The first proposed amendment to the Constitution, (also referred to as the Congressional Apportionment Amendment), if it had been ratified by the states would have resulted in a radically different House of Representatives

The only constitutional rule relating to the size of the House states: "The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand."[6] Congress regularly increased the size of the House to account for population growth until it fixed the number of voting House members at 435 in 1911.

The original wording in the House version would have set a maximum district size of 50,000 people per representative. At current population levels, this would result in 6,000+ representatives.

Article the first... 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. (emphasis added)[2]

The version that was recorded by Congress substituted less for more, and may have been ratified by 11 states and Delaware.

Which founding fathers supported the original House version of the Article the First? Why?


1 Answer 1


You can read the debate on this bill on the Library of Congress website starting here. No roll-call vote was taken, but the amendment passed through a committee of the whole by a vote of 27 - 22. Below I have summarized the House debate at this time (as far as the record shows):

James Madison

James Madison was one of the most forceful advocates of the amendment. He introduced the bill of rights and argued to allow the whole House to hear it right away. He was named to the committee responsible for crafting the amendments. When the House debated the committee's report, Madison defended the amendment as necessary to protect the people from having their voices undermined by having very large district sizes.

James Jackson

James Jackson was one of the central opponents of both the bill of rights and amendment 1. His argument here is that it is fundamentally mistaken about how a legislature works. In a democracy, the more people who are involved in creating law the better. If it were feasible to have every citizen weigh in on a bill, that would be ideal. However, since that isn't possible they have a legislature to aggregate opinions. More legislators are always better than fewer, since that means they have a larger "sample" (my words) of the population's opinions.

The rest of the legislature is more interested in the details of the bill. Each specific item has various factions. From reading the record it isn't clear to me that they break down into a "pro-Amendment1" and "anti-Amendment1" side. However, a historian might be able to provide more context.

The specific debates include:

  • A proposal to give states with at least 45,000 people a minimum of 2 representatives. This was proposed by John Vining, who also supported the introduction of the bill of rights and who also was a part of the committee to craft them. This recommendation was immediately shot down.
  • A discussion on fixing the proportion to 1 representative per 40,000, rather than 30,000 people. This was proposed by Fisher Ames. There is a long list of people arguing against it, including both James Madison and James Jackson.
  • What the maximum size of the House may be. Madison originally proposed 175, but Theodore Sedgwick proposed increasing it to 200. That measure was approved, but debate was largely mixed into the next point.
  • Whether the number of representatives should be a fixed proportion, or should be allowed to vary depending on the total population of the United States. This issue was raised by Samuel Livermore. It was largely framed as an issue relating to how much power the federal government should have. Should it be able to arbitrarily decide how many people each representative should represent, or should it be mechanical?
  • Whether Congress should be allowed to change the rate of increase, or whether the Constitution should specify it. This point is also mixed with the above two, but it was eventually decided that Congress should retain the ability to regulate.

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