Populations, Majorities, and Balance of Power

Our country’s founding fathers lived under various forms of tyranny for years before the American Revolution, and before drafting the US constitution. Having learned from experience, they wrote the constitution to include many measures meant to resist tyranny. For example, it creates three independent branches of government that provide checks and balances on each other (when they do their jobs). You already knew this from Civics Class or its equivalent back in 7th grade.

Another constitutional feature to resist tyranny is the design of the US Congress. We have a House of Representatives that apportions delegates according to the population of each state, which allows the most populous states to dominate the House. And we have a Senate where each state has the same number of delegates regardless of population, giving low-population states voices equal to high-population states. Thus, the House ensures representation according to population, and the Senate ensures that size of population alone cannot control Congress. While this can be frustrating at times, this balance reduces the chance of tyranny by the majority. Without that balance, high-population states can run roughshod over the rights of the others.

The maps in the linked article illustrate wide disparities in population between different parts of our country. If the US were a pure democracy, population centers like New York and California would dominate the entire nation. Some political groups actively press to implement this kind of government, but this would make some citizens more equal than others: citizens of population centers would, collectively, control the rest of the country. Food for thought as you listen to the various political “fairness” arguments.

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