Return the House of Representatives to the People
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Section III
The Congressional Principalities
 

In the early years of our republic, the population size of the U.S. House districts remained close to 30,000 people — in keeping with the promise reaffirmed by the Federalist Papers (as described in Section I).
 
However, as a result of Congress’s failure to produce a workable “Article the first” (as described in Section II), the degree of representation allowed to we the people was left entirely at the mercy of the ambition of those in power. Consequently, the average House district now contains over 660,000 people; 22 times the Constitutional minimum of 30,000.

In this section, we show that:

  • In the last two centuries, while the House has only tripled in size, the total population has grown by a factor of 48 and the number of eligible voters has grown by a factor of 208.
     
  • Compared to a citizen in 1804, today’s citizen has 6% of the representation (in the House) and less than 2% of the suffrage.
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“Free government is founded in jealousy, not confidence. It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited Constitutions, to bind those we are obliged to trust with power.... In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”


Thomas Jefferson, 1799
[virginia.edu]
 

 
CONTENTS

In This Section III:

A. The Representative Cartel
 
Since 1804, the House has only tripled in size even though the nation’s population has increased 48 fold.
 

B. Enormous House Districts
 
The average House district contains nearly 660,000 people and will exceed 1.3 million by the year 2100.
 

C. The Democratic Devolution
 
As a result of the expanding House districts, there has been an insidious and substantial disenfranchisement of the voter.

D. Disenfranchisement through Suffrage
 
The expansion of suffrage, combined with increasingly larger districts, has resulted in a 208-fold increase in eligible voters since 1804.

 

In This Web Pamphlet:

I. The Promise: A Representative House

II. Trying to Correct the Omission

III. The Congressional Principalities

IV.
Congress vs. the Constitution

V.
Our Imperial House

VI.


VII.

VIII.

IX.
The Electoral College

X.

Appendix.
Search & Additional Resources


 A. The Representative Cartel

 
The first chart below (A1) shows estimated total U. S. population from 1790 to 2004. The second chart (A2) indicates the number of House Representatives authorized by Congress during the same time frame (i.e., the first through 108th Congresses).
 

Between 1804 to 2004, the total U. S. population grew from 5.6 million to over 290 million (Chart A1). During the same time, the size of the House grew from 142 Representatives to 435 (Chart A2).

In other words, between 1804 to 2004, while the U. S. population grew by a factor of 48, the number of House Representatives only tripled.
 
As was intended by the Founders, the size of the House was increased every ten years — from 1790 to 1910 — as the nation’s population grew. (As required by the Constitution, this reapportionment occurred after each decennial census.)
 
Chart A2
Additional information and chart for each state.
 

 
The last time the size of the House was increased was after the 1910 reapportionment when it was increased it to 435. It has remained that size ever since (except for a four-year period during which the number of Representatives was temporarily increased to 437 to accommodate the addition of Alaska & Hawaii to the Union).  

 
How the House Abandoned Proportional Representation
 

Ever since the first census in 1790, various mathematical methodologies have been proposed to determine how to most fairly apportion the Representatives to the various states based on their respective populations. (For additional information on this subject, see Apportionment Overview.)
   
The last true re-apportionment was done in 1910 and resulted in an increased House size of 435 Representatives. Ten years later, after the 1920 census, Congress could not agree on a new apportionment due to various political disputes over how their districts should be counted. In addition, there were continuing debates about which mathematical formula should be used to determine apportionment.
 
As a result of Congress’s failure to reapportion the House after the 1920 census (in violation of the Constitution), the House remained the size that was established after the 1910 census (i.e., 435). In 1929, having realized that they could successfully circumvent the Constitution’s apportionment requirement, Congress permanently “fixed” the number of Representatives at 435. As a result, the number of House Representatives has remained at 435 since the 1910 apportionment.
  
As noted above, prior to 1920 the number of Representatives increased every ten years. This was done to accommodate population growth and help maintain an approximately equal district size (or proportion) across the nation. It was then understood that the primary requirement of proportional representation was to achieve a common proportion or divisor (i.e., a common district size) [e.g., see The First Presidential Veto].
 
