Summary and Analysis
Section IX: House of Representatives: Federalists No. 52–61 (Madison or Hamilton)
This section of ten chapters deals in some detail with the structure and many powers of the lower house of Congress as proposed by the new Constitution.
In Chapter 52, what should be the qualifications of the electors and the elected? The new Constitution laid it down that a representative in the House had to be 25 years old, a United States citizen for seven years, and a resident of the state he was representing. He would hold office for two years. Going back to colonial days, the states had fixed varying periods of election from one to seven years. It had seemed best to make the period uniform — an election for the House every two years.
In Chapter 53, some critics contended that elections to the House should be held annually, quoting the adage that "where annual elections end, tyranny begins."
Publius disputed this. A one-year term of office was too short. A House member would scarcely have time to learn his duties before he would be faced with the expense and time of standing for election again. Under such a circumstance, no representative could be expected to learn much about national affairs either in the domestic or foreign field.
In Chapter 54, as the number of each state's delegates to the House was to be determined by the size of its population, were slaves to be included? The southern states considered their slaves "in some degree as men." In a compromise, the Constitution stipulated that slaves should be counted as inhabitants, but because of their servitude each was to be counted as only three-fifths of a man.
In Chapter 55, it was argued against the House of Representatives that, in the beginning at least, it would have too few members to be a safe "depository of the public interests," and could not be trusted with so much power.
The states varied greatly in the number of delegates they had in the lower houses of their legislative assemblies. Under the proposed constitution, the number of seats in the House of Representatives at the beginning would be 65. But a census was to be taken within three years, and it might raise the number of representatives to 100. It was estimated that, with population growth, the number would be 200 in 25 years, and 400 in 50 years, which should put an end to all fears about the small size of the body.
In Chapter 56, it was also charged that the House of Representatives would be too small to have adequate knowledge of the interests of its constituents.
Representatives should know the needs of their constituents and be responsive to them, of course, but they should have time in office to acquire some perspective on such national problems as regulation of foreign and interstate commerce, taxation, defense, etc. A House representing every 30,000 inhabitants in the country would be "both a safe and competent guardian of the interests . . . confided to it."
In Chapter 57, another charge against the House of Representatives was that it would be composed of those with least sympathy for the mass of the people and most likely "to aim at an ambitious sacrifice of the many to the aggrandizement of the few." This would depend on who was entitled to vote for the representatives.
Who were to be the electors of the federal representatives? They were to be the same as those who elected representatives to the lower legislative chambers in the various states. The electors would be the great body of the American people: "not the rich more than the poor; not the learned more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscure and unpropitious fortune." Such electors could be trusted to choose fitting public-spirited persons to represent them and their various interests in the House of Representatives.
In Chapter 58, critics of the Constitution were contending that no assurance was given that the number of members in the House would increase with the growth in population.
That was a mistaken view. It was stipulated that within three years, in 1790, a population census was to be taken, and a similar census every ten years thereafter, to determine what adjustments should be made in the number of each — state's representatives in the House. There would be small chance of organized resistance to such adjustments, for the people would demand changes to secure adequate representation.
In Chapter 59, the new Constitution provided that the time, place, and manner of electing United States senators and representatives should be regulated by the state legislatures, but that the Congress could alter such regulations, "except as to places of choosing senators."
This provision had been attacked, but nothing was more evident than the "plain proposition, that every government ought to contain in itself the means of its own preservation." If the power of regulating elections for the national government were left entirely in the hands of state legislatures, the latter would have the union entirely at their mercy, and might take off on various divergences and obstructions.
In Chapter 60, what would be the danger if the ultimate right of regulating its own elections were left to the union itself? There should be no apprehension on that score. That provision could not be used "to promote the election of some favourite class of men in exclusion of others." There would be no possibility of domination by the "wealthy and the well born," as critics contended. Agriculture and commerce, the landed interests and the mercantile interests, would have weight in national councils proportionate to their strength in the several states, with the bulk of the voters having a predominant voice in each state.
In Chapter 61, Hamilton replied to the objection that had been raised that elections were not, by law, required to be held in the counties where the voters resided. He cited the practices in New York, noting that while the objection had some validity, it was not very important. More important was the provision in the Constitution that there should be uniformity in the times of periodically electing members to the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. Such uniformity would be of great benefit to the public welfare, "both as a security against . . . the same spirit in the body; and as a cure for the diseases of faction."
No comment is needed on this section, which is simply an exposition and justification of the provisions in the proposed constitution about the House of Representatives: qualifications of members, by whom elected, and tenure of office.