Welcome back to my ongoing series on the Constitution! Like the preamble, my first post was more a mission statement than anything with real content, but I still managed to miss a couple things I wanted to mention.
First is that my primary tools for this project are the U. S. Constitution Online website and my ACLU-printed pocket constitution. I have several more of those pocket books, and if anybody wants one you can either find me in person, or click on that ACLU site and they’ll give you one for free.
I thought there was a second thing, but if so I’ve forgotten it. Oh well, onwards!
My standard disclaimer applies: I am not an expert in any subject, in any way.
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.
The first article is about the legislative branch of the government. In fact the first three articles establish the three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial.
It seems likely that starting with Congress was intentional, to draw attention away from one person’s power. Remember that this government was designed to be of and for the people, so most of the power rests with Congress, at least in theory.
Also, note that it says “All legislative Powers”. Only Congress can make laws, not the president, not the courts. But both the executive and judicial branches can have profound effects on laws, as we’ll see in later installments.
Since I’m about to quote the first part to be modified by a later amendment, I’m going to point out that I’ll be following the convention where modified text is (in parentheses and italic), while commentary establishing the nature of the modification is (in parentheses and bold).
Technically this means I’ll be including some stuff that’s not in the original text, but this is probably the best way to do it. I’ll also maintain the original links, since they are useful in many ways.
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.
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.
(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 previous sentence in parentheses was modified by the 14th Amendment, section 2.) 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; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five and Georgia three.
When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.
In Section 2 we get to work actually doing stuff. Section 2 is all about the House of Representatives.
I had trouble figuring out what “the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature” is trying to say. After a bit of thinking, it seems to be saying that if you qualify to be an elector for the most numerous branch of the legislature of your state, then you qualify to be an elector for the state. It’s not clear to me if “Elector” in this case just means “person voting in this election” or something else, but it seems the most likely interpretation.
This is the moment when I realize just how ambitious this constitution project of mine is, because I’m having to seriously examine this archaic language cold. I haven’t actually sat down and examined the Constitution with an intent to understand it as a whole since… ever, now that I think of it. I’ve looked things up, and I’ve read it all the way through, but there was always context which narrowed my scope. Having to take a broad view of the entire document really makes it clear how much I don’t understand.
Which is good, however annoying it is. This project is about learning, and I’m doing that.
The second paragraph establishes the requirements to be a Representative. Age, citizen, resident, and that’s it.
Although the old language is harder to understand, I prefer the oldest parts of the Constitution for their brevity. When we get to the amendments you’ll see what I mean, in the 19th century they start getting longer and longer.
Section 2 also contains our first hint of slavery in the infamous three-fifths compromise. I’m interested that they used such indirect language about it, I wonder what the discussions were like leading up to that.
Slavery was a contentious issue at the time, and would remain so right up until it was abolished. When people speak, as some do, of the framers of the constitution as though they were nearly super-humanly wise and all in agreement with each other, remember that this early in the document we’ve established that slaves are 3/5 of a person because the framers could not agree on whether to count them or not.
In fact whether or not slaves counted for population figures was a pretty big deal, with the standard practice being to count them when it was beneficial to your interests and not when it wasn’t. The southern states in particular had large slave populations and wanted them to count for the number of representatives they got in the house, thereby increasing their influence.
So not only were they owning people, they were using them as tokens for power.
What else do we have? Establishing the census, limiting the size of the House and providing provisional numbers until the first census is taken. Then we see that when there’s a vacancy in the House, the state Governor has to have an election to fill it. Finally, the House is obligated to choose its Speaker and officers, and the House has the power of Impeachment.
I’m starting to pick up that 18th century habit of capitalizing nouns. This will probably get worse before it gets better. Also, dig that old-timey spelling of “Chuse”! I kinda like it, shame we went with the double-O instead.
Anyway, this is over 1200 words, so I’m going to end the post here. I’ll try to have Article 1, Section 3 up tomorrow.
Feel free to share your analysis in the comments, and have an excellent day.