Last Updated 22 Nov 2022

The Evolution of Congress 

Category Governance
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Through the years, a lot has changed: the populations boomed, access to information has expanded infinitely, and literacy rates are higher. All of the change this county has required our government to change with it. More specifically the way members of the Senate are elected and the cap on the number of representatives allowed in the House of Representatives. In this article, we will be discussing how the Framers had laid out the House of Representatives and the Senate, how they are now, and the effects and consequences caused by the changes in the way representation are done for both the Senate and House of Representative. The House is for the people and its purpose is to give the people a voice in the national government. Over the years it has undergone changes to keep up its job of representing the people.

At the ratification of the constitution, the House of Representatives is made up of members elected by the people every two years. Each state was to be apportioned one representative for the house for every thirty-thousand people. This was calculated by adding the population every free citizen and three-fifths of the enslaved population of the state, and any state having a lower population than thirty-thousand total people was given only one representative. The number of representatives each state was apportioned would be addressed every ten years. The Federalist 52 shows the founders planned for the House to be a representation of the people. This holds true to their belief that the country’s power is driven from the consent of the governed (Declaration of Independence).

Members of the House are elected through a vote by the people. This branch of the Legislative branch was designed to look out for the people’s interest. The direct vote by the people causes them to be more responsive to the wants of those they represent if they want to be elected (Millard). This is much of the way it operated until as the nation evolved causing the House of Representatives to evolve with it. Two major changes have accrued in the House of Representatives: the creation of checks and balances with its subcommittees, and setting a fixed number of representatives.

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To help better manage all aspects that Congress is in charge of, committees were created to specialize in specific areas as well as divide and conquer the overload of bills and other duties directed to the House of Representatives. For example, they created committees such as the agricultural committee, appropriations committee, and the budget committee. These committees help manage all of the bills that the House of Representatives has to look at. Dr. Mallard said in her lecture on October 17, 2018, that they look at the bills that pertain to their specialization and throw out the crappy ones and move forward with the bills worth looking at making into laws. Another role of the committees is to control the money that the government allocates to each area of interest.

To prevent these committees from becoming too powerful, a series of checks and balances was put in place. The committees are set up with appropriation committees not being able to fund projects or government agencies without the approval of the authorization committee, and the authorization committee can set up government programs and agencies but are unable to spend money to fund them (Enotes). This series of checks and balances is set up to provide a way to keep a committee from having to much power and every member of the House of Representatives, not on the committee, being completely dependent on them for funding.

In 1911, another big change accrued. Instead of adding representatives as a state’s population grew, the House of Representatives would maintain only four hundred and thirty-five representatives. This accrued with the passing of the Act of August 8, 1911, ch. 5, 37 Stat 13. They did this to keep the number of representatives at a reasonable level. Members of Congress set the number at four hundred and thirty-five to maintain the size the House of Representatives currently was while providing the addition of two members, one for the new state Arizona and another for the new state New Mexico (United States House of Representatives: History, Art, and Archives) The number of members has remained the same since 1913 even with the addition of Alaska and Hawaii. According to the United States House of Representatives: History, Art, and Archives, the Permanent Appointment Act of 1929 set up how representatives are to be reapportioned. Reapportionment occurs every ten years after the census.

The number of representatives each state is allocated is redistributed to as equally as possible represent every citizen. Due to this fact, the number of people that a member of the House of Representatives represents is increasing (Millard). This affects how much more diverse the group a member of the House is trying to represent making it difficult for the minorities to be both accounted for and looked after properly. Not unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate has evolved as the times have changed. It started out as a way for the states to be represented in Congress but in the spirit of democracy now operates like the House of Representatives in being a direct vote by the people. This has caused a shift in how members of the Senate vote, and respond to the people that they represent.

During the Constitutional Convention, the Framers created the Senate to be equal representation for each state. When the constitution was first written, the Senators were appointed by the state legislators (Constitution). This process gave the state governments a stake in the creation of the federal government. This secured the states’ authority (Webster). The direct connection between the state legislators gave the states a voice in the national government. Equal representation for each state kept any one state from gaining control over the entire nation. One problem we did see arise was that state legislators would get hung up on who to appoint to the Senate and seats would remain vacant (Miller). This along with a push to develop democracy led to the passage of the seventeenth Constitutional amendment.

The largest change that has occurred in the Senate was how senators are appointed. Originally, they were appointed by state legislators. After the seventeenth amendment was passed, senators were appointed by direct election by the people. Not only did this provide a way to help bypass the bureaucracy of state legislators, but made senators more responsive to the wants of the people. The seventeenth amendment changed who senators had to please to get reelected. Instead of worrying about the state governments’ interest above the people, the senators had to appeal to the people and be concerned by what concerns them (Bernhard and Sala). This shift in representation took away the states’ voices on the national government. Also, it turned the Senate into another House of Representatives except with equal representation per state. The seventeenth amendment both took away some of the power the state governments held in the national government and transferred it to your voting citizens.

As our nation has grown in size and population so has the people held inside its borders. The legislative branch has had to evolve along with us to stay relevant. The framers did an excellent job at creating the House of Representatives and the Senate in ways that allow them to evolve with the times. For example, the House of Representatives has set a specific number of voting members to allow it to properly function, and created a system of checks and balances to keep the committees it created in check; the Senate evolved by giving the people another voice in the government looking out for their best interest.

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