Public Law 62-5 (The law fixing the U.S. House of Representatives at 435 members)

Back in the 19th century, the amount of representatives in the United States House of Representatives was based on population - as the population grew, so did the number of representatives. But in 1911, Public Law 62-5 was enacted which permanently set the amount of representatives at 435 (actually there was a couple of minor adjustments over new states, but basically it’s stayed at 435). So while the population has tripled, the amount of representatives has stayed the same and each representative is now representing three times as many people.

The original idea of the House of Representatives was that it was supposed to be close to the people while the Senate remained above local politics. So why after a hundred years was it decided to cap a limit? Was it a major political issue back in 1911? Was it a good idea and is it one now?

The thing is, constitutionally all that is required is that the apportionment of districts be based on relative populations, not that it be based on a specific fixed ratio, nor that it maximize representativeness.

For over 120 years, before the 1911 law, the ratio of citizens-per-representative had been increasing anyway. 1911 would have been an important date for considering a cap in the size od the House in that (a) we were in the middle of an immigration boom, that would result in an unnaturally rapid expansion of the delegations, and (b) by then it was a done deal that in the following year (1912), Arizona and New Mexico would be admitted and the major landmass of the USA would be filled “solid” with States.

This is significant because the main driver for the increase in representatives in the previous 120 years was not just population growth in itself but growth in a context of the addition of States. The Constitution itself does NOT say what the apportionment of representation should be in terms of citizens-to-representatives, that is left for the Congress itself to determine by law, but it does require that the smallest states get 1 representative. (The apportionment of Congressional districts of the 13 original states in the First and second Congress was done by decree in the original Constitution: when the reapportionments based on the census started being done, those early Congresses made the adjustments mostly in such a way as to prevent taking seats away from the originals.) In 1911 it was predictable that the era of rapid addition of states was over (only Alaska and Hawaii since 1913) and that the key factor of expansion afterward would be demographic – creating a concern that, for instance, New York end up with a hundred seats in a House of thousands of members. Thus the decision to fix the maximum number of congressmen.
When Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as States in 1959, the House was temporarily “accordioned” up by one seat for each of the new states, until the 1960 Census could lead to a proper reapportionment (and since, HI has gained a second district). BTW this statute is an added tricky bit in the potential statehood of Puerto Rico – unlike Alaska and HI, we are large enough to rate at least SIX Congressional districts, so our going in would hurt significantly a few states in the next reapportionment.

You will get more responses if you ask the mods to change the title to something descriptive of the subject beign discussed. Likely there are people interested in this subject but do not recall the number of the law, and hence will skip over this thread. Just a suggestion.

Change to title made.

Well, that’s part of it; the senate was also intended to be elected by state legislatures and reflect state interests.

But I’m all in favor of a 1,000-seat house.

It’s already too big for effective use of power. As-is, it just doesn’t have the influence of more concentrated bodies, such as the Senate or the Cabinet.

But bringing the Representatives up to say 1200 would have some possible good effects:

It would greatly reduce the the reapportionment and redistricting fights that have become one of the bitterest political issues in the government.

Smaller voting populations would give third party and independant candidates more of a chance to be elected.

The majority of the population that lives in more populated states will no longer have to feel that less populated states have an unfair advantage because they qualify for a Representative even though they fall below the population of a Congressional district.

This was a concern since the earliest days of the Constitution. In fact the first proposed amendment in the Bill of Rights (and the only one of the twelve that hasn’t passed yet) reads:

Notice that if this passed, the cap would be about 5600 representatives.

Here’s a portion of Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution:

I can see how setting a ratio of one representative for every 30,000 citizens was probably done to prevent too much political distance from developing between the government and the governed; but could it also have been intended to limit the size of the country held under a single government? A legislative house consisting of more than, say, 500 people would be unwieldy and inefficient, and if that ratio had remained in effect, the House would now have over 9000 representatives, which would be completely unworkable. Keep in mind that the Louisiana Purchase was still several years away, and no one was yet thinking about Manifest Destiny.

I’d also like to know how, legally, Congress can pass a law that allows it to ignore a section of the Constitution.
Don’t they have to go through the amendment process for something like that?

What do you mean “ignore”? At no time did the HoR outnumber the population by a ratio of 1:30,000. In addition, the representation has always been proportional.

The Constitution allows the legislature cosiderable leeway in determining membership. This is probably why the proposed amendment I quoted above never passed, it was deemed unnecessary as the HoR can set any number of members it pleases provided it does not go beyond 1 member for every 30,000 peple (no 10,000 member House yet) and the distribution is proportional.