The week ended in Philadelphia with the temperature growing hotter and tempers getting shorter. Delegates sat in the old State House, suffering without ventilation (the secrecy rule required windows to be closed) while trying to hammer out a key provision of the new Constitution being drafted — representation in the House of Representatives.
In a curious breach of protocol, the 55 or so delegates present in Philadelphia on Friday, July 13, began a “long and excited debate” on a point which had not been referred to the committee, but was reported by it, nonetheless.
Readers of The New American will appreciate the fact that such assumption of authority was nothing new for the Constitutional Convention of 1787. As we have reported many times, from the very first day, the convention exceeded its mandate and, rather than recommend amendments to the Articles of Confederation, threw that constitution out and began negotiating a new charter.
The question being debated that day 227 years ago was whether in the House of Representatives each state should have one vote for every 40,000 inhabitants.
Before examining the particular points made by the delegates regarding this aspect of proportional representation, it is important to note that despite the allegations asserted by many modern historians that the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was nothing less than the landed aristocracy protecting their privilege, when the opportunity arose in the convention to directly prefer property to non-property, the vote went against any such arrangement.
With population established as the measure that would determine representation, the convention had to amend a provision passed earlier that called for the number of representatives allotted to each new state to be determined by “wealth and the number of inhabitants.” The word wealth was accordingly stricken from the measure and debate on the proportion continued.
Earlier in the debates, the line of cleavage was between the large and the small states regarding the question of representation in the Senate. When the same question was being worked out with regard to the House of Representatives, those blocs dissolved and the north versus south situation dominated.
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Photo of U.S. House of Representatives Chamber in Washington, D.C.