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The Role of the House

The Founding Fathers designed our Government with 3 branches to ensure equal and fair representation for all. Congress, and the House of Representatives, plays a very specific role in maintaining this balance.

The Three Branches of Government

  The signing of the ConstitutionOil on Canvas, Howard Chandler Christy, 1940, Architect of the Capitol

Delegates to the Philadelphia Convention in May of 1787 had America’s experiences as a colony under Britain’s monarchy at the front of their minds. As a result, they were determined to ensure the United States was never under the control of a totalitarian government again. They decided that having a Government with 3 branches, each with distinct responsibilities, would prevent one person from being all powerful. The three branches, as designed by the Founding Fathers, are:

  1. Legislative: The Congress
    This branch is responsible for creating laws, controlling finances, and declaration of war.
  2. Executive: The President and Vice President
    This branch enforces the laws created by Congress, spends money as authorized by Congress, declares states of emergency, appoints Judges to the Supreme Court, and grants pardons for crimes.
  3. Judicial: The Supreme Court
    This branch is responsible for administering laws, making arrangements for prisoners, and declaring laws unconstitutional.

As an added measure to be sure that no one branch becomes too powerful, a system of checks and balances was defined. Through this system, each branch is given power to checkup on the other two branches. For example, the President has the power to veto a bill sent from Congress, which would prevent it from becoming a law. Congress has the power to impeach Supreme Court Judges or Presidents. The Supreme Court has the power to overturn a law that they believe is unconstitutional.

The Legislative Branch

  The Capitol

Congress, the primary lawmaking body of the U.S. Government, meets at the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. Members of Congress introduce legislative proposals called bills or resolutions. Members vote on the proposals, which are then sent to the Executive branch to be approved. Members of Congress also review the work of executive agencies to determine if they are following Government policy.

The duties of the legislative branch were decided during the Philadelphia Convention. During the Convention, participants debated at length about how to form the Legislative Branch— large states wanted the number of representatives decided by the number of citizens in the state, but the smaller states were worried they would have no power. To compromise, the Congress would be a bicameral legislature— a lawmaking body with two houses—consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate to ensure everyone had equal representation.

The Senate

The Senate has 100 members and is the upper house of the United States Congress. It is called the upper house because it has fewer members than the House of Representatives and has powers not granted to the House, such as giving approval to appointments of Cabinet secretaries and federal judges.

The creation of the Senate addressed the concern of those from smaller states at the Philadelphia Convention because each state, regardless of the size of its population, is represented by two Senators. Senators serve six year terms and both Senators from the same state are never up for re-election at the same time.

The House of Representatives

  The House Chamber

The House of Representatives has 435 voting Members and five Delegates, each serving a two year term, and one Resident Commissioner who serves for four years. The House of Representatives is referred to as the lower house of the United States Congress, because it has more Members than the Senate. It also has powers not granted to the Senate, like the ability to elect the President if the Electoral College is tied.

The creation of the House of Representatives addressed the wishes of the delegates from larger states during the Philadelphia Convention. States are divided into congressional districts, based on population, and each Congressional district is represented by one Member. If an entire state’s population does not meet the population criteria for a district, then a Member is elected “at large,” meaning he or she represents the entire state. Both Vermont and Montana are represented by Members at Large.

Constituents can share their opinions with their Representatives. Members of Congress need to know how laws will affect citizens in their district. You can contact your Representative using the Write Your Representative feature.