Dr. Dan Updates

The Genius and Necessity of the Electoral College

Many might be surprised to learn that the word “Democracy” does not appear in the Bill or Rights or the US Constitution.  Nor does it appear in the Constitutions of the 50 States.  A Democracy is “mob rule,” a dictatorship of the majority in which 51% of the citizenry rule the other 49%.  Our freedoms and liberties are guaranteed to us because the framers of our Constitution, through past experience and careful consideration, gave us a Constitutional Republic, not a Democracy . . .  A governmental system based on the rule of law and not the rule of the majority.

After the War of Independence and the failure of the Articles of Confederation, when our Constitution was being conceived and written, the total population of the thirteen colonies was estimated to be 2,628,400. The thirteen colonies were not equal in terms of number of inhabitants, with Delaware being the smallest at 45,400 residents and Virginia the largest with 538,000 residents.

Although there was a degree of “national” identity, each colony was unique in philosophy and culture that reflected the origins of its inhabitants and their relative difficulty or ease of establishing a viable living in the New World. The primary allegiance of a colony’s citizens was to the colony itself, not to any central government or to “outsiders,” both of whom would have been regarded with some degree of mistrust.

Having just ousted an oppressive autocrat, the colonists had no desire to reestablish another monarchy in its place. The Articles of Confederation failed for just that reason. The individual colonies were unwilling to cede authority to a federal body sufficient to exercise any degree of rational control. The colonies behaved like a schoolyard filled with mischievous adolescents at recess without adult supervision. Our founders, in their wisdom and through hard-fought negotiations, were able to create a document that did find that “sweet spot” between anarchy and tyranny to form a functional central government.

The Founders wanted to empower democratic elements in the American system, but they recognized that constitutional protections for each individual citizen’s Natural Law Rights and freedoms could only be guaranteed in a republican form of government.

That compromise was based on limiting the central government to powers that were enumerated, tasks that could be performed better by a single unit, and obligations that promoted the general welfare of all equally. It was also dependent on each colony having enough control over the central governmental entity to maintain its own sovereignty.

The United States Constitution achieved these goals for the colonies with the enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8, the equality of power in the Senate, and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. Protection for individual rights is guaranteed by the creation of a constitutional republic not a democracy.

The choice of the executive was philosophically a difficult compromise. The Constitution creates three equal branches of government with an inherent separation and balance of powers so that no one branch can act alone. The President and Vice President, however, are the only officials selected nationally without loyalty or allegiance to a specific colony. The population disparity, therefore, had to be considered in a way that preserved the necessary equality of power.

Acceptance of the new Constitution by all of the thirteen colonies was not at all assured. The written records of the ratifying conventions in each of the colonies reveal the division among the citizens who feared a central government so powerful that the rights of the states and their inhabitants would be eclipsed or eliminated.

In 1780, the overall estimated population of the thirteen colonies combined was 2,628,400.  Following is a breakdown of estimated population by colony:

Virginia 538,000
Pennsylvania 327,300
North Carolina 270,000
Massachusetts 268,600
Maryland 245,500
New York 210,500
Connecticut 206,700
South Carolina 180,000
New Jersey 139,600
New Hampshire 87,800
Georgia 56,100
Rhode Island 52,900
Delaware 45,400

The population of the five largest colonies was 1,249,900 or 62.8% of the whole.

The population of the six largest colonies was 1,860,400 or 70.8% of the whole.

The population of the seven largest colonies was 2,076,100 or 78.6% of the whole.

These numbers are estimates, as the first “national” census was not carried out until 1790. Nevertheless, it would have been obvious to the citizens of the colonies that any national election would be dominated by five or six of the largest colonies even though they represented a minority of the parties to the constitutional contract.

Given the fragility of the union under the Articles of Confederation, the loyalty of the citizenry to colony over federal government, and the opposition to any overpowering central authority, any contract that did not offer a reasonable balance of power among the colonies was doomed to rejection.

In other words, having just ousted a monarch, how difficult a task would it have been to convince the six smallest colonies to agree to a Constitution in which they would have virtually no say in the selection of the federal executive?