After 1929, the term proportional representation underwent a newspeak transformation to indicate that the 435 Representatives need only be allocated on a pro rata basis that best approximates the states’ relative population totals. The fundamental requirement for a common proportion or divisor was thereby jettisoned. As a consequence, truly proportional representation has been abandoned in favor of a zero-sum allocation game for the sake of protecting the Representative cartel.
 

Chart A3 (right) illustrates the rapidly growing disparity between the maximum levels of representation permitted by the Constitution (the yellow graph) and the level permitted to us (by Congress) under the 435-Representative regime (the blue graph).

 

Chart A3


Additional information and chart for each state.

 
The Zero-Sum Game
 

As explained above, a truly proportional representation has been abandoned in favor of a zero-sum allocation game for the sake of protecting the Representative cartel. A zero-sum game is defined as a situation in which a gain by one person or side must be matched by a loss by another person or side.
 
The charts below show the number of Representatives authorized for two states. The vertical yellow line indicates the last time that the size of the House was increased (after the 1910 census). In both states, to the left of the yellow line, the number of Representatives is generally increasing (along with the population). In contrast, because the size of the House has remained constant at 435 since 1910, an increase in the number of Representatives from several states (e.g., Florida), forces other states to relinquish an equivalent number (e.g., Massachusetts).

Massachusetts

 

Florida

 
Thus, despite a significant increase in the population of Massachusetts (from 3.3 million in 1910 to 6.3 million in 2000), their number of Representatives declined 37% during that same time span. This is clearly contrary to the Founders’ intent.

There is nothing in the historical record, with respect to our Constitution, that would indicate that the Founding Fathers and ratifying states would have ever anticipated that the number of Representatives would be held to a fixed constant. As explained in Sections I and II of this web pamphlet, all the evidence supports the contrary position. Perhaps the most compelling proof is provided by the language of the originally proposed first amendment which did not provide for any such absolute maximum (as that would have violated the requirement for a common divisor) [see: The Other First Amendment for additional information].
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 B. Enormous House Districts

 
As a result of the self-imposed (and self-serving) limitation on the number of House Representatives described in the previous section, there has been a spectacular increase in the population size of each House district.

The Average House District has Increased from 39,000 to 660,000.

The House district size is equal to the number of people encompassed by that district; i.e.:
Total Population (Chart A1) ÷ Number of Representatives (Chart A2) = District Size 

The number of people per House Representative since 1790 is illustrated by the red graph in Chart B1 (below). This chart represents the national average; actual House district sizes vary widely from state to state as is explained in Section IV.

In the chart below, note that the average House district has increased from 39,500 in 1804 to over 660,000 today. In contrast, the minimum House district size of 30,000 inhabitants is illustrated by the horizontal yellow graph.

Chart B1
Additional information and chart for each state.
 
Historical Population &
House District Data
 
for Total U. S. and
Each State.
 
United States
 
 
In the early decades of this republic, the districts remained moderately sized, reaching 52 thousand in the 1830s. What happens thereafter is the realization of Melancton Smith’s prediction, made in 1788, “that [because] men are unwilling to relinquish powers which they once possess, we are not to expect the House of Representatives will be inclined to enlarge the numbers.” [The full is quote provided at bottom of this page.]

In any case, regardless of how capable and well-intentioned the Representative, it is simply impossible for him or her to become adequately acquainted with more than half a million constituents. This limitation is why the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution specified that the districts comprising the “people’s house” would always remain relatively small.
 
What do these congressional principalities look like? Geographically, they are depicted in the map below.
House Districts
Enlarged View of Map
By the year 2100: 1.3 Million People per Representative

 
Congress has decreed that the number of House districts shall permanently remain at 435. If this unconstitutional regime is allowed to continue, these districts will continue to expand until they reach an average population size of 1.3 million by the year 2100 as illustrated in Chart B2 (right).

