GUEST POST: Mr. Hamilton’s Myopia and the Electoral College

electoral college

by Bill McRae, Billings

Bill is a retired college professor who came back home to Montana.  You can email him at mwm9389@gmail.com and see more at his Facebook page, “An American Progressive.”

President of the United States.  President. of. the. United. States.  Not the “President of Southern States and Rust Belt States and Gerrymandered States and Swing States Swinging our Way.”  The presidency should not be captive to regions, political classes, or ideologies, but the Electoral College makes it so.  To appreciate how this came about, two documents bear close reading: The Federalist Papers 68, written by Alexander Hamilton; and Article II of the Constitution. You will recognize the relevance of the Constitution, but perhaps not the Federalist Papers.  Composed in 1787 and 1788, their principle authors Hamilton and James Madison, the 85 articles in The Federalist Papers urged ratification of the US Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, which had loosely bound the states together following the War of Independence.

Hamilton’s lofty vision of what a President must be concerns itself more with what he must not be: “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.”

Mr Hamilton, meet president trump.

To assure that low intrigue and the little arts of popularity can be held in check the “sense of the people” must be taken into account, but carefully through the intermediary offices of men “most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite” to choosing the President..  These men of sound judgment, these Electors, will best be able to avoid political intrigue, narrow partisan interest, and uppermost in Hamilton’s mind, the desire of “foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?”

Mr. Hamilton, meet mr. putin.

Through all of Hamilton’s stirring validation of the importance of the presidency and of sober men to elevate the best man to the office, he pays scant attention to the language of the document he urges upon the young nation.  Here is how Hamilton says the electors shall be chosen: “the people of each State shall choose a number of persons as electors.”  Here is Article II: “Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors.”  Hamilton’s patrician myopia narrows his vision.  He knows that intrigue and the arts of popularity may “elevate a man to first honors in a single state,” yet somehow sober reflection is to prevail in state legislatures?  In those years between the War of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution, there were no better places than in state legislatures to find the very political intrigue and narrow partisanship that Hamilton wanted to protect against.  The people are not the legislatures.

And that difference is the root of our current electoral mess.

Hamilton envisions a body of electors none of whom would be bound to anything other than their own sober judgment.  Perhaps Hamilton envisioned the electors would become our fledgling nation’s Council of Areopagus, the elders of Athens whose judgments in matters of law was beyond dispute.  In Hamilton’s union you voted for an elector.  Period.  You did not vote for an elector for.  No state now puts forth a body of electors as Hamilton envisioned them; you vote for electors for this or that candidate.  These days electors are chosen by the political parties.  They are precinct captains, state chairs, influential donors. Few are men, and now women, free of narrow interest and intrigue; they most embody all that Hamilton wanted to check against.  Electors so rarely vote except as their parties dictate that their function now is largely ceremonial, not the deliberative exercise of sober judgment Hamilton so confidently assures us it will be.  Anachronistic to its core, the Electoral College serves political expediency, not the wishes of the people.

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55 Comments on "GUEST POST: Mr. Hamilton’s Myopia and the Electoral College"

  1. But the American voter, according to Mr Gruber, is “too stupid to understand”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Adrdmmh7bMo

    .

  2. Big Swede: Certainly Mr Hamilton would agree with Gruber’s view about the American voter, but sometimes academics are rather too fond of rhetoric. Believe me, I know…I was an academic for over 40 years. Suppose for a moment that Gruber is right about this: why are those same stupid voters who must have an EC to correct their excesses nonetheless still allowed to vote directly for their Representatives and Senators? I guess their stupidity when they select their Montana delegation to Congress, but not when they vote nationally? Just to be clear, I ask that question with more that a trace of scorn for those who genuinely think the American voter too stupid to select their president.

  3. ….when they select thieir Montana delegation to Congress is perfectly fine…

    Sheesh, the ways in which computer keyboards can betray you!

  4. Mr. Hamilton, meet ‘Big Swede.’
    Mr. Hamilton, meet the Pres candidate who would not offer an audit of his empire and plans turn his financial holdings over to not a Blind Trust, but to progeny and son-in-law Kushner!
    At same damn time doing pivot dances with the likes of Gingrich, Guiliana, Bolton and Bannon.
    The USA majority are right. They would have voted for Sanders.
    Therefor, can there be a Constitutional change to replace the Electoral College, with public financed, instant runoff Presidential selection, Election?

    • Actually the American majority did vote for Clinton. The Electoral College was nothing more than a mechanism put in place by slave owning interests to preserve slave owning interests.

