Just what were the founding fathers thinking when they designed the American system of government? Democracy, equality and justice – right? You read the history books in school. You know the truth … or, do you?
You really ought to know better than to buy all that impartiality stuff considering the times of the American Revolution. Although the revolution gave birth to a nation that continues to achieve greater strives in liberty and justice, the first government was mainly designed to create a strong central power to protect the institution of slavery and the concentration of private property and political power in the hands of a few men.
For the complicated and contradictory truth, you can take a closer look at our 4th president, the person considered the Father of the Constitution and the Architect of the Bill of Rights – none other than President James Madison.
Consider what Madison said about owning slaves ...
"We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man."
--James Madison, speech at the Constitutional Convention, June 6, 1787
“In all the Southern States of N. America, the laws permit masters, under certain precautions to manumit their slaves. But the continuance of such a permission in some of the States is rendered precarious by the ill effects suffered from freedmen who retain the vices and habits of slaves. The same consideration becomes an objection with many humane masters against an exertion of their legal right of freeing their slaves. It is found in fact that neither the good of the Society, nor the happiness of the individuals restored to freedom is promoted by such a change in their condition.”
--James Madison, “Memorandum on an African Colony for Freed Slaves,” October 20, 1789
After two terms in office, Madison served as chief executive of the American Colonization Society, which was established to repatriate Blacks. In 1819, Madison wrote this to Robert J. Evans, a Philadelphia Quaker merchant:
“To be consistent with existing and probably unalterable prejudices in the U. S. the freed blacks ought to be permanently removed beyond the region occupied by or allotted to a White population. The objections to a thorough incorporation of the two people, are with most of the Whites insuperable, and are admitted by all of them to be very powerful.
“If the blacks, strongly marked as they are, by physical & lasting peculiarities, be retained amid the whites, under the degrading privation of equal rights political or social, they must be always dissatisfied with their condition as a change only from one to another species of oppression; always secretly confederated against the ruling & privileged class; and always uncontroulled (sp.) by some of the most cogent motives to moral and respectable conduct.”
(Letter From James Madison to Robert J. Evans, 15 June 1819. National Historical Publications and Records Commission )
What did the founders of the U.S. Constitution think about whether people should elect their president from a popular vote?
Evidence shows in order to further address the issue of minorities and the yoke of slavery, Madison proposed a prototype for the same Electoral College used today – each state would have a number of electoral votes roughly proportioned to population, and the candidate who wins the majority of those votes wins the election. The roots of political manipulation and the fear of democratic control over the government come to light with further investigation.
Dubbed later by Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) – French diplomat, political scientist, and historian – as “the tyranny of the majority,” Madison's fear was that a faction could grow to encompass more than 50 percent of the population, at which point that faction could “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.”
Madison's solution for tyranny of the majority: “A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”
(James Madison. “The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection. Federalist No. 10. November 22, 1787.)
A closer look reveals more ...
To cut to the quick and give sensible answers about for need for the establishment of the Electoral College to supersede popular vote, historians often claim the founders were largely concerned with these things:
- That residents in states with smaller populations were not ignored.
- That average Americans would lack enough information about the candidates to make intelligent choices.
- And, above all, people like James Madison and other Southern slave-owning delegates feared – that their constituents would be outnumbered by Northerners.
(Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder. “The Electoral College Is Hated by Many. So Why Does It Endure?” The New York Times. November 10, 2016.)
“None of this is about slaves actually voting,” says Dr. Paul Finkelman, legal historian and author of more than 35 books. Finkelman claims it was all about counting slaves for the purpose of giving power to the master class.
(Kamala Kelkar. “Electoral College is ‘vestige’ of slavery, say some Constitutional scholars.” PBS Newshour. November 06, 2016.)
At the time, Virginia, was the most populous of the 13 states if the count included slaves, who comprised about 40 percent of the population. Each was good for 3/5 of a person (Yep, boys and girls, less-than-human.) in determining how many representatives each state had in Congress, and thus what power that state wielded in the Madison-proposed Electoral College.
Mind you, slaves had no rights, and couldn’t vote. Yet, the government allowed their “will” to be expressed by their owners.
Steven Henderson, reporter and winner of more than a dozen national awards including the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, says, “Slavery, at that moment, defined the balance of power in the Electoral College and in the nation. It would do so for James Madison’s election, for James Monroe's, and for those of several other presidents before 1860.”
Then, what is the main reason for the establishment of the Electoral College? Most agree it was the South's determination to preserve its political power and the institution of slavery. Henderson explains ...
“Southern states, outnumbered about 60-40 in population at the time of the Constitutional Convention, were panicked at the notion of a popularly elected president. They joined forces with other interests — those who wanted balance between large and small states, elites who feared popular ignorance, those who worried about urban domination of rural places – to design the Electoral College.
“Slavery wasn’t the only impetus to dislodge popular democracy. But it was an important factor whose influence played out in dramatic ways in early America.”
(Steven Henderson. “The electoral college and its racist roots.” Detroit Free Press. November 20, 2016.)Tyranny of the Majority
Can you imagine trying to teach young American students these concepts?
- Afro-American slaves are not people, but property used not only for forced labor but also for political power?
- The controversy over the claims of other founding fathers – for example, John Adams declaring “Democracy never lasts long” and Benjamin Franklin making this claim about what government the federal Constitution established in 1787 : “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Madison recognized that factions were inevitable if people were free. In a republican government, how do you over-rule the majority? His and the other fathers' solution was to minimize the possibility. Representative government over a wide geographic area was the answer. Madison argued a faction might dominate in a state, but would “be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” Of course, he remained a slave owner with many, many votes to cast for his chosen interests.
Was the Father of the Constitution desirous of maintaining political control and power? Yes. Was he also afraid of slaves sometime becoming an equal majority that threatened the republic? Of course. Did he fear the popular vote would ruin his country? Without a doubt.
And, despite the racist, political reasons for Madison fathering the Electoral College, it is true that a faction can produce a brand of tyranny. So, maybe in helping create the system, he stumbled into a far-reaching ideal. Maybe we should see James Madison for exactly what he was – a well-meaning, brilliant leader who just couldn't live up to his own proposed beliefs as he nobly stated, “Another of my wishes is to depend as little as possible on the labour of slaves.” You failed, Mr. Bill of Rights. You failed yourself.
How so did Madison help preserve the government with the questionable establishment of the Electoral College? Terry Newell, director of Leadership for a Responsible Society, explains how a faction can present regrettable tyranny:
(a) It can grid-lock government and block the majority, thus rendering the national government inept.
(b) It can skew the national dialogue by withholding support (or threatening to do so) so as to kill the discussion of policies and possibilities – issues are taken “off the table” or made “dead on arrival.
(c) It can force candidates and office holders into ever-more extreme positions, making the possibility of compromise remote and disenfranchising the great middle of the American political spectrum.
(Terry Newell. “Tyranny of the Minority.” The Huffington Post. February 25, 2014.)