Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (IN U. S HISTORY), the name of the lower house of many of the state legislatures (see ASSEMBLY); but more specifically applied to the lower house of congress. (See CONGRESS.)


—The formation of the house of representatives, in which membership was assigned to the states in proportion to their population, was directly due to the dissatisfaction of the large states. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, with the equal vote enjoyed by all the states, large or small, in the congress of the confederation. (See CONVENTION OF 1787; CONGRESS, CONTINENTAL; SENATE) The small states insisted on a single house of congress, with an equal state vote, as under the confederation; the large states on two houses, with a proportionate vote in each. As a compromise, the large state plan was followed so far as to erect two houses, but with a proportionate vote in the lower only; and the smaller states were placated by an equality of representation in the senate, but with permission to the senators to vote separately, not by states. (See COMPROMISES, I.)


—The structure of the American congress is, upon the surface, so strikingly similar to that of the British parliament, that there is a strong temptation to force a parallel between the house of representatives and the house of commons, by calling the former the "popular house," or the "lower house"; terms which, though convenient in practice, are false and misleading if used in their full import. 1. The house of representatives is certainly a popular house, but not the popular house in contradistinction to the senate, as the house of commons is in contradistinction to the house of lords. Both the house of representatives and the senate represent the people, each in a different aspect. The former represents the people in their numerical aspect; the latter in their aspect of commonwealths; what Brownson would call the "territorial democracy": both together make up the national legislature. Nevertheless a superior sanctity for the house, as the "popular branch of the legislative," has always been asserted by the party in control of the house, but has as regularly been forgotten when the control which produced it has been lost. 2. On the other hand, it is not true that the house of representatives is a "lower house," as the house of commons once was. In some respects, as in the powers to originate bills for raising revenue, to impeach delinquent officers, and to elect a president in default of a choice by the electors, the house is superior to the senate; in others, the senate is superior to the house; but neither is really the "upper" or the "lower" house in power or dignity: the two are co-ordinate parts of the governmental machinery. Nevertheless, the greater number of members in the house, their comparative brevity of service (two years, as compared with six in the senate), and the consequent consciousness of inexperience in many of the members, has always put the house at somewhat of a disadvantage when it has undertaken to run counter to the senate. The house, in short, has considerable deference for the parliamentary training of the senate—a feeling fairly indicated, in counting the electoral votes in 1873, by a remark of Mr. Garfield on a proposition to modify a house resolution: "I hope that will be done. The senate resolutions are short and crisp." For much the same reason, the committees of conference, which follow a disagreement between the house and the senate, generally result in verbal concessions by the senate and very material concessions by the house. There is no other warrant for the term "lower house."


—MEMBERSHIP. The constitution provides that members of the house must be twenty five years of age, citizens of the United States for seven years, and inhabitants of the states in which they are chosen. There is nothing, therefore, in the constitution to prevent the choice by a district of an inhabitant of some other district in the same state; and any further restriction by a state legislature in this direction would seem plainly illegal and extra-constitutional. It has, therefore, often been suggested that able men outside of the district should be chosen as representatives, somewhat as in Great Britain; but the only approach to this has been the system of electing all the congressmen of a state by "general ticket," voted on throughout the state. The apportionment act of June 25, 1842, whose second section for the first time directed that representatives should be chosen by districts "formed of contiguous territory, no one district electing more than one representative," broke up this general ticket system.


—The admission of delegates from the territories, with the power to debate (but not to vote), to make motions (except to reconsider), and to act on committees, was begun in the case of the northwest territory by the congress of the confederation (see ORDINANCE OF 1787), and has been continued by law in the case of other territories since. It has no constitutional sanction, and rests only on the control by the house of its own floor. Jan. 7, 1802, the first rule to admit to the floor others than members was adopted; it admitted "senators, officers of the general and state governments, foreign ministers, and such persons as members might introduce." It was gradually enlarged until it was fixed in its present form, March 19, 1860; it now includes the president and vice-president, their private secretaries, supreme court judges, members of congress and members elect, contestants, the secretary and sergeant-at-arms of the senate, heads of departments, foreign ministers, governors of states, the architect of the capitol, the librarian of congress and his assistant, persons who have received the thanks of congress, ex-members, and clerks of committees.


—The number of members is fixed by law after each census. (See APPORTIONMENT.) A quorum is a majority of the members chosen, and not of those apportioned. Their pay is $5,000 per annum, with twenty cents per mile going and returning. That of the speaker is fixed at $8,000.


—ORGANIZATION. The list of members of a new house is, by law, made up by the clerk of the last house, who calls the members elect to order at noon of the day on which they are to meet. If a quorum answers the roll, the house proceeds to elect a speaker as the clerk calls his roll. The speaker is then sworn in, usually by the oldest member of the house; he administers the oath to the members and delegates; and the house is organized. From a box containing marble balls, consecutively numbered, a page then draws one at a time, and as each is drawn, and its number called, the member whose name is opposite the number chooses his seat. There are very many changes, however, by mutual agreement.


—OFFICERS. The principal officers of the house are the speaker, the clerk, the sergeant-at-arms, the doorkeeper, the postmaster, and the chaplain. The speaker's power is enormous. He is usually a skilled parliamentarian, and, backed by skill, prestige, and the party majority which elected him, his decision is generally final. He appoints the committees, except when other wise ordered by the house, and almost all the work of the house depends on the committees. By law he is next to the president of the senate in the succession on the decease or disability of the president and vice-president; but in practice he is, next to the president, the most important officer of the government. The clerk is the secretary of the house, the doorkeeper its janitor, and the sergeant-at-arms its treasure and keeper of the peace; but their functions are much more complicated and difficult than these general terms would indicate. In any unusual disorder the sergeant-at-arms carries his "mace" among the members to recall them to order. This symbol of his office was first ordered by a house resolution, April 14, 1789. It consisted of the fasces, in ebony, bound with silver bands in the middle and at the ends, each rod ending in a spear head; at the end a globe of silver, and on the globe a silver eagle, ready for flight. The whole mace was three feet in length. It was destroyed in the fire of Aug. 24, 1814 (see CAPITAL, NATIONAL), and a substitute of common pine, painted, took its place until 1842. The present mace, after the original design, was then procured.


—RULES. (See PARLIAMENTARY LAW.) The house is governed by the rules of parliamentary practice comprised in Jefferson's Manual, as modified by the standing rules and orders of the house and joint rules of the senate and house. The rules of the house are so contrived as to be one factor in throwing the control of the house into the hands of a few so-called "leaders," whose chief title to that position is their knowledge of these "house rules." The other factors are the power of the committees, and the general practice of writing during sessions by the members. The power of the committees comes very largely from the fact that so much of the business which the house tolerates is not properly public business at all, but private business, which interferes with and throws back the legitimate business of the house, and makes the activity and favor of the committee more important to a claimant than the hurried vote of the house itself. Many efforts have been made to exclude writing desks from the hall, and provide writing accommodations for the members near at hand. This was actually ordered by the house at the end of the session of 1858-9, but at the next session the house returned to the old arrangement. (See CONGRESS, SESSIONS OF.)


—The Rules of the House, and its Parliamentary Practice, have been digested and published by H. H. Smith, the journal clerk, under the act of March 3, 1877 Further authorities will be found under articles referred to; the act of June 25, 1842, is in 5 Stat, at Large, 491.


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