Qualifications to be a US Representative

Why So Much Simpler Than for the Senate?

Members of the US House of Representative voting
US House of Representatives Votes To Elect A New Speaker. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

What are the constitutional qualifications to serve as a U.S. Representative?

The House of Representatives is the lower chamber of the U.S. Congress, and it currently counts 435 men and women among its members. House members are popularly elected by voters residing in their home states. Unlike U.S. Senators, they do not represent their entire state, but rather specific geographic districts within the state known as Congressional Districts. House members may serve an unlimited number of two-year terms, but becoming a representative has specific requirements beyond money, loyal constituents, charisma, and the stamina to make it through a campaign.

Requirements to Become a U.S. Representative

According to Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, House members must be:

  • at least 25 years of age;
  • a citizen of the United States for at least seven years prior to being elected;
  • a resident of the state he or she is chosen to represent.

In addition, the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits any person who has taken any federal or state oath swearing to support the Constitution, but later took part in a rebellion or otherwise aided any enemy of the U.S. from serving in the House or Senate.

No other requirements are specified in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. However, all Members must take an oath to support the U.S. Constitution before being allowed to exercise the duties of the office.

Specifically, the Constitution states, “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.”

The Oath of Office

The oath taken by both Representatives and Senators as prescribed by the United States Code reads: “I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Unlike the oath of office sworn by the President of the United States, where it is used only by tradition, the phrase “so help me God” has been part of the official oath of office for all non-presidential offices since 1862.


Why are these requirements for being elected to the House so much less restrictive than the requirements for being elected to the Senate?

The Founding Fathers intended that the House be the chamber of Congress closest to the American people. To help accomplish that, they placed decidedly few hurdles that might prevent any ordinary citizen from being elected to the House in the Constitution.

In Federalist 52, James Madison of Virginia wrote that, “Under these reasonable limitations, the door of this part of the federal government is open to merit of every description, whether native or adoptive, whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any particular profession of religious faith.”

State Residency

In creating the requirements to serve in the House of Representatives, the founders drew freely from British Law, which at the time, required members of the British House of Commons to live in the villages and towns they represented. That motivated the founders to include the requirement that Members of the House live in the state they represent in order to increase the likelihood that they would be familiar with the people’s interests and needs. The Congressional district system and the process of apportionment were developed later as the states dealt with how to fairly organize their congressional representation.

US Citizenship

When the founders were writing the U.S. Constitution, British law banned persons born outside England or the British Empire from ever being allowed to serve in the House of Commons. In requiring members of the House to have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, the founders felt they were balancing the need to prevent foreign interference in U.S. affairs and keeping the House close to the people. In addition, the founders did not want to discourage immigrants from coming to the new nation.

Age of 25

If 25 sounds young to you, consider that the founders first set the minimum age to serve in the House at 21, same as the voting age. However, during the Constitutional Convention, delegate George Mason of Virginia moved to set the age at 25. Mason argued that some should pass between becoming free to manage one’s own affairs and managing the “affairs of a great nation.” Despite an objection from Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson, Mason’s amendment was approved by a vote of seven states to three.

Despite the 25 year age restriction, there have been rare exceptions. For example, William Claiborne of Tennessee became the youngest person to ever serve in the House when he was elected and seated in 1797 at the age of 22, Claiborne was allowed to serve under Article I, section 5 of the Constitution, which gives the House itself the authority to determine whether Members-elect are qualified to be seated. 

Can These Qualifications be Changed?

The U.S. Supreme Court has on several occasions confirmed that neither a state legislature nor the U.S. Congress itself may add or modify the qualifications to serve as a member of Congress, without a constitutional amendment doing so. In addition, the Constitution, in Article I, Section 5, clause 1, expressly empowers the House and Senate to be the final judge of the qualifications of its own members. However, in doing so, the House and Senate may consider only the qualifications set out in the Constitution.

For years, people have questioned the lack of term limits for members of the U.S. Congress. While the President of the United States is limited to serving no more than two terms, members of Congress may be reelected to an unlimited number of terms. While congressional term limits have been proposed in the past, they have been found to be unconstitutional as additional qualifications for office. As a result, imposing term limits on members of Congress would require amending the Constitution. 

Updated by Robert Longley

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Trethan, Phaedra. "Qualifications to be a US Representative." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/requirements-to-be-a-representative-3322304. Trethan, Phaedra. (2023, April 5). Qualifications to be a US Representative. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/requirements-to-be-a-representative-3322304 Trethan, Phaedra. "Qualifications to be a US Representative." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/requirements-to-be-a-representative-3322304 (accessed June 2, 2023).