Jonah Goldberg

Watching the House of Representatives on late-night C-SPAN, you might have any number of reactions, including seppuku-inducing boredom. Depending on who's talking, you might also feel disgust, rage, contempt or, in rare cases, inspiration. But one reaction you probably won't have is: "Gosh, if only there were more of these jokers."

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That's too bad. Because what our political system may be lacking more than anything else is enough members of Congress. No, really. Seriously, stop laughing.

Except for a brief effort to accommodate Alaska and Hawaii, the size of the House has been frozen at 435 members since 1911. A 1929 law, driven in part to keep immigrants underrepresented, has kept it that way.

But there's nothing sacred about the 435 number. In fact, the Founders would be aghast at the idea that the "peoples' house" is filled with pols speaking for hundreds of thousands of citizens.

In Federalist No. 55, James Madison defended the proposed Constitution's apportionment clause despite its widespread unpopularity. The chief complaints, according to Madison, were that such a small Congress would become an "unsafe depository of the public interests"; that the districts would be too large and diverse for any politician to "possess a proper knowledge of the local circumstances of their numerous constituents"; and that such a tiny House would have the net result of attracting elitist types whose aim would be the "permanent elevation of the few on the depression of the many."

So how big were these liberty-threatening districts? How tiny was the potentially oligarchic House? The districts had no more than 30,000 people, yielding 65 representatives. Under today's apportionment system, the "ideal" congressional district is 700,000 people, with some districts reaching nearly 1 million. Montana, with a population of 958,000, has just one representative, but each of Rhode Island's two districts has about 530,000 people.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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