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Welcome back! This is the second edition of Constituesday, our weekly series exploring the U.S. constitution from historical and contemporary perspectives. With knowledge in our pockets, we can combat willful ignorance and purposeful deceit.

Here is the link to last week's first edition: Constituesday - Preamble.

In today's edition, we tackle Article I, concerning the legislature.

I've gone ahead and made the executive decision to split Article I into two sections. Firstly, the thing is just long, its three times longer than any other article or amendment at least. Secondly, I really want to get into the Enumerated Powersin detail. If I did Article I in one post, I'd have to skim over stuff, and I don't want to do that.

Cross Posted at

So for today let's take a look at Article I, sections 1-5. Sections 6-10 next week. Here's some info:

There was a great deal of debate at the Constitutional Convention about how to structure the legislature. Both the large, southern, slave states and the small, northern non-slave states had a lot at stake. James Madison's Virginia Plan supported proportional representation, while William Paterson's New Jersey Plan called for equal representation.

In today's political climate, things probably would have broken down, or one side would have stomped their feet or kicked and screamed until nothing got done. But the framers, in their wisdom, developed the Great Compromise and America's ingenious bicameral legislation was born.

There were bicameral proposals before the compromise, but the differences between the houses involved electoral procedures, not representation levels. Roger Sherman proposed the Connecticut Compromise and, in the spirit of get it done, and to the betterment of all, the United StatesHouse of Representatives and Senate were born.

Section 1
All  legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the  United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of  Representatives.

This is the vesting clause. It basically just says that Article I will grant the legislative powers to the congress, and names the houses.

Section 2
The House of  Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year  by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state  shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most  numerous branch of the state legislature.

This clause has been highly amended. At the time of the writing of the constitution, the states chose who could vote in national elections, but the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Sixth amendments have expanded voting rights to blacks, women, blacks and 18 year-olds. (Yes, they had to amend the Constitution twice to ensure equal voting rights for blacks, but we'll get into more detail in further weeks, when we explore the amendments.) We vote for the entire House every two years.

No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the  age of twenty five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United  States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state  in which he shall be chosen.

If you're 25, a U.S. citizen for 7 years or more, and you live in the state you represent (not necessarily the district you represent) you can serve in the U.S. House. Congress can use no other reason to deny your seat in Congress, as decided in Powell vs. McCormack.

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;

There's a lot here. The size of the House, the Census and the Three Fifths Compromise.

The history of the size of the House is a little wonky and clunky, but one thing is for sure; We have less representation today than we ever have before, and as long as the U.S. population grows, that trend will continue.

Faced with an ever growing House, congress passed Public Law 62-5 which caps the House at 435 members. Less populous states have smaller districts, and therefore more Representatives per person. The 1-30,000 minimum isn't even close. Most of us live in districts with almost a million people or more.

This clause of the Constitution also establishes the U.S. Census. Isn't it funny how the Tea Party and ultra-libertarian types claim to be pro-constitution but are actually anti-Census? Well you can't have it both ways. The U.S. Government uses the Census not just for enumerating House districts, but to collect a swath of other demographic information. Without this information, the government would have no way of knowing who it's populace was, and would be forced to govern them blindly. Since World War II, the Census' information has been kept private, even from other government agencies.

If the Connecticut Compromise is known as The Great Compromise, then the Three Fifths Compromise should be called The not so Great Compromise, or the Really Bad Idea for $100 Alex.

After the Great Compromise, the southern delegates in Philly saw their numerical supremacy threatened. The Senate already had equal representation amongst the states, and, without counting slaves, the proportional representation in the House wouldn't favor them as much as they'd like either.

The south wanted to hold slaves, deny them their humanity and citizenship, but count them as people for purposes of representation in the House. More cake-and-eat-it-too logic.

And it worked too, for a while, as southern politics dominated in Washington. Why do you think so many early presidents were Virginian?

The Three Fifths Compromise sewed the seeds for the inevitability of southern secession and the Civil War.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any state, the  executive authority thereof shall issue writs of election to fill such  vacancies.

Special elections replace Representatives, arranged by the Governor.

The House of Representatives shall choose their speaker and other officers; and shall have the sole power of impeachment.

This established the Speaker of the House, America's second most powerful political figure. The speaker holds enormous political sway, and the majority party in the House holds a lot of power. It also grants the House the power of impeachment, which we'll touch on more in Article II.

Section 3
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote.

This lays out the equal representation from the Great Compromise, and the six year term.

Immediately  after they shall be assembled in consequence of the first election,  they shall be divided as equally as may be into three classes. The seats  of the Senators of the first class shall be vacated at the expiration  of the second year, of the second class at the expiration of the fourth  year, and the third class at the expiration of the sixth year, so that  one third may be chosen every second year;and  if vacancies happen by resignation, or otherwise, during the recess of  the legislature of any state, the executive thereof may make temporary  appointments until the next meeting of the legislature, which shall then  fill such vacancies.

