The Constitution says that the number of representatives shall not exceed one representative for every 30,000 constituents. This ratio was roughly equal to the actual ratio of representatives to the population at the time the Constitution was ratified. However, today, most states have less than one representative per 700,000 people. The result of this massive dilution of federal representation in Congress has been a near total disenfranchisement of the population and consolidation of power within two establishment political parties. In order to begin restoring the balance of power to the people, breaking the party gridlock within Congress, and restoring liberty we must build popular support to overturn the arbitrary limit of 435 representatives set in 1929. The sooner we build awareness and draw media attention to this issue, the greater the pressure will be on Congress to increase its size and begin to return the power to their constituents.
To begin, for a republic such as the United States to have a functioning representative government, there must be adequate and real representation of the citizen body. The representatives must be answerable to their constituents and not political parties. The notion today that a single representative can adequately represent the interests of over 700,000 people is lunacy normalized through decades of slowly eroding the individual’s political value to the point of nonexistence. Further, the faux representation perpetrated upon the American people today has only been possible because politicians realize that their power is proportional to the number of people they represent. The exact opposite is true for citizens. The fewer citizens that are represented by a single representative, the more direct representation and influence the citizen possesses.
The Founding Fathers of the United States had much to say on the topic of what fair representation at the federal level would look like. James Madison understood the danger of too few dictating to the many and adequately summarized his thoughts as the smaller the House, relative to the total population, the greater is the risk of unethical collusion or myopic groupthink. In contrast, “Numerous bodies … are less subject to venality and corruption.” [James Madison, 14-August-1789] Federalist Paper Number 56 (February 19, 1788) describes this ratio stating, “…it seems to give the fullest assurance, that a representative for every THIRTY THOUSAND INHABITANTS will render the [House of Representatives] both a safe and competent guardian of the interests which will be confided to it.” Note that the number “THIRTY THOUSAND” was capitalized in the papers for emphasis.
Melancton Smith’s observations deserve special attention as he, perhaps more than any of the other delegates to the Federal Convention, understood the gravity of the situation. He knew that the power to determine the number of representatives could not be left to the ruling elite, which all too often become addicted to power. This would be “a power inconsistent with every principle of a free government, to leave it to the discretion of the rulers to determine the number of representatives of the people. There was no kind of security except in the integrity of the men who were entrusted; and if you have no other security, it is idle to contend about constitutions.” [Melancton Smith] Smith elaborates on his valid and time proven point that we cannot expect the House to unilaterally increase the number of representatives. “To me it appears clear, that the relative weight of influence of the different states will be the same, with the number of representatives at sixty-five as at six hundred, and that of the individual members greater; for each member’s share of power will decrease as the number of the House of Representatives increases. If, therefore, this maxim be true, that men are unwilling to relinquish powers which they once possess, we are not to expect the House of Representatives will be inclined to enlarge the numbers. The same motive will operate to influence the President and Senate to oppose the increase of the number of representatives; for, in proportion as the House of Representatives is augmented, they will feel their own power diminished. It is, therefore, of the highest importance that a suitable number of representatives should be established by the Constitution.” [Melancton Smith]
Alexander Hamilton, an opponent of writing limits on representation into the Constitution, provides interesting insights into his logic. For starters, it appears he neither conceived nor intended the federal government to have the sweeping powers that it possesses today. “The subject on which this argument of a small representation has been most plausibly used, is taxation. As to internal taxation, in which the difficulty principally rests, it is not probable that any general regulation will originate in the national legislature.” [Alexander Hamilton] How Hamilton would have reacted to the reality of the Federal Income Tax, Obama Care, and the litany of other internal taxes levied since the ratification of the Constitution is anyone’s guess, but based on his above statement, one could surmise he would have altered his position on the need to include specific representational limits in the Constitution. This conclusion is further supported by Hamilton’s statements respective of his belief that the federal government’s powers were limited and would never extend into one’s private life. “The powers of the new government are general, and calculated to embrace the aggregate interests of the Union, and the general interest of each state, so far as it stands in relation to the whole. … Were the laws of the Union to new-model the internal police of any state; were they to alter, or abrogate at a blow, the whole of its civil and criminal institutions; were they to penetrate the recesses of domestic life, and control, in all respects, the private conduct of individuals,—there might be more force in the objection; and the same Constitution, which was happily calculated for one state, might sacrifice the welfare of another.” [Alexander Hamilton] Of course we know now that the federal government has grown so oppressive and omnipresent as to invade every aspect of one’s private life. As such, Hamilton’s grounds for objection, however implausible he may have believed them to be at the time, turned out to be the very grounds that time has proven most required the Constitution to dictate an equitable ratio of representatives to constituents.
