V. The House of Representatives

Catechism of the Constitution Book CoverThe Federalist Papers has posted a PDF copy of an Elementary Catechism on the Constitution from 1828 written by Arthur J. Stansbury. I’m publishing it on Mondays in a series of posts. Because the date of publication was 1828, some content has been changed by later Constitutional amendments. There are no sections in the book, so I’m dividing it into any natural breaks of topics and the posts will vary in length. I’m posting two today because IV. State and National Laws was so brief. Any emphases within the text are Stansbury’s.

V. The House of Representatives

Q. Who choose the persons who shall be members of the House of Representatives?

A. The people of all the different states: because the laws of Congress concern all the states, and must be obeyed by all the people of this Republic.

Q. Have boys a right to choose them?

A. No: boys are too young.

Q. Are any other persons unfit?

A. Yes.

Q. How is it determined who may, and who may not choose them?

A. By the laws of each state. — Whoever is allowed to choose the members of the Legislature of any state, is also allowed by the Constitution to choose members of the House of Representatives of the United States.-— Some states allow one class of persons to choose and other states allow a different class — each state acts as it thinks best. This choice is called an Election.

Q. How is it conducted?

A. On a day fixed before hand, and publicly known, the people who are to choose, and who are called voters, meet at certain places called the Polls: here persons sit called Inspectors, who have certain boxes called ballot boxes before them, and each person who votes puts into a hole in the top of these boxes a piece of paper with the names of the persons whom he chooses written or printed on it. These pieces of paper are afterwards examined and counted by the Inspectors, who keep a written account of the names voted for, and the number of votes given by the people for each.

The persons having the greatest number of votes are chosen. There are some slight differences in the mode of holding elections in the different states, but it is the same in every important particular.

Q. Are the times, places, and manner of holding these elections fixed by Congress?

A. No: They have, thus far, been left to be regulated by each state for itself, but Congress may fix them if it thinks fit.

Q. Suppose a dispute should arise concerning an election, and one person shall declare that he has been fairly chosen, while another denies it, and insists that he himself has been chosen ; who has power to settle the dispute?

A. A dispute between persons who claim a seat in the House of Representatives can be determined only by the House of Representatives ; a dispute between persons claiming a seat in the Senate can be settled by the Senate only. Such disputes frequently arise.

Q. When a person is chosen to be a Member of the House of Representatives, how long does he continue so?

A. For two years.

Q. When the two years have expired, may he be chosen again?

A. Yes.

Q. Suppose he dies before the time is out?

A. Another is chosen in his stead, for the rest of the time.

Q. How old must a person be before he can be chosen a Member of the House of Representatives?

A. Twenty-five years old.

Q. May a person be chosen who has just come into the United States, and who is a subject of some other country (that means, who is bound to obey the laws of some other country)?

A. No. Any person, to be chosen a Member of our House of Representatives, must either have been born in the United States, or must have been naturalized seven years before he is chosen.

Q. Naturalized? What does that mean?

A. A person who was born in another country and comes to live in this, is not owned as a citizen of the United States till he has lived among us a certain time; and then, (after knowing something of our laws and customs), has taken a solemn oath to obey the government. He is then admitted as a citizen of our republic. This is called his naturalization; and when once naturalized, he is allowed to choose the rulers, and do all other things, the same as if he had been born among us.

Q. May the people of one State choose a person who is an inhabitant of another State to be a Member of the House of Representatives?

A. No; he must live in the State where he is chosen.

Q. How many persons may be chosen by each State, as Members of the House of Representatives?

A. The number of Representatives of any State is in proportion to the number of people in that State. At present every forty thousand people send one Representative; but this has been, and may be, altered, with the increase of the number of people.

Q. Some of the States have large numbers of slaves living in them, and others have many Indians; are these counted in making up the forty thousand?

A. No; three fifths of the number of slaves is allowed, that is every five slaves are counted as if they were three free persons: those Indians who pay taxes, (that is, who pay money for the expenses of governing and defending us) are counted ; those who do not pay taxes are not counted.

Q. How is it known what number of people each State contains?

A. Certain persons are appointed to count the people and take a written list of them. Such a counting is called a census, and it takes place once in every ten years. [In the year 1790 the United States contained 3,929,326; in 1800, 5,309,758; in 1810, 7,239,903; and in 1820, 9,638,166.].

Q. When the Members of the House of Representatives meet to make the laws, are they all equal, or does any one preside over them?

A. They choose one of their own number, whose duty it is to preside over them while they are met to do business, and to see that they proceed in a regular and orderly manner in doing their public duty. He is called their Speaker. They also choose a person who is not one of their own number to keep a written account, from day to day, of all that is done by them while assembled. That written account is called a Journal of the House of Representatives, and the person who keeps it is called the Clerk of the House. They also choose another person who is called their Sergeant-at-Arms, and who may, when so ordered by the House, seize any Member who disobeys the rules, or who is charged by the House with any crime, and imprison him. They also choose another person as their Door Keeper, who is to take care that no person be admitted into the hall where the Representatives are sitting, but such as are permitted by law. These several persons, thus chosen, are called the Officers of the House of Representatives, and remain in office two years.

In the heading under Charters of Freedom, you will find a copy of the Constitution as well as links to other pertinent primary documents and commentary on the Constitution.

Elementary Catechism on the Constitution posts:
Elementary Catechism on the Constitution (Preface)
I. The Necessity of Government and Its Forms
II. The American Revolution
III. The Occasion and Purpose of the Constitution
IV. State and National Laws
V. The House of Representatives
VI. The Senate
VII. Impeachment
Book image from The Federalist Papers. Other reading formats of the Elementary Catechism on the Constitution can be found here.


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