Constitution Article 1 §2.3, Part Two

Lately I’ve been hyper-aware of the importance of civic engagement. To better understand this political system we have inherited, I’m making a careful study of the Constitution. I’m sharing here in case others similarly engaged might want to discuss it. At the very least, it helps me stick with it. After all, in a functioning democracy we would all be Constitutional scholars.

Last week I started on Section 2, paragraph 3. It’s a really long paragraph and the 3/5 Compromise kind of harshed my mellow, so I broke it into two posts. Here’s the paragraph:

3: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.  The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

Picking up where I left off:

The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States

The actual enumeration

So, having established that the number of representatives is based on population, the next step is to figure out how to actually do the counting.

Huh. I never realized the census is called for by the Constitution. Makes sense, though. If representation (however flawed) of the states is based on their population, it stands to reason that an official and accurate count of that population is necessary. In fact, without a federally funded census, it would be almost impossible to have a functioning representative democracy. I love how down-to-earth the Framers were. They present a Big Idea, like a proportionally allocated body of representatives, and immediately turn to the practical requirements for facilitating it.

Within three years

The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

Deadlines for action. Congress is in charge of the census. It has 3 years to figure out and implement the first census. The census will be updated every 10 years. Nice, practical, simple.

The number of Representatives

The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative;

Makes sense. One representative for every 30,000 citizens keeps the House from getting too big to get anything done, but also ensures that no one Representative is responsible for a broader group of people who can reasonably be represented (for example, districts spread over several biomes or with fairly unrelated economies). Imagine if they had said one rep for every thousand – everyone would have to take a turn!

Small populations still deserve representation, so every state gets a representative, even if the population is really low. Barring pandemic or global thermonuclear war, we’re unlikely to face that issue nowadays, but in colonial times, a state population under 30,000 was not unheard of (see allocations below).

Until such enumeration

Of course you noticed there’s kind of a chicken and egg situation here, though – you need a Congress to set up a census, but the membership of the Congress is determined in part by the census. Hence the following tedium:

  • State of New Hampshire: 3
  • Massachusetts: 8
  • Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations: 1
  • Connecticut: 5
  • New-York: 6
  • New Jersey: 4
  • Pennsylvania: 8
  • Delaware: 1
  • Maryland: 6
  • Virginia: 10
  • North Carolina: 5
  • South Carolina: 5
  • Georgia: 3

It reminds me of those lists of “shalt nots” in the Bible that no one ever pays attention to unless they’re looking for justification – like not handling pigskin (cough, football) or eating octopus. However, since the Framers were writing a working document, they had the good sense to sunset these numbers with the phrase: until such enumeration shall be made.

Tune in next week for a fascinating analysis of vacancies.

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