Monday, December 19, 2016

The Electoral College--An Idea Whose Time Is Now

     "...(T)he greatest obstacle to change...has always been public apathy--an apathy induced and corroborated by a false understanding of the inner meaning and practical consequences of the present arrangements."  (The Electoral College by Lucius Wilmerding, Jr., ix)

     Has the greatest obstacle actually been public apathy or the self-styled "mainstream" press--that favors ratings and advertising over responsibility--and fails to keep us informed?

     "The subject," said James Wilson on the floor of the Convention itself, "has greatly divided this House....  It is in truth the most difficult of all on which we have to decide."  (LW, 3)

     The idea swam in the Sea of Necessity and surfaced because of a problem.

     "The electoral voting system was adopted instead of a direct voting system only because it seemed the most practicable way to give equal weights to equal masses of persons in a country where the suffrage laws varied from state to state."  (LW, xi)

     Although the problem and the purpose sometimes collide, the latter has the right of way.

     "There is, in truth, a disparity between the intention of the Constitution with regard to the election of the President and the practical workings of the machinery which has been devised to fulfill it.  The purpose of that instrument is, and has always been, to elevate to the executive chair the man who is the choice of the majority of the people in the nation as a whole."  (LW, ix)

     How do we know?  Well, when the Convention made the most difficult decision of all, James Madison spoke.

     "The President is now to be elected by the people."  (LW, 19)

     Alexander Hamilton acknowledged the same during the battle for ratification.

     "The President of the United States would be an officer elected by the people for FOUR years...."  (The Federalist Papers, No. 69)

     The disparity between the idea and the reality is revealed whenever the popular vote and the Electoral College are out of sync, which has occurred five times.  It usually has been due to political shenanigans.  That has been the pattern.

     In 1824, there were four candidates and, because no one had a majority, the election went to the House of Representatives, which chooses between the top three.  The Speaker, Henry Clay, who was thus eliminated, threw his support to John Quincy Adams who subsequently made him Secretary of State.  In effect, a coalition government was formed, which would prove to be the exception, not the rule.

     In 1876, Governor Samuel Tilden (D-NY) led Governor Rutherford B. Hayes (R-OH) by 250,000 and needed only one more electoral vote to win.  But a commission, voting on strict party lines, awarded every disputed State to the Republican.

     In 1888, President Grover Cleveland (D-NY) led former Senator Benjamin Harrison (R-IN) by 90,000.  But Senator Matthew Quay (R-PA) bought enough votes in key States, and the Republican won.

     In 2000, Vice President Al Gore led by 540,000.  But Florida, where Governor Jeb Bush's Secretary of State had purged the voter rolls, was critical.  And the slim margin of Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) was fading.  But the United States Supreme Court stopped the recount, and the Republican won.

     In 2016, Hillary Clinton leads by 2.8 million.  But with purging the voter rolls,* the Comey letter, and Russian hacking, the Republican was declared the winner.

     There is a practical reason to close the gap between the idea and the reality, which has to do with service.  The first duty of the Chief Magistrate of the Union is to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States"; and one aspect of that role was touched upon by John Adams during the Senate's titles debates when he proposed, "His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of Their Liberties."  (Emphasis added.)  But, while Washington was satisfied with "Mr. President," an important point was made about the oath:  He was to be, as our historian noted, "the guardian of the people"--and his successors too.  But such a task cannot be mastered by those without character.  (LW, 5)

     "The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.  Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States."  (Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, No. 68)

     There was a final check on demagogues, fraud, and unusual situations.

     "One advantage of Electors is," according to James Madison, "although generally the mere mouths of their constituents, they may be intentionally left sometimes to their own judgment, guided by further information that may be acquired by them: and finally, what is of material importance, they will be able, when ascertaining, which may not be till a late hour, that the first choice of their constituents is utterly hopeless, to substitute in the electoral vote the name known to be their second choice."  (LW, 180-181)

     Some have spoken of "a constitutional crisis" if the Electors were to be true to "the original intention"--which should delight self-styled "conservatives"--and reconcile the apparent disparity between themselves and the national popular vote.  But how can a constitutional crisis be caused by a constitutional remedy?  As Mark Twain said, "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

(c)2016 Marvin D. Jones.  All rights reserved.



Friday, December 09, 2016

In Whose Footsteps...?

     Character, according to the dictionary, means engraving or imprint.  But it is more.  Character is the union of thought, word, and deed directed toward a noble end.

     George Washington lived by rules, high standards that he set for himself.  His words mattered because they were consistent with his deeds.  As Commander in Chief of the Continental Forces, he refused a salary yet put himself at risk--in the field with his troops.  But, during the miracle at Philadelphia, his presence was both subtle and significant.  Whether seated at the dais or with the rest of the Virginia delegation, when the Convention went into the Committee of the Whole, Washington was quiet.  Yet his influence was great.

    "His presence," said Catherine Drinker Bowen, "kept the Federal Convention together, kept it going, just as his presence had kept a straggling, ill-conditioned army together throughout the terrible years of war."

    A monarchy is one thing, a republic another.  For those confused, clarification courtesy of Alexander Hamilton.

