The fixed history of 435 Representatives
The number "435" is not in the US Constitution. It was not selected by the founders as a method of representation. It was never ratified by the 50 states. Instead, it was created by an act of the 70th Congress in 1929. But how did we get to that point?
After George Washington’s veto of the first apportionment bill in April 1792, the House of Representatives voted to change the representation ratio to “thirty-three” thousand instead of the constitutional number of “thirty” thousand. This initial way of ignoring the Constitution and assigning representation by congressional act became known as the “fixed ratio” method.
Congress used the fixed ratio method until 1850. Then, under pressures built into the constitutional system because slaves were counted in representation, Congress began setting a limit for membership in the House of Representatives. In other words, Congress stopped using the ratio altogether. They called this method “fixed house size.”
After the census in 1920, Congress, for the first time, did not address House membership: they added no new members. This coincides with the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, women’s suffrage, and the obvious challenges women posed to institutional power.
But the big change came nine years later, in 1929. During that summer, only months before the great depression began and less than a year before the next census, the 70th Congress passed a law setting the number of Representatives at 435. This congressional (and not constitutional) law is known as 2 U.S.C. Sec. 2, Election of Senators and Representatives:
Section, act Aug. 8, 1911, ch. 5, Secs. 1, 2, 37 Stat. 13, 14, fixed composition of House of Representatives at 435 Members, to be apportioned to the States therein enumerated.
"Fixed composition" means constantly declining representation. That is where things stand. Our Constitution has never been amended to reflect this usurpation, this change in power. One Representative for every thirty thousand is the constitutional standard for We the People. Today's 435 Representatives for a nation of 300 million is the congressional standard based on the census of 1910 and the Congress of 1929.
It is time to update the US House of (un)Representatives.