Objection That The Number of Members Will Not Be Augmented as the
Progress of Population Demands Considered
For the Independent Journal
Wednesday, February 20, 1788


To the People of the State of New York:

THE remaining charge against the House of Representatives, which I am to
examine, is grounded on a supposition that the number of members will
not be augmented from time to time, as the progress of population may

It has been admitted, that this objection, if well supported, would have
great weight. The following observations will show that, like most other
objections against the Constitution, it can only proceed from a partial
view of the subject, or from a jealousy which discolors and disfigures
every object which is beheld.

1. Those who urge the objection seem not to have recollected that the
federal Constitution will not suffer by a comparison with the State
constitutions, in the security provided for a gradual augmentation of
the number of representatives. The number which is to prevail in the
first instance is declared to be temporary. Its duration is limited to
the short term of three years.

Within every successive term of ten years a census of inhabitants is to
be repeated. The unequivocal objects of these regulations are, first, to
readjust, from time to time, the apportionment of representatives to the
number of inhabitants, under the single exception that each State shall
have one representative at least; secondly, to augment the number of
representatives at the same periods, under the sole limitation that the
whole number shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand inhabitants.
If we review the constitutions of the several States, we shall find that
some of them contain no determinate regulations on this subject, that
others correspond pretty much on this point with the federal
Constitution, and that the most effectual security in any of them is
resolvable into a mere directory provision.

2. As far as experience has taken place on this subject, a gradual
increase of representatives under the State constitutions has at least
kept pace with that of the constituents, and it appears that the former
have been as ready to concur in such measures as the latter have been to
call for them.

3. There is a peculiarity in the federal Constitution which insures a
watchful attention in a majority both of the people and of their
representatives to a constitutional augmentation of the latter. The
peculiarity lies in this, that one branch of the legislature is a
representation of citizens, the other of the States: in the former,
consequently, the larger States will have most weight; in the latter,
the advantage will be in favor of the smaller States. From this
circumstance it may with certainty be inferred that the larger States
will be strenuous advocates for increasing the number and weight of that
part of the legislature in which their influence predominates. And it so
happens that four only of the largest will have a majority of the whole
votes in the House of Representatives. Should the representatives or
people, therefore, of the smaller States oppose at any time a reasonable
addition of members, a coalition of a very few States will be sufficient
to overrule the opposition; a coalition which, notwithstanding the
rivalship and local prejudices which might prevent it on ordinary
occasions, would not fail to take place, when not merely prompted by
common interest, but justified by equity and the principles of the

It may be alleged, perhaps, that the Senate would be prompted by like
motives to an adverse coalition; and as their concurrence would be
indispensable, the just and constitutional views of the other branch
might be defeated. This is the difficulty which has probably created the
most serious apprehensions in the jealous friends of a numerous
representation. Fortunately it is among the difficulties which, existing
only in appearance, vanish on a close and accurate inspection. The
following reflections will, if I mistake not, be admitted to be
conclusive and satisfactory on this point.

Notwithstanding the equal authority which will subsist between the two
houses on all legislative subjects, except the originating of money
bills, it cannot be doubted that the House, composed of the greater
number of members, when supported by the more powerful States, and
speaking the known and determined sense of a majority of the people,
will have no small advantage in a question depending on the comparative
firmness of the two houses.

This advantage must be increased by the consciousness, felt by the same
side of being supported in its demands by right, by reason, and by the
Constitution; and the consciousness, on the opposite side, of contending
against the force of all these solemn considerations.

It is farther to be considered, that in the gradation between the
smallest and largest States, there are several, which, though most
likely in general to arrange themselves among the former are too little
removed in extent and population from the latter, to second an
opposition to their just and legitimate pretensions. Hence it is by no
means certain that a majority of votes, even in the Senate, would be
unfriendly to proper augmentations in the number of representatives.

It will not be looking too far to add, that the senators from all the
new States may be gained over to the just views of the House of
Representatives, by an expedient too obvious to be overlooked. As these
States will, for a great length of time, advance in population with
peculiar rapidity, they will be interested in frequent reapportionments
of the representatives to the number of inhabitants. The large States,
therefore, who will prevail in the House of Representatives, will have
nothing to do but to make reapportionments and augmentations mutually
conditions of each other; and the senators from all the most growing
States will be bound to contend for the latter, by the interest which
their States will feel in the former.

