Progressives want to eliminate the Electoral College. They argue that the American constitutional system of electing the president unfairly advantages the votes of people in smaller states. This argument, deceptive to its core, only seems plausible because of radical changes to the Constitution imposed by the Progressives themselves.
A little history should make this more clear. And an additional benefit of understanding the Electoral College as the Founders understood it is that it will enable you to understand why the United States of America has its curious name which, remarkably, claims that it is (a nation) made up of states.
Imagine for the moment that you are a member of the Founders’ generation, America’s actual Greatest Generation. You are already a citizen of a functioning state, one of the original 13. Your state and the other American states have just defeated the world’s greatest superpower. The 13 states have conducted the war as a kind of wartime alliance. (The ratification of the Articles of Confederation did not occur until March 1, 1781, the same year as the military victory at Yorktown, and even under the Articles each state remained sovereign and independent.)
Now, just a few years later, along come Washington, Madison, and others with a proposal for a new “federal” government. It would, they explain, carry out for your state functions that could better be carried out by a government representing all 13 states. It would have powers to deal with states for the states—with foreign states and to a lesser extent with the American states in matters such as interstate commerce. Here is how Madison described it in Federalist 45:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce…The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
Please note: the “several States” reserve all state powers, except those “few and defined” powers they delegate to the proposed federal government. Because in America the citizens are sovereign, it is up to you as a member of the Founders’ generation to decide the question of which powers should be delegated to the federal government.
Fast forward to our present day and the contrast could not be more stark. It is clear that we do not have the kind of government the Founders’ generation voted for, isn’t it? Today the federal Leviathan crushes the states, regulates the individual in an uncountable number of ways, and intrudes into everything from your local zoning commission and your local school board to that dry creek bed behind your house that only has water after a rain. What went wrong?
In the Framers’ plan, the Senators represented the state governments. Because the federal government’s main purpose was to take over certain state responsibilities the people had determined were better managed on a national scale, the United States Senate was to hold legislative power over those functions—“war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce”, and the Senators, quite logically, were chosen by the legislatures of the various states to legislate and supervise federal use of the delegated powers.
The citizens’ representatives in the federal government were called—well, Representatives—and they made up the House of Representatives. The Representatives were chosen directly by the voters, apportioned by population. The House was given the power of the purse—which the Founders’ generation understood to be paramount (“no taxation without representation”)—and which meant every Representative had to face the voters with frequency and regularity.
Each state got two electoral votes by virtue of its two Senators, and one vote for each Representative. Please note that under the original Constitution each state government was treated perfectly equally. Each state government got two Senators. No disparity there! Only when the progressives overthrew this system by means of the Seventeenth Amendment did a kind of disparity appear. The 17th Amendment instituted the direct election of Senators, the system we now have. It took away from the states the power to appoint the Senators who were to represent them in the federal government and to oversee federal execution of the responsibilities the states had delegated to the federal government. The result was a diminishing of the power of the states and the growth of the gargantuan central government we have today.
The 17th Amendment reneged on a deal honorably entered into by honorable men, and approved by the voters of the Founders’ generation. The method of election so perfectly suited to choosing the Representatives, and so imperfect for the function of the Senate, was imposed on the Senate by the progressive “reform.” Today, Progressives use the disparity which resulted from what they did as a reason to go even further—and abolish the Electoral College.
That’s why they are called Progressives; they never stop their assaults on the Constitution.
We may ask: did the Constitution fail America or did Americans fail the Constitution? The question answers itself. The generation which ratified the Seventeenth Amendment failed in its primary responsibility as citizens, its responsibility to understand and defend the Constitution. We are living with the consequences of their failure—a federal Leviathan operating in an increasingly post-Constitutional America
One can legitimately take hope from this election in which the Electoral College may have again saved the Constitution—or at least given us another chance to save it.
May we prove worthy of this opportunity.