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Historical Highlights

The Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929

June 11, 1929
The Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 Image courtesy of Library of Congress Elected to 11 terms in the House of Representatives, John Q. Tilson of Connecticut served as the Republican Majority Leader from 1925 to 1931.
On this date, the House passed the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, fixing the number of Representatives at 435. The U.S. Constitution called for at least one Representative per state and that no more than one for every 30,000 persons. Thus, the size of a state’s House delegation depended on its population. But the founders were vague as to how large future Congresses should be and what method to use to reapportion the House after each federal census. These questions vexed Congress for much of its history as U.S. territories expanded and the population grew. Usually, the House reapportioned itself in a manner that increased, or at least preserved, the representation of most states. Gradually, however, the method for calculating apportionment caused smaller rural states to lose representation to larger urbanized states. A battle erupted between rural and urban factions, causing the House (for the only time in its history) to fail to reapportion itself following the 1920 Census. Signed into law on June 18, 1929, the Permanent Apportionment Act capped House Membership at the level established after the 1910 Census and created a procedure for automatically reapportioning House seats after every decennial census. Republican Majority Leader John Q. Tilson of Connecticut approvingly declared that the act dispelled the “danger of failing to reapportion after each decennial census as contemplated by the Constitution.” But opponents, such as William B. Bankhead of Alabama, who doubted its constitutionality, had earlier described the plan as “the abdication and surrender of the vital fundamental powers vested in the Congress of the United States by the Constitution itself.” In 1941, Congress adopted the current formula for reapportioning House seats.

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