By: TJ Martinell
When it was ratified, the U.S. Constitution set a cap on the number of representatives at no more than one per 30,000 persons. In his seventh letter dated Dec. 31, 1787, the Federal Farmer argues that this constituted too few representatives to accurately reflect the will of different classes of people who made up all 13 states.
In the letter he described three types of aristocracy. The first is a “constitutional aristocracy,” that the Farmer said doesn’t exist in the United States. The second is an aristocratic faction, “a junto of unprincipled men, often distinguished for their wealth or abilities, who combine together and make their object their private interests and aggrandizement; the existence of this description is merely accidental, but particularly to be guarded against.” The third is the natural aristocracy;
“This term we use to designate a respectable order of men, the line between whom and the natural democracy is in some degree arbitrary; we may place men on one side of this line, which others may place on the other, and in all disputes between the few and the many, a considerable number are wavering and uncertain themselves on which side they are, or ought to be.”
He writes that the natural aristocracy was composed of 4,000-5,000 men holding offices in governorships, state senators, the militia and superior judges. Those whose “orders in the community form the natural democracy” consisted of fishermen, traders, merchants, etc. It was this class he wrote that needed to be better represented
He writes further.
“It is easy to perceive that men of these two classes, the aristocratical, and democratical, with views equally honest, have sentiments widely different, especially respecting public and private expences, salaries, taxes, &c,” he writes. “Men of the first class associate more extensively, have a high sense of honor, possess abilities, ambition, and general knowledge: men of the second class are not so much used to combining great objects; they possess less ambition, and a larger share of honesty: their dependence is principally on middling and small estates, industrious pursuits, and hard labour, while that of the former is principally on the emoluments of large estates, and of the chief offices of government.”
In other words, the classes had different values and priorities that needed to be articulated by members of those classes in an elected position. The Federal Farmer writes that it’s “impracticable for the people to assemble to make laws, they must elect legislators, and assign men to the different departments of the government.” Ergo, it was the only way for them to see their voice expressed via laws.
Without additional representation, he writes, the House of Representatives would consist of an elite and an entire classes would, like the colonies, lack a proper seat at the table. Although “taxation without representation” was a slogan during the Stamp Act controversy in the 1760s, the chief grievance was that the colonies were used to governing themselves locally. The British Parliament was usurping that authority and enacting legislation with no elected member from any colonies.
The Federal Farmer wrote that proper balance was vital to prevent one class from passing laws that suited their interests with no consideration or even in opposition to that of other classes.
“The merchants alone would never fail to make laws favourable to themselves and oppressive to the farmers, &c. the farmers alone would act on like principles; the former would tax the land, the latter the trade. The manufacturers are often disposed to contend for monopolies, buyers make every exertion to lower prices, and sellers to raise them; men who live by fees and salaries endeavour to raise them, and the part of the people who pay them, endeavour to lower them; the public creditors to augment the taxes, and the people at large to lessen them.”
Since then, the United States has obviously grown – but the number of representatives has not. As of 2018, the House has one member for every 747,000 Americans
In 2019 the New York Times released a graph showing the average profession of Congress. It found that more than 70 percent of House members had been either private lawyers, business or medical professionals.
The opinion piece observes:
“In part because Congress is filled with successful white-collar professionals, the House is much, much richer than the people it represents, and affluent politicians support legislation that benefits their own class at the expense of others.”
On this issue, the Federal Farmer’s predictions hit bullseye.