Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
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Direct Election of President Considered by Founding Fathers

Many today want to get rid of the electoral college method of choosing our president.  For example, there is a book called Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America.  It  has quite a lot of good information in it, though the author draws the wrong conclusion.  Or search Google for “electoral college failure” and browse through some of the 333,000 results.   Attacks on the electoral college system accelerated after the 2000 election in which Al Gore won more popular votes but George Bush won the electoral college.  The Founding Fathers considered, debated, and voted on different methods of choosing a president during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 before choosing the one they thought best.

electoral college John BelushiDeciding how to select or elect the president was one of the most difficult decisions the Founding Fathers had to make during the Convention.  They held at least sixteen votes on this one issue.  The options they considered included selection by state legislators, selection by the national legislature, and an electoral system.  They even considered direct election of the president, as many today propose, but rejected that idea.  It was brought up for a vote twice at the Convention and was rejected by a 9-1 vote on July 17 and by a 9-2 vote on August 24 (each state got one vote). [Edwards, “Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America” 79.]

The Founders framed the Constitution so that each public official was selected by a different method.  Representatives are democratically elected by their districts. Up until 1913, senators were chosen by the state legislatures.  Today, senators are democratically elected by whole states.  Supreme court justices are chosen by the president and confirmed by the Senate.  They serve for life and thus are the most independent of public opinion.  Representatives, up for reelection every two years, are most dependent on public opinion; senators serving six years are somewhat dependent on the public, but less so than representatives who run for reelection more often and have a smaller constituency.  Last, the president is chosen for a four-year term through the electoral college system.  Though the specific methodology of the electoral college has changed through the years, most notably after the 1800 election, it has always been an indirect method of choosing our president.

Thus, we have four different methods of choosing our public officials, and each public official serves for a different length of time.  This makes it virtually impossible for any party, faction, region, or socio-economic group to gain power throughout government. Exactly what our Founding Fathers intended.

Over the last hundred years, the United States has become more democratic.  States and local governments added ballot propositions, giving the people a means of bypassing the legislature and governor to pass veto-proof legislation with a simple majority.  The Seventeenth Amendment provided for direct election of senators.  Originally, state legislatures selected the members of the electoral college; now the people of each state vote on which candidate each state’s electors will choose.  Political parties used to choose their nominees, but states started moving to primary elections about 100 years ago (Oregon was the first to have a presidential preference primary in 1910).  Now, the people instead of the parties choose their nominees.  The people’s opinion gained even more strength with the advent of modern polling,

Not all these moves toward democracy are bad.  Many, if not most, would argue that allowing the people to choose a party’s nominee is better than having party bosses do so.  But overall, the trend toward democracy has weakened the systems of checks and balances our Founders established.  The Founders were very wary of democracy and rightly so.  As James Madison explains in Federalist No. 10:

Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

Moving to a direct election of president would be another step toward democracy, another breakdown in our system of checks and balances.  The Founding Fathers considered direct election of presidents and twice rejected it by large margins.  The Founders set up our delicate system of choosing elected officials, including the electoral college, after much study and debate with full knowledge of its strengths and weaknesses.  And with only minor modifications over the past 220 years, this system has served the nation extremely well.  I, for one, support our system of checks and balances and even propose returning to the system our Founders created by, for example, repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.  But for those who propose further “improvements,” they should only be made with great consideration and caution, much hesitancy, and by Constitutional amendment only.

Michael Newton is the author of The Path To Tyranny and is currently working on a book about the American Revolution.  He regularly blogs at The Path to Tyranny Blog.


1 John Carey { 01.26.11 at 5:37 am }

They got the electoral college right. It was designed to give smaller states a say. If we went by popular vote, politicians would careless about North Dakota and more about states with higher populations creating an environment where smaller less populated states would be continuously rolled.


Anthony Reply:

We already live in the system you described thanks to the electoral college. We just have tyranny of the minority instead of the majority. The 5 or 6 perennial “swing states” get the MAJORITY of candidate attention and spending, despite not being particularly representative of our country.

Thanks to the electoral college, if you are one of the 49% in a red state who votes blue, you are effectively disenfranchised, and vice versa in a blue state. Ohio, Nevada, Iowa and Florida will have a disproportionate voice in choosing our presidents, as they have for many, many election cycles. And there is your doomsday prophecy – yes some of them have higher populations, but overall, the TOTAL population candidates must AGGRESIVELY pander to is 1% of the total population.


