Constitution Lessons for Homeschoolers
Day 4: Qualifications for Congress, the President, and the Court
In our day three lesson, we learned about checks and balances among our 3 branches of government. Dividing power among the branches was one way of preventing any one branch of government from becoming too powerful. Another way was to set qualifications and terms of office for them.
House of Representatives
Age: 25 years Citizenship: 7 years Term of Office: 2 years
Residence: Must reside in the state he/she wishes to represent
In Federalist 52 – “Under these reasonable limitations, the door of this part of the Federal Government is open to merit of every description, whether native or adoptive, whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any particular profession of religious faith.” The Framers were also clear that frequent elections kept the members dependent on the good will of the people who elected them. Having our members of the House of Representatives stand for election every two years provides us the opportunity to completely change the most numerous branch of the government if we see fit.”
The members of the House are supposed to feel the heat of the public. This keeps their power in check. For example, any tax law must originate in the House, and so must Presidential articles of impeachment. The House members need to be very sure about what they are doing before they act, or it won’t be long before they have to face voters.
Age: 30 years Citizenship: 9 years a citizen Term of Office: 6 years
Residence: Must reside in the state he/she wishes to represent
In Federalist 62 – “The propriety of these distinctions is explained by the nature of the senatorial trust, which, requiring greater extent of information and ability of character, requires at the same time that the senator should have reached a period of life most likely to supply these advantages; and which, participating immediately in transactions with foreign nations, ought to be exercised by none who are not thoroughly weaned from the prepossessions and habits incident to foreign birth and education. The term of nine years appears to be a prudent mediocrity between a total exclusion of adopted citizens, whose merits and talents may claim a share in the public confidence, and an indiscriminate and hasty admission of them, which might create a channel for foreign influence on the national councils.”
The Senators are intended to be somewhat shielded from the ‘heats and tumults’ of public emotion. The Framers accomplished this by giving the state legislatures the authority to choose their Senators. The Senate was intended to be an important link between the state and Federal governments. Unfortunately, this vital link was broken with the 17th Amendment, which put Senate elections in the hands of the people.
The Senate is intended to be the more serious and deliberative body. For example, the Framers gave the Senate the responsibility for ratifying treaties with foreign nations, and for trying articles of impeachment. The Senate also is responsible for confirming Presidential cabinet members and Supreme Court Justices.
Age: 35 years Citizenship: Natural Born Citizen or a citizen at the time of the adoption of the Constitution Term of Office: 4 years
Residence: 14 years
I’ll bet you didn’t know that the Anti-Federalists proposed a three-man executive. Because they feared a return to the tyranny of a monarchy, they thought that they could prevent that by spreading power in the executive among three Presidents. The Federalists disagreed that this system would work:
Federalist 70 – “But one of the weightiest objections to a plurality in the executive, and which lies as much against the last as the first plan is that it tends to conceal faults and destroy responsibility. It often becomes impossible, amidst mutual accusations, to determine on whom the blame or the punishment of a pernicious measure, or series of pernicious measures, ought really to fall. It is shifted from one to another with so much dexterity, and under such plausible appearances, that the public opinion is left in suspense about the real author.”
By requiring the President to be at least 35 years old, he will most likely be mature enough to handle the responsibility of the office.
And by requiring the President to be a natural born citizen, and living in the United States for 14 years, prevents ambitious foreign powers from ascending to the Federal Executive, and leave enough time for a citizen to become firmly attached to America. The Framers wanted the President to serve long enough to learn his job, and provide stability in the executive, but not long enough to become a tyrant.
You may be surprised to learn that the Constitution is silent about age and citizenship requirements for members of the Supreme Court. There are no specific qualifications mentioned either. The only limit on service is that a Supreme Court Justice may serve during times of ‘good behavior’. A Supreme Court Justice is appointed by the President, and must be confirmed by the Senate. If a Justice must be removed, the Congress must impeach him/her.
The Framers intended for the judicial branch to be independent from the other branches in order that it would always remain impartial in its judgement.
Federalist 79 – Next to permanency in office, nothing can contribute more to the independence of the judges than a fixed provision for their support. The remark made in relation to the President is equally applicable here. In the general course of human nature, a power over a man’s subsistence amounts to a power over his will. And we can never hope to see realized in practice, the complete separation of the judicial from the legislative power, in any system which leaves the former dependent for pecuniary resources on the occasional grants of the latter.
Our Constitution is a marvelous and inspired document written by gifted and brilliant men. It has last longer than any other written Constitution in history. I hope you’re enjoying these daily lessons, and that you’ll join me tomorrow for our fifth and final installment of Constitution Week lessons for homeschoolers.
Day One: Why did America need a Constitution
Day Two: Democracy or Republic
Day Three: Checks and Balances