Today, we’ll look at Section 2 of Article I of the Constitution, which provides for the House of Representatives.
This post is part of a series that will make more sense if it is read in order. If you haven’t read the earlier posts in this series, please click here to start with the first one. One reason I’ve broken this series into fairly small parts is that we have a tendency to rush through reading the Constitution and miss a lot of it. I hope the readers of this series will ponder the points in each session. I also hope you will comment on each post as we go along.
Throughout this series on the Constitution, my comments will be in black normal font, and the text of the document will be in this color and italicized.
SECTION 2. 1 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 paragraph simply provides the term of service for Congressmen and the qualifications of the people who vote for them. It is interesting that, rather than setting a national qualification, the article leaves it to each state to set its own. Our founding fathers were distrustful of the federal government and left everything they could to the individual states to decide for themselves.
2 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 is a simple, self-evident statement of the qualifications of a candidate for the House of Representatives. Unlike parliamentary systems, which allow political parties to run candidates in whatever districts they choose regardless of residence, Congressmen must have local ties in the constituency they represent, giving them a better feel for the local issues of their districts.
3 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 to 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. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. 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 chuse 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 paragraph establishes the method of apportionment of representatives among the states. It specifically sets the initial representation and specifies how they will be reapportioned in the future.
This paragraph of may seem strange to anyone who is not a student of history. It was common at that time for people to bind themselves as servants for a specific period of time. These people were not slaves and were counted as free persons. Indians were not considered citizens in those days and did not count in the census.
The ‘all other persons’ referred to slaves. The southern states wanted slaves to be counted as persons for determining representation but as property for determining any taxes based on population. Northern states wanted just the opposite. After much haggling, a compromise was reached counting them as three-fifths or a person for both purposes.
4 When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.
This paragraph provides the vehicle for filling a vacancy in the case of the death or resignation or removal of a member of the House.
5 The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
This establishes the framework for how the House would run its business as well as specifying that ONLY the House would have the power to impeach the President or other federal officer. This is another aspect of the separation of powers. The Senate cannot impeach anyone, and the House cannot try the person impeached.
“We’ve given you a republic, if you can keep it.”
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