Kevin Reply:

John. the idea that one state would matter over some other if the electoral collage were abolished is a failure in logic. If we move to a popular vote, what happens is that state boundaries become irrelevant to the process. In the same way municipal boundaries are already irrelevant to the election of governors


Michael E Newton Reply:

Historically, the states (or colonies) preceded the municipalities (i.e., Massachusetts was chartered before Boston) and the states charter the cities. Thus, municipal borders, which didn’t even exist, have no bearing on state-wide elections. In contrast, the national government was created by the states and the states decided at the Convention that they, rather than the people directly, would select the President.

Whether that still makes sense today is an interesting debate, but your municipal-state corollary does not prove a “failure in logic.”


2 James D. Best { 01.26.11 at 1:48 pm }

If the electoral college is eliminated, fly-over country will be just that for presidential candidates. Presidents will campaign and govern only the periphery of the country.


Anthony Reply:

Presidents already do a majority of campaigning in 5 or 6 swing states, thanks to the electoral college.

Under the CURRENT system, how many times do you think states like Kansas, Oregon, Arizona, etc. were visited during the 2012 general pres. election campaign? ZERO is the correct answer:

“Overall, the candidates attended 253 events in 168 different cities and towns, 59% of which were held in just three states (Ohio, Florida, and Virginia).”

As for “governing”, you still get the balance provided by the senate, even if you eliminate the electoral college.

This erroneous idea that the electoral college gives more people a voice needs to be stomped on. It could not be more false. You are completely disenfranchised as a red voter in a blue state, or vice versa.


Anthony Reply:

Here are some other states that are small population-wise, and were visited 0 times by 2012 candidates under our current system:

the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Mexico, Nebraska.

The problem is not size – it is that the electoral college props up partisan divides. Your fear is that campaigners won’t care about small states. Under the current system, campaigners don’t care about small states, AND they don’t care about MOST large states too.

Here are large states no one campaigned in during the 2012 general election:

New York, New Jersey, Texas, California

Everyone loses!


3 Leo { 01.26.11 at 6:11 pm }

The core of your argument is that electing each level of official in a different way prevents the capture of all the levels by a single group.

1. It has not actually prevented what you say it prevented. E.g. Republican Congress, Republican Senate, Republican Presidency for some time under Bush. Democratic Congress, Democratic Senate, Democratic Presidency for some time under Obama.

2. If a state-wide vote for senators and a district-wide vote for representatives count as two different mechanisms, then a nation-wide vote for president would be a distinct mechanism not like the others and so support the checks and balances system under your line of reasoning. No one is currently elected by a nationwide vote in the US.


4 Michael Newton { 01.26.11 at 7:37 pm }


1. You are ignoring the Supreme Court, which takes decades to change and has been split pretty evenly, 5-4, for quite a while.

2. You are looking at regions and not methods. Representatives are elected democratically, Senators were until 1913 selected by the states, and the President through this electoral college. Directly electing the President would be the method as our election of Representatives.


5 Caleb { 02.06.11 at 10:24 pm }

Good read Michael. Two points; one, I would posit that we’re not supposed to be a democracy as democracy is for all intents and purposes, mob rule. We are, or supposed to be, a Republic, which I know you are fully aware of this..;-)

Point 2; The 17th amendment in my opinion, should be repealed, especially now. Why? Other than the obvious reasons, the people are finally waking up and are staying pretty active in the local, county, and state government. My wife is a photographer and she has to travel to Little Rock a few times each week to take pictures at our state capitol because hundreds of people (tea party folk) are filing into the committee rooms and voicing their frustrations and opinions to our state legislators, even creating a “Report Card”, so to speak. They are being vocal, checking the votes, and getting involved in the whole process. And the legislators KNOW it, and they KNOW we are watching the heck out of them, checking every little resolution, bill, etc.

As far as the Electoral College, I think it’s the best thing we have in terms of how, or rather, how ‘well’ it works.

Well, that’s my two cents…:-)


6 Tesla Falcon { 11.06.12 at 10:01 am }

The main problem w the modern electoral college is that it’s entirely political party centric & controlled. Originally, the electors were chosen by the state legislator based on specific criteria: male, over certain age, landowners, etc. The popular vote for the President was largely symbolic. The electors themselves were the real Voters. The number was equal to the representatives & majority winner took all. The political party was not involved in selection or appointments. Today, we have 2 sets of electors ready to vote after Nov 6th. The Democrat electors & the Republican electors. (Not enough 3rd Partyers in each state.) The party who wins today sends their electors to ‘vote’. Guess who they’ll vote for? Hmm… Odd. No one think a Democrat elector will vote for Romney?!


