Representative Democracy and Its Constituents


The issue of representation dates back to early forms of government and representation in government, the House of Representatives, or the senate. To make the process of representation fair; several attempts have been made by the Supreme Court and politicians in ensuring that every person’s vote and right to representation is maintained. Many theories and modes of representation are looked at in this report, however, most of them mirror representation and methods or achieve a perfect representation. Representation exists in many forms and is formed from the smallest form to the highest form of political representation (the presidency).

Characteristics of Representation

When we look at representation from different angles in the United States, several issues start to emerge such as nature of the representation. In democratic nations like the United States, representation is left to a few individuals to exercise and protect the rights of people in society. In his address in New York, Melancton Smith argues that for representation to function properly it must be made up of people who resemble the constituents for them to empathize with their situation (Cruz 26). For a representative to actively represent the interests of his/her constituents, he must understand the circumstances and abilities of the people in general.

Smith further clarifies that a representative must have the knowledge and information on common concerns of the people and that the middle class is suited for representation. Smith’s idea is that representation should be large enough to encompass the middle class because of its nature to embrace men of the first class.

In smith’s address, elucidatesate on representation coupled with class differences usually results in the first class being chosen as representatives for the people. Smith believes that when people are chosen as representatives based on class it is people in the first class who will get that opportunity. He thinks that the influence the great have in the society enables them to win elections compared to the middle and poor classes who are divided in their interests. Smith furnishes us with an example on how free governments protect the great in the society with the example of Congress’ address to inhabitants of Quebec in 1775.

The high and mighty in the society doesn’t care about other classes of people and they have the means to protect themselves in cases where representation is left to few people (O’Leary 56). Smith has opposed to a federal system of government because it usually leads to a few and the first class being elected as representatives of the people.

Representation through Districts

Representation in the United States comprises of large and small units, but the basic electoral unit recognized by many is a district. Districts in the United States are organized and drawn using factors such as race and population. Melancton Smith describes representative units such as districts, being drawn up in the constitution as set as a fixed number of sixty-five seats (O’Leary 69). He criticizes these regulations as it does not factor in population growth thus leading to unfair representation. Smith is the idea of the adoption of any form of government so long as it does not infringe on the liberties of the people.

Hamilton in his address, argues that the house of representatives is not sufficiently numerous to accommodate people of all classes though if people of different classes were given an opportunity to elect their own, in many circumstances they would not. Hamilton clarifies that the interests of the rich and the poor on issues such as taxation is common and therefore prefer representation that suits both their needs.

The argument put forward by Hamilton is that in cases where the qualifications of the electors are the same, people will choose people whom they have confidence in even if the number is small or huge (Cruz 30). His thoughts are that any person even if it’s a merchant or landowner is elected to due to the interaction between these classes of people, for instance, the merchant will be disposed to protect the interests of the mechanic due to their business relationship. On the other hand, Madison clarifies that the notion that the House of Representatives is made up of people with the least concern for others is untrue.

In his ideas, he suggests that a federal constitution allows for different people to be elected and the fixed term limits are set to maintain a responsibility to the people (Brown 17). Madison sums it up by saying that every American citizen has a right to participate in the representation.

Federalism and Representation

In his address Melancton Smith, argues that the small number that forms the legislature combined with large electoral districts will lead to individuals who are less sympathetic being chosen as representatives. Smith’s ide that the representative bodies such as district should be made smaller to cater to interests of many people and to ensure the poor are not oppressed (O’Leary 48). This assertion is discredited by Madison whose ideas are that the electoral districts not matter the size will produce adequate representation. Madison’s argument is that people chosen for representation have been preferred by other people and therefore they will uphold the duty entitled to them. Madison continues to argue that the process of selecting a representative leads to production of affection between the constituents and the representative.

Madison clarifies that frequent elections makes representatives to be more faithful to the wishes of their constituents otherwise they will loose their seat if they don’t exercise their powers effectively. He argues that representatives elected by other people exercise their powers diligently for the interests of their constituents so as they anticipate the period when they seek for re-election.

In addition, Madison explains that the House of Representatives cannot make lthathich benefit or disadvantage the representatives without it having an effect on the local people (Grazia 73). Madison sums up his ideas by a clarification that the laws, constitution and the spirit of the American people does not allow representatives from making discriminatory laws which disadvantage their constituents. Unlike Smith, Madison thinks that if the number of the electorate is small or big, the people cannot be corrupted into choosing a leader who will use public office for self benefit.

Representation and Trust

The issue of representation cannot be looked at without touching on democracy and its effect on representation. In Edward Burke’s speech to people of Bristol, he clarifies on the issue of representation and how representatives should stick closer to their constituents. Burke explains that representatives’ role is to respect the wishes of their people and to prefer their interest above his/her interests (Grazia 80). He further clarifies that a representative’s unbiased opinion, mature judgment and enlightened conscience should not be sacrificed for the common good of the people.

Burke’s assertions are that a representative should be more enlightened when it comes to issues of representation and he should act just using conscience in light of the interests of his/her constituents. Burke asserts that when a representative is chosen to parliament, he becomes a member of parliament with one interest that of everyone and therefore a representative must act in the interests of the general good.

Various modes of representation are aimed at either representative democracy or direct democracy. In representative democracy, representatives are attuned to listen and carry out the wishes and interests of their constituents. Representative democracy looks more on issues to deal with interests of the constituents; interests of the different classes of people are factored in. Direct democracy is achieved by the form of representation where the representative acts upon his conscience bearing in mind the interests of the constituents and that of the public in general (Brown 15).

Direct democracy is better explained by Burke’s speech where the trustee conception of representation is similar to direct democracy. Representative democracy resembles delegate representation, where a representative is elected to act as a delegate on behalf of the interests of the constituents.


Representation in the United States has evolved over time, with more focus shifting to the needs of constituents. However representation has faced many challenges in many states such gerrymandering issues, lack of adequate representation or shifting power in representation (Burke 65). The problem of gerrymandering has changed the sizes and structure of electoral districts making some political parties benefit at the expense of representation.

Power struggles within the House of Senate or number representatives has ensured that the electoral does not get adequate representation. However these problems have been on the decline lately with representatives acting with their conscience and using influence for the general good. For instance, recently some Democrats sided with Republicans in opposing the healthcare bill even though Democrats had bigger numbers in the House of Senate.

Works Cited

Brown, Alison. “New Perspectives on Native North America Cultures, Histories, and Representations.” Journal of the Royal Historical Institute 13.1 (2007): 12-19.

Burke, Christopher. The appearance of equality: racial gerrymandering, redistricting, and the Supreme Court. Austin, TX: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999.

Cruz, Consuelo. “The New Politics of Inequality in America: Rethinking Participation and Representation.” Journal of International Affairs 52.1 (1998): 23-32.

Grazia, Alfred De. Public and republic: political representation in America. Chicago, IL: Knopf, 2001.

O’Leary, Kevin. Saving democracy: a plan for real representation in America. Boston, MA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

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DemoEssays. "Representative Democracy and Its Constituents." January 4, 2023.