The Electoral College will pick Donald Trump to be the 45th United States president on December 19, even though voters preferred Hillary Clinton by a margin of nearly 2 million votes — and for that seemingly unfair discrepancy Americans can thank Alexander Hamilton.
Today, of course, Hamilton is best known as the subject of a smash Broadway musical, and for decades his face has been familiar to all Americans as the man on the $10 bill. But most importantly, Alexander Hamilton was the first U.S. secretary of the treasury and the Founding Father most responsible for creating the Electoral College.
In an online poll this week, which can be seen at this link, Inquisitr readers by a 65-35 percent margin said that the Electoral College should vote to make Clinton president. But while the Electoral College is at the center of a political firestorm after the 2016 presidential election, Hamilton himself paid for his creation of the controversial institution with his life.
Here’s what happened.
The way Hamilton authored the original language creating the Electoral College, each elector cast two separate ballots — one for president and one for vice-president. But in the election of 1800, Democratic-Republican (that was the name of a major party in that era) candidate Thomas Jefferson tied with the same party’s vice-presidential candidate, Aaron Burr, with 73 electoral votes.
Hamilton chose to back Jefferson, who was finally selected as president in 1801 by the House of Representatives. Burr became vice-president, but Jefferson dumped him from the ticket in 1804, never trusting Burr after the Electoral College debacle.
After reading in a newspaper that Hamilton had condemned him as “unfit and dangerous,” Burr grew so resentful that he challenged Hamilton to a duel with pistols. Hamilton accepted, albeit reluctantly, figuring that the duel would put an end to the feud and let him return to the business of government.
It was an unwise decision. While Hamilton fired wide of Burr, the vice-president’s shot struck Hamilton. He died of his wound the following day.
A month earlier, the Founding Fathers had amended the constitution to give each elector in the Electoral College just one vote, for a ticket of candidates, rather than two.
Why Hamilton Created the Electoral College
While there were several competing plans for how to choose a president considered by the authors of the U.S. Constitution, none involved allowing voters to choose the president directly, by popular vote. The Founding Fathers simply did not have faith that the people would pick the most qualified candidates to govern the new, young nation.
That lack of trust in the people was Hamilton’s primary motivation behind his Electoral College proposal — a plan he called “not perfect, (but) at least excellent.”
In the 68th article of the Federalist Papers — a collection of essays promoting ratification of the Constitution — Hamilton in 1788 almost seemed to predict the rise of Donald Trump 228 years later. Except that in Hamilton’s conception, the Electoral College would stop such candidates from attaining the presidency.
“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,” Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, published under the pseudonym Publius.
Hamilton went on to worry that men (and in Hamilton’s day, it would be only men) possessing “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” could be elected by the people. But with the safeguard of “an intermediate body of electors,” comprised of “men most capable of analyzing the qualities” that would make a qualified president, candidates of “low intrigue” would be prevented from taking the country’s highest office.
PREVIOUS ELECTORAL COLLEGE COVERAGE FROM THE INQUISITR:
For a further explanation of how and why Hamilton created the Electoral College, as well as explanations of some of the competing plans for choosing the U.S. president, view the video below by historian and teacher Keith Hughes, from his HipHughes History YouTube series.
To read the full Federalist Papers, one of the most important documents in American history, authored by Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, access the complete text including Article 68 by clicking on this link. The three men were among the most important of the Founding Fathers. Jay also served as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, while Madison who is sometimes described as “The Father of the Constitution” was the United States’ fourth president, serving from 1809 to 1817.
[Featured Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]