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The Electoral College: Historical Background

Views: 484 Surprisingly, few people in the U.S. realize that when they cast their vote on Election Day for President of the United States, their individual part …

by Joe Hopkins



4 min read

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Surprisingly, few people in the U.S. realize that when they cast their vote on Election Day for President of the United States, their individual part of the “general will” passes through such a contraption as the Electoral College; that their vote is filtered through a device that enhances or devalues their vote, according to a formula corresponding to the number of people living in the several state where they reside.

Americans at large, even those who actually register and vote, have been sold the idea of  “one person, one vote.”  That is what democracy means, right? But we do not live in a democracy, but rather in a representative republic. Our individual expression of the general will is strictly limited to the confines of the state where we live. Our votes only count to elect the real electors: “…representatives whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudice and schemes of injustice.”[1] To be fair, James Madison was addressing representation in general—but even that our vote be cast by a representative, shows how generally we are represented by these general representatives. And Madison has explained for us the reason why, the primary public reason. We will discuss the hidden reasons after considering how the Electoral College skews the value of votes passing through it.

The half million people living in Wyoming are assigned 3 electoral votes, regardless of the number of registered voters or the actual number of votes cast. California’s 34 millions of people are awarded 55 electoral votes. According to this formula California should carry 204. Things that make you go, huh?

         This leads us to ask some obvious questions,

         #1. Why was such a notion as the Electoral College even considered in the first place?

         #2. Why was this slayer of democratic equality instituted?

As with the idea of representation, the main architect behind the Electoral College was James Madison. None of the reasons given for the Electoral College still exist—though the insidious deviltry of the Electoral College lives on.

The Declaration of Independence was adopted July 4, 1776; enshrined in the first paragraph can be found: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness… That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”[2]

Lofty platitudes these—a sophism, in a country that owned, bought, sold, kidnapped, traded and bred human slaves. Not a mention of slavery throughout this entire document, though you would be led to believe by the rhetoric that follows that the rich white men who signed this piece of paper were nothing more than poor mistreated slaves of the King of England.

Then, along comes the Constitution of the United States; in Article I Section 2 the Electoral College is introduced. It is in this article and section that the U.S. government accepts and sanctions slavery, through the vehicle of the Electoral College.

“At the Philadelphia convention, the visionary Pennsylvanian James Wilson proposed direct national election of the president,” according to an essay published in After the People Vote.[3]  Pennsylvania was a free state. “But in a key speech on July 19, the savvy Virginian James Madison suggested that such a system would prove unacceptable to the South: ‘the right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than in the Southern states; and the latter could have no influence in the elections on the score of Negroes.’[4]

“In other words, in a direct election system, the North would outnumber the South, whose many slaves (more than half a million in all) of course could not vote. But the Electoral College—a prototype of which Madison proposed in this same speech—instead let each Southern state count its slaves, albeit with a two-fifths discount, in computing its share of the verall electoral college. 

“Virginia emerged the big winner… After the 1800 census, Wilson’s free state of Pennsylvania had 10% more free persons than Virginia, but got 20% fewer electoral votes. Perversely, the more slaves Virginia (or any other state) bought or bred, the more electoral votes it would receive. Were a slave state to free any blacks who then moved to the North the state could actually lose electoral votes.”[5]

By the foregoing, any attentive reader of this essay is bound to see that by the acceptance of the Electoral College into the Constitution it became a driving political contraption that not only accepted and sanctioned slavery, it promoted slavery.

The Civil War was fought not to abolish slavery but to ensure that the two economies developing on this continent remained together under the umbrella of a single government. The North did a hostile take-over of the South in a corporate sense.

Surely the scales have fallen from any blind eyes; let anyone who has eyes to see look upon the rotten root from which the Electoral College has grown.

H J 109 I H was proposed by Senator John Conyers, et al, to the 108th Congress October 8, 2004. It said in part:

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to
provide for direct election of the President and Vice President by the
popular vote of all the citizens of the United States of America regardless of place of residence.      
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), 
That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the
Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and
purposes as part of the Constitution of the United States when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states: Article – 
SECTION 1. The President and Vice President shall be elected jointly by
direct vote of the citizens of the United States, without regard to whether the citizens are residents of a State.

Section 1 of this Joint Resolution would indeed be a huge step forward toward our goal of equality and justice. Section 1 would involve what has been known in times past as the Dangerous Class in being able to determine their destiny right along with the rest of us. This section would enfranchise those most victimized citizens, the destitute and homeless.

See also my other article on this topic: ‘The Electoral College: how it works’

[1]James Madison, writing in The Federalist #10, cited in The Declaration of Independence and Other Great Documents,John Grafton, Editor (Dover Publications, 2000), p. 41

[2]Grafton, Supra, op. cit., 6-7

[3]Akhil Reed Amar and Vikram David Amar’s essay “Why Old and New Arguments for the Electoral College Are Not Compelling,” cites Max Farrand, ed. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787for this point, 1: 68-69 The Amars’ essay is cited in John C. Fortier, Editor, After the People Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College(A.E.I., 2004), pp. 58 – 59.

[4]Farrand, ed., op.cit., 1:56-57

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