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Tag: Electoral College

To Choose a President

Today’s post originally appeared in the 2012 Summer Issue of Prologue magazine, and was written by Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.

The Electoral College. Established 1787.

It isn’t really a college, and the electors aren’t tenured professors.

The electors are really voters, and their votes count in a very big way.

The electors were created by the Constitution to do only one thing: elect the President and Vice President of the United States. The Electoral College became part of the Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, when delegates assembled to devise something to replace the Articles of Confederation.

Some delegates wanted Congress to choose the President, but that would have upset the balance of power among the three branches of government. Others called for direct popular vote, but that would have left the decision in the hands of ill-informed voters who knew little about politicians outside their home state.

So they created electors. And they hoped the electors would be some of brightest and best informed people who would base their decisions on the candidates’ merit. (Each state gets as many electoral votes as it has members in the Senate and House.)

Today, the Electoral College’s activities are overseen by the National Archives. We delegate this duty to our Office of the Federal Register, which every … [ Read all ]

The Electoral College: Then and Now

Today’s guest post comes from Miriam Vincent, staff attorney at the Federal Register.

The founding fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens. However, the term “electoral college” does not appear in the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment refer to “electors,” but not to the “electoral college.” —from the Electoral College website run by the Office of the Federal Register

Why do we have the Electoral College? There was a concern that even qualified citizens (generally white, male landowners) wouldn’t have the information necessary to make a truly informed decision.  Alexander Hamilton argued in favor of an Electoral College in Federalist Paper No. 68, with an opposing view coming from an anonymous source in Federalist Paper No. 72. (You can find both online.) Our Founding Fathers decided to give the States the authority to appoint educated, well-read electors to vote on behalf of their citizens.

As the Constitution makes clear, the States elect the President and Vice President; individuals don’t.

Tally of the 1824 Electoral College Vote, 02/09/1825 (ARC 306207)

The Modern Day Electoral College: After only a few years, it became clear that that electing a President and Vice President from different political parties … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: Blueprint for the Electoral College

Commission of David Brearly to be an elector for the state of New Jersey for the purpose of choosing a President and Vice President of the United States, 01/07/1789 (ARC 306228)

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

By the end of August, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were tired. They had been convening and debating for the entire summer, and they sensed they were nearing a finished product.

Throughout August, much of the debate had revolved around the report delivered by the Committee of Detail early in the month. The delegates had discussed at great length that committee’s report, but there were several issues on which they suspended debate before reaching a decision. On August 31, those postponed matters were referred to another committee comprising one delegate from each state and chaired by David Brearly of New Jersey.

This “Committee of eleven,” as Madison referred to it in his journal notes, considered each of the postponed matters and reported back to the Convention during the first week of September with proposals. Included in the committee’s proposals were providing Congress the authority to collect taxes, assigning the Vice President to preside over the Senate, and specifying

[ Read all ]

Constitution 225: The President

Portrait of George Washington, 12/31/1820 (ARC 192421)

 

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

The President of the United States is one of the most famous positions in the world. But the first draft of the job description was profoundly different from what it has become today. When the Constitutional Convention took up debate about the role of President, they had not yet named the position. In his notes, Madison refers to the position by various terms, including “Executive Magistrate,” “Nat’l Executive,” and simply “the Executive.”

Naming convention was not the only source of debate. The delegates wavered between a term in office lasting six or seven years before finally agreeing on four years. They considered electing the President by either a popular vote or through appointment by the legislature before developing the Electoral College as a compromise between the two.

The convention resolved early on that one person should be vested with the power of the executive branch. As the list of executive responsibilities grew, the delegates also provided for subordinate members of the executive branch, including the Vice President and the cabinet. These provisions form the foundation for most of today’s Federal agencies, including … [ Read all ]