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The First
Presidential Veto
 
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a. No One Proportion or Divisor

On April 5, 1792, George Washington vetoed an apportionment bill entitled: “An Act for an apportionment of Representatives among the several States according to the first enumeration.” An account of this event can be found at The Papers of George Washington web site (at the University of Virginia).

President Washington vetoed the amendment on constitutional grounds and — given that he presided over the Constitutional Convention — his opinions on this subject should be considered. Besides being historically noteworthy, President Washington’s rationale for his veto also raises questions about the constitutionality of the current apportionment scheme.

His primary objection to the proposed amendment was that “there is no one proportion or divisor which, applied to the respective numbers of the States will yield the number and allotment of representatives proposed by the Bill.”  The relevance of this today is that the “number and allotment” that results from the current fixed allocation of 435 seats does not pass the test established by President Washington. In other words, there is “no one proportion or divisor” which would yield the current allotment of representatives (as shown in Section V).


b. Apportionment Act of March 6th, 1792
On March 6th, 1792, the Second Congress passed “An Act for an apportionment of Representatives among the several States according to the first enumeration.” This is summarized in the table below.
March 26, 1792
Number of Representatives Proposed by State
Connecticut
Delaware
Georgia
Kentucky
Maryland
Massachusetts 16 
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York 11 
North Carolina 12 
Pennsylvania 14 
Rhode Island
South Carolina
Vermont
Virginia 21 
  Total
120 

AN ACT for apportioning Representatives among the several States, according to the first enumeration.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, from and after the third day of March, in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety three, the House of Representatives shall be composed of one hundred and twenty members, elected within the several states, according to the following apportionment; That is to say: Within the state of New Hampshire, five; within the state of Massachusetts, sixteen; within the state of Vermont, three; within the state of Rhode Island, two; within the state of Connecticut, eight; within the state of New York, eleven; within the state of New Jersey, six; within the state of Pennsylvania, fourteen; within the state of Delaware, two; within the state of Maryland, nine; within the state of Virginia, twenty-one; within the state of Kentucky, two; within the state of North Carolina, twelve; within the state of South Carolina, seven; and within the state of Georgia, two.

 
On March 26th this bill was presented to President Washington for his approval; he vetoed it on April 5th. The President’s veto message to the United States House of Representatives can be read in the sidebar to the right.

The primary objection raised by President Washington is that there be “one proportion or divisor which, applied to the respective numbers of the States will yield the number and allotment of representatives proposed by the Bill.”

This is a very important point as it explicitly states the intended methodology of the time with respect to how the House is to be apportioned; i.e., that there be one proportion or divisor.

Moreover, the requirement for one divisor is, quite simply, the mathematical description for achieving what is now known as the one-person-one-vote principle.

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

I have maturely considered the Act passed by the two Houses, intitled, “An Act for an apportionment of Representatives among the several States according to the first enumeration,” and I return it to your House, wherein it originated, with the following objections.

First—The Constitution has prescribed that representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers: and there is no one proportion or divisor which, applied to the respective numbers of the States will yield the number and allotment of representatives proposed by the Bill.

Second—The Constitution has also provided that the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand; which restriction is, by the context, and by fair and obvious construction, to be applied to the seperate and respective numbers of the States: and the bill has allotted to eight of the States, more than one for thirty thousand.

George Washington.

 


c. Apportionment Act of April 14th, 1792
After the initial apportionment bill (above) was vetoed, the Congress proposed one which was ultimately signed into law by President Washington. This one is described below.
 
April 14, 1792
Number of Representatives
by State
Connecticut
Delaware
Georgia
Kentucky
Maryland
Massachusetts 14 
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York 10 
North Carolina 10 
Pennsylvania 13 
Rhode Island
South Carolina
Vermont
Virginia 19 
  Total 105 
 


AN ACT for apportioning Representatives among the several States, according to the first enumeration.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, from and after the third day of March, in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety three, the House of Representatives shall be composed of members elected agreeably to a ratio of one member for every thirty-three thousand persons in each state, computed according to the rule proscribed by the constitution; that is to say: Within the state of New Hampshire, five; within the state of Massachusetts, sixteen; within the state of Vermont, three; within the state of Rhode Island, two; within the state of Connecticut, eight; within the state of New York, eleven; within the state of New Jersey, six; within the state of Pennsylvania, fourteen; within the state of Delaware, two; within the state of Maryland, nine; within the state of Virginia, twenty-one; within the state of Kentucky, two; within the state of North Carolina, twelve; within the state of South Carolina, seven; and within the state of Georgia, two.

Journal of the Senate
April 14, 1792
(Page 253)

 


d. Summary & Conclusions
 
There are three important points to take away from the veto of the first apportionment bill and the approval of the second.

First, this was the first application of the apportionment process required by the Constitution. Many of the people involved in the decision, especially the President and his advisors, were key participants in the creation of the Constitution itself, which had taken place only five years earlier.

