This lesson of our Constitution focuses on Article I, Section 2, the powers of the U.S. House of Representatives. I will deal with this section, clause by clause.
The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.
This part establishes the time and qualifications for elections for the members of the “People’s House.” The house was designed to be the house that represented the will of the people; that is why their term is so short. It makes them more accountable to the electorate that voted for them. This also sets up the first qualifications for the right to vote (suffrage) in our government. The states would determine the qualifications for the voters for the House of Representatives by the qualifications needed to vote for the largest part of the state’s legislature. At the time that was primarily, white land owning men. While I agree with the idea and practice universal suffrage, I sometimes wonder if there ought to not be some property or tax qualification for our electorate.
No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.
This clause clearly lays out the qualifications of the members of the House of Representatives. One topic absent from the Constitution (prior to the 22nd Amendment) is the that of term limits. Our founding father did fear a permanent class of career politicians running the government. If they could see us now they would be shocked to see men like Ted Kennedy and John McCain who have made a career in the Congress. But term limits do exist, in the spirit of the Constitution; they are called elections.
Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.
This clause establishes two things. The first is that representatives will be determined by the population of the states. The second is that taxes will be apportioned only directly to the states based on their population; its the first taxing power of the Congress. The government would tax the states and the states would tax the individuals to send that revenue to the federal government.
Some people see this also and say it advocates slavery and cannonizes it within our Constitution. It does not no such thing if you read the language. There is no mention of slavery by in this clause. The counting of three-fifths of all other persons refers to slavery, but does not advocate it or support it in the language of the constitution, it only states how they will be counted in determining representation.
This came about because of the three-fifth Compromise at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. If it had not been for the three-fifths compromise the slaves state could have easily over powered the free states in every and all elections for president and within the House of Representatives. Also, if they had not reached this agreement it is quite possible the slave state would have started their own confederation or nation and we would have been at odd with them for decades if not years to come over this same issue. The founders did not fight the battle of slavery at this point in history because they though slavery would ultimately die out on its own. Little did they know that it would take a Civil War and 620,000 American lives to free our black brothers and sisters from bondage, but hindsight is 20/20.
Also, this part of the U.S. Constitution was made null and void by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.
This clause sets up the practice and power of the decennial census. Here we see one of the first expressed powers of Congress. They are to direct by law the enumeration of the people in the states. Congress has practiced this expressed power by creating the U.S. Census Bureau. The creation of that agency is the implied action of the expressed power, which I talked about in the my last lesson.
The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to choose three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five and Georgia three.
This last part of clause three sets up the proportion by which the population shall be allotted representatives in the House. The one for every thirty thousand is not practical by today’s standards. If this was followed, our House of Representatives would have over ten thousand elected members to that house. While the practice of setting representation by law is strictly unconstitutional it was a change for the better. To make it more practical an amendment should have been offered saying that Congress has the power add or subtract from its membership as long as the representatives are still apportioned according to population and that each state is guarantee at least one representative. The one representative rule could even possibly be expanded as well.
When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.
Since the House of Representatives is the “People’s House.” It only makes sense that they should decide on any and all vacancies that occur. Though the people are dependent upon governors of their states to ensure the elections occur.
The House of Representatives shall choose their speaker and other officers; and shall have the sole power of impeachment.
This lays out the leadership positions within the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House is the be their leader and oversee the legislative proceedings. Today the speaker is a much more powerful position than it was at the writing of the Constitution. I wonder how the Founding Fathers would view the position of Speaker today.
Also in this last clause we see the power of impeachment given to the House of Representatives. To impeach an elected official means to accuse them of some wrong doing, whether it be criminal or civil. The House may only go so far as making the accusation of the civil officer. Most textbooks has been shown the impeachments of Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and the near impeachment of Richard Nixon as their examples of this process, but any civil officer under the authority of the U.S. Constitution is subject to impeachment. Most impeachments in history have been of federal judges. One U.S. senator has been impeached but the House and the Senate typically deal with these problems on their own since they have that power written into that Constitution.
That does it for today class. Next time we will look at Article I, Section 4 on the structure and power of the U.S. Senate. Any questions? Comments Concerns? In that case… class dismissed.