November 13, 2000 –
Because of all the brew ha ha over the Electoral College this week, which one expects to occur every four years – but never to this degree – I have whittled away my hours, from dawn till dusk, every day since election eve, pouring over the electoral college issue, digging into the writings of the Founders, in hopes of picking up a few delectable morsels as to the what, how, and why of the electoral college.
To my dismay, not morsels, but a world buffet of amazing political insight is what I have found, which to your dismay (or your joy!) I will hoard until I am ready to publish the lot of them, later this week.
So what’s my point? It is this, we have much to learn about the issue, and we are doing our country a great disservice if we’ve been guilty of being one of the crowd who have joined in shouting down our republic in favor of a democracy without paying the price to know the difference.
One person, one vote, majority rule, all sound like progressive American ideas, but here’s a reminder: they failed in Greece, they brought down Rome, and they almost crushed America under the Articles of Confederation.
Edmund Randolph, one of the distinguished delegates from Virginia stated at the Constitutional Convention: “The general object [to which we’ve gathered together in this convention is] to provide a cure for the evils under which the United States labored; that in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.”
Elbridge Gerry, the delegate from Massachusetts, knew well what one of those turbulent follies was. He warned of democracy: “[I have] been taught by experience the danger of the leveling spirit . . . possessed in it.” That is, its tendency toward communism and socialism.
James Madison, the very Father of the Constitution taught the same exact thing. In Federalist 10 he warned every American that among democracy’s many dangers was this chief one: “A common passion or interest will, in almost every case . . . [combine to destroy] . . . personal security or the rights of property . . . [and insist on] . . . reducing mankind to a perfect equality . . . in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.”
Karl Marx, of course, told us that the chief object of communism was the destruction of the right to private property. And Communists accomplish this by preaching everywhere they go, democracy, with an emphasis on equality of ends, rather than Jefferson’s republican principle of equality before the law.
The cure to all of this, agreed upon at the Constitutional Convention, was the establishment of a Republic with its mixed modes of representation, its checks and balances, and its separations of power. The magnificence of the system being that it established a system which made it extremely difficult for power to combine, whether in the hands of the one (monarchy), the few (oligarchy), or the many (democracy).
The people already had a voice in the House, which was checked by a Senate elected by the state legislatures (a check devised to protect property and state rights). They did not want to then obliterate that check by having the President directly elected by the people, or dependent upon a majority victory only. Thus, they insured that the President would be indirectly elected through electors (who were picked by whatever mode the states saw fit to establish), and then they set up a representative formula, identical to the one in Congress, which insured a successful candidate must seek broad support rather than big city support only.
That is why each state has a guaranteed two electoral votes, regardless of the size of the state, as a check against the second part of the formula, which focused on population.
This was an inspired move. Big cities, which are the stuff of big states, while they traditionally attract wealth, they are also centers of poverty, where the vast majority of new immigrants trying to find their way, and old welfare recipients who never seemed to find their way, are found in their largest numbers.
To then create an election formula that depends upon the popular vote alone, creates candidates who will tend to focus inordinately upon the poor in order to get elected. This is a prescription for socialism.
The Electoral College helps prevent this. It insures a candidate must balance his approach with rural, property, and state rights issues. It is one of many checks against direct democracy found in our Constitution, and is therefore a check against socialism. Leave it alone.
Steve Farrell is a freelance writer, a graduate of the University of New York, and a constitutional law student at George Wythe College.