Over-Representation?

In reading Thomas Paine’s work Common Sense, one cannot help but see a distinct theme coming together with regard to representation in the colonies (and later the states). Paine clearly desires a large representative body, as well as a unique electoral system, in order to ensure that the greatest amount of citizens have the opportunity to engage in the political forum. The issue of the number of representatives as well as that of the proposed electoral system are two stances with which I take a great amount of issue.

First, I will address the issue of the representative body. In describing his ideal system of representation, Paine says, “The whole number in Congress will be at least 390” (36). On its face, this idea may seem as though it gives a significant amount of sway to the people, rather than concentrating power in a larger body that may use it for malevolent or corrupt aims. However, I see a different problem with this way of going about representation. According to Professor Kirkpatrick’s calculations, this would allot over 36,000 representatives for today’s Congress. To me, this seems excessive. With the inherent turnover of such elected positions, it seems as though representation and the possibility of being elected to be a representative would become a part of the everyday lives of the majority of eligible individuals. This may have the unwanted effect of keeping talent away from more useful aims simply due to the fact that the government would like them to assist in maintaining this gratuitous representation. The effects of such a system could be disastrous. However, I do think Paine made a good point in calling for a high number of representatives. In order to keep adequate checks on central power, it is necessary to have a statistically significant amount of representatives. I believe the answer is somewhere in between the proportion of representation that we have now and the ideal that Paine espouses. I would simply caution the country about the risk of losing a significant individual identity in trying to form an ideal government.

I also take issue with Paine’s proposal for electing the president. Paine’s proposition is as follows, “When the delegates are met, let a colony be taken from the whole thirteen colonies by lot, after which, let the whole Congress choose (by ballot) a president from out of the delegates of that province” (36). He then goes on to say that each colony would be eliminated from consideration to elect a citizen to the Presidency until all the colonies have had their turn to do so. I believe there is one central problem with this way of electing the president. The problem is that it completely eliminates the possibility of anything close to true democracy in America. If we negate the possibility of the entire populace voting for the president, it could overshadow outstanding candidates as well as the will of the entire American citizenry. I personally feel that electing a president from a general electorate is more in accordance with the sort of democracy for which America has toiled for so long. The issue of equality of opportunity would actually become lessened with this sort of system in comparison to that which Paine proffers. The states may not be entirely equally represented in the presidential spectrum. But, at least the will of the American people would be so represented

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2 Responses to Over-Representation?

  1. bah2011 says:

    I fully agree that Paine’s idea on representation would create a dysfunctional system of government. If there were 36,000 representatives they would be held less, not more responsible. If there were that many representatives the institution would be less prestigious and the caliber of candidates would diminish. But having a representative body that were treated more like civil servants, and less like celebrities could have an extremely positive affect of our country. Basically, there are pros and cons to any representative body but having fewer, not more members would be a greater benefit to our nation.

  2. I agree with your disagreement on how Paine believes the president should be elected. Without the entire country having a say in who is the head of the government, there would be guaranteed, undying controversy and drama over who is elected. If only one colony or state is to have control over who is elected president, they will surely elect a candidate that only has their best interests in mind. This would be an unfair disadvantage to all other states who also pay their dues to be in the union. I also agree with your disagreement on Paine’s belief in the amount of representatives that each colony should have. There is a such thing as over-representation and apparently Paine overlooked this when writing his pamphlet.

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