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THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.
The House of Representatives of the Union is composed of members “ chosen every second year by the people of the several States.”*
The principle of popular representation was, as we have seen, no new thing to the American people at the time of the Revolution. They had been nursed in liberty under the old colonial charters, and had been accustomed to the process of voting the taxes and controlling the supplies, after the manner of the British House of Commons. The mode of election only, was a subject of controversy at the period of framing the Constitution. Various arrangements were proposed and debated : * Article 1, sect. 2.
election by the State legislatures ; indirect election by delegates, &c.; but the only true mode, according to Burke, of securing the real responsibility of the representatives to the people, was adopted—that of direct election by the people themselves.
The right of the franchise, conferred by the State, ought unquestionably to raise, in the mind of every one invested with it, a sense of the responsibility it places him under, to exercise such right, according to the best of his judgment, for the purposes for which it was conferred upon him, namely, the public good. Thus considered, the possession of the franchise ought to elevate the feeling of personal dignity, strengthen the suggestions of duty, and furnish strong motives for mental cultivation and study, without which it is impossible to follow with intelligence the discussions on the great public measures of the day. It is without doubt a gratifying and a noble inci. dent in the condition of a great State, that by the willing consent of the more instructed classes, and of those possessing, by means of property, the greatest stake in the preservation of peace and good order and wise government, the franchise should be, by their act, through their representatives, distributed, without fear or apprehension, very widely among the mass of the community. But the extent to which this can be carried, with safety to all the complicated interests of the State, is and has ever been, by the best and greatest political authorities in ancient and modern times, argued as a question of expediency, to be determined by the discretion of the legal powers of the State for the time being. And as such, and not as a matter of abstract right, it is and has been determined by the legislation of the United States, as well as by that of the several States throughout the Union. Mr. Justice Story adopts and enforces this principle in the following words :
“This fundamental principle of an immediate choice by the people, however important, would alone be insufficient for the public security, if the right of choice had not many auxiliary guards and accompaniments. It was indispensable to provide for the qualifications of the electors. It is obvious that, even when the principle is established, that the popular branch of the legislature shall emanate directly from the people, there still remains a very serious question, by whom and in what manner the choice shall be made."*
This question, he adds, is sufficiently perplexing in theory; and when reduced to practice in different free States, has been much varied, according to the different “manners, habits, institutions, characters, and pursuits ” of the people ; “the local position of the territory, in regard to other nations; the actual organisation and classes of society; the influences of peculiar religious, civil, or political institutions;" .. "the national temperament;" ... “the degrees of knowledge or ignorance pervading the mass of society.”+
“ The most strenuous advocate for universal suffrage has never yet contended, that the right should be absolutely universal. No one has ever been sufficiently visionary to hold that all persons, of every age, degree, or character, should be entitled to vote in all elections of all public officers. Idiots, infants, minors, and persons insane or utterly imbecile, have been, without scruple, denied the right, as not having the sound judgment and discretion fit for its exercise. In many countries, persons * $ 577.
guilty of crimes have also been denied the right, as a personal punishment, or as a security to society. In most countries, females, whether married or single, have been purposely excluded from voting, as interfering with sound policy, and the harmony of social life. In the few cases in which they have been permitted to vote, experience has not justified the conclusion, that it has been attended with any correspondent advantages, either to the public or to themselves. And yet it would be extremely difficult, upon any mere theoretical reasoning, to establish any satisfactory principle upon which the one-half of every society has thus been systematically excluded by the other half from all right of participating in government, which would not, at the same time, apply to and justify many other exclusions."*
If, according to the ultra-democratic theory, "all men are born free and equal—if, because all have common rights and interests to protect, all have therefore a natural, equal, and inalienable right to vote, and to decide, by themselves or by their representatives, upon the laws and regulations that are to control and sustain such rights,” what is there in that argument that does not as much apply to females " as free, intelligent, moral, and responsible beings, . . . having a vital stake in all the
* $ 579.