  5. Bob Williams, I’m with you, mostly. It’s time to look forward, as you are doing to start the conversation about change. I’m working now on a post to share my ideas about reform. I think we agree though on basic principles: the presidency (by which I mean both president and vice president) should be assumed by the popular vote winner.

  6. Sal, its an argument often made that the EC was designed to favor slave-holders. I will give you that, though I suppose we could have a wonderful conversation over coffee whether it is the only reason. We both agree that an institution so designed is an anethema and should be consigned to history. It’s how to get there I am thinking through right now.

  7. Our founders had incredible fore sight when it came to giving the individual states the power to select our President. If this contest was decided by popular vote no candidate would travel to more than a few states with large populations in order to ensure their election.

    Its been estimated that over 3 million illegals voted in this contest. The majority of these voters live CA, NY, Houston, Philly,..etc, cities which turn a blind eye to voter fraud. CO recently found hundreds of dead voters on their rolls. Switching to the popular vote would only make these violations increase.

    • ‘Its been estimated that over 3 million illegals ‘
      By who, when, specifics please, I have seen nothing to that effect on any reputable news source (and no alex jones or breibart is not a reputable or truthful news source).

      • I’ll have all 3 million names for you in a couple days.

        Two links to consider. One, the authorities don’t care. http://www.fox25boston.com/news/noncitizens-registered-to-vote-in-lawrence-but-officials-shrug-1/139165724

        And two, the Pres. says it’s ok to vote as an illegal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUN6FsQFOkY

        • Mr. Swede: The first link from 2012 listed four felons who were in custody when it was found out they were registered to vote. The rest of the story was speculation. So, we’re looking for about another 2,999, 996 more data points from you before we can begin to consider your point. Heck, if you can find 2 million nonresidents who registered, I’d say you have a serious point. But I very much doubt you can produce the evidence. The video you cited does not support the the statement, “the President says it’s ok to vote as an illegal.” He didn’t say that at all. He was responding to a question about immigration enforcement. He actually said, “When you vote, you are a citizen yourself.” Inelegant to be sure, but not permission to vote as a non-citizen. Sheesh.

    • “Its been estimated that over 3 million illegals voted in this contest.” It is really hard to swallow any of your arguments on any issue on this forum and I make that judgement not because I don’t embrace your philosophy even remotely, but because of lack of logic and dubious sources. That as absurd as stating 3 million white voters voted twice for Donald Trump. I can only assume you also believe the world is flat and that readers of this forum are from Mars.

    • What confounds me is that there were not 3 million police reports of raping and pillaging. I guess the illegals were to busy voting. Jeesh, Swede you cannot even spew your own lies without copying and pasting someone else’s lies. It reminds me of a certain speech I heard by a certain con man’s wife, she didn’t even bother to hide her plagiarism either. It sort of set the scene for the phony shit show called “Make America Great Again”

  8. Quote: “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.”

    I don’t see how Hillary fits into these qualifications. In fact if she had lived in Hamilton’s time as Sec. of State she’d be convicted of numerous offenses.

    Trump does have other talents, the talents of rebuilding our union. Now you may laugh at this but fear his success. If he solves many of our nation’s problems you’re in for a long dry spell.

    • “The second is a genuine crisis in the Left. It’s dying, having exhausted the intellectual content of the Communist Manifesto. The 20th century has proved its program futile, unsuccessful and homicidal. The future in which it lived had at last been caught in the form of the EU and the gigantic Federal government, and upon examination that future looked just like the past.

      What it had left was habit. On it shambled like a zombie. The residual power of the Left in Western institutions masked its intellectual bankruptcy until when tested that strength proved insufficient to stop Brexit or the election of Trump. Now it faces a bleak future: sans faith, sans conviction, sans power and sans tomorrow. It must reinvent itself, as the conservatives did after 2008 with its Tea Parties that never became parties but served as incubators for ideas that have not yet full hatched. The Left must reinvent itself, perhaps even stop being Left and becoming something wholly new. For the moment they’re lost and confused. As David Brooks clearly demonstrates, they’re in hell and they hate it.”-Richard Fernandez

  9. Eliminating the Electoral College would completely alter the campaign system and render the vast majority of the country irrelevant. It would be pure mob rule.
    While I don’t like the fact that it is the “swing states” that can’t make up their minds what they want to be, that run the table for the rest of the nation, just one look at the congressional district or county red/blue map makes me grateful for both the Senate, and the College.
    America dodged a big, corrupt, sleazy bullet this time.

  10. Big Swede and Dave Skinner: I appreciate your thoughts, but as you might expect, I disagree. I will have more to say soon.

    • Looking forward to more discussion on this topic.

      Maybe someone could chime in and tell how the party that uses “Super Delegates” can justify the elimination of the EC.

