Art 1 Sect 1 – The House and Term Limits

 David Bowman

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States….

There were, of course, those at the Convention who felt that Elections for the House should be more frequent or less frequent. The two year compromise, engineered mostly by Edmund Randolph (who would later prove decisively that the Framers were imperfect men). But it fell to James Madison, writing in the Federalist Papers, to really drive home the point of why the two year election cycle was the best way to do things?

I’ve said this before, but the Federalist Papers are simply a “must read” for any serious study of the Constitution, and any attempt to ignore them or bypass them while claiming that the thought processes and/or mindsets of the Framers cannot be known is laughable in the face of the pages of the Federalist Papers.

Now having said that, they are most definitely “best case” scenarios and they assume that the people will both understand them AND accept the high standard of behavior that the Framers presumed of them and of which they hoped them capable. We know today that was simply not possible, because both the people and the politicians turned out to not be as interested in guarding liberty as the Framers had hoped. Still, the Federalist Papers remain THE source document for what was supposed to have been.

Many, not me, but many, have argued for Term Limits for Congress as we chose to do with the 22nd Amendment for the Chief Executive. The idea is that too many politicians have become a permanent social caste of elites who simply ensconce themselves in Washington, D.C. and ignore the realities of the rest of the Country. Recent data indicates that even as the Country convulses in recession, the Capital is insulated against the upheaval and continues to be just fine and dandy economically speaking. This is, naturally, exactly what the Framers never intended or desires, but at the same time believed that We the People would never tolerate. It’s easy to point fingers at the politicos for their abysmal and self-centered behavior, but the Federalist Argument would be that it was always up to up the People to prevent these abuses in the first place.

It is Federalist #57 – my personal favorite[1]– in which Madison lays out most of the arguments for the two year election cycle and the challenge that the People must be vigilant against those who would abuse their trust and Office by using the power they are entrusted with to benefit themselves and their “friends” (read: monetary supporters). He points out that the People themselves will limit the power and time spent in Congress.

The argument made here by Madison in favor of the People maintaining the power over their elected representatives is clear:

If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America — a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.

If this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty.

One could hardly be more clear about the status of the American People in the subsequent years. We are so often bemused and even slightly angered by the actions of the Congress, but seldom, if ever, is any Congressperson held accountable for those actions. Indeed a simple survey will show over and again, that the vast majority of voters feel that while Congress is screwed up, it is almost never their Congressperson who is “the problem.” As long as the earmarks keep flowing and the benefits to the district are maintained, the idea that all of that had to come from somewhere else at someone else’s expense and at the expense of liberty is a non starter with most voters.

And so the re-election of incumbents becomes nearly automatic, despite record “disapproval ratings” and general disdain for the elite political class that clearly is passing laws to benefit themselves and their supporters more than the People.

Would term limits solve that problem?

If I thought for a minute that it would, I would be on board with them. Human nature and the experience here in California with the practice of term limits has shown pretty conclusively that they have no effect on the ability of a legislative body to perform in the defense of liberty. In an odd and unexpected (although clearly predictable) effect of the limits on our legislators, ever less gets done that is truly beneficial AND the time and treasure spent on “modifications” to term limits to “improve” or “streamline” or “correct” them would be unbelievable to the Framers or the founders of our Golden State.

And all for naught.

Why? Because in the end, no matter how we slice it, the problem isn’t the politicians. The problem is that We the People have failed the Framers. We have chosen to not choose mean and women of good character and understanding of the purpose of the Constitution in the first place and the nature of servant leadership in the second.

Dave Sig copy


[1] In a rather curious aside, I noticed today for the first time, this particular sentence from the Paper:

Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. They are to be the same who exercise the right in every State of electing the corresponding branch of the legislature of the State.

I am wondering now if Madison himself wasn’t already looking forward to suffrage and universal voting rights?

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Posted on January 25, 2013, in Article 1, Constitution, Dave and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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