Based on the rather clear intent of the individuals ratifying the Constitution, one may wonder how did the number of Representatives become fixed at 435? The answer is rather simple; because Congress passed a bill in 1929. The bill sought to prescribe a national policy under which the membership of the House shall never exceed 435 unless Congress, by affirmative action, overturns the formula and abandons the policy enunciated by this bill. Respective of the number 435, there is no real reason other than that was the number of representatives at the time and the House found it advantageous to their political power to limit the growth further. Of course the population of the United States has massively grown since 1929, which in effect increased the representation ratio to such an astronomically large number that the mere notion of representation was utterly destroyed. However, this has only bolstered the power of the representatives and political parties, which have gerrymandered districts to the point of making the election of independent, grassroots connected representatives nearly impossible. Except for those who are independently wealthy, election and reelection campaigns in super-sized districts require that the representatives raise huge sums of money on a nearly continuous basis. This makes representatives beholden to the parties and big donors that funded their campaign instead of the constituents they purportedly are there to represent. In short, this allows special interests, lobbyists, and other corrupting elements to highjack the representative.
To put the state of disenfranchisement in perspective, it is worth noting that Russia as compared to the United States has over 50% better representation of its people. In fact, the United States has the second worst ratio of population to House representative in the world. Surely as the “leader of the free world” the United States could muster better representation.
Challenging this notion one may surmise that a larger House would result in even more gridlock in Congress. However, with an approval rating consistently below 10% and the inability to so much as even pass a budget, it would be hard to imagine a more dysfunctional Congress. Further, if the above maxim that a smaller legislative body would be much more productive held true, then the Senate would certainly be very efficient. However, the Senate is as dysfunctional as the House when it comes to operation. In fact, there are rarely more than a handful of Congressmen from any chamber present during session and even fewer actually engaged in meaningful debate. In part, this is because the work of the Congress is broke down into committees, which would be no different if the House increased its numbers. As for anyone that doubts a large body could pass legislation, California is often used as proof this is untrue. In fact, California has for decades effectively voted on hundreds of propositions. If the millions of people in California can effectively vote on legislative initiatives, it should be simple for even ten thousand representatives to vote on similar legislation. Naysayers may also point out that the government is too big already and adding more Congressmen will just make it worse. This is also untrue and in fact just the opposite would most likely be the outcome. As the number of representatives increase, Congress will have to become more representative of the people. The House will be more, not less motivated to reduce the size of the government. This is because the representative will be far more accountable to their constituents, which will be much better able to monitor their actions. It is also worth noting that an increase in actual representatives may be closer to an overall neutral growth in government employees because fewer staff members are required to support smaller districts, which would balance against larger staffs to support larger districts.
Each state is guaranteed at least one representative, no matter what its population. States with a single member in the U.S. House of Representatives are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. The District of Columbia has a non-voting delegate in Congress who has all the powers and rights of a representative, but is not permitted to vote. Currently, the approximate number of constituents to a representative is around 705,000. If the ratio was closer to 1:50,000 we would have a House with about 6,100 representatives. This increase could be dealt with by regionalization of Congress much like the Federal Court Districts, which could have interactive debate via the web and electronic voting. It would also mean your vote once again counted and you would have real influence at what approximated to what most experience at the state level of politics. It would once again be difficult for any one party to control Congress. It would be even more difficult for special interests, big businesses, and lobbyists to buy off Congress simply due to the sheer number or representatives, which would require immensely large sums of money and unavailable financial and manpower resources to gain a majority of support for pork legislation. The result would be a more accountable, more effective, and more representative Congress.
The notion that we could once again have realistic representation in Congress is not a pipe dream. It is an obtainable goal that is well within the feasible realm of effective change initiatives liberty minded citizens can unite around. We must build the awareness of the population that the status quo is unacceptable and that the 1929 law that disenfranchised us today must be overturned. We need to all write our Congressmen, get on talk shows and radio, use social media, and empower the grassroots movements around this nation to take this goal on as a part of the platform.
By Guiles Hendrik
December 9, 2013
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The Debates in the Federal Convention
August 6, 1787
As the proportions of numbers in different States will alter from time to time; as some of the States may hereafter be divided; as others may be enlarged by addition of territory; as two or more States may be united; as new States will be erected within the limits of the United States, the Legislature shall, in each of these cases, regulate the number of representatives by the number of inhabitants, according to the provisions herein after made, at the rate of one for every forty thousand.
— Reported by James Madison