  11. Bill! Welcome home! I last saw you in Kyrgyzstan. Any way, I disagree with your premise. First, the EC insures that the president is elected by the country, not by urban areas. It means (for good or for bad depending on your view of the outcome of the 2016 election) that states like Montana have a disproportionate effect on the outcome of the EC vote. Second, when Congress proposed amendments to the Constitution after the Civil War, they did away with the 3/5s rule but did not abolish the EC, notwithstanding that the EC gave disproportionate weight to the states who had been in rebellion.

  12. Jeffrey Renz. Jog my memory with an email (mwm9389@gmail.com) about how we met in Kyrgyzstan. As to your premise that the president is elected by the couuntry, it all depends on how you define the country. More on this soon.

  13. Bill McRae, thanks for a fine article on the electoral college and the comments it created. What we know is that that January 20, 2017 the USA will have a president that operates far differently than any in our history and has named two top advisors, one with connections to the Washington “establishment” and one that would destroy that “establishment” — Misters Prebius and Bannon. Looks like the Apprentice is back with higher stakes for everyone and we’re will be required to watch, unlike how I avoided the other farce of a show, and now must view, even though less than a majority of the voters wanted to see the new edition of Trump’s World.

  14. Big Swede, You seem to always have a lot thoughts on every article. Why don’t you man up and use your real name so you can own your comments.

    • He does cowardly hide behind a pseudonym.

      • I like hanging with cowards, like cowgirl.

        • Cowgirl is not a coward. She writes the material you can only pretend to follow with falsehoods. What happen Swede, did your little feeling get hurt at Intelligent discontent? Or did it get bored at Reptile Dysfunction with everyone agreeing with you?

          • Mark still writes conspiracies you can follow. I know you love those Tin Hatted theories best!

          • Intelligent Discontent guys just up and quit, Norma.

            • Taking a sabbatical isn’t Quitting Swede. Other people will write posts there in Lieu of Don. One thing is sure….. You will be taking one very soon… if you cant stop harrassing commenters like Bob Williams here. Come up with a better dialogue for why you believe republicans will do better for American Montanans or get off. First and only warning you will get.

              • Quitting is quitting Mr. T, no matter if it’s temporary. So far Don or any one else have posted since the 9th, and Don did say this could be a retirement.

                I’d like to defend myself by saying there’s been a lot “harassing” going on from both perspectives. But somehow i’m being singled out. Why is that?

                Finally I’ve stated that Montanans would be better off with it’s existing Natural Resources jobs, jobs that Republicans will strive to keep and increase. I’ve also stated here in this posting that Montanans would be better served participating in the EC than the popular vote. Candidates would never listen to a small state population when they can promise LA and NY the moon.

                I’ve been polite and clear spoken, others have not, which makes me wonder that the ban hammer swings only in one ideological direction.

  15. Old Line Democrat | November 17, 2016 7:49 PM at 7:49 PM |

    Unfortunately, some of us might need to be anonymous to protect ones employment. Sane self-preservation is not cowardly. It is not a reflection of anyone’s views political or not, either.

  16. I understand your concerns of self preservation ,however if you are in a situation where you can not speak freely because of your job that is a problem . They need to be reminded of the 1st amendment . All we seem to here about is the 2nd amendment .

  17. The real issue is that while you are all intellectually masturbating with the words of dead presidents and constitution that is well on its way to the morgue, there is a shit storm brewing that makes Cheney’s use of the Bush wars for his ticket to financial freedom look like a Tupperware Party. Furthermore, in your musings, you neglected to examine the memo issued by living, breathing Presidents informing you that all amendments, except the Second, of the aforementioned sacred document are hereby placed on leave of absence until further notice by the King.

  18. Thank you for the inspiration – I will never capitalize trump again, and never capitalize the word ‘president’ adjacent to the word trump. Great Idea.

  19. Heres the deal Swede. First of all Hillary won the popular vote not Orange man. Secondly this is the last Hurrah for you over the hill bigots before the country goes to half white and Half other. 2020- to 2025 Whites become the minority in this country. No longer just white but black, hispanic and asian.

    http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/03/04/390672196/for-u-s-children-minorities-will-be-the-majority-by-2020-census-says

    This is the biggest reason you conservatives suppress the votes, and lie to get Fascists like Trump elected/ youre afraid they will do to you what you have done to them for years. Trust me they wouldn’t waste there time on the likes of you.

