Grassroots Commentary

The U.S. House of Representatives: The People's House, Part I

The Founder’s Intent, What it was, What it is Now & What it Should Be.

Duane V. Grassell · Sep. 8, 2015

Historic Background

During the drafting of our Constitution, our framers designed a legislature from which all laws would be written. Upon much research for their time, the founders decided upon a bicameral legislature where majority votes in both chambers would be required to send a bill to the execute branch. Because our nation was a confederation of states with each state having the freedom to govern their state within the parameters of the Constitution their legislatures ratified, but with different populations, the concept of equal representation for each state posed a problem. The solution our founders crafted and wrote into our highest law of the land was to organize the legislature into a House made up of representatives from districts, within a state, that had a uniform population and a Senate made up of two members from each state so no state or group of states with a large population can control the law making process. While the Senate was designed to protect the interests of the states, the House was meant to be the decision-making body of the people. While the Senate would always remain at two members for each state, the House was meant to grow as the new nation grew. In this article, we will examine the history of the US House from its early days to the present and project what the House would look like today if the letter and spirit of the Constitution were still enforced today.

What it Was

Regarding the size of the House, the Constitution states, “The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State should have at Least one Representative;…” In the early days of our nation, the lawful ratio was observed closely. The Constitution mandates that the US House size and apportionment be determined after each census given at the beginning of each decade. The following table shows how the ratio of representation has changed over the years.

What it is Now

As you can see, the ratio of the number of people represented grew each decade. This ratio began to grow exponentially after Public Law 62-5, passed on August 8, 1911, which permanently set the House to its present 435. Except for the year when Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union and the number was temporarily raised to 437, the number of seats in the House has remained constant. With the number of House seats constant and the population growing, the ratio between the number of people to each representative has more than tripled since the law was passed. It is no coincidence that this law, the amendment changing the process of selecting Senators to represent their state, the alleged passing of the Federal Income Tax Amendment and the Federal Reserve Act were all passed in the same time frame. Since these laws were enacted, we have slowly lost individual freedoms, faced economic uncertainty, and lost our first Amendment right to petition our government through a redress of grievances through our elected representatives.

This 435 seat limit has also caused a disparate ratio of representation among the states. Presently the states of Rhode Island, Wyoming and West Virginia enjoy the lowest ratios of population to representative with ratios of 527,624:1, 568,300:1 & 619,938:1 respectively. The unfortunate states to have the highest ratios are Montana, Delaware and South Dakota with ratios of 994,416:1, 900,877:1 & 819,761:1 respectively. This type of division is not what our founders intended. In Federalist Paper #55, James Madison, using the pseudonym, Publius, wrote against limiting the number of House members because, “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.” What Madison described in the 1780s has proven prophetic in regard to today’s House. In Federalist Paper #56, Madison, as Publius, describes the disproportionate representation in the British legislative system of that time and concludes that the best ratio for the House of Representatives is one representative for every 30,000 citizens which became enshrined in our Constitution. In short, our Founders intended the House to grow as the nation grew while the Senate would remain at two members per state as it still operates today.

I will give you one example of a Congressional district that is not being fairly represented in Congress. In 2008, I ran for a US House seat in my district. At this time, I lived in Ohio’s 17th House district. Between 2002 and 2010, the district elected the same Democrat who won with an average of 80% of the vote. In 2006, I went to vote in the Republican primary and found no candidate for this House seat. The area GOP ran a write in candidate who made no effort in the general election. In 2008, I called all the county GOP offices in the district and learned they had the same plan. I then procured the necessary petitions, got on the primary ballot, and eventually moved on to the general election where I got no support from the national party who wrote off the district every election cycle. The district was about 50 miles wide and 30 miles north to south and included the midsize cities of Akron, Warren and Youngstown that each had significant populations living on the misapplied term known as welfare. It also included Akron University, Kent State University and Youngstown State University which are noted to have far left faculties and where the Democrat party has no problem recruiting student activists. In between these cities and universities lie many suburbs, villages and farming communities that do not share their same interests and values. In the small village I live in, I can drive 10 miles in three directions and wind up surrounded by a corn field. In the fourth direction I would be in downtown Akron. If the 30,000:1 ratio were applied, three or four congressional districts could be created among the smaller communities and they would not have to share their district with a city, a university town or a mass of people living on the public dole. The Democrat who held the seat in the district never made appearances in the small towns but kept himself to the cities and friendly venues.

One flaw in the Constitution is that the 30,000:1 ratio is given as a minimum and no maximum ratio has ever been proscribed. If the law limiting the House to 435 is ever repealed, an ideal law to replace it should have a range of the constitutionally mandated 30,000:1 to no more than 40,000 or 50,000 to 1. I leave this thought to be debated.

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