February 11, 2021

The Constitution: Article 1, Sections 1-4

Here we're getting into the meat of the thing. Today I'm writing about Article 1, Sections 1-4 of the US Constitution. This covers what Congress is, and how they're elected. For ease of reading I'm spreading out the text of the Constitution and will be giving my commentary as we go.

Article I Section 1: Congress 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.

Wow. This is it. This line created the Senate and the House. I had a question about the word "congress". These days it's synonymous the Legislative branch of our government. Why did we choose the word "congress, and not Parliament? Off to Wikipedia I go. Turns out, this was selected because "the term was chosen by the 13 British colonies for the Continental Congress to emphasize the status of each colony represented there as a self-governing entity". This makes sense. The founding fathers wanted to be different from the UK, "State's Rights" was incredibly important at that time. One right in particular, as I'm sure we'll see.

Section 2: The House of Representatives
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 need to be elected by the people they live with. Easy. They need to 25. Bold choice Founding Fathers. But I suppose a well-to-do white man of 25 back in early America didn't have to worry about surviving on $10.50/hr like modern Americans. They could afford to take the time to run for office.

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 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.

This makes sense. The number of representatives you get is based off your population. This lays out that every 10 Years (the Census) we'll recount and reallocate the number of representatives. This is supposed to be a Republic, right? More heavily populated areas should have more votes.

That said, lets talk about this snippet "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." We're gonna break down this grossness.

  • "those bound to Service for a Term of Years," - Apparently several states had large populations of indentured servants. Little states like Maryland wanted to make sure that they more representatives, so they pushed for this. Apparently the thinking was that at least some of these indentured servants would be able to vote before they could be counted in the next census. At least, that was a reason given.
  • "excluding Indians not taxed," - Some of indigenous population of North America joined into the young United States, paying taxes and living amongst the US citizenry. To differentiate them from the indigenous population that remained with their Nations, this little clause was added. Note, while they counted for representation purposes, they could neither vote, nor hold office. It wasn't until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 that most of this population became citizens, let alone vote.
  • "three fifths of all other Persons."* - This is extra icky. Less populated southern states wanted the people they enslaved to be counted as persons so that they could have more power in Congress. This was one of our country's earliest battles over slavery, battles that still happen today in 2021. The Three-fifths Compromise is what the signers came up with. The South wanted enslaved people to count for purposes of representation. The northern states felt that if they count for representation, they should count for purposes of how much taxes those states would need to pay to the Federal Government. This compromise said the 3/5 of "other persons" (enslaved people), would count towards representation AND taxation. The Three-fifths Compromise is the "elegant" solution that left everyone upset and a stain on the Constitution.

I'll finish this with a quote from Jeffrey Larson at Quora: And that's what "three fifths of all other Persons" means. "All other Persons" is a euphemism for "slaves".

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers;and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Ooooooooooooo. Impeachment. And some other stuff, choose who speaks for you blah blah blah.... But lets get back, Impeachment. As this being written, Donald J Trump, (Disgraced former President, endorsed by David Duke of the KKK and white nationalist everywhere) is undergoing his SECOND impeachment trial. So, what does this mean? It means that the House of Representatives gets to decide if a federal officer (to include the President) should be impeached. That's it. If the House impeaches a person, it's then up to Senate to hold a trial.

Section 3: The Senate The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote. Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies. No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

This lays out the basics of being a Senator. Age and citizenship requirements, and what happens if a Senator is removed from office for any reason. The rest just seems to be hashing out how the first few Senators will be elected till we get the rolling six-year system we see today.

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

I remember this being the only job that the Vice-President has in the OG Constitution. Vice-President Harris has been using this power.

The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.

OK, this is the assistant to the Vice-President

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Here's more of the impeachment stuff. This is where the Senate gets to try the "Party". In 2021, the "Party" is Donald Trump. It'll fascinating to see what happens. 2/3rds of the Senators present must vote to convict. That feels right to me. It should require more than half the Senate to convict a President. Although, there's a chance that Trump will get off for this, I still feel it's a good rule.

Section 4: Elections
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators. The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.

This is all pretty straightforward. This clause is important. As I've read more, this clause is why we have an election day. Why there are congressional districts. That's important.

So here we are, next time, I dive into the responsibilities of Congress. I hope you're excited, I am!