Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Federalist 58 and the Right to Representation

The Federalist Papers were written in 1788 to persuade the citizens of New York to support the new constitution. Three founders - John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, drafted the 85 op-eds in just a few months. In them the founders addressed the constitutional questions and fears of the citizens of New York. One fear in particular was that Congress would not "augment", that is, add, members to the US House of Representatives.

Federalist 58 has a long but accurate title: "The Objection That The Number Of Members Will Not Be Augmented As The Progress Of Population Demands Considered.” In the essay it is argued that the constitutional process for augmenting Congress requires a census and has two "unequivocal objects":

"Within every successive term of ten years, a census of inhabitants is to be repeated. The unequivocal objects of these regulations are, first, to re-adjust from time to time the apportionment of representatives to the number of inhabitants; under the single exception that each State shall have one representative at least: Secondly, to augment the number of representatives at the same periods; under the sole limitation, that the whole number shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand inhabitants." (Federalist 58: 1788)

Madison claimed the ratio of 30,000 to be "the sole limitation," but this never happened as planned. The 2nd Congress made a mess of things in April 1792, and the right to representation and the ratio have never recovered their constitutional power. The words that guarantee our right to representation have never been changed - just ignored and forgotten. The ratio and the right to representation remain in our Constitution, just as Madison and the founders left them to us; we just haven't been using them.


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