Second, the approved apportionment is in accordance with the one-divisor principle (with a target divisor of 33,000). A common-divisor is necessary to achieve what is now known as the one-person-one-vote principle.

Third, the approved act includes language (not present in the initial bill) that explicitly affirms this apportionment methodology: “the House of Representatives shall be composed of members elected agreeably to a ratio of one member for every thirty-three thousand persons in each state, computed according to the rule proscribed by the constitution...”

Below is a table summarizing both of the apportionment proposals described above.
Apportioning the First Enumeration
Representative
Population*
by State
(1790)
Apportionments
Proposed by Congress
March 6, 1792
Vetoed on March 26
April 14, 1792
Passed
Districts
Size Districts Size
State
A
B
A÷B=
D
A÷D=E
Connecticut
236,841
8
29,605
7
33,834
Delaware
55,540
2 27,770 1 55,540
Georgia
70,835 2 35,418 2 35,418
Kentucky
68,705 2 34,353 2 34,353
Maryland
278,514 9 30,946 8

34,814

Massachusetts
475,327 16 29,708 14

33,952

New Hampshire
141,822 5 28,364 4

35,456

New Jersey
179,570 6 29,928 5 35,914
New York
331,589 11 30,144 10

33,159

North Carolina
353,523 12 29,460 10

35,352

Pennsylvania
432,879 14 30,920 13 33,298
Rhode Island
68,446 2 34,223 2

34,223

South Carolina
206,236 7 29,462 6 34,373
Vermont
85,533 3 28,511 2

42,767

Virginia
630,560 21 30,027 19 33,187
  Total
3,615,920 120
Average
3,615,920÷120 
30,133
105
Average
3,615,920÷105
34,437
* These are the representative population numbers, not the total population numbers. They are calculated in accordance with the method proscribed by the Constitution for apportioning Representatives and Taxes. Specifically, these totals include only “three fifths of all other Persons” (referring to the slave population of the United States).

A more complete description of the first enumeration, along with all the related data, is available at the U.S. Census Bureau's 1790 Census web page.

e. Analysis of the Two Apportionments

Looking at these two apportionments — the vetoed vs. the approved version — the practical difference is not readily apparent; i.e., why is the approved apportionment better than the one which was vetoed? A mathematical analysis of these provide the answer, along with a possible benchmark against which subsequent apportionments may be compared.

This is provided in this section for the estimated 15 people in the world (including the author) who would be interested in such an analysis.

In the table above (in section d), the “size” columns (C & E) are the actual resulting size per district (in that state) for the proposed apportionment. Column C is the state’s representative population (A) divided by the proposed number of representatives (B). Similarly, E=(A÷D).

At the bottom of the two “size” columns (in the table above) are the actual average sizes for each option. This is calculated by dividing the total population by the total number of representatives, as follows:
Vetoed apportionment: 3,615,920 ÷ 120 = 30,133
Approved apportionment: 3,615,920 ÷ 105 = 34,437

For each state, the resulting size is compared with the average size to determine the percentage difference.
 

Apportioning the First Enumeration
Actual Size vs. Average Size
State
March 6, 1792
Vetoed on March 26

April 14, 1792
Passed
C ÷ 30,133=  
Deviation
E ÷ 34,437= 
Deviation
Connecticut 98.2% 1.8% 98.2% 1.8%
Delaware 92.2% 7.8% 161.3%

61.3%

Georgia 117.5% 17.5% 102.8%

2.8%

Kentucky 114.0% 14.0% 99.8%

0.2%

Maryland 102.7% 2.7% 101.1%

1.1%

Massachusetts 98.6% 1.4%

98.6%

1.4%

New Hampshire 94.1% 5.9%

103.0%

3.0%

New Jersey 99.3% 0.7%

104.3%

4.3%

New York

100.0% 0.0%

96.3%

3.7%

North Carolina 97.8% 2.2%

102.7%

2.7%

Pennsylvania

102.6% 2.6%

96.7%

3.3%

Rhode Island 113.6% 13.6%

99.4%

0.6%

South Carolina 97.8% 2.2%

99.8%

0.2%

Vermont 94.6% 5.4%

124.2%

24.2%

Virginia 99.6% 0.4%

96.4%

3.6%

  Total Deviations ≥ 5%
6 
2 

To evaluate the deviations above against the current standard used for the one-person-one-vote principle, every deviation greater than 5% is highlighted in red. The total number of these is shown in the last row above.

The vetoed apportionment would have created six deviations greater than 5%; the approved apportionment creates only two. Though this is a simplistic analysis, it is the one currently being used to determine compliance with the one-person-one-vote principle. In any case, it is probably not dissimilar from the analysis that would have been made in 1792 (prior to the application of modern statistical methods).

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free ... 
      it expects what never was and never will be.”

– Thomas Jefferson

Created: 31July2004
Updated: 09JAN2005
© 2004 thirty-thousand.org
 
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