Edition for Educators—House Civics 101

Known as the Father of the Constitution, Virginia's James Madison was a crucial Member of the early House of Representatives before becoming the 4th President of the United States./tiles/non-collection/4/4-5-Madison-2002_48.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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Known as the Father of the Constitution, Virginia's James Madison was a crucial Member of the early House of Representatives before becoming the 4th President of the United States.
In America’s complicated, multidimensional system of government, the United States House of Representatives holds a unique set of powers. For clarity on its responsibilities we need to look no further than the Constitution.

James Madison of Virginia, the father of the Constitution and the House’s most important player in the early Congresses, spelled out precisely the role that the founders believed the House would play in the architecture of the new federal government: it would have “an immediate dependence on, and intimate sympathy with, the people.” The House, unlike the Senate, isn’t a continuing body; it essentially reconstitutes itself every two years—approving a new set of rules of procedure, swearing-in new members, and electing party leaders and a new slate of officers. These changes in composition lead not just to a new set of people but an influx of new ideas and priorities and contribute to the institution’s longstanding reputation as the People’s House.

Learn about the framers’ vision for the House and subsequent major developments by exploring ten of its institutional powers and duties in Origins and Development: From the Constitution to the Modern House.

"And whether these forms be in all cases the most rational or not is really not of so great importance. It is much more material that there should be a rule to go by than what that rule is; that there may be a uniformity of proceeding in business not subject to the caprice of the Speaker or captiousness of the members. It is very material that order, decency, and regularity be preserved in a dignified public body."
— Thomas Jefferson, Manual of Parliamentary Practice, 1801

The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, declared all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. to be citizens and subject to proportional representation./tiles/non-collection/4/4-5-i_origins_proport_repres_hres_127_14_th_nara.xml Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and Records Administration The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, declared all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. to be citizens and subject to proportional representation.

Constitutional Qualifications

“No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 2, clause 2

Biennial Elections

“The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 2, clause 1

Proportional Representation

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative”
— U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 2, clause 3

<a href="/People/Detail/18657" title="Frederick Muhlenberg">Frederick Muhlenberg</a> of Pennsylvania became the first Speaker on April 1, 1789./tiles/non-collection/4/4-5-Muhlenberg-2005_16_1-1.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania became the first Speaker on April 1, 1789.

Speaker and Officers of the House

“The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 2, clause 5

Power of the Purse

“All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 7, clause 1

Investigations & Oversight

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 1

Electoral College & Indecisive Elections

“…and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President…”
— U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 1, clause 3

Impeachment

“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 4

Power to Declare War

“The Congress shall have Power To . . . To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”
—U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, clause 11

This is part of a series of blog posts for educators, highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.

Categories: Education, Institution