants, political elitists, and a group of abolitionists, wanted the slaves counted as "zero" in order to reduce the number of representatives the southern states would receive, which would give the majority to the northern states, thus giving the north more legislative power.  With this additional voting power in the House of Representatives, the northern states sought to influence the federal government through legislation.  The plan was to use their legislative power to tyrannically force the southern states into submission.

In the interest of compromise, to convince the southern states to ratify the constitution, while giving the northern states the satisfaction that the southern states did not get exactly what they wanted, the decision was made that slaves would be counted as 3/5 of a whole person for the sake of apportionment. In other words, it was not a declaration that they believed blacks to be less than a person, but simply to affect the census in such a way that too much power through apportionment would not be given to either The North or The South, while also ensuring that the Constitution got ratified.

Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 also establishes the census, requiring a head count be taken once every ten years.  The census was authorized in order to determine the enumeration for establishing the number of Representatives each state would receive.  The clause also indicates that the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand.  This means that there can not be more than one Representative for a district of thirty thousand.  However, it does not indicate that there must be one Representative per thirty thousand.  If that was the case, we would have thousands of Representatives.

Article I, Section 2, Clause 4 states that whenever vacancies happen in the House of Representatives, it is the duty of the Executive Authority to issue Writs of Election to fill such vacancies.  What this means is that the Governors of the States have the duty to ensure there is a special election to fill any vacancies that may happen in the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives chooses for itself its Speaker of the House, and other officers.

According to Article I, Section 2, Clause 5, the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment.

Later in the Constitution, specifically in Section 7 of Article I, we also learn that all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives. What that does is give the House the purse strings of the federal government, which in turn gives The People (remember, the House is the people’s voice in the federal government) the ability to stop anything they feel necessary to stop, by simply defunding it.

Questions for Discussion:

1.  Why do you think representatives are only elected for two years?

2.  Why is it significant that only the House can originate bills for raising revenue?

3.  Why is the power of impeachment belonging to the House so important?


Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention, Avalon Project, Yale University: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/debcont.asp

Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, The Founder’s Constitution - Volume Two - Preamble through Article I, Section 8, Clause 4; Indianapolis: Liberty Fund (1987).

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