What is the House of Representatives? - Definition & Members

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  • 0:01 The House of Representatives
  • 1:12 Members & Responsibilities
  • 2:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michael Knoedl

Michael teaches high school Social Studies and has a M.S. in Sports Management.

The House of Representatives is the lower house of the United States Congress. The House and the Senate work together on bills to give to the president to put into law. Learn why we have the House of Representatives and what it is in this lesson.

The House of Representatives

Did you make a purchase today? Drive on any roads? Watch television? Pretty much everything you do as a citizen of the United States has been touched by the House of Representatives. The House, as the House of Representatives is commonly referred to, is part of the law-making body of Congress.

Article I of the U.S. Constitution set up the legislative branch. The Founding Fathers wanted the legislature settled first because they felt it was the most important element needed to keep the nascent republic strong. When discussing how to set up the legislature, there were many arguments about how to divide up the representation in the House between the states, especially in terms of which states were going to get the most representation. The most populated states wanted representation based on population because that meant they would have more power in Congress. Smaller states wanted equal representation so they would not be overpowered by the more populated states.

Ultimately, the Founding Fathers decided on a bicameral legislature. Bicameral is a fancy word for 'two houses.' The upper house, which favors the smaller states, is called the Senate. The lower house, which favors the larger states, is called the House of Representatives.

Members and Responsibilities

Representation in the House is based off of the official U.S. Census, which is the country's population count taken every ten years. So every ten years, the government reviews the population by state and assigns each state a number of representatives. There are 435 seats available for the House, which are divided out between the states after the Census is complete, and then the states get to assign the districts. Districts are the individual parts of the state that the representatives, the persons elected to the House, actually represent.

Representatives serve two-year terms, which means that every two years each member of the House is up for reelection. To get reelected, the representative needs to represent the citizens in his or her district well. If the representative is not doing what the people who elected him or her want, then the voters can choose someone else during the next election. Elections happen every even-numbered year, and newly elected members of the House take office in early January of odd-numbered years.

The person in charge of the House is called the Speaker of the House. This position is voted on and must come from the majority party, which is the party with the most representatives in the House. The speaker of the House guides the daily activities on the House floor, where Representatives discuss and debate bills.

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