Representation and Demographics
Government: the action or manner of controlling or regulating a nation, organization, or people.
Governments in the United States are sometimes described as a representative democracy. In representative democracy Individuals are elected by a defined group to represent the interests of that group in a governing body. (I use the plural "governments" here because there are many interlocked governing structures to which we, the populace, send representatives, federal, state, county, town, city, and fire and school districts.)
We tend to think of electing individuals to represent us in government bodies as simply natural, just, and proper, but the idea that government represents the individual humans to be governed (as opposed to estates, corporations and various vested interests) only began to blossom in the 17th Century (according to Encyclopedia Brittanica's interesting article "History of Elections"):
Once governments were believed to derive their powers from the consent of the governed and expected to seek that consent regularly, it remained to decide precisely who was to be included among the governed whose consent was necessary.
When the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution got together in Philadelphia this idea of the "consent of the governed" was still pretty new. The U.S. Constitution specifies that the number of Representatives to be sent to the federal government by each State shall be determined by an "Enumeration" (census) to be conducted every ten years. It does not specify how the States will determine who will be sent as Representatives from the various States...except to say, "by the People of the several States." (Article I, Section 2). (We've been arguing and passing laws and amendments ever since about who those "People" are who get to vote: non-land holders? former slaves? women?)
Let's put this "People" in perspective. These were all white male colonists, certainly an "elite" of the time, trying to come together and establish rules to assemble, control, and regulate the population under a Constitution and a rule of law. In so doing they felt the need to incorporate the relatively new idea, this ideal, that governmental authority must stem from the "will of the People."
The population of the United Stated in 1790 was a mere 3,929,214 according to the 1790 United States Census. (For reference the population of the entire world in 1800 is estimated at around 940,000,000.) Today the U.S. is third in population [among modern countries] with nearly 330,000,000 people. In 1790 those rebellious colonists trying to form up a union of states under a new constitution represented a tiny fragment of world population (0.4%), so few the population of the assembled States was scarcely larger than half the population of the single State of Washington in 2018 (7,500,000)
So what has happened to representation since the Constitution was written? Here I draw from "United States congressional apportionment." In the 1790s there were around 65 U.S. Representatives, one for every 34,436 people. Today, although Representative numbers have increased to 435 (limited by law passed in 1929), each Representative represents around 720,000 people. (Note this is population. This number does not reflect who gets to chose these Representatives. That's the rule as set by the Constitution in 1789.) There is tension between the need to have a number of Representatives who can actually succeed at legislating and the desire for the populace to be better represented. (Read more on that in the "United States congressional apportionment" article in wikipedia.)
Take-homes from all this:
1) We have an over-glorified view of our origins as these United States, a view that sometimes borders on deification of "The Founders" and of the Constitution they put together. Our Constitution is a impressive document that has worked spectacularly well to advance the ideal of "government by The People" for 230 years. But it has required constant vigilance, amendment, and re-interpretation to further approach that goal. It behooves us to learn more about it...and participate.
2) Representative democracy requires understanding, vigilance, and nurturing. It has not been by accident that we have achieved the end of slavery and women and black suffrage in this country. It was by diligence and hard work of dedicated, informed citizens.
3) I have much more to learn. It is the Trump presidency that has awakened me to the need to pay much more attention. We are only as good as a country as how we, the citizens, function within it.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. The argument over who "the People" are has extended to whether or not folks who have lived in the United States since they were children (the DACA people) are ever to be offered a chance to vote (i.e. become citizens). Historically, you were a citizen if you were born in the United States or if you were born elsewhere and "naturalized." Naturalized was not defined in the original Constitution, but by later statutes (starting in 1790) specifying a varying number of years one had to reside in the U.S., your race ("white"), and your "good moral character" to be considered "naturalized." Happily, we nixed the "white" statutory requirement by subsequent Constitutional Amendment. All of the question of citizenship is statute-based and has been the subject of sometimes bitter argument since the late 1800s. The word "citizen" appears many times in the Constitution but it is never defined. My presumption is if you were living here for a while at the time of the founding you were a citizen. It was that simple.