The Original First Amendment

Limiting the Size of Congressional Districts

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Excerpts from the Thirty-Thousand.org pamphlet “Taking Back Our Republic” by J. E. Quidam. It was called “Article the First” By order of presentation, this was considered to be even more important than Freedom of Speech! "Passed by the House of Representatives August 24, 1789: After the first enumeration, required by the first Article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.”

[It is] fundamentally important that the need to establish a maximum district size was perhaps the most significant issue raised during the states’ ratification debates. For example, of the 85,000-word transcript from the New York constitutional convention in 1788, 30% was devoted exclusively to this subject. Melancton Smith, a delegate to that convention, observed that: “We certainly ought to fix, in the Constitution, those things which are essential to liberty. If anything falls under this description, it is the number of the legislature.”

It was because of these debates that James Madison later proposed, for the Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment establishing a maximum population size for the congressional districts. That amendment was the basis for “Article the first”, the very first amendment proposed in the original Bill of Rights document.

However, in the waning hours of the First Congress, a subtle corruption of its wording rendered the proposed amendment inconsequential. As a result, this would-be first amendment has been all but lost to history. This loss put our nation squarely on a path towards oligarchy if not tyranny.

The gradual transformation from community-sized congressional districts to massively sized ones has effectively nullified our representative democracy by shifting political power away from the citizenry to a collection of powerful special interests. The only way to restore control of the House of Representatives to the people is by increasing the number of Representatives in order to significantly reduce the district sizes.

[Editor’s note: This would result in a House of Representatives with over 6000 members. With today’s technology most Representatives, those not on critical committees, wouldn’t even have to leave their districts. And instead could meet regularly with their constituents to keep them engaged in the lawmaking process, and the Representative focused on their constituent’s demands. You can read the entire pamphlet at http://www.thirty-thousand.org/documents/TTO_Pamphlet.pdf. The Op-Ed below excerpts the section on “Citizen Legislators.”]

Op-eds

Citizen Legislators

by J. E. Quidam on 01/14/12

If we increased the number of federal Representatives from 435 to 6,000, how would they fit into one building? The answer: They don’t. As Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

It is no longer necessary, or even advantageous, to require all federal Representatives to commute weekly to a single distant location. Current technology makes available other means – which would have been unimaginable at the time of the drafting of the Constitution – for virtually assembling and voting on bills.

Consider how the world looked when the Constitution was drafted in 1787. Mail delivery was especially slow and unreliable prior to the establishment of the federal post office. New technologies such as engine- powered railroad travel and the telegraph were decades away from being conceived. [edited for length]

It is no longer necessary, or even advantageous, to require that all Representatives convene at a single location. Nor is it explicitly required by the Constitution for the purpose of debating and voting on legislation. In fact, anyone who has been to the House chamber (or watched CSPAN) knows that the Representatives rarely “convene” as a body anymore except for ceremonial events. The notion of a true assembly of the House, with debate and deliberation, was largely abandoned generations ago. Today, when votes are taken, the Representatives are usually pulled in just long enough to cast their vote before returning to their other activities (primarily campaigning and fundraising). Most of the actual work of Congress is performed in various committees; that practice would continue in a 6000- member House. However, in a House with 6,000 Representatives, it seems likely that less than 10% of them would be serving in committees; therefore, the remainder could spend most of their time in their home districts, among their constituents, rather than in distant Washington D.C.

If this were implemented, Representatives would work out of offices in their home districts and be expected to devote their time to reading proposed legislation and regularly meeting with their constituents in person. In this capacity, the Representatives would be able to function as true citizen legislators with a primary focus on protecting their constituents from the federal government! Just as importantly, consider the tremendous civic value of having the Representatives living among the citizenry, proactively educating us about pending legislation and other federal matters that may affect us. As a consequence of this, imagine how much more involved the average citizen would become in the oversight of our federal government! This would enable us to realize the vision of a truly representative House as described in “Federalist 49”:

"The members of the legislative department ... are numerous. They are distributed and dwell among the people at large. Their connections of blood, of friendship, and of acquaintance embrace a great proportion of the most influential part of the society. The nature of their public trust implies a personal influence among the people, and that they are more immediately the confidential guardians of the rights and liberties of the people."

That vision put forth by our Founders is in stark contrast to the strangely alienated relationship we have today with our Representatives. Though it is reasonable to expect that we should be able to personally communicate with our Representative with regard to pertinent constituent concerns, we have come to accept that such a privilege is generally reserved for those who are personal friends of, or major contributors to, the Representative. In fact, our Representatives are barely known in the communities they are supposed to be representing. Instead, Washington D.C. is the community where they live.

If the Representatives worked from their home districts then, on those occasions when it is necessary for the full House to convene, they need not be required to assemble in a single location. Instead, consider the possibility of establishing several federal cities around the country, each with their own capitol building and all interconnected via video conferencing. These are not regional capitols; instead, they are simply decentralized extensions of the existing House of Representatives. Geographically decentralizing the federal House could produce additional benefits beyond those associated with having our Representatives living among their constituents.

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