Imatges de pàgina

balance, or a government with all authority col. lected in one centre or department, were violent, intriguing, corrupt, and tyrannical dominations of majorities over minorities, uniformly and rapidly terminating their career in profligate despotism.

This visionary notion of a single assembly was, nevertheless, imbodied in the constitution adopted by France in 1791 ; and the same false and vicious principle continued for some time to prevail with the sublimated theorists of that country. A single chamber was again established in the plan of government published by the Convention in 1793. Their own sufferings, however, at length taught the French people to listen to that oracle of wisdom, the experience of other nations and other ages, which, amid the tumult and violence of the passions which influenced them, they had utterly disregarded, and which, under any circumstances, their national vanity would otherwise have led them to despise. “No people,” said Boissy d'Anglas, one of their greatest orators, “no people can testify to the world, with more truth and sincerity than the French, the dangers inherent in a single legislative assembly, and the point to which faction may mislead an assembly without check or counterpoise." We accordingly find, that in the next of their ephemeral constitutions, which appeared in 1797, there was a division of the Legislature into two co-ordinate branches; and the idea of two cham bers was never abandoned, either under the mil itary despotism of the empire, or in the charter's obtained upon the restoration of the monarchy, or upon the subsequent revolution and change of dynasty.

Our country had, indeed, afforded more than one instance in point, in which, fortunately, howéver, the evil consequences were by no means so great as those experienced in France. The legislatures of Pennsylvania and Georgia consisted originally of a single house ; but the instability and passion which marked their proceedings, far short as they were of the least of the atrocities of the French National Convention, were the subject of much public animadversion at the time; and in the subsequent reforms of their constitutions, the people of those states were so sensible of this defect, and of the evils they had suffered from it, that a Senate was introduced into both of their amended constitutions. There was a farther reason for the division of the legislative powers in the government of the United States, arising from its federative character, but which, from its peculiar importance, deserves a fuller explanation. .

On those just principles of public polity on which our Constitution is founded, it is essential that in communities, thoroughly incorporated into one nation, the inhabitants of every geo graphical district or territorial subdivision should have their proportional share in the government; while among independent sovereign states, bound together by a simple league, the several parties, however unequal in respect to territory and population, should have an equal share in the public councils. It was therefore reasonable and proper, that in a republic partaking both of the national and federal characters, the government should be founded on both those principles of representation. Hence, in the constitution of the legislative powers, the House of Representatives was constructed on the principle of proportional, and the Senate on that of equal, representation; and although this equality in the latter was evidently the result of a compromise between the larger and smaller states, yet it afforded a convenient and effectual mode of applying the rule of combined representation to that co-ordinate branch, and necessarily induced a separation of the two bodies of which Congress is composed.

I. The House of Representatives was accordingly founded on the principles of proportional representation ; yet not purely and abstractedly so, but with as much conformity to that principle as was practicable. It is composed of representatives of the people of the several states, not of the people of the United States at large; and in this respect it partakes of the federative quality. Neither are the qualifications of the electors uniform, as much variety of opinion and practice exists concerning them in the several states. The representatives in Congress are chosen every second year, by the people of the several states who are qualified to vote for the most numerous branch of the State Legislature. No person can be a representative until he has attained the age of twenty-five years, and has been seven years a citizen of the United States; nor unless he is an inhabitant of the state for which he is chosen. When vacancies happen, from death or resignation, in the representation of any state, its executive authority is directed to issue writs of election to fill them, either at a general or special election.

The general qualifications of electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislatures are, that they be past the age of twenty-one

years, free resident citizens of the state in which they vote, and have paid taxes. In some of the states they are required to possess property of a certain description or amount, and in others to be white as well as free citizens. These different qualifications are, in some instances, differently combined, or restricted and modified; and, in most others, are so large as to include all persons who are of competent discretion, and interested in the welfare of the government, liable to perform any of its duties, or bear any of its burdens: so that the House of Representatives may be said very fairly to represent the whole body of the people.

Several of the state constitutions have prescribed the same, if not higher, qualifications in the elected than in the electors, and some of them require a religious test. But the Constitution of the United States requires no evidence of property in the representative, nor any declaration of his religious belief. He is merely required to be a citizen of competent age, and free from undue bias or dependance, by not holding any office of trust or profit under the United States. The term for which he is elected to serve is not so short as to prevent his obtaining a comprehensive acquaintance with his duties, nor so long as to tempt him to forget his dependance on the approbation of his constituents. Frequent elections, moreover, have a tendency to diminish the importance of the office, and to render the people indifferent to the exercise of their right; while, on the other hand, long intervals between the elections are apt to produce too great excitement, and, consequently, to render the periods of their return a season of too se.


vere competition and conflict for the public tranquillity. The Constitution has certainly not deviated in this respect to the latter extreme, in the establishment of biennial elections. Consid. ering the situation and extent of the country, the medium adopted combines as many advantages, and avoids as many inconveniences, as any other term which might have been adopted.

The representatives are directed to be apportioned among the states according to numbers, which are determined in each state by adding to the whole number of free persons, exclusive of Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other per•

This rule of apportionment is obnoxious to the objection that three fifths of the slaves in those states where slavery still exists are computed in settling the representation. But the provision which thus permits them to swell the population, and thereby increase the political weight and influence of the states in which their masters reside, was the result of necessary compromise ; and the same rule that apportions the representatives extends to direct taxes: while their slaves give to the states in question an increased number of representatives in Congress, they contribute also, when that mode of taxation is resorted to, to increase the measure of their contributions. The mischief, however, remains, that their preponderance in the public councils, obtained by these very means,

has hitherto prevented the imposition of direct taxes, except during a part of the short periods in which this country has been engaged in war.

The Constitution directed an actual enumeration of the people to be made within three years after the first meeting of:the Congress it cre

so that

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