House Membership

 Luther Martin
Luther Martin, delegate from Maryland

The New York Public Library.

House Membership

"Mr. L Martin wished to know whether the Committee were guided in the ratio, by the wealth or number of inhabitants of the States, or by both…"

-James Madison in his Notes on the Convention

Today, and for the rest of the week, the convention wrestled with the thorny issue of how to choose representatives for Congress. Pennsylvanian Gouverneur Morris, as the chairman of the Committee of Five, presented a report recommending that the first house should consist of 56 members. In the committee's formula, Virginia, the largest state, would have 9 representatives, and Rhode Island and Delaware, the smallest states, would have 1. The legislature would regulate future representation based on wealth and population. One representative would be elected for every 40,000 inhabitants.

The delegates accepted the portion giving the legislature the power to regulate the number of representatives. But the section specifying the number of representatives from each state and limiting the total membership to only 56 was not satisfactory to many delegates. After a brief discussion, the matter was referred to a Committee of Eleven (made up of a member from each state present) for resolution.

Rufus King
Rufus King, delegate from Massachusetts
Charles Willson Peale, 1818

Independence National Historical Park

During the convention, the delegates struggled with various methods to decide representation. Now the issue had narrowed down to wealth and population. Every member agreed that both wealth and population should be the qualifications for representation. Population was fairly simple to measure, but wealth was difficult to quantify. The slave and plantation economy of the South represented greater wealth than the small farm and commercial society of the North. Should slaves, then, be counted as wealth or population? William Paterson of New Jersey suggested that slaves be counted as property rather than as part of the population. In a similar view, Rufus King of Massachusetts wanted the slave population counted in the apportionment for taxation.

Tuesday, July 10, 1787 Debate over Representation in the House

HOME The 225th Anniversary of the Constitution Convention

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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