In 1787, when our Constitution was created, one of the many important debates was about the number of legislators we ought to have in Congress.
Originally, there was a different 1st Amendment, that came before the one we think of now as our First Amendment (freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly).
That was known as the Congressional Apportionment Amendment.
It’s text said that we ought to have one representative per 30,000 citizens for our first 100 Members of Congress, then one rep per 40,000 citizens up to 200 Members, and then one rep per 50,000 citizens after that.
Melancton Smith, a New York delegate to the Continental Congress, worried about unchecked power in the newly proposed Constitution.
Among other things, he and other Anti-Federalists (the champions of our Bill of Rights) were concerned that too small a Congress could become unresponsive to the average citizen, as the nation’s population grew.
We certainly ought to fix, in the Constitution, those things which are essential to liberty. If anything falls under this description, it is the number of the legislature.
— Delegate Melancton Smith, 1788
And it wasn’t just the Anti-Federalists who worried about this.
In Federalist No. 55, James Madison acknowledged that having too few legislators would make it difficult to have a close enough relationship with the people they were meant to represent.
George Washington himself was said to have weighed in on this question.
In fact, this was said to be the only issue he spoke up about during the Constitutional Convention.
When it was proposed that each legislators ought to represent no more than 40,000 constituents, the first President suggested lowering it to 30,000.
Today, each congressional district has an average of 711,000 constituents.
The Amendment’s History
In 1789, the Congressional Apportionment Amendment was passed by Congress as part of our original Bill of Rights.
It then went to the states to be ratified. It was passed by:
- New Jersey: November 20, 1789
- Maryland: December 19, 1789
- North Carolina: December 22, 1789
- South Carolina: January 19, 1790
- New Hampshire: January 25, 1790
- New York: February 24, 1790
- Rhode Island: June 7, 1790
- Pennsylvania: September 21, 1791
- Vermont: November 3, 1791
- Virginia: November 3, 1791
But this was just one shy of the 3/4th needed among the 14 states at that time.
Interestingly, the proposal for this Amendment technically still remains “open”, two hundred years later, although more than two dozen states would need to ratify to pass the new 3/4th threshold.
The Lost Record
Even more interestingly, former attorney Eugene LaVergne claims to have found evidence buried in public records that the state of Connecticut did in fact originally ratify the Congressional Apportionment Amendment, which should have made it officially part of the Constitution, but this never reached the national government.
Independent researchers claim to have corroborated these records.
LaVergne took his claim to court, but his case was dismissed. He appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court to no avail.
What if it had passed?
If we were to follow the limit of at least 1 rep per 50,000 constituents, we’d now need over 6,000 Members of Congress for our population of 300,000,000.
It’s rather difficult to imagine squeezing all of them into one room together in the Capitol.
Nonetheless, it’s important to realize how far we’ve strayed from the founders’ original vision of a democratic republic.
It’s unlikely the Amendment will ever be passed.
It’s not clear that would even be a good thing, in its current form, or if it would only create unmanageable chaos.
But liquid democracy can help us restore the Founders’ original democratic vision.
It can allow us to have a much more representative government, with much stronger accountability, and scaled for our modern age.
And best of all, we can do it in a grassroots way, one step at a time, without needing to pass any new laws.
Thanks to United.vote, we can start to make a difference today. Join us.