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Article Index

Chapter IX

State Legislatures--how constituted.

§1. The legislature of every state in the union is composed of two houses--a senate and a house of representatives. The latter, or, as it is sometimes called, the lower house, in the states of New York, Wisconsin, and California, is called the assembly; in Maryland and Virginia, the house of delegates; in North Carolina, the house of commons; and in New Jersey, the general assembly. In most of the states, the two houses together are called _general assembly_.

§2. The senate, as well as the other house, is a representative body; its members being elected by the people to represent them. Why, then, is only one of the two branches called the house of representatives? Perhaps for this reason: Under the governments of the colonies, while yet subject to Great Britian, there was but one representative assembly. The other branch of the legislature was called a _council_, consisting of a small number of men who were appointed by the king. After the colonies became free and independent states, a senate was substituted for the old council, and although it is an elective body, the other house, being much more numerous, is called, by way of distinction, the _house of representatives_.

§3. Senators are chosen annually in the six New England states, namely, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. In the other states they are elected for terms of two, three, or four years. In most of the states in which senators are elected for longer terms than one year, they are not all elected at the same time. They are divided into classes; and those of one class go out of office one year, and those of another class another year; so that only a part of the senators are elected every year, or every two, or three, or four years.

§4. The senate, as distinguished from the house of representatives, is sometimes called the upper house. It was designed to be a more select body, composed of men chosen with reference to their superior ability, or their greater experience in public affairs.

§5. Senators are differently apportioned in different states. In some states they are apportioned among the several counties, so that the number to be elected in each county shall be in proportion to the number of its inhabitants. In others they are elected by districts, equal in number to the number of senators to be chosen in the state, and a senator is elected in each district. The districts are to contain, as nearly as may be, an equal number of inhabitants; and sometimes they comprise several counties.

§6. Representatives are apportioned among the counties in proportion to the population in each. In some states they are elected in districts of equal population, counties being sometimes divided in the formation of districts. In the New England states, representatives are apportioned among the towns. In about one-half of the states, they are elected annually; in the others, (including-most of the southern and western states,) they are elected every two years.

§7. The different modes of apportioning members of the legislature have in view the same object--equal representation; that is, giving a member to the same number of inhabitants in one county or district as to an equal number in another. But in some counties the population increases more rapidly than in others. The representation then becomes unequal, being no longer in proportion to population.

§8. In order to keep the representation throughout the state as nearly equal as possible; in other words, to secure to the people of every county or district their just proportion of the representatives, the constitution requires that, at stated times, the people of the state shall be numbered, and a new apportionment of senators and representatives be made among the several counties according to the number of inhabitants in each county; or if the state is one in which members of the legislature are chosen in districts, a new division of the state is made into districts.

§9. But the periods of time between the enumerations of the people, are not the same in all the states. In some states the enumerations are made every ten years; in others, shorter periods have been fixed, from eight down to four years. This enumeration or numbering of the people is called taking the census. _Census_ is from the Latin, and was used by the ancient Romans to signify a declaration or statement made before the censors by the citizens, containing an enumeration or register of themselves, their wives, children, servants, and their property and its valuation. In the United States, although the census sometimes includes a similar register, the word usually means simply an enumeration of the people.

§10. The constitution also prescribes the qualifications of senators and representatives. If, as qualifications for an elector, full age, citizenship, and a considerable term of residence in the state and county, are properly required, as we have seen, (Chap. VI. §2-5,) they must be at least equally necessary for those who make the laws. In no state, therefore, are any but qualified electors eligible to the office of senator or representative. In some states, greater age and longer residence are required; and in some, the age and term of residence have been still further increased in the case of senators. The property qualification formerly necessary for members of the legislature, as well as for voters, has been almost entirely abolished. (Chap. VI. §8.)

§11. If a member of the legislature dies, or resigns his office before the expiration of the term for which he was chosen, the vacancy is filled by the election of another person at the next general election, or at a special election called for that purpose, or in such other manner as the constitution may provide. But a person chosen to fill a vacancy, holds the office only for the remainder of the term of him whose place he was chosen to supply.