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An American Citizen III

An American Citizen III


September 29, 1787


In pursuing the consideration of the new Federal Constitution, it remains now to examine the

nature and powers of the House of Representatives—the immediate delegates of the people.


Each member of this truly popular assembly will be chosen by about six thousand electors, by

the poor as well as the rich. No decayed and venal borough will have an unjust share in their

determinations. No old Sarum will send thither a Representative by the voice of a single

elector. As we shall have no royal ministries to purchase votes, so we shall have no votes for

sale. For the suffrages of six thousand enlightened and independent freemen are above all price.


When the increasing population of the country shall render the body too large at the rate of

one member for every thirty thousand persons, they will be returned at the greater rate of one

for every forty or fifty thousand, which will render the electors still more incorruptible. For this

regulation is only designed to prevent a smaller number than thirty thousand from having a

Representative. Thus we see a provision follows, that no state shall have less than one member;

for if a new and greater number should hereafter be fixed on, which shall exceed the whole of

the inhabitants of any state, such state, without this wholesome provision, would lose its voice

in the House of Representatives, a circumstance which the Constitution renders impossible.


The people of England, whose House of Commons is filled with military and civil officers and

pensioners, say their liberties would be perfectly secured by triennial parliaments. With us no

placemen can sit among the Representatives of the people, and two years are the constitutional

term of their existence. Here again, lest wealth, powerful connections, or even the unwariness

of the people should place in this important trust an undeserving, unqualified or inexperienced

youth, the wisdom of the Convention has proposed an absolute incapacity till the age of

twenty-five. At twenty-one a young man is made the guardian of his own interests, but he

cannot for a few years more be entrusted with the affairs of the nation. He must be an

inhabitant of the state that elects him, that he may be intimately acquainted with their

particular circumstances. The House of Representatives is not, as the Senate, to have a

president chosen for them from without their body, but are to elect their speaker from their

own number. They will also appoint all their other officers. In great state cases, they will be the

grand inquest of the nation, for they possess the sole and uncontrollable power of

impeachment. They are neither to wait the call nor abide the prorogations and dissolutions of a

perverse or ambitious prince, for they are to meet at least once in every year, and sit on

adjournments to be agreed on between themselves and the other servants of the people.


Should they differ in opinion, the President, who is a temporary fellow servant and not their

hereditary master, has a mediatorial power to adjust it for them, but cannot prevent their

constitutional meeting within the year. They can compel the attendance of their members, that

their public duty may not be evaded in times of difficulty or danger. The vote of each

Representative can be always known, as well as the proceedings of the House, that so the

people may be acquainted with the conduct of those in whom they repose so important a trust.

As was observed of the Senators, they cannot make new offices for themselves, nor increase,

for their own benefit, the emoluments of old ones, by which the people will be exempted from

needless additions to the public expenses on such sordid and mercenary principles. They are not

to be restrained from the firm and plain language which becomes the independent

representatives of freemen, for there is to be a perfect liberty of speech. Without their consent

no monies can be obtained, no armies raised, no navies provided. They alone can originate bills

for drawing forth the revenues of the Union, and they will have a negative upon every

legislative act of the other house. So far, in short, as the sphere of federal jurisdiction extends,

they will be controllable only by the people, and in contentions with the other branch, so far as

they shall be right, they must ever finally prevail.


Such, my countrymen, are some of the cautionary provisions of the frame of government your

faithful Convention have submitted to your consideration—such the foundations of peace,

liberty and safety, which have been laid by their unwearied labors. They have guarded you

against all servants but those “whom choice and common good ordain,” against all masters

“save preserving Heaven."


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