Alexander Hamilton’s Electoral College and the Modern Election Alexander Hamilton’s Electoral College and the Modern Election Colin Campbell
Prof. R Hurl
TA: Matthew Lesch
Tutorial: Thursday, 4:00 PM, UC 67)
U. S. Government and Politics (POL 208 Y1Y)
1 November 2012
Alexander Hamilton’s Electoral College and the Modern Election When American's leaders assembled in Philadelphia in 1787, they originally had the goal of solving issues that had arisen from the Articles of Confederation, which had governed the young nation since separating from Britain. Instead, they drafted a completely new document that established a more permanent and effective central government. With it, they established the office of President of the United States. Rather than being directly elected by the people or selected by the legislature – as described by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers – the head of state was to be elected by an independent institution that existed solely for the purpose of finding a man who was up to the job: a group that would become known as the Electoral College. However, as the political nature of the country evolved in an unanticipated and partisan way, the independence of this body became increasingly irrelevant, resulting in a system which fails to meet the standards of a true modern democracy. Although the Electoral College system has never substantially been reformed, it is now a mere formality which leads to the types of campaigns which it was designed to prevent. In The Federalist, Number 68, Hamilton argues that the president should be elected by individuals selected exclusively for that purpose, rather than by an existing body or by national popular vote. (Hamilton, par. 8) Although never named as such in this or any other constitutional document, this would be the basis for the institution now known as the Electoral College. Rather than submitting the national leaders-in-waiting to the rigors of campaigning, which would lead to what amounts to a popularity contest, the Founding Fathers believed that "a small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations." (par. 3) Unlike the Congress, however, the Electoral College would never meet as a single body. Each state's electors would convene in their respective capitals, then send notice to Washington of their votes. Hamilton believed that keeping the electors apart would reduce corruption by making it more difficult for any one political faction to manipulate the contenders, allowing them to focus exclusively on serving the interests of their state. (par. 4) Furthermore, selecting the president through this independent body would mean that he is accountable solely to the people and not to a legislative body which could depose of him if the two branches were not in agreement. His re-election would not be controlled by legislative enemies and allies. (par. 6) Each state would be granted as many electors has they had seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate combined, effectively compromising between the preferred plans of either all states having equal weight (as they do in the Senate) or distributing power based on population (as it is in the House). If no candidate were to receive a majority of the votes, the House would convene to select the President from the top five candidates. (par. 7) Hamilton wished for the vice-president to be elected by the same body and through the same method, except that the Senate would select the winner for this office if no candidate won a majority. (par. 9) He notes that this is one of the few aspects of the new constitution that received little dissent, and the final system was ultimately very similar to the one he described. The vice-presidency was, until the passage of the twelfth amendment in 1804, awarded to the second place-candidate. However, this inherently...
Cited: Bennett, Robert. Taming the Electoral College. Palo Alto CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.
Hamby, Peter. “Electoral College Tie Possible in Obama-Romney Race.” CNN.com. Cable News Network, 30 July 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012. <http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/26/politics/electoral-college-tie/index.html>
Hamilton, Alexander. The Federalist Papers: Number 68. 1788. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
Nardulli, Peter. Popular Efficacy in the Democratic Era. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.
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