Here’s a fun civics question you can use to stump your patriot friends: “How many amendments to the United States Constitution were recommended in The Bill of Rights?”
The answer — more on that in a moment — will surprise you.
During the Constitution Convention debates, opponents — the Antifederalists — repeatedly argued the original language of the Constitution would lead to a tyrannical centralized government. Mind you, less than 20 years removed from the Revolution and British rule, the Crown’s repeated violations of basic civil rights were certainly fresh on the minds of most Americans.
As a means to help speed the ratification of the Constitution, Federalists assured their opponents the First Congress would take up a Bill of Rights immediately upon convening. Some of the states specifically demanded the Bill of Rights in their ratification of the Constitution.
Virginians played a significant role in the formulation of the Bill of Rights. George Mason, who authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights that heavily influenced fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
“The eyes of the United States are turned upon this assembly and their expectations raised to a very anxious degree,” he wrote of the gathering.
Eventually, he left the convention, and became one of the loudest voices of Antifederalist opposition to the Constitution. “It has no declaration of rights,” he said. Other leading opponents included Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee.
September 25, 1789, the First Congress approved The Bill of Rights, which included twelve recommended amendments to the Constitution. Hint, hint: that’s the answer to the question above.
But that’s hardly the end of the story.
“Twelve amendments? But, I thought there were ten?” you say. That’s right; The Bill of Rights resulted in the first ten amendments to the Constitution. But, it resulted in a total of eleven amendments, including the most recently ratified, No. 27.
Sometimes, it’s fun to play a little “what if.” What if all twelve amendments had been ratified as originally drafted?
Can you imagine exercising your Third Amendment rights when you write a letter to the editor, or speak out at a Tea Party event? The NRA would defend Fourth Amendment rights, and people in court might “plead the Seventh.”
And, Congress would have more than 10,000 legislators in the House of Representatives.
Cue the scratching LP… What?!
Yes, that’s right. If the entire Bill of Rights had been approved as originally written, the number of representatives in the House would be reapportioned to have one legislator for every 30,000 citizens. Currently, the U.S. population is nearly 313 million.
That means 10,433 representatives.
Can you imagine how much larger the government would be if we increased the size of Congress to 24 times its current size?
With just 435 members of the House of Representatives, the legislative branch is housed in a complex of buildings, including the six office buildings, a subway system, and even a power plant dedicated to the needs of the Legislative Branch. Now, multiply that by 24.
The Legislative Branch currently employs approximately 31,000 federal employees. Now, if the number of legislators was to increase 24 times, logic would suggest the number of federal employees would increase proportionately.
That would be approximately 740,000 federal employees. Mind you, the entire population of the District of Columbia was only 602,000 at the latest census.
So, how did you dodge such a horrendous bullet? Well, the credit — or the blame, depending upon your point of view — goes to a scrivener’s error during reconciliation on the original Bill of Rights.
During the legislative process the House and the Senate each came up with their own versions of amendments. The House passed its version August 24, 1789. The Senate passed its own version September 2.
The House version read: “After the first enumeration, required by the first article of The Constitution, there share be one representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred; after which the proportion shall be regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than forty thousand, until the number of Representatives amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.”
But, because the bills that passed their respective houses were not identical, it had to go through a process called reconciliation. This is where the differences in House and Senate bills are negotiated to create a consensus bill.
Somehow in this process, the joint committee on reconciliation decided to accept the House version of the first amendment, now known as Article the First. But, one word was changed in the final clause of the article, changing “less” to “more.”
The amended language created a couple of problems with the article in general. First, it imposed a new formula for determining the maximum size of the House, which was unnecessary because the Constitution already provided the method for determining the maximum size. It also incorporated a math contradiction that would lead to the required maximum House members being less than the required minimum for a specific population range.
And, when it arrived in the state legislatures, these issues were brought up by those opposed to ratification. Not a single state ratified Article the First.
But, the issue isn’t dead. Thirty-Thousand.org, a fundamentalist organization bent on increasing the responsiveness of government to the people, is pushing to bring Article the First back up for debate and ratification.
“The framers of The Constitution and The Bill of Rights intended the total population of Congressional districts never exceed fifty to sixty thousand,” the group touts on its website. “Currently, the average population size of the districts is nearly 700,000 and, consequently, the principle of proportionally equitable representation has been abandoned.”
The group is closely affiliated with those who are promoting the “popular vote” initiatives across the U.S. Those groups would like to replace the presidential Electoral College by awarding the electoral votes in each presidential election cycle to the winner of the popular vote.
While it might sound “fair” to some, others will be big-time losers. Rural states, such as Iowa (population 3 million = 100 representatives) and South Carolina (population 4.6 million = 154 representatives), would almost certainly lose their voices in Congress — and in the presidential election process — to larger states, such as California (37 million = 1,234 reps), New York (19 million = 634 reps), and Florida (18.5 million = 617 reps).
While the notion of better responsiveness to the will of the people certainly sounds noble, I have little doubt our Founders in no way envisioned a day when the people would micromanage the day-to-day function of the government.