Alexander Hamilton Gave His Life For The Electoral College. That Was a Good Thing.
If you are wondering about the Electoral College, this map explains it. Without electors, New Yorkers and Californians would make all decisions for the rest of the country. Imagine Iowans campaigning in Malibu to reject a tax on corn? Or Oregonians asking New Yorkers to give them fishing limits? The electoral college was invented to safeguard against what the founders called “tyranny of the majority. The electoral college solved a flaw in democracy that would have otherwise led to monarchy. Here’s the backstory:
In the summer of 1787, Constitutional Convention delegates in Philadelphia agreed that the new country they created would not have a king but rather an elected executive. But they could not agree on how to choose that President.
Pennsylvania delegates said picking a president “embarrassed them more than any other subject.” The delegates would not have approved the Constitution if no decision had been reached. The founders understood they had to compromise to ensure ratification. Selecting the President was one of those compromises (as was maintaining slavery created under British rule).
Some delegates at the Constitutional Convention thought that letting Congress pick the President would provide a buffer from what Thomas Jefferson referred to as the “well-meaning, but uninformed people” who “could not know eminent characters and qualifications and the actual selection decision.”
Others were concerned that Congress might choose a weak executive to prevent the President from wielding power, reducing the effectiveness of one of the system’s checks and balances. In addition, the President might feel indebted to Congress.
Virginia delegate James Madison was concerned that giving Congress the power to select the president “would render it the executor as well as the maker of laws, and then … tyrannical laws may be made that they may be executed in a tyrannical manner.”
They agreed on a compromise that created the Electoral College. The final approach debated was that of popular election. Some delegates viewed the President as the “guardian of the people,” whom the public should elect directly. The Southern states objected, arguing that they would be disadvantaged in a popular election in proportion to their actual populations because of the large numbers of enslaved people in those states who could not vote. This was eventually resolved — in one of those many compromises — by counting each enslaved person as three-fifths of a free person for the purposes of representation.
The delegates appointed a committee of 11 — one from each state at the Constitutional Convention — to solve this knotty problem, which they called the “Grand Committee on Postponed Questions,” and charged with resolving how to elect the President.”
In the beginning, six of the 11 members preferred national popular elections. But they realized the Southern states would not agree to it.
On Sept. 4, 1787, the committee proposed adopting a system of electors, through which the people and the states would help choose the President. It’s not clear which delegate came up with the idea.
Alexander Hamilton and the other founders were reassured that neither public ignorance nor outside influence would affect the choice of a nation’s leader. They believed that the electors would ensure that only a qualified person became President.
But the original system — in which the winner of the Electoral College would become President and the runner-up became vice president — fell apart when Democratic-Republican running mates Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in the Electoral College. Under the terms laid out in the Constitution, the outgoing House of Representatives chose between Jefferson and Burr. Neither Burr nor Jefferson was able to win on the first 35 ballots of the contingent election, as most Federalist representatives backed Burr and all Democratic-Republican representatives backed Jefferson.
Hamilton favored Jefferson over Burr and convinced several Federalists to switch their support to Jefferson, giving Jefferson a victory on the 36th ballot. Jefferson became the President, and the House ultimately chose Burr as vice president. Everyone knows how that worked out eventually for Hamilton.