Tuesday, January 24, 2012


It’s not a dirty word.

Depending on whether you support the controlling majority party or the minority party in government, it can be either beautiful or ugly, though. And it is also one more thing: necessary.

As most Americans are aware, our government in the United States is composed of three branches -- the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. The President is head of the Executive branch. The Supreme Court Justices are top dogs in the Judicial branch. The Legislative branch, which makes our laws, consists of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

In the Senate, every state has two members, no more and no less. This puts all states on an equal footing in the Senate.

The number of members a state has in the House of Representatives, however, depends on that state’s population. Every ten years our country takes a national census. There have been 23 censuses censusi censusim such counts taken in the United States, the first one in 1790.

Over the years since our country’s founding, the size of the House of Representatives was first increased with each passing decade as the population grew. In the first Congress, in 1788, a total of 65 members represented the original 13 states, and with a population of 3,929,000 each member represented about 60,000 persons. By 1913, however, there were 435 members representing 48 states, and with a population of 92,228,000 each member represented on average about 212,000 persons. Then, after the 1920 census was taken, an increase to 483 members was proposed. Since the size of the House of Representatives was fast becoming unwieldy, someone yelled, “Whoa, Nellie!” (not literally) and the number was frozen at 435. It has stayed at 435 ever since.

But the population kept growing and shifting. Some states gained population and some states lost population. In 1959 two states, Alaska and Hawaii, were added, bringing the total to 50. In 2000, our twenty-second census showed that the U.S. population had reached 281,421,000 and each of the 435 elected members represented about 509,000 persons during the past decade. In the twenty-third census, which was completed in 2010, our population reached 308,745,000 and each of the 435 members will represent, on average, about 709,000 persons for the next ten years. Well, at least at the beginning of the period, as the population continues to grow.

By contrast, the United Kingdom had a population of 60,587,000 people in 2006 and each of the 650 elected members of Parliament represents about 93,000 people.

In the U.S., each of the 50 states must re-draw its Congressional district boundaries after every national census so that its people are more or less equally distributed across its districts.

Georgia, where I live, currently sends 13 representatives to Congress. Our districts currently look like this:

As soon as the latest reapportionment takes effect, Georgia will send 14 representatives to Congress and the districts will be redrawn to look like this:

Cherokee County (county seat: Canton) is currently a part of Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District of Georgia (the middle one of the three green areas to the right of the light blue area near the top of the first map), which is currently represented by Rep. Tom Price of Roswell, an orthopedic surgeon. We will become a part of Georgia’s Eleventh Congressional District of Georgia (the light blue area to the right of the red area on the second map), which is currently represented by Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta, an obstetrician.

Here is a nice chart you can click on in ever so many places to find out how the U.S. House of Representatives has changed during its history.

[Editor’s note.If you click on the link in the previous paragraph and poke around among the charts, be advised that the “Number of Representatives” figures for the various years are a bit misleading. I can’t make heads or tails of them. Sometimes they are the total number of representatives a state sends, and sometimes they are the number of additional representatives a state will be granted. So the maps are neither fish nor fowl, but some sort of strange combination of the two. If you can sort it all out, let me know. --RWP]


  1. A fascinating post on many levels. I had a great time clicking the representation map and it made me wonder what is wrong with Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota that so few people live there.

    Regarding the comparison with the UK, we're in the process of reducing the number of MPs to 600, ans some argue that that is too many.

  2. Well, Ian, Montana and Wyoming are beautiful, but Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota are places where one can easily freeze one's bippy off, like Minnesota.
    Florida and Texas and California and Georgia, on the other hand, constantly welcome new residents.

  3. USA: 310 million. UK: 61 million. NZ: 4 million.
    I avoided the impulse to write 'and a quarter' to NZ's figure, as if I was a child keen to be as grown-up as possible.

  4. Which "last Map" I'm not following that.

  5. Katherine, big oaks from little acorns grow.

    Reamus, I meant that last link (actually, it's the only link in the post; I lost my head). Sorry, I will change the wording so as to be less confusing.

  6. Nooooo! Please don't suggest a huge population is inevitable!

  7. Katharine, we started with just under 4 million in 1790. Of course, we had to expand across the entire continent to have more room. Perhaps you could annex Australia.