  20. Get a clue please. How naive, sometimes referred as stupid or ignorant. If the election was based on popular vote Trump would have changed his political strategy and still beat Hillary. They were both focused on electoral votes. she just got beat. Look at the all the states they were campaigning in towards the end. Trump kicked her butt in the blues states. Hillary was outsmarted. End of story. She out spent him overwhelming. The Dem’s need an overhaul and they know it. Contrary to what you think, you don’t know what’s best for the people. You have congressional seats up in two years and you have virtually lost all power now especially since the Dem’s foolishly changed from 2/3rds to a majority vote? Buck up, you lost or you can get rid of the electoral college and loose again. Note Montana will never see or hear our concerns by a Canada with only 1 Million votes in this state. Then what are you going to blame. But if you do get rid of the electoral college I would like to also see proof of citizenship to register to vote. No granting amnesty or promise of amnesty to pander votes including bringing in hundreds of thousands of refugees.

    • You’re woefully Ignorant Bill. You’re woefully Ignorant of our culture. You’re woefully dumb about MOntana history. Let me set you right.

      Trumps message is be very afraid of Blacks, Muslims, and Hispanics. His economics which are the real scare will make people who get paid less than 50,000 dollars a year pay 20% more in taxes then the rest of the taxable nation as a whole.

      According to the demographics of the 2016 election, by Nate Silver, in counties with a larger share of older white people over 60 Trump did better. What does this tell me, Trumps Lying boogeyman speeches worked.

      Trump did better than Romney in “majority minority” counties, those where non-Hispanic whites make up less than 50 percent of the population. His margins there were 4.5 percentage points better than Romney’s (though he lost them to Hillary Clinton by a wide margin).

      The higher the foreign-born population share of a county, the worse Trump performed. In the 91 counties where Naturalized citizens form more than 20 percent of the population, Trump did about 2 percentage points worse than Romney did in 2012. and lost to clinton by wide margins as well

      Only in Counties where whites were 75% or better did he beat Clinton. He did not beat Clinton in the popular vote. It wasn’t even close. Trump, and the republican Lying Boogeyman speeches win out with DUmb whites again and probably for the last time.

      Clinton Kicked ass in places where the Population had a better education than High school. Purple states went for Trump the core Blue states did not.

      Lastly, the states population, with the highest output of feeding this country. The more farms by capita in states like California, Washington, and Oregon Voted for Clinton. MOntana is not even on the top fifty states for food production. http://beef2live.com/story-states-produce-food-value-0-107252

      So trust me FArmers in general are being heard. Because real Farmers, and ranchers know that without a strong government their products do not get to market on time, and do not make as much money. So when farmers here tell me they are not getting heard in DC. It is Complete and Udder BUllshit. They are being heard and they are making money but not spending it like their other state counterparts who are living with Farm Government subsidies.

      Hell just because of Democratic Senator Jon Tester alone, Montana has reaped more government services in the last 8 years for farmers than any other time in history.

      The white Americans in this state drive newer trucks, where the gas milage is 6 miles a gallon and the tuneups are a 1000. dollars a pop, Thank goodness Obama Opened up new revenue leases for oil companies…. Or else you might have problems Towing that 10,000 dollar 4 wheeler in the back bed, while you cry your not treated better.

      Every year a democrat is in office in our state, our farmers make more doe ree me, because of democratic outreach to trade with the world. SOmething the Republicans in this state Have never tried to do. All you have to do is look at the data to know it is true. Same can be said of Mining.

      The reason coal is down to 30% in this country is Natural gas is cheaper to buy, Cheaper in regards of building power plants, and far cleaner and cheaper to extract. AUtomation took over coal jobs as well in this state. Coal is also doing poorly in this because of all the new Obama natural gas leases in this state.

      We have not until lately Mined for Natural Gas. We have spent more time ripping away Mountains in our state for an inferior amount and kind of Butamine that doesn’t burn at all as well as the coal back east. And lastly no one is buying coal as much in other countries. they themselves are all moving over to NAtural GAs.

      We are still out producing other countries in other fields of mineral extraction. So people who keep pointing to coal, as the end all to having mining jobs are plainly as dumb as the slag they keep throwing away.

  21. That’s our tax dollars!

    • as a state wher the Majority of People make 50,000 or less a year, you’ll be paying 20% more in Taxes than before with Trumps tax plan. you get less SS and Medicare benefits also. and without OBama care Half of the state won’t be able to pay for health Insurance.

      You sure showed us Liberals? By the way the last time the R’s had the house, senate and oval office was 1928 by 1929 we were in the great Depression. HIstory will repeat itself…..

      • In 2001, Republicans controlled the Presidency and House of Representatives. The Senate initially was split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, but as Vice President Cheney would cast the deciding vote in a tie, it can be argued that the Senate was also under Republican control. Bush 43, of course, wanted to return to the age of Hoover by privatizing Social Security.

