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The Congressional apportionment problem is deceptively easy to state: How many seats in the U. S. House of Representatives does each state get? However, the answer is a complex blend of mathematics, government, and politics that has involved some of the greatest political minds in American history.

Much of the complexity stems from a simple elementary school topic: how to round a decimal number. Resolution of this arithmetic problem with its resulting political consequences gives new meaning to the word decimated. Results of the process have affected the political power structure of the country and even played a decisive role in who won a presidential election.

The early history involves many well-known figures including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and James K. Polk. The later history involves an interesting cast of characters and motivations from statisticians and mathematicians to presidents.

The History of Congressional Apportionment tells the rich story of the evolution of one facet of American government. Through the lens of Congressional apportionment, this book adds yet another chapter in the rich story of American history and the people, politics, and debates that helped shape the political system we have today.



Publication Date



Humboldt State University Press


Arcata, CA


United States History


For information about author Charles Biles, please click here.

For additional articles and resources on Congressional apportionment, please click here.

For apportionment population spreadsheets from 1790-2010, please click here.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

The History of Congressional Apportionment



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