More Representatives

September 30, 2010

As I think I’ve mentioned, when I was getting books for home schooling one of them was a copy of The Federalist, the articles by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay arguing for the adoption of the Constitution. The copy I got was edited by Benjamin F. Wright and has a fairly long introduction by the editor. I thought I’d share this (on page 55):

Part of Hamilton’s argument here and in other letters is that the House of Representatives will be large enough (the Anti-Federalists repeatedly charged that it would be too small to be representative) to reflect the various interests and views of the economic and other groups making up the United States.

I think that our current House is “too small to be representative.” The early drafts of the Constitution set the minimum population for a representative at 40,000 people, but George Washington and others argued that was too big, and the final number was 30,000. Unfortunately, they didn’t set a maximum number, and today each Representative has a district in the neighborhood of 500,000. The current number of Representatives was set by statute at 435 around a hundred years ago, in part to prevent immigrants—Jews, Italians, Poles, and such—from having representation.

If we increased the number of Representatives in the House, it would mean:

  • Elections would not cost so much.
  • Political power would be more widely distributed
  • Minorities would be better represented.
  • Lobbyists would have to work harder to reach enough Representatives to pass legislation.
  • Representatives could do more of their own work instead of relying on staff.
  • They wouldn’t all fit in Washington, D.C., so they’d have to spend more time in their districts and away from the D.C. lobbyists and bureaucrats. (With modern communications technologies, physical proximity is less necessary. Spreading Representatives throughout the country would also make the country less susceptible to a disaster taking out much of the government.)

Repealing the law that capped the House at 435 would be a step in the right direction.