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Two-year House of Representatives terms made sense at the time — now, maybe not

In her book, "Ratification, The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788," Pauline Maier notes that during the debate for ratification of the United States constitution in Massachusetts (as reported in the American Herald during the convention), the good people of Massachusetts elected "perhaps one of the compleatest representations of interests and sentiments of their constituents that ever were assembled."

One heated debate arose over the two-year term length for representatives, some feeling it was too long for them to be in office "without going back to the people for reelection." Fisher Ames, a Federalist delegate to the convention, countered, "biennial elections provided an essential security to liberty" by preventing decisions based on a "factionalism and enthusiasm. The people always mean right, and if time is allowed for reflection and information, they will do right." Biennial elections provided, a "security that the sober, second thought of the people shall be law."

That was then. The very nature of time and reflection has changed. What would these good folks do now with the mountains of information and disinformation, much if not most of it provided by enthusiastic factions, that comes at us instantly and relentlessly. It is understandable that many people will anchor themselves in some sturdy ideology that gives them a sense of certainty and stability. The fracturing character of our new information age is offering our republic's latest challenge. I hope it and we survive.

Peter Talley

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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