That is the genius of the Electoral College . . . The Constitution already gave parity to the states in the Senate which could act as a counter-balance to the population-based House of Representatives. The formula of the Electoral College gave smaller states with fewer inhabitants a significant voice in selecting the country’s top leadership. Moreover, without the addition of the Electoral College, there can be little doubt that ratification of the Constitution would have been considerably less likely . . . the necessity of the Electoral College.

The election of 2016 is an excellent example of how the votes, concerns, and opinions of citizens in “fly-over” country were protected by the Electoral College.

Electoral Map

Electoral MapA democracy would allow the blue areas to dominate the red areas since their combined population is greater.

It has been reported that Donald Trump won 3,084 of the 3,141 counties in the USA.  Although those exact numbers have been disputed, it is clear that President Elect Trump did win a huge majority of the counties, most of them in the vast central land mass area of the country and most of them rural or less densely populated than the urban and coastal areas.

Were it not for the Electoral College, small densely populated, mostly urban areas on the east and west coasts would have elected Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump. The votes of the inhabitants living in the vast central land mass of the USA would have essentially been of no value, and the needs, opinions, and desires of those citizens would have been ignored by a President who owed them no loyalty. In fact, it would be possible for a candidate to win the election by campaigning only in those highly populated east and west coast areas without setting foot anywhere in between. That egregious lack of equality would lead to a dissolution of the country with unfortunate and disastrous results.

Regardless of your politics or opinions about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or any other contender, this is about the process that guarantees the sharing of power fairly in the selection of the our national executive and, ultimately, preserves our constitutional republic.

On Monday, December 19, 2016, we will again witness for ourselves the genius and necessity of the Electoral College as envisioned by our founders.

  • Benjamin Rush“A simple democracy . . . is one of the greatest of evils.”  ~Benjamin Rush, Letter to John Adams, July 21, 1789
  • James Madison“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.”  ~James Madison, Federalist Paper 10
  • Alexander Hamilton“It has been observed, by an honorable gentleman, that a pure democracy, if it were practicable, would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position in politics is more false than this. The ancient democracies, in which the people themselves deliberated, never possessed one feature of good government. Their very character was tyranny . . .”  ~Alexander Hamilton, The Debates in the Several State Conventions, 1787, p. 253
  • John AdamsDemocracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”  ~John Adams letter to John Taylor, April 15, 1814

Plato and Madison both understood that justice and liberty for the minority is possible only when power is shared between groups in society.

If you have ten minutes, take the time to watch this simple but educational video produced by the John Birch Society covering the history of our America republican form of government.  To watch the video, click HERE.

As Sir Winston Churchill said, “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

On Monday, December 19, 2016, we will again witness for ourselves the genius and necessity of the Electoral College as envisioned by our founders.

Benjamin Franklin

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  1. Dan …..an excellent piece! This topic couldn’t be more newsworthy and timely as the votes of the electoral college are officially certified by the states and delivered to Congress TODAY. I’m guessing the electors have to re-affirm their vote today and if there are any ‘faithless’ electors (those who change their vote), they will also be exposed today. According to the federal electoral college website, the official count of the electoral votes by Congress doesn’t take place until Jan 6th, 2017. Should there be a unprecedented reversal of votes, such that no candidate achieves the necessary 270 votes, then the House chooses the President by majority vote and Senate selects the Vice President also by majority vote. The electoral college system is ‘genius’ as you say and thanks to your article, I have the historical basis for it creation. Reaffirms the brilliance of our founding fathers!!!!!

  2. Best explanation I’ve read, thanks Dan.

    And Merry Christmas if I don’t talk to you before. or even if I do.

  3. Thanks dr. Dan, it’s good to be reminded that America is a constitutional republic and not a democracy! Wonder why the GOP does not argue this point with the DNC and the liberal press?

  4. That is an excellent explanation of the electoral college. I shared the explanation with my former students and relatives on Facebook. Thank goodness for the wisdom of our forefathers. Pam Knowles

  5. As each state has as many electors as representatives plus senators, it is reasonable for each representative’s district to elect it’s own elector, the other 2 should go to the state’s majority winner. This would be more reflective of popular vote while preserving state significance.

  6. Mike – Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Choosing electors by congressional district would be more representative of the people’s will. Some states currently divide their electoral college vote to reflect the state’s popular vote. Ultimately, it is up to each state to determine the method of choosing electors as that is an “internal” decision. The Constitution only specifies the number of electors allowed to each state.

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