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Uncap the House - A New National Debate
The ratio of representatives to constituents is too large, making election impossible for those without deep pockets and damaging the effective communication necessary for a republic.
In our founding era, our common bond was our fight for liberty. After freeing ourselves from the chains of oppression, we created a robust, diverse, and layered republic to harness the power of our freedom and protect our liberties. However, 247 years later, we find ourselves lacking liberty and misunderstanding the power of our freedom. The national debate is focused on the individual (democracy) and not the group (family) or whole (republic). To reclaim our liberty, we must understand the nature of government, the principles of our Democratic Republic, and the spirit of liberty. Then, we need a new national debate.
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The Nature of Government - Individuals and Groups
Every individual human has power. They can fight. They can labor. But they are not independent. To survive, they group. They are born into a family. The child is dependent on Mom and Dad. As the child reaches adolescence, they begin to take on the responsibility of survival. In our modern society, this may be a simple task like doing their laundry. Survival is work—too much work for one human to handle.
The power of survival is divided between Mother and Father. Sharing their power together, they make children and create a family. They divide the authority and responsibility of raising children. It’s a lot of work but essential to the survival of humans.
In the early stages of childhood, the children feel independent but are really in a state of submission. They are completely dependent on Mom and Dad for food and security. They have lots of time for play. This is where they express their creativity. This is when they feel independent. They are not burdened with the stress of survival and, therefore, they are able to devote more time to independent thought.
As the child enters adolescence and assumes some of the responsibilities of survival, they begin to feel they are in a state of submission. The independence of thought is crowded with the repetitive nature of survival. The child often rebels against authority (Mom and Dad), misunderstanding the bonds of their submission. Mom and Dad are not the oppressors. They are guides. They teach the child how to handle the responsibility of survival and balance the repetitive thought of work with the creative thought of freedom.
Together, Mother, Father, and children make a family, which grows and scales. Mom and Dad have more kids, and older siblings help with younger siblings. The bigger the family, the more productive they are, leaving more time for creative thought and leisure. As children grow into adults, they relieve Mom and Dad of their responsibility and build their own families, grouping them together and forming society.
The family is a concentration of human power. Families group together and form society. As the power grows, society concentrates that power into government. Our government then divides that power to restrain the groups from growing too large and overpowering the others.
Charles De Montesquieu explores the relationship between laws and the principles that underpin different forms of government in The Spirit of the Laws. A groundbreaking exploration of political theory, it shaped modern governance with its revolutionary ideas on the separation of powers. In it, he argues that laws should be tailored to the nature and principles of each type of government: republics and virtue, monarchies and honor, and despotisms and fear. However, the nature of government is the nature of people, and the nature of people is family. It is the relationship between power and people that underpins government. A successful family or government structure is one that divides power and maintains communication—the process of sharing information, ideas, or feelings.
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Principles of Government - Honor, Virtue, and Communication
Montesquieu explains the different forms of government: republics, monarchy, and despotism. He divided republics into two groups: democracies and aristocracies. Our Democratic Republic was born by blending the two forms of republics together with monarchy. The Executive functions as the monarch, the Senate functions as the aristocracy, and the House functions as a democracy—operating as a democratic aristocracy.
The blending of these different forms of government allows better communication from power to people—dividing both power and responsibility of governing between the federal, state, and people.
James Madison argues that no government is “reducible to a sole principle of operation.” Our Democratic Republic blends the principles of honor and virtue together while adding a third—communication.
People naturally group. When the groups grow too large, factions form and cause division. Our Republic recognizes the factious nature of humanity and divides responsibility among the different groups. To ensure harmony, our government seeks to secure communication between the different groups of society. We do this by repeatedly dividing big groups into small groups to make them more manageable. The people elect representatives to speak for them inside the aristocracy. The aristocracy communicates with the monarch.
James Madison explains our layered or compound republic in Federalist 51:
“First. In a single republic, all the power surrendered by the people is submitted to the administration of a single government; and the usurpations are guarded against by a division of the government into distinct and separate departments. In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.
Second. It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.”
The separated powers check each other, providing balance among those governing. As Madison famously wrote, also in Federalist 51, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”
However, power is responsibility. To encourage virtuous leadership, we need to speak of it differently. The powers are not separated as much as the responsibility is divided. Virtuous men seek to carry responsibility, sinful men seek power. Dividing the powers into smaller groups helps check them against each other. It also allows communication inside the groups to flow more freely as it is easier for the individual to be represented in a small group rather than in a larger group.
The State and Federal powers are like Mom and Dad. They divide the responsibilities of the group into two parts. When partners compete with each other, it often leads to friction, and that friction can lead to dysfunction. Successful marriages exist when partners recognize each other's sovereignty and compete for the whole instead of for the individual. In other words, each focuses on their responsibility instead of competing with each other. They compete with themselves, creating two strong halves and building a stronger whole.
The balance between the two sovereign powers is communication. Successful communication allows each power to grow without infringing on the other while holding each of them accountable. In a marriage, partners may set aside time to share and discuss their daily responsibilities. In our Republic, we do this through debate in Congress.
