Article I of our constitution deals with the Congress. Unlike the succeeding two articles it is quite lengthy. There are ten sections to this article compared to three for both Article II on the Presidency and Article III dealing with the Justice department. This is, in part, why I have left it as the last of the the three branches of government to discuss in these articles. It will take the longest to discuss and may well require two columns.
Clearly the constitution makes the congress the most powerful of all the branches because it used to answer to the people. Well, until they snuck the 17th amendment passed us. More on that later. It delineates both the powers and limitations of the congress. Limitations? Certainly. The very first sentence begins with just one of the limitations namely religion. The founders considered religion to be sacrosanct and very important to the course our country would take down through the centuries. That first sentence? “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in th Congress of the United States, which consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” The members of the House were given a two year term of office. This was because they would face the voters directly at the poles and were thus supposedly more responsive to the wishes of the people. I will also discuss how this changed later. The Senate was given a six year term. These members were appointed directly by the legislatures of the states and could be fired by them at any time. The progressives could not have such a thing. Imagine a member of congress being fired for not doing his or her job!!! Fired for not keeping his oath of office! No, that would not fit with the progressive movement. NOT AT ALL. The progressives had to convince the public that the senate should be directly elected just like the House. After all isn’t that what the founders really intended? That the voice of the people be heard directly/ No it wasn’t what was intended. What was intended was what they wrote. A well defined separation of powers.
To say that congress was intended to be the single most important and powerful arm of the this separation of powers is an easy conclusion ,but let’s see how we reach that conclusion. It is notable that that this is the single most amended or outright abrogated portion of the constitution. It is also notable that congress itself proposed all of the changes to its powers using Article V of the constitution. We will take up a few of these changes as we move along on our trek. There are 27 amendments to the constitution all proposed by congress and ratified by the states. The first ten, our bill of rights, was proposed by the very first congress and ratified in mid December of 1791. There were twelve proposed amendments, but two couldn’t pass muster and were not ratified. Well, that is until May of 1992. The twenty seventh amendment was one of the twelve proposed amendments during that debate over the bill of rights. Yes, it was still out there and that year Wyoming finally voted in favor making it the last required state to ratify the amendment. It is noteworthy in this essay because it places certain limits on Congressional pay increases.
Article I begins with a forgotten or perhaps ignored sentence in todays politics. “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” That one sentence tells us who is empowered to make laws and gives us the bicameral legislature to enact them.
Section 2 of the Article deals with the election and apportionment of representatives from the various states. Said apportionment shall not exceed one for every 30,000 people. It includes the power to tax, but that tax is also to be by the same apportion. That was changed when the congress sent the 16th amendment to be ratified in 1909. It was ratified four years later in 1913. Now we have the income tax and that whole IRS boondoggle.
Section 3 deals with the election of those to serve in the senate. They were very specific with this stating “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six years; and each senator shall have one vote.” This was amended in the seventeenth amendment. The amendment was proposed in the 62nd Congress in 1912 and became law in 1913 after being ratified by the required 36 state legislatures.
That Amendment significantly altered the practical application of the separation of powers and the functioning of the congress. The senate was given a six year term because when they abused their power, acted contrary to their oath of office or the will of the people they represented they could be fired. The legislature that appointed them could summarily dismiss the miscreants. That is no longer true and enter the era of the professional politician that is more interested in getting re-elected than doing the job he or she was elected to do. The oath of office became just a ceremony with little meaning in the practical world of politics.
Article III section 8 has 17 subsections dealing with the powers granted and denied congress. This is the single longest listing of it type in the constitution further emphasizing the founders belief that that congress is the most relied upon and powerful voice of the people in the federal government hierarchy.
I have reached my self imposed limit on the number of words I put in these articles in my attempt not to strain the attention span of my audience. (smile) My next effort will continue the trek into the mysteries of Article I of our constitution.
I hope you will join me then.Tags: Conatitutional Congress