      ...(T)here is a total dissimilitude between HIM and a king of Great Britain....
         The President of the United States would be an officer elected by the people for FOUR 
      years; the king of Great Britain is a perpetual and HEREDITARY prince.  The one would 
      be amenable to personal punishment and disgrace; the person of the other is sacred and 
      inviolable.  The one would have a QUALIFIED negative upon the acts of the legislative 
      body; the other has an ABSOLUTE negative.  The one would have a right to command the 
      military and naval forces of the nation; the other, in addition to this right, possesses that of 
      DECLARING war, and of RAISING and REGULATING fleets and armies by his own 
      authority.  The one would have a concurrent power with a branch of the legislature 
      in the formation of treaties; the other is the SOLE POSSESSOR of the power of making 
      treaties.  The one would have a like concurrent authority in appointing to offices; the other 
      is the sole author of all appointments.  The one can confer no privileges whatever; the other 
      can make denizens of aliens, noblemen of commoners; can erect corporations with all the 
      rights incident to corporate bodies.  The one can prescribe no rules concerning the commerce 
      or currency of the nation; the other is in several respects the arbiter of commerce, and in this 
      capacity can establish markets and fairs, can regulate weights and measures, can lay 
      embargoes for a limited time, can coin money, can authorize or prohibit the circulation of 
      foreign coin.  The one has no particle of spiritual jurisdiction; the other is the supreme head 
      and governor of the national church!  (The Federalist Papers, No. 69, capital emphasis 
      Hamilton's; italics added.)

     When the Pope would not allow him to divorce Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII divorced the Bishop of Rome.  Thereafter, he and his successors appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury as a priest free of the Vatican.  Then expulsion or a ban was at least an understandable option--for a monarch.  But the President of the United States was to have "no particle of spiritual jurisdiction."  And Article VI, Clause 3 should give pause to one inclined to make a contrary assertion: "but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."  An honest man would get a clue.  But a demagogue will not be discouraged by the First Amendment written by a demigod.  Nevertheless, James Madison shines light into the darkness.

     "The civil government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success whilst the number, the industry and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state."

     A monarchy is one thing...

     "However proper or safe it may be in governments where the executive magistrate is an hereditary monarch, to commit to him the entire power of making treaties, it would be utterly unsafe and improper to intrust that power to an elective magistrate of four years' duration.  It has been remarked, upon another occasion, and the remark is unquestionably just, that an hereditary monarch, though often the oppressor of his people, has personally too much stake in the government to be in any material danger of being corrupted by foreign powers."

     A monarchy is one thing, a republic another.

     "But a man raised from the station of a private citizen to the rank of Chief Magistrate, possessed of a moderate or slender fortune, and looking forward to a period not very remote when he may probably be obliged to return to the station from which he was taken, might sometimes be under temptations to sacrifice his duty to his interest, which it would require superlative virtue to withstand.  An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth."  (Emphasis added.)

     For those confused, clarification courtesy of Alexander Hamilton.

     "The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a President of the United States."  (The Federalist Papers, No. 75)

     John Adams presided over, and participated in, the Senate's titles debates.  He even proposed that the Chief Magistrate be called "Your Highness" or "Your Most Benign Highness" or "His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of Their Liberties."  But the man from Mount Vernon was satisfied with "Mr. President."  Thus, Washington reinforced these provisions of the Constitution:  "No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States:  And no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign state" and "No State shall...grant any title of nobility."  (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 & Article I, Section 10, Clause 1)  His deeds were consistent with them--serving effectively as precedent for those who followed after him, until now.

       Washington had Secretary of War Henry Knox, a fellow veteran, send a report to Congress in support of Universal National Service, which was born out of experience,* and would provide an additional safeguard because "A glorious national spirit will be introduced, with its extensive train of political consequences.  The youth will imbibe a love of their country; reverence and obedience to its laws; courage and elevation of mind; openness and liberality of character; accompanied by a just spirit of honor....  While habit, with its silent, but efficacious operations, will durably cement the system."  And balance--a constant reminder of the burdens and benefits of citizenship--would extend the emoluments clause and further reduce foreign influence.  "Therefore, it ought to be a permanent rule, that those who in youth decline or refuse to subject themselves to the course of military education, established by the laws, should be considered as unworthy of public trust or public honors, and be excluded therefrom accordingly."

     Current events highlight the importance of Washington's deeds, and the summation was made in his Farewell Address.

     "Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government."

     The first duty of the Chief Magistrate of the Union^ is to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."  And anyone who seeks the Presidency must understand separation of self and state defines how to avoid a conflict of interest in the Great Republic.  For character matters, as Washington understood; and so did another veteran, a successor who always donated his salary to charity.  Thus, eleven days before inauguration, JFK addressed a joint session of the Massachusetts Legislature about how the high court of history will judge our endeavors.**

     "Finally, were we truly men of dedication--with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest?"

(c)2016 Marvin D. Jones.  All rights reserved.

*Alexander Hamilton had foreshadowed the Knox Report in No. 29 of The Federalist Papers.
^The phrase is used consistently in The Federalist Papers.