        • Yep. Still screw us by the summer of 2007. when the country went belly up as well and wall street sank.

        • Looks like Paul Ryan wants to kill medicare first and then go after social security . He has stated that medicare would not be taken from folks that are 55 or older . However you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what would happen to the system when those that are younger than 55 stop paying into the system , and folks like myself that are retired and no longer paying into the system. My best guess is there would be between 60-70% less money going into the system and then when the money is gone ,Paul Ryan would be soo happy to just close the system down ,then tell us seniors ,too bad the money is gone.

  22. Huh. So this is what happens when a million monkeys are given a million keyboards.

  23. This is getting good – I think it’s finally settling in to you that the Dem Party is in a smoldering heap. It didn’t happen on the 8th, it’s been happening every election cycle since the policies of Barack Hussein Obama have been on a ballot. If it’s any consolation for you, not only are the Clinton’s gone forever, but so are the Bush’s.

    The Great Leader was elected in 2008, and in his first meeting with Congress he told John McCain that he wasn’t going to work with the GOP – He said elections have consequences and that he had won.

    In 2010 the Dems got hammered in the mid-terms.

    In 2012 we re-elected Obama. So much for saying we opposed him because of racism. All across the country State Houses, governorship’s, and local Dems got hammered.

    In 2014 Obama wasn’t on the ballot, and the Dems got hammered some more.

    This year, the Dems obviously learned nothing, and out of 350,000,000 people, roughly 40% of them calling themselves Dems, the candidate they nominated was Hillary Clinton? Then, she thought it was a good idea to campaign on Obamas policies, which the voters have rejected the last 3 elections, and double down on gun control, special rights for illegal aliens, and bragging about eliminating energy jobs – smart, really smart.

    It’s game over now for the Dems unless they can somehow go back to being the party of my father. I do not think they can do it without some major shifts in leadership, and soul-searching about who their constituency really is. The Montana Dems are no brighter, I heard Denise Juneau campaigning about how historic it would be to elect an openly-gay Indian woman to Congress. Does that sound like a winning talking point in Montana? They would have been better off having her putting in post-holes like the Dennis McDonald commercials.

    So to all you ‘Cowgirls’ & Libs here – that wet feeling on your behind is what it feels like to have a mudhole stomped into it, and it’s not going to feel better for a generation at least.

  24. What’s already happening is that USA culture is changing faster than the same speed old ‘cut taxes to the top 1% and increase the National Debt’ ideology.
    What may happen is people in the USA will insist on a better way to select/elect the President/Vice President of the USA. Please take a view of this USA map without the Electoral College system.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news

    What’s already happening. Like in the Third Reich, President Unpopular is surrounding himself with incompetents.

    And why is that? Because partisan takeover systems focus on making the nation into their image of authoritarianism, while excluding new economic, educational and cultural solutions to ongoing inequties.

    For instance nationalism/Nazism.

    And of course sectors of the Democratic Party will ally with emerging technologies, while the National R Party will circle round protecting the rip off racket of incentivi$ing fossil fuel extraction, to transfer yet more money and capital to the top 1% wealthiest white Americans voted in by people in their 50’s and 60’s.

    And, what will happen at Montana Cowgirl, will depend on what we say about Obama/HRC/Demo Party bashers Commenting with paste-ups from the hard right, and the fault right.

    Commenters short on understanding issues in Montana, but acting big to advocate for more R brand authoritarian fascism in Washington D.C.

    In other words, enuff, enuff of flame throwing fault right mediacators on this open forum on line journalism.

  25. I’m as pleased as a Montana prairie dog in spring grass that my modest post has generated such a discussion. I have sent Cowgirl a second post on ways to reform the electoral college, and I hope it appears here. (Yep, that’s a hint.) Here’s a question to ponder in the meantime…according to (http://www.montana-demographics.com/counties_by_population), Yellowstone County has 157K residents; Petroleum 475. How should the vote for governor be apportioned between these two counties, and why?

  26. Personally, I’m more concerned about the way that we fund political campaigns, than I am about the Electoral College.
    * The Electoral College sometimes gives us the candidate for president that didn’t get the most votes. But the way that we fund political campaigns restricts who we get to vote for in the first place.
    * The electoral college only affects the presidential race. The way that we fund political campaigns affects races up and down the ballot.

    If we funded political campaigns differently, we probably would have been voting on different candidates earlier this month.

    Here’s a video that illustrates the problem:
    https://www.ted.com/talks/lawrence_lessig_we_the_people_and_the_republic_we_must_reclaim?language=en

    Here’s a group of former elected officials addressing the problem:
    https://www.issueone.org/

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