These considerations seem to afford ample security on this subject, and
ought alone to satisfy all the doubts and fears which have been indulged
with regard to it. Admitting, however, that they should all be
insufficient to subdue the unjust policy of the smaller States, or their
predominant influence in the councils of the Senate, a constitutional
and infallible resource still remains with the larger States, by which
they will be able at all times to accomplish their just purposes. The
House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose,
the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word,
hold the purse -- that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the
history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation
of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and
importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all
the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This
power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and
effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate
representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every
grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.

But will not the House of Representatives be as much interested as the
Senate in maintaining the government in its proper functions, and will
they not therefore be unwilling to stake its existence or its reputation
on the pliancy of the Senate? Or, if such a trial of firmness between
the two branches were hazarded, would not the one be as likely first to
yield as the other? These questions will create no difficulty with those
who reflect that in all cases the smaller the number, and the more
permanent and conspicuous the station, of men in power, the stronger
must be the interest which they will individually feel in whatever
concerns the government. Those who represent the dignity of their
country in the eyes of other nations, will be particularly sensible to
every prospect of public danger, or of dishonorable stagnation in public
affairs. To those causes we are to ascribe the continual triumph of the
British House of Commons over the other branches of the government,
whenever the engine of a money bill has been employed. An absolute
inflexibility on the side of the latter, although it could not have
failed to involve every department of the state in the general
confusion, has neither been apprehended nor experienced. The utmost
degree of firmness that can be displayed by the federal Senate or
President, will not be more than equal to a resistance in which they
will be supported by constitutional and patriotic principles.

In this review of the Constitution of the House of Representatives, I
have passed over the circumstances of economy, which, in the present
state of affairs, might have had some effect in lessening the temporary
number of representatives, and a disregard of which would probably have
been as rich a theme of declamation against the Constitution as has been
shown by the smallness of the number proposed. I omit also any remarks
on the difficulty which might be found, under present circumstances, in
engaging in the federal service a large number of such characters as the
people will probably elect. One observation, however, I must be
permitted to add on this subject as claiming, in my judgment, a very
serious attention. It is, that in all legislative assemblies the greater
the number composing them may be, the fewer will be the men who will in
fact direct their proceedings. In the first place, the more numerous an
assembly may be, of whatever characters composed, the greater is known
to be the ascendency of passion over reason. In the next place, the
larger the number, the greater will be the proportion of members of
limited information and of weak capacities. Now, it is precisely on
characters of this description that the eloquence and address of the few
are known to act with all their force. In the ancient republics, where
the whole body of the people assembled in person, a single orator, or an
artful statesman, was generally seen to rule with as complete a sway as
if a sceptre had been placed in his single hand. On the same principle,
the more multitudinous a representative assembly may be rendered, the
more it will partake of the infirmities incident to collective meetings
of the people. Ignorance will be the dupe of cunning, and passion the
slave of sophistry and declamation. The people can never err more than
in supposing that by multiplying their representatives beyond a certain
limit, they strengthen the barrier against the government of a few.
Experience will forever admonish them that, on the contrary, AFTER
SECURING A SUFFICIENT NUMBER FOR THE PURPOSES OF SAFETY, OF LOCAL INFORMATION, AND OF DIFFUSIVE SYMPATHY WITH THE WHOLE SOCIETY, they will counteract their own views by every addition to their representatives. The countenance of the government may become more democratic, but the soul that animates it will be more oligarchic. The machine will be enlarged, but the fewer, and often the more secret, will be the springs by which its motions are directed.

As connected with the objection against the number of representatives,
may properly be here noticed, that which has been suggested against the
number made competent for legislative business. It has been said that
more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum; and in
particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a
decision. That some advantages might have resulted from such a
precaution, cannot be denied. It might have been an additional shield to
some particular interests, and another obstacle generally to hasty and
partial measures. But these considerations are outweighed by the
inconveniences in the opposite scale. In all cases where justice or the
general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to
be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be
reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power
would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege
limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage
of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general
weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences.
Lastly, it would facilitate and foster the baneful practice of secessions; a practice which has shown itself even in States where a majority only is required; a practice subversive of all the principles of order and regular government; a practice which leads more directly to public convulsions, and the ruin of popular governments, than any other which has yet been displayed among us.