A United States congressperson is tasked with the duty of directly representing the people by introducing bills, resolutions and amendments and serving on committees to support the needs of their constituents. Our Founding Fathers wanted members of the House of Representatives to be, above all, close to the people.
House members face the least stringent requirements of any position in office. There are only three requirements, as expressed in the U.S. Constitution:
- You must be 25 years of age or older.
- You must have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years.
- You must live in the state you are to represent.
James Madison articulated the open nature of the position when he wrote, “Under these reasonable limitations, the door of this part of the federal government is open to merit of every description, whether native or adoptive, whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any particular profession of religious faith.”
The origins of these stipulations lie in aspects of British law.
The minimum age requirement was initially set for the voting age of 21. However, during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, George Mason strongly disagreed with this minimum age, reasoning that it was “absurd that a man today should not be permitted by the law to make a bargain for himself, and tomorrow should be authorized to manage the affairs of a great nation.”
Despite Pennsylvania’s James Wilson’s argument that restricting the minimum age of office to 25 would “damp the efforts of genius, and of laudable ambition,” many at the convention felt that the House of Representatives was not a training ground for neophytes but a vital endeavor to be taken up by an experienced professional. Mason’s movement to change the age to 25 passed seven states to three.
As for citizenship, British law stipulated that Commons members be lifelong citizens of England. However, the Founding Fathers did not want to discourage immigration. Therefore, mandating seven years of citizenship before a congressperson could take office balanced the desire to prevent foreign interests taking priority over domestic politics and the desire to keep the House of Representatives as close to the people as possible, including new immigrants.
House of Commons members were also required to reside in the shires or boroughs they represented. Our Founding Fathers assimilated this rule into the Constitution because they wanted House members to truly represent the people by being genuinely familiar with their needs.
Besides being an accessible position, a congressperson is subject to frequent reelection. Representatives are elected to a two-year term. As decided in 1911, the number of representatives in office is 435, with the number per state proportionate to the population.
Before engaging in the duties of the office, members of the House of Representatives must swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
As a representative of the people, a congressperson needs to hear the voices of his or her constituents to adequately address relevant issues. You can contact your representatives to express your needs and the needs of your community.
– Mary Furth