Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.

When and by whom Chosen.

37. The House of Representatives is composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state must have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature.

Dependence of the Representative upon the
Constituent.

38. Without a dependence of the representative upon the electors, without a power on their part to call him to account for his conduct, the experiment of republican government would be likely to end in an oligarchy or a despotism. A permanent legislative body, though they may, like the Council of Venice, advance the power of a country, are a most unsafe custodian of its liberties.

39. Hence it has become an axiom in republican states that the representative should be directly responsible to the people, and this responsibility is ensured by the frequency of his election.

How frequently should a Representative be elected 2

40. How frequent this election should be, or how long should be the duration of a representative's term of office, is a question that does not admit of an exact solution. It may be affirmed, however, as a general proposition, that it should never be so long as to destroy his sense of dependence on his constituents, nor so short as to prevent that familiarity with the practical business of legislation, and that knowledge of the interests of his country upon which his usefulness must essentially depend.

41. The framers of the Constitution, in establishing biennial elections for representatives, were influenced, in part, by the known attachment of the people to the principle of frequent elections. Most of the states chose their representatives annually, Connecticut and Rhode Island semi-annually, North and South Carolina biennially, and Virginia alone septennially.

42. It would, therefore, have been impolitic, and have heightened the opposition which the Constitution encountered when submitted to the people for their assent and ratification, if the term of service in the House of Representatives had been fixed at a longer period than two years. Besides, in fixing upon that term, it was thought that the inconvenience of a too frequent election on the one hand, and a too long duration of power on the other, would be, in great measure, guarded against.

Qualifications for Electors.

43. It will be remarked that the electors of representatives in each state must possess the same qualifications as the electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature. Originally the qualifications for electors were different in the different states; and if the Constitution had disregarded these differences and established a uniform qualification for all, it would have been likely to cause great dissatisfaction. But, the states themselves have since made great changes in the qualifications of their electors, and they now approach to a nearly uniform standard: universal suffrage prevailing in all or most of the states. Moreover, by the fifteenth amendment, which was declared duly ratified by the requisite number of States on the 30th day of March, 1870, it is declared that the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any State, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. So that by the terms in effect of this amendment any restriction upon the elective franchise on these grounds is forbidden.

Qualifications for a Representative.

44. No person can be a Representative who has not attained the age of twenty-five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States. He must also, when elected, be an inhabitant of the state in which he is chosen. 45. Three qualifications are thus required on the part of a representative: First, He must have attained the age of twentyfive. Secondly, He must have been seven years a citizen of the United States. A foreigner is thus eligible to the House of Representatives after a citizenship of seven years; but he is not a citizen until he has been naturalized, and to be naturalized requires a previous residence of five years. So that twelve years must elapse before he is eligible as a Representative. 46. Thirdly, He must, when elected, be an inhabitant of the state in which he shall be chosen ; that is, he must really be a member of the state, subject to all the requisitions of its laws, and entitled to all the privileges and advantages which they confer. By a political fiction, however, a representative of his country at a foreign court, though residing abroad, is still regarded, as it were, as being at home. He remains under the jurisdiction and laws of his own country, like a sailor upon the high seas, and is not subject to the laws of the country in which he resides. Hence he is not deemed, by his foreign residence, to lose his character of inhabitant of the state of which he is a citizen, and may be elected to a seat in Congress. In addition to the qualifications thus specified, the fourteenth amendment, which was declared a part of the Constitution on the 28th day of July, 1868, provides that no person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and VicePresident, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. The disability, however, created by this amendment Congress may remove by a vote of two-thirds of each house.* 47. The Constitution having fixed the qualifications for a Representative, the states cannot require others. They can neither add to, nor in any manner vary the qualifications set forth in the Constitution itself. They cannot, for example, require their

* Ohio and New Jersey withdrew their consent to this amendment before its proclamation.

« AnteriorContinuar »