One of the overriding goals of the Constitutional Convention was to create a government in which the minority’s viewpoint would not be overwhelmed by the majority’s viewpoint. The Founding Fathers included several safeguards to ensure that this vital principle of liberty was protected.
For instance, they included the Electoral College as the mechanism by which a president would be elected, instead of a simpler national majority vote. They also came up with the Great Compromise (on which the Electoral College is based) to guarantee that small states and rural residents would not be overwhelmed by large states and urban populaces.
To date, these safeguards have worked well. The United States, a constitutional republic, not a direct democracy, has stood the test of time. Although there have been periods when the majority has called for sweeping changes, this has been tamed because the minority’s interests are protected by the Constitution.
However, the Constitution in general, and the Electoral College specifically, has come under increasing threat by radicals who aim to transform the United States into a majority-rule mobocracy.
This is dangerous and would be antithetical to the values that underly the world’s oldest constitutional republic.
In 1788, James Madison wrote in Federalist 10, “Complaints are every where heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable; that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties; and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice, and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”
By this, Madison warned against the calls for majority rule (in the legislative and executive branches) that some members of the Constitutional Convention were advocating for.
Madison’s warnings were echoed by Alexander Hamilton.
In Federalist 68, Hamilton wrote, “The mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. … The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.”
Like Madison, Hamilton is defending the Electoral College as a guard against raucous swings in the electorate that could result in the election of a president who does not represent the whole of the nation, but who is more apt to govern with the single-minded will of the majority.
Majority rule, history has shown, does not work well, especially in a country like the United States. It typically devolves into a mobocracy, in which the majority overpower the rights of the minority.
When crafting the Constitution, and the Electoral College, the Founders took this into account.
They also realized that a national government, free from the input of the states, would result in tyranny.
As Madison eloquently stated this principle in regards to the election of the president, “the executive power will be derived from a very compound source. The immediate election of the President is to be made by the States in their political characters. The votes allotted to them are in a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as unequal members of the same society. The eventual election, again, is to be made by that branch of the legislature which consists of the national representatives; but in this particular act they are to be thrown into the form of individual delegations, from so many distinct and coequal bodies politic. From this aspect of the government it appears to be of a mixed character, presenting at least as many FEDERAL as NATIONAL features.”
Madison’s soliloquy, in reference to the Electoral College, should not be cast aside, no matter how many times the presidential election does not go the way of the winner of the popular vote.
The Electoral College, like so many aspects of the Constitution, is an ingenious instrument that ensures the interests of the national will are not able to run roughshod over the interests of the federal bodies, aka states.
For this reason, and many others, the Electoral College is a pivotal piece of the constitutional puzzle. The brilliance of the Constitution is how it keeps the ever-delicate balance of power in place.
Without the Electoral College, in place of a national popular vote, the rural residents and small states would be without a voice in the election of a president. That is not what the Founders envisioned. Nor is it what the Constitution epitomizes.
Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is an editor at The Heartland Institute.