The pull of democracy often overwhelms societies. As men are naturally drawn to the scent of a woman, passion instead of reason lures societies toward all power to the people. Why shouldn’t our representatives, senators and presidents be popularly elected? Because democracy isn’t perfume but rather a poison that terminates in tyranny. The electoral process of Article II was designed to avoid a popularly derived president.
In a recent post, I showed how the Framers designed their presidential election process around two goals. First, only men of national stature, wisdom, experience and virtue would be considered. Second, the winner would assume office without any political debts whatsoever to a factional party or divisive segment of society; his duty was to “serve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
The Framing generation learned an important lesson between 1776 and 1787: overly democratic republican governments are dangerous to individual and societal rights. Only one institution out of four in their new frame of government, the House of Representatives, relied on popular elections.
In Article II, the sovereign people relinquished their power to directly elect the chief executive of the United States. They assigned it to two institutions, an unnamed and temporary body of electors (electoral college), and if need be, the House of Representatives. While Article II tasks the state legislatures with identifying who will appoint electors, Alexander Hamilton so much as assumed in the 68th Federalist that the people in each state would soon be charged with selecting their presidential electors. The president wasn’t to be chosen directly by the same electors to the State Legislatures and Federal House of Representative. Instead, these electors were to identify men of superior judgement, who, on behalf of the people, were to elect a president.1
Historians have noted that the pre-civil war roster of state presidential electors chosen by the people often read like a “Who’s Who” of the ablest men of the state, who typically expressed their views on national issues and the qualities of the men they would entertain as president. Even with the emergence of early political parties, the Framers’ first goal, of selecting respected men to nominate presidents, was generally achieved.
As for the second goal, soon after the people identified their state presidential electors, the electors were to meet, as Hamilton wrote, “under circumstances favorable to deliberation.” Having been only recently identified, each state college of electors, consisting of as few as three electors in the smallest states, were free from the forces of faction that might otherwise influence their votes toward an unqualified man for president. Meeting in secret, each state college was isolated from the others, and no college would know for whom the others voted. Removed from the influence of men in office and the general public, there were no backroom deals, no quid pro quos, no whoring of the man who might be president. Unlike today, presidential electors were not to be automatons who merely registered the passions of a political party or popular faction.
Our gifted Framers were attuned to man’s natural proclivities. Their Constitution sought to minimize the formation and power of factions which, by definition, set their narrow interests before those of the nation. Because the Framers’ presidential system depended on the independence and integrity of electors, they would shudder in horror at the sight of today’s national party conventions. To limit the practical choice of presidential electors to one of two leaders of outright political factions guarantees recurring appointment of presidents with little loyalty to the Constitution.
In what the Framers anticipated as perhaps a regular event, when no one candidate garnered an outright majority of electoral votes, and the House of Reps voted into office one of the five highest vote getters, the various state electoral colleges could, in this situation, be viewed as distinct nominating conventions! But there was one huge difference. Presidential electors chose presidential candidates without thought that the candidates would have to engage in a popular election. Imagine the effect today. Candidates would be chosen on the basis of their ability rather than their popularity. As long as presidential electors nationwide kept their mouths shut, the men or women nominated for the presidency wouldn’t know of their prospects until the President of the Senate opened and read the electoral results in the presence of congress.
Since the president didn’t campaign, his political debts would be non-existent. He would be subject to no party platform. He could make political appointments with regard for merit rather than spoils. With a predominance of apolitical yet talented people in senior positions, subsequent presidents would be inclined to retain them. This would lend stability and regularity to the government. The entire tone of administration would be elevated as presidents served national, and Constitutional, rather than party interests.
Being removed from popular and factional passions, the independent president of the Framers’ ideal would be free to do his duty, to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Unfortunately, the lessons of 1776-1787 unraveled. Progressives have warped so many minds that most Americans just intuitively feel (passion) that the more democracy, the better. Several states are working further around the Framers’ electoral college through a scheme known as the National Popular Vote, in which states will toss their electoral votes in favor of the candidate with the highest nationwide popular vote.
Reform of the electoral process will not emerge from the factions that profit so well from its continuance. We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States.
1. Maier, Pauline, Ratification – The People Debate the Constitution. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010. Page 114. Quoting James Wilson, “The system adopted, with electors in the several states casting ballots, brought the choice of president as nearly home to the people as is practicable, while making corruption unlikely and offering little time or opportunity to tumult or intrigue.”
Eidelberg, Paul. The Philosophy of the American Constitution. New York: The Free Press, 1968. Book.
Hamilton, Madison, Jay. The Federalist Papers #68, 1788. Book.
Madison, James. Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. New York: Oxford University Press, 1920. Book.