 

Chart B2

Larger image & additional information on this chart.

 
The U.S. has the Second Largest House Districts in the World
 

How does the size of our House districts compare with that of other nations? Presumably, we who live in the birthplace of freedom would enjoy some of the smallest representative districts in the world.
 
Chart B3 (right) indicates the population size of lower house districts for 25 republics (both real and faux) around the world.
 
Note that only India has an average House district size larger than the United States. Every other nation on Earth enjoys smaller districts (i.e., a more representative house). For example, citizens of the United Kingdom enjoy a far smaller district size of 91,000 (thanks to 659 Representatives in their lower House).

 
Chart B3
 
See Legislatures Around the World 
for additional data.
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 C.  The Democratic Devolution
 
As a result of the expanding House districts, there has been an insidious and substantial diminishment of the people’s representation in the House.
 
If you lived in a district of 30, 40 or 50 thousand people, there is a good chance that you would know — or at least would have met — your House Representative (presuming you wanted to). If you wrote him or her a letter, you could reasonably expect a personal response. If suddenly you were redistricted into a 660,000-person district, it’s easy to imagine how far less connection you would have with your House Representative (unless you are a large donor or prominent member of the community).

In contrast, because we were so gradually redistricted into districts of 660,000 — over a two century time span — we generally do not comprehend what we have lost. An appropriate analogy may be that by slowly bringing the water to a boil, the lobster is lulled to sleep before being boiled.
 
As is shown below, this insidious democratic devolution has gradually produced the following two destructive effects:
 
  • a substantial diminishment of the citizen with respect to representation in the House; and,
     
  • a disenfranchisement of the voter that is nearly total with respect to political significance.
 
 
 
   
The Insidious Devaluation of the Citizen
 
The devaluation of the citizen’s significance with respect to representation in the House is illustrated in Chart C1 (below).

 
Note that as the size of the House districts have grown over the last two centuries (the red graph), each citizen’s share of representation has diminished accordingly (the black graph).

Stated simply, a citizen in the year 1804 was 1/40,000th of a district. Today you are now less than 1/660,000th of a district. That may not seem like a significant difference, but consider that the citizen today (in the 660,000-person district) has less than 6% of the representation enjoyed by our predecessor in 1804. Furthermore, the diminishment of our political significance continues every year for so long as the size of the House remains fixed at 435.

 
Chart C1
Larger image & additional information on this chart.
 
As Benjamin Franklin strolled out of Independence Hall following the adjournment of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787, a woman was said to have asked him what kind of government had been bestowed on the country as a result of the convention’s four-month effort, Dr. Franklin was reported to have said: “A republic, madam if we can keep it.”
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 D.  Disenfranchisement through Suffrage
 
The expansion of suffrage, combined with increasingly larger districts, has resulted in a spectacular increase in the number of eligible voters. In 1804, there were less than one million eligible voters nationwide. We now have over two-hundred million eligible voters. That is a 208-fold increase in eligible voters during the time that there has been a 48-fold increase in overall population, and only a three-fold increase in the size of the House of Representatives.  

Paradoxically, this expansion in suffrage has led to an overall disenfranchisement of the voter as a result of dilution.

As shown in the table to the right, between 1804 and 2004 the total U. S. population increased 48 fold and the number of eligible voters increased 208 fold. Yet during this same time the House of Representatives only tripled in size. This may be the simplest mathematical proof of the Representative cartel.

 
Table A1
From 1804 to 2004 Increase in Size
Total Population* 48.7x
Number of Eligible Voters 208.2x
Number of House districts 3.1x
 
The Expansion of Suffrage
 

 
At the time the Constitution was drafted, voter eligibility was to be determined by state laws (not by the Constitution). Generally, states granted suffrage only to white males. Property ownership was an additional requirement in many states. As a result, the proportion of the total population that was eligible to vote in the early 1800s was approximately 16%.

