Constitution Post: Article 1, Section 6

This week’s Constitution study is covering Article 1, Section 6, which deals with more logistical rules for Congress.  There are many things about our Constitution that are unique to the United States’ form of government, and we will see some of those things displayed in this section.  Section 6 reads as follows: 

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.  They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.

The first clause, called the Compensation clause, states that senators and representatives will receive a salary for their job, and that it will be supplied by the U.S. Treasury.  When the very first Congress assembled in 1789, representatives and senators both received six dollars per day.  By 1855, they received $3,000 annually; by 1955, they received $22,500 annually; and finally, since 2009, their salary has been $174,000 per year. 

The second clause, Privileged from Arrest, is one that needs more historical context to understand.  The Heritage Foundation provides excellent information on each section, and writes the following about this particular clause: 

“Civil arrest is the physical detainment of a person, by lawful authority, to answer a civil demand against him.  At the time the Constitution was adopted, civil arrests were common.  Long v. Ansell (1934).  The Framers likely feared this tool could be misused to interfere with the legislative process.  Civil arrest is rarely, if ever, practiced, so this clause is virtually obsolete and has little application today.”

The last clause from the first paragraph is the Speech and Debate clause.  This clause was intended to make sure senators and representatives had an opportunity to fully and freely express their opinions in the legislature.  James Wilson, one of the authors of the Constitution and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, says this about the Speech and Debate clause: 

“In order to enable and encourage a representative of the publick to discharge his publick trust with firmness and success, it is indispensably necessary, that he should enjoy the fullest liberty of speech, and that he should be protected from the resentment of every one, however powerful, to whom the exercise of that liberty may occasion offense.  Lecture on Law (1791).

In the second paragraph, we will see some of those special aspects of the American governmental system.  Our founding fathers worked to prevent the corruption that was so prevalent in the British system of government, and both the Sinecure Clause and the Compatibility clause assist in that pursuit of good government.  Wikipedia provides the following information: 

“Senators and Representatives may not simultaneously serve in Congress and hold a position in the executive branch.  This restriction is meant to protect legislative independence by preventing the president from using patronage to buy votes in Congress.  It is a major difference from the political system in the British Parliament, where cabinet ministers are required to be members of parliament.

Furthermore, Senators and Representatives cannot resign to take newly created or higher-paying political positions; rather, they must wait until the conclusion of the term for which they were elected.  If Congress increases the salary of a particular officer, it may later reduce that salary to permit an individual to resign from Congress and take that position (known as the Saxbe fix).”

As always, I hope you learn more about the Constitution, and study more about the history and meaning of our governing documents.  Let us never forget these words:  

“The greatest threat to our Constitution is our own ignorance of it.”

  -Jacob F. Roecker 


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