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Is America too big?

Home - by - December 17, 2012 - 13:00 America/New_York - 5 Comments

Daily Caller

Since the 1970s, voter participation in the United States has hovered around 55% in presidential elections and around 37% in midterm elections. Historians, political scientists, grassroots organizers, campaign strategists and others have generally attributed this low rate of voter participation to the twentieth-century expansion of voting rights, candidates’ poor campaign strategies and voter apathy.

They may very well be on to something, but I think there’s another factor at work: many Americans believe that their votes don’t count, that the political class in Washington is unresponsive to perceived problems and that the choices given are often not choices but the famed “lesser of two evils.” What these Americans are unknowingly suggesting is that the central government is too big to represent the people, either collectively or individually. As Professor Donald Livingston said in a newly released video from The Abbeville Institute, “Size matters for a lawmaking body.” That’s something the founders were acutely aware of when they were drafting and ratifying the Constitution in the 1780s.

As late as September 1787, just days before its final approval at the Philadelphia Convention, drafts of the Constitution had the representative ratio in the House of Representatives set at 40,000 to 1. George Washington, the president of the convention, said that such a ratio did not secure “the rights and interests of the people” and suggested that it be reduced to 30,000 to 1. Washington’s recommendation was added to the final draft, but even that reduced number did not please several members of the ratifying conventions in the powerful states of Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts.

New Yorker Melancton Smith remarked that such a ratio would exclude the “respectable yeomanry” from the government. George Clinton, one of the most powerful men in New York, thought that such a ratio opened the government to “the influence of corruption and the temptation to treachery.” In Pennsylvania, the minority opposed to ratification argued that the House of Representatives as designed in the Constitution was inadequate to handle the “sense and views of 3 or 4 millions of people diffused over so extensive a territory comprising such various climates, products, habits, interests and opinions.” And in Massachusetts, several men proposed that the ratio be dropped to 20,000 to 1 in order to secure good government.

These attacks warranted a response. James Madison famously wrote in Federalist No. 58 that there had to be a limit on the size of the legislative body or else “the government may become more democratic, but the soul that animates it will be more oligarchic.” His words have always been the standard defense for the set number of representatives in Washington today, codified by the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. Madison’s defense is the most conspicuous but not the most interesting.

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» 5 Comments

  1. Diann

    December 17th, 2012

    It isn’t America that is too big; it is the Federal Government that is too big. What we need to do is shrink the size of the Federal Government, transfer more power back to the states and to the individual. We must destroy the Leviathan.

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  2. Wyatt, Insensitive Progressive Jerk

    December 17th, 2012

    Maybe, but on the other hand, maybe it isn’t big enough. When life got “too civilized,” Americans started heading west – inland from New England, then the Ohio Valley, then farther and farther until they reached the Pacific Ocean. There were a lot of reasons for this, but I think a big reason was a lot of people essentially saying “screw it – I’m outta here.”

    People are still moving now – in California, there is an exodus of businesses, and the number of major businesses thinking about relocating to California is probably close to zero. In Detroit, I believe that Ford built a major plant a few years back, but most of the other car manufacturers basically said “screw it – I’m outta here.”

    Progressives love Federal power because it means that there is no place to escape their policies. However, I believe that social engineering, whatever one feels about it, should be left up to the states and people can then choose whether or not they want to live under these systems. And the fact that Progressives don’t want to give people any choices is an admission that they know their policies won’t work.

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  3. thirdtwin

    December 17th, 2012

    America only appears too big because the autonomy and power of her individual States are shrinking. As state governments cede power and wither, the States become soviets, or units of the central government, which is a longstanding progressive goal. They want us to feel disenfranchised and powerless in the face of a massive central government.

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  4. Tim

    December 17th, 2012

    The greater the franchise the less each vote matters and the more power accretes to party bosses. This is a well-known phenomenon and the principle reason the socialists have expanded the voting franchise since prior to World War I. This is why the Obama administration is encouraging voter fraud on such a grand scale. Recall that the Soviet Union had Universal Suffrage, but that only the Communist Party Central Committee dictated law.

    If we want to regain our country we need to return to the principle of ‘only taxpayers vote.’

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  5. RANDO

    December 17th, 2012

    Good. Don’t vote. Then our votes carry more weight.

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