The Constitution in its first article goes about the design of our legislature.
Section One: Congress
This section is brief. In fact, It’s probably shorter than the paragraph I’m writing about it. It essentially gives the powers to legislate to ‘Congress’ and explains its design. In the United States, we have a bicameral legislature – meaning we have two governing bodies. In the original Articles of the Confederation, we were unicameral and each state got one vote when it assembled. There was quite a debate about staying that way. However, in the end, it was decided that a bicameral design was best for the new nation.
Section Two: The House
Section two is quite a bit longer then the first, and goes into more detail about the legislature, specifically the House of Representatives. A US Represenative must be living in the state he represents, be at least 25 years old and a US Citizen for at least seven years. So it is quite possible for a person who immigrates to the US and becomes a Citzen to eventually become part of the House of Represenatives.
Trouble arises when we go into how represenative numbers are choosen. Represenative districts are done by population. In 1789, this was counted by 1 whole person = one free person like it does now, but it also included a 3/5ths rule on all non-freed people (ie Slaves). This became a sore topic over the years as some wondered if that artificually inflated represenation (after all, they were counting the slaves in their counts, but slaves were not truely being represented) as well as the ethical dilema of slavery. Native Americans were also not taxed, but were also not considered part of the representation numbers.
There are two Amendments that affect this part of Section Two. The 13th Amendment (1865) made all slaves Free People. The 14th Amendment (1868) specifies that each state shall count their population by whole numbers of the population. The whole tax issue was dealt with in the 16th Amendment (1913) and changed how Taxes were sought (by income instead of population for example).
Section two also sets up the idea of a 10 year census, the amount of representation per part amount of the population (1 for every 30,000 at the time), how to fill in vacancies (basically have a special election), and gave the House sole impeachment powers.
Today, we recognize our population a little differently then what is directly writen in the constitution. In the early 20th century, Congress started to cap the amount of representates there could be over all, meaning that each represenative will represent more people as time goes on and the population grows. Currently it is 1 representative to every 710,000 people. The cap is at 435 represenatives. After each decade, a census is taken and seats are shifted as populations increase or decrease. At that point, states must redistribute their districts to fit how many representatives they are. This at time has become controversal due to gerrymandering. There are laws in place to protect against doing it to discriminate, but there are still allegations that the powers in power at the time of redistributation figure it out in ways that make sure things are more leaning towards them.
To show a real example of how representation shifts: The State of Pennsylvania was one of the most populated states at the time of the Constitution and recieved 8 votes of the total 65 votes. As of the 23rd Census (2010), Pennsyvania has 18 representatives out of 435. It had it’s most representation in 1910 with 36 electorial/representative votes.
Proportional Representation (House.gov)
Congressional Apportionment (House.gov) (note you can find your state’s representative number here.)
Articles of the Confederation (Oklahoma University College of Law)
Article One (National Constitution Center Interactive Constitution)