 
During the two centuries that followed, the right to vote was gradually extended to additional citizens by various state governments and, additionally, as a result of amendments to the federal Constitution (see “Suffrage Milestones” sidebar below). Consequently, the portion of the population eligible to vote has increased from 16.4% in 1804 to nearly 70% by the year 2004. This is illustrated by the blue graph in the Chart D2 (below).
 

Chart D2

 
 
  
In the chart above, the upper red graph shows the total population and the lower red graph indicates the estimated number of people eligible to vote (in thousands). Note the percentage increases in eligible voters resulting from the ratification of the suffrage amendments highlighted in yellow.
 
Of course, the estimates above come with several caveats. The most important is that, throughout our history, eligibility to vote has often been — for many — only a theoretical right due to localized though systemic discrimination. Nonetheless, this data provides an important benchmark for measuring the dilution of citizen representation in the House of Representatives.
 
 
 
 
Our Gradual Disenfranchisement
 

The dramatic increase in the proportion of citizens eligible to vote — compounded on top of rapid population growth — has accelerated the diminishment of the eligible voter. To illustrate this point, the red graph in Chart D3 (right) shows the number of eligible voters per House Representative. The number of eligible voters has climbed from 6,800 in 1804 to 462,000 in 2004, which is a 68-fold increase!

 

This resulting dilution of the voter is illustrated by the blue graph in the chart above. Though your vote does count, it only counts 1.5% as much as a voter in 1804. In other words, compared to a citizen in 1804, we have suffered a 98% loss of suffrage with respect to our representation in the House.
 
To put this in perspective: at the time of the Constitutional Convention, it was understood that each House Representative would have to seek the support of only a few thousand potential voters (e.g., 6,300 voters per district in 1800) in any district of 30,000 inhabitants. In today’s vastly larger districts, each Representative has to appeal to nearly seventy times that number.
 

 
No Longer a “People’s House”
 

The framers of the Constitution designed the House of Representatives to be close to the people (hence its name). In contrast, the Senate was intended to be a much more experienced and august body than the House. This is why the Representatives’ term of office is only two years (as opposed to the Senators’ six-year term), and why the required minimum age and length of citizenship is higher for Senators than for Representatives.
 
Furthermore, the House of Representatives was the only branch of government to be directly elected by the people. The Constitution specified that the Senators be selected by the state legislatures; and the President was to be selected by the Electoral College.

 
Direct election of Senators did not begin until 1913 (when the 17th amendment was ratified). The President is still indirectly elected by the Electoral college (see Section IX for more information about the Electoral College).
   
Given the small number of Representatives in the House (435) and their high re-election rates (over 90%), we now effectively have two Senates. As illustrated in the chart to the right, this equivalency becomes even more apparent for those states which still only have one or two Representatives:

  • Seven states have only one single House district (as opposed to two Senate districts);
     
  • Five states have two House districts (therefore, the House & Senate districts are equal sized).
 
Chart D4

 
For reasons made clear throughout this web pamphlet, the House can no longer be called the People’s House, a quaint term that drowned in cynicism many decades ago. But for these twelve states, which make up 24% of our Republic, there can not even be the pretense of a representative House. In fact, for most of these states, their number of House Representatives has not even increased since their admission into the union.
 

“To me it appears clear, that the relative weight of influence of the different states will be the same, with the number of representatives at sixty-five as at six hundred, and that of the individual members greater; for each member’s share of power will decrease as the number of the House of Representatives increases. If, therefore, this maxim be true, that men are unwilling to relinquish powers which they once possess, we are not to expect the House of Representatives will be inclined to enlarge the numbers. The same motive will operate to influence the President and Senate to oppose the increase of the number of representatives; for, in proportion as the House of Representatives is augmented, they will feel their own power diminished. It is, therefore, of the highest importance that a suitable number of representatives should be established by the Constitution.”
— Melancton Smith, 1792. [Elliots Debates]


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

– Thomas Jefferson

Created: 13July2004
Last updated: 05FEB2005
© 2004 thirty-thousand.org

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