The absent “shall” from Akhil Reed Amar’s book, America’s Constitution: A biography (hardcover, 2005), is not on page 76. Under the rubric “The Number of Representatives,” Amar’s text leads the reader to a falsehood; when discussing the Constitution’s representation ratio (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3), the key legal word – shall – is absent. Here is Amar’s sentence:
“Although Article I provided that the House should not ‘exceed’ one representative per thirty thousand constituents, its only minimal mandate was that each state have at least one member.”(page 76)
In Amar’s book (where shall is rendered as should), he argues that the US Constitution has no maximum and only a minimum regarding the representation of We the People in Congress; by comparison, here is what Amar is referencing – Article I and its two shalls (in bold) – the first one setting a maximum, the second a minimum for constitutional representation:
“The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative.” (USC Article I, Section 2, Clause 3)
Interesting political theory moment: Amar’s absent shall is a reverse deconstruction – surprisingly, it’s post-modern, like the theories of Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard, though in reverse. Instead of the usual lineup – a presence masking a basic absence – Amar’s absent “shall” is masking a basic reality: the presence of a constitutional mandate for representing We the People at the ratio of one for every thirty Thousand.
There happens to be lots of post-modern moments in Amar’s Constitution, so let’s bring James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton into the discussion next time. Amar notes the three founders (the book is over 600 pages), though he doesn’t on page 76 as required of a dissertation; instead, Amar quotes a dissenter, Patrick Henry, a founder who refused to attend the 1787 convention, and not a founder who was present in Philadelphia – like Madison, Jay or Hamilton. So we’ll do that next time – as we look to the founders and compare Amar’s theories to those in The Federalist Papers.
Bryan W. Brickner