The Original Compromise: What the Constitution's Framers Were Really Thinking

By David Brian Robertson | Go to book overview

7
Selecting U.S. Representatives

The delegates considered the rules for selecting government officials to be critically important. Whoever selected these officials would greatly influence the officials’ behavior. The Virginia Plan placed the House of Representatives in the center of the new government; it would select the Senate and share in choosing the president. The voters would directly elect the members of the new House of Representatives, and each state’s population size would determine the number of representatives it would send to Congress.

The debate on the method for selecting members of the U.S. House of Representatives began as a detached discussion of the requirements of republicanism, but it evolved into a very pragmatic discussion of the allocation of political power. Though the advocates of the Virginia Plan generally won their points, the debates strengthened the position of the narrow nationalists. The concrete allocation of seats in the new House of Representatives, and the difficulties in allocating seats to new states that would join the union in the future began to fracture Madison’s coalition, undermining support for the principle of proportional representation in the Senate and for broad national powers.


Why Was the Selection of Members
of Congress So Crucial?

The delegates viewed the rules for selecting government officials as their most momentous task. These officials’ careers would depend on those who put them in office, and the delegates expected them generally to serve as the faithful agents of their patrons. The process for selecting the members of Congress was especially important. The delegates believed that the House and Senate would be the voice and advocate of whatever group selected them.

The new House of Representatives would provide the most direct voice of the people. George Mason envisioned the House as “the grand depository of the democratic principle of the Government”; it would be “our House of Commons.”1

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