Spirit of Liberty - Freedom of Rules
We are not born independent. We are born dependent. As we grow and begin to assume some of the responsibilities of our independence, we gain our liberty. Liberty does not entitle individuals to do what they want. Liberty embodies the idea that individuals have inherent rights and freedoms that should be protected from arbitrary power.
The spirit of liberty emphasizes personal autonomy, freedom of expression, and the belief that power should be exercised with restraint and in the service of the common good. Throughout history, this spirit has been invoked in struggles against tyranny, oppression, and injustice, and it remains a foundational principle in many democratic societies today.
Liberty is the state of being free from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views. It's the opportunity to act as one pleases inside their individual sphere. However, liberty is not found in unchecked freedom. It is found in the rules that govern us. For liberty to exist, the citizens of the union must have a say in the rules and laws written by the authority. Individuals in a democratic republic share this responsibility by electing representatives to Congress. In order for the liberty of the individual to be secured, the groups of the republic must be small enough for the individual to be heard by their representative.
Thomas Jefferson famously said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” However, it is because we are blessed with a good government that we don’t need to shed blood. We are endowed with the right of suffrage and promised the right of representation. In order to prune the tree and regain our liberty, we need to refresh our representation. This begins by debating the apportionment of representatives in Congress.
The National Debate - What’s the right number?
The spirit of our liberty lives inside the nature and principles of our government. Both can be found in our representation. It is the people's way of communicating with their power. Refreshing our liberty means debating apportionment of the House—it is vital to the success of our Union, and for far too long, it has been ignored.
James Madison opened Federalist No. 55, titled The Total Number of the House of Representatives, on February 15th, 1788, expressing the severity of the apportionment of the House:
“THE number of which the House of Representatives is to consist, forms another and a very interesting point of view, under which this branch of the federal legislature may be contemplated. Scarce any article, indeed, in the whole Constitution seems to be rendered more worthy of attention, by the weight of character and the apparent force of argument with which it has been assailed.”
Let us walk through the concerns of 1788 and apply them to our modern day.
“The charges exhibited against it are, first, that so small a number of representatives will be an unsafe depositary of the public interests.”
As of September 2023, according to Gallup, 82% of Americans disapprove of Congress, and only 17% approve. Congress fails to live up to the responsibilities and power granted to them by the Constitution. Americans do not believe Congress is a safe depositary of their interests.
“Secondly, that they will not possess a proper knowledge of the local circumstances of their numerous constituents.”
Most communication from the representative to the citizen is one-way and not personable. Politicians or representatives typically disseminate information through mass media, newsletters, or digital platforms without direct interaction with the citizens. While this method ensures that messages reach a wide audience, it lacks the personal touch and two-way interaction that can be crucial for understanding and addressing citizens' concerns and needs. How can the representative have proper knowledge of the local circumstances if they can’t hear from the citizen?
“Thirdly, that they will be taken from that class of citizens which will sympathize least with the feelings of the mass of the people, and be most likely to aim at a permanent elevation of the few on the depression of the many.”
Conservative journalist Matt Lewis wrote Filthy Rich Politicians: The Swamp Creatures, Latte Liberals, and Ruling-Class Elites Cashing in on America. It’s about how the rich get elected and the elected get rich. In it, he explains, “A politician has to raise a minimum of $300,000 the first quarter they run— from their personal network— before anyone else will invest in their campaign.”
Regular citizens are priced out of representation when candidates are focused on raising money. Those with money can get in the room with their representative, but those without money cannot afford it.
“Fourthly, that defective as the number will be in the first instance, it will be more and more disproportionate, by the increase of the people, and the obstacles which will prevent a correspondent increase of the representatives.”
In 1911, congress decided to stop apportioning representation. In 1929, Congress passed the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, fixing the House number at 435. Since then, the United States population has increased from around 100 million in 1911 to over 330 million today. The representative-to-citizen ratio has grown more and more disproportionate from 1:220,000 to 1:756,000.
The group size is too big. The individual and their families are left unheard and powerless. The upper class of society must support the representative for them to gain and retain power—placing them in an elite bubble and leaving us with a ruling class unfamiliar with their local constituents and ill-prepared for the job.
The nature of government is people. People maintain civility and relationships through communication. It is in the family that we learn to express ourselves, build relationships, and hold others and ourselves accountable. The family survives on strong relationship skills passed down from generation to generation. The key to building strong relationships is communication. If we want the relationship between people and power or government to survive, we need to focus on building strong communication between the two.
The principles of our Democratic Republic are Honor, Virtue, and Communication—and the spirit of our liberty can be found in our representation. Governing is work—too much work for 435 people to handle. That’s why we need to uncap the House and increase the number of representatives. How many should we have? If you are a citizen or thought leader, this is the national debate that needs to take place.
Jeff Mayhugh is the co-founder of the Madisonian Republicans and a former Congressional Candidate for VA10. @Jmayhugh28
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