This lays out the staggered election system. We elect approximately one third of the Senate every two years. It also gives Governors the power to appoint replacement Senators. (The 17th Amendment changed this, and now different states have different replacement policies.)

No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the age  of thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the United States and  who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state for which he  shall be chosen.

The Vice President of the United States shall be  President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally  divided.

The qualifications for Senators are more strict than those of the House, but are also exclusive.

The Vice President is given his only constitutional duty here, as Senate tie-breaker and sitting Senate President. No actual Vice Presidents actually do this constitutional duty. John Adams did, but since his time, the Vice Presidency has become primarily an Executive branch position.

The Senate shall chuse  their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence  of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of the  President of the United States.

This President Pro Tempore is the person who does the actual "President of the Senate" duties, as the V.P. is most always absent.

The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When  sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the  President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall  preside: And no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two  thirds of the members present.

Judgment in cases of impeachment  shall not extend further than to removal from office, and  disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit  under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be  liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment,  according to law.

The House has the power of impeachment, but the Senate has the trial, and two-thirds supermajorities are needed for conviction.

Section 4
The times,  places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives,  shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the  Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except  as to the places of choosing Senators.

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.

Election Day! Congress has, by law, made Election Day the first Tuesday in November, and Congress no longer begins its session in December. In 1787, it could take weeks by horse-trailer to get from one's home to the Capital city. Plus, there weren't professional politicians, so Congress was considered a part-time job. Laughable by today's standards.

Section 5
Each House  shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its  own members, and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do  business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be  authorized to compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner,  and under such penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its  members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two  thirds, expel a member.

Rules. This is where things like filibusters, secret holds, committees  and other soul-crushing, cynicism-educing, sausage-making procedures stem from. Congressional rules of order, especially those in the Senate, were inspired by, though not identical to, British Parliamentary Procedure.

The Senate's rules give the minority party (or faction) more power than in the House (remember the powerful Speaker). James Madison's Federalist #10 influenced this arrangement, though Howard Zinn says that, in actuality, everyone was scared shitless of another Shays Rebellion.

This clause also provides each house the opportunity to expel a member.

Each House shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to  time publish the same, excepting such parts as may in their judgment  require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the members of either House on  any question shall, at the desire of one fifth of those present, be  entered on the journal.

The congressional record can be accessed here: Great for journalists and Poli-Sci majors.

Neither House, during the session of Congress, shall, without the  consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other  place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

There is a difference between adjourning, and "adjourning."

Okay that's the first half of Article I of the U.S. Constitution. A lot of it is technical and procedural, and not so much political. But the history of, and ramifications of the compromises of the Constitutional Convention, forthcoming voting rights amendments, three fifths debacle and the Census make for a wealth of information and governance.

Next week we'll get into sections 6-10, separation of powers and enumerated powers and junk. It's going to be a whole heck of a lot of fun! See you then!

Originally posted to kcmitch on Tue Feb 08, 2011 at 02:13 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Um dude, I am already running a series on (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radarlady, trashablanca

      the Constitution called Friday Constitutional. I am ahead of you a bit.

      I don't want to squash you series, I just wanted to let you know. Good luck with your series.


      Getting Democrats together and keeping them that way is like herding cats that are high on meth, through L.A., during an earthquake, in the rain -6.25, -6.10

      by Something the Dog Said on Tue Feb 08, 2011 at 02:18:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Shays Rebellion from lack of economic equality? (0+ / 0-)

      Based on the quotes from participants provided in your link, it looks like it was more about anger about taxes.

      The state, county, and local governments were demanding taxes from the farmers, without accepting goods as payment.  The consolidation of money in the seat of government and their refusal to issue paper money made it very difficult or impossible for many farmers to pay the tax bills.  This led to seizure of property, which was inevitably sold for less than market values.

      So it seems to me that it all originated with tax policy, and the consequences of how those taxes were being implemented and collected.  There was also anger over consolidation of wealth by the government at the expense of the people.  And in the case of Shays, he had served in the Revolutionary forces, but was not paid by the government for that service and went home empty handed.

      I suppose "economic equality" could be used to describe it, but it seems it was more a matter of inequality between the people and their government, rather than between people of different classes.

    •  Hey man, (I am assuming you're a man) what do you (0+ / 0-)

      think about Angie's idea? We could co-start a group about the Constitution over at DK4. I come at this issue from a different point of view, I talk about what it means more than the history behind it. There are others who do constitutional stuff and for a while I was doing explanations of First Amendment case law. All of that might be a good start to a group, eh?

      My public e-mail is in my profile, if you're interested, why don't you drop me a line and we can hash it out.


      Getting Democrats together and keeping them that way is like herding cats that are high on meth, through L.A., during an earthquake, in the rain -6.25, -6.10

      by Something the Dog Said on Wed Feb 09, 2011 at 05:25:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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