It’s depressing now to read The Federalist Papers. These essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay persuaded the states to ratify the constitution of 1787, and thus adopt a federalist form of government. These essays glisten with the first-rate minds behind them, and it’s sad to see how far we have since we have since fallen in our political discourse.
When we Americans argue about the federal constitution, there is still much talk of looking at the intent of the framers. Considering the brilliance of many of these framers, it is certainly helpful to consider their original thoughts and circumstances. But as we are at a remove of over two hundred years from them, and as our government is of living people, the original intents should not be determinative.
One clause in constitution created the electoral college, by which a small number of people are designated by each state. It is the electoral college rather the popular vote that decides presidential elections. In the elections of 1888 and 2000, respectively, the candidates winning the popular vote lost the elections.
As men of education and property, the founding fathers distrusted democracy even while they established it. They knew from such classical authors as Plato and Cicero that democracy could be the tyranny of the majority. Accordingly, they placed in the constitution such antimajoritarian safeguards as a judiciary that may, on the grounds of unconstitutionality, remove laws enacted by Congress.
But at the heart of our government is democracy. With a system of checks and balances, we have enough safeguards. It’s time we made a constitutional amendment eliminating the electoral college.