“Electoral College tied to slavery”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune 3/28/19 by Bernard P. Friel, retired lawyer from Minnesota


The man known as the “Father of the Constitution”, James Madison, has a reality check for folks who make the standard “the electoral college exists to protect the minority [small rural states] from the tyranny of the majority” defense.

We know that Madison said this, thanks to his journal documenting the debate at the 1787 Philadelphia Convention – which is one of the few historical resources we have that confidently puts us inside the room where the Constitution was drafted.

Tyranny of the majority is not why the Electoral College is in there (well, it is, but because of a different kind of tyranny of the majority).

Per Madison: “The people at large was the fittest in itself. It would be as likely as any that could be devised to produce an Executive Magistrate of distinguished Character.”

Translation form 1700s speak: The majority of people should probably choose the president.

Columnist Marc Thiessen recently did a good job of taking Madison out of context, and ignoring the plain language of the Constitution.

The actual, documented history of the creation of the Electoral College had less to do with the relative power of the states and far, far more to do with the relative power of the slave-owning states.

The evidence of that is contained in Article I, Section 2, Clause [3] of our Constitution which in pertinent part reads:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according according to their respective Number, which shall be determined by adding the whole Number of free Person, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons.

Take a wild guess of whom the founders were talking about when they mentioned “three fifths” of all other Persons. This is what is commonly known as the Three- Fifths Compromise, and the reality behind it is what the Father of the Constitution was speaking of when he said the “substitution of electors obviated this difficulty.”.

The Electoral College exists because slave-owning states wanted representation in the Constitution relative to their population, but did they did not want their entire population to be represented in the Constitution. Enslaved people comprised 40 percent of Virginia’s population. This was no small issue (further cementing Madison’s status as the Father if the Constitution: He owned slaves in Virginia).

So what Madison said was: Majority rule is best to pick presidents, and the reason we “substituted electors” was because of the slave-owning Southern states, not to assure that smaller states had a say in electing a president.You cannot look at pre-Civil War America through any primary lens other then slavery. It was the defining issue of the day, and was not exactly a secret. It was the first thing Mississippi wrote its its declaration of secession for leaving the union, and in that it was joined by a number of other slave-owning states. It asserted in it’s declaration,

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest in the world.”

What we learn from this history is that the rationale for creation of the Electoral College has a fundamentally disgraceful premise, which is discriminatory and which would be illegal today, and should be abolished.

Finally, the Electoral College is in tension with a strong and fundamental democratic ideal, one that is generally endorsed throughout this country. That is the idea of one person, one vote.

The Electoral College counts votes unequally, depending on where they’re cast. That is totally at odds with a modern democratic sensibility.

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