7 No Victim No Crime { 04.12.16 at 4:57 pm }

Do you really think voting is going to fix the problem? People acting like the state is their religion is the problem. Also known as statism. People would never dare question authority. They simply conduct the ritual of voting to elect their next dictator! They call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. Republican vs Democrat, it’s a left vs right paradigm, a delusion. Real freedom and security will never come from a politician.


8 Gloria Rigali { 04.20.16 at 12:19 pm }

Thank you Michael Newton for this very informative article. I am finding that at least 85% of the citizens of the United States have no education and no understanding of how and why our Founding Fathers set up a Constitutional government, a Republic verses a Democracy and how our Government was meant to be a system of checks and balances. They do not understand how essential that has been in order to secure our personal liberty, the sovereignty and the security of our Nation.
The older I get the more I realize how much more I still have to learn. Thank you for giving me a little more knowledge on our system of government and why the Founding Fathers put in so many safety factors into our precious documents that contain our rights to Liberty and Prosperity. Those precious documents; The Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights gives us the heart and soul of our Founding Father’s intentions for how a moral and free people were to be governed in this wonderful country we live in, our America!


sam Reply:


i would like to point out that there are currently 27 amendments. what this has to do with argument is this: the constitution was not made perfect. if we had made no changes to the constitution we would not even have freedom of speech, which is a major reason we are considered the leaders of the free world.

the electoral collage system is biased, even if you agree that the people getting what they voted for is “tyranny”. many small states actually have more of a say than they should. i am NOT arguing that people from smaller states are less of people are any less a person or should have less of a say than me., i am saying that we should be EQUAL. under the electoral collage system, a person from Wyoming is more than three times a person than i am. their person to delegate ratio is approximately 318% of an average state. many of the states that are affected by this are republican, and so oftentimes a republicans voice is worth more than a democrat. regardless of your political affiliation, this is unfair. “the election is rigged” indeed.


9 Rod { 11.10.16 at 2:05 pm }

We could simply have the states all adopt Maine’s system of assigning electors by congressional district thus giving a more localized vote reducing the disenfranchised voter and still maintaining the rural vs urban balance via the statewide results gaining the bonus electors that are represented by the two Senate seats in each state. removing the Electoral college would very likely move us to a one party system and that would be effectively be the end of America. Democrats would definately benefit as they have the larger of the two political parties in America. This is why it is nearly always Democrats who want to end the EC.


10 Louis Bricano { 08.26.17 at 12:33 pm }

The notion that a move to popular election of the president is a “breakdown in our system of checks and balances” is absurd. Checks and balances is almost always understood to mean the relationships among the elements of the federal government. A direct popular vote for president leaves those untouched.

There is a serious and highly persuasive body of scholarship that concludes that the electoral college is a vestige of slavery. I believe this to be the case. EVERY other proposal for how to select the president – popular vote, election by Congress, election by state governors, election by state legislatures – was shot down by slave states because it would have put them at a disadvantage. The slave states held out for some system that would give them disproportionate power in electing the president based on the 3/5 rule, and that’s exactly what the electoral college was intended to deliver, and what it delivered.

Not one of the civics textbook explanations for the electoral college holds a milliliter of water. No, the founders did not “despise” democracy – representative democracy with direct election of representatives was the basis for governance in every state, with direct popular election of most governors. No, the founders were not trying to favor the small states – the big states STILL called the shots even with the electoral college. No, “the founders” as a whole did not support popular election – several of the most prominent, including Madison, Gouverneur Morris and James Wilson, were in favor of it.

It was slavery. Slavery perverted much of the founding, and the electoral college is the worst remaining residue of it. Without the specter of slavery, we would not have had the selection of president determined by anything remotely resembling the electoral college.


Louis Bricano Reply:

Meant to write:

” No, ‘the founders’ as a whole did not *oppose* popular election”


11 Linda { 11.04.18 at 2:02 pm }

I’m fairly sure the founding fathers wouldn’t like the way candidates (for all intents and purposes) beg for and buy votes. People think we have a democracy when we do not, people vote with the idea that it means more than it does.


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