Electoral College, Part 3: When a majority doesn't work

By Steve Farrell
web posted November 27, 2000

George Chapman observed, in 1605, "Young men think old men are fools." And so do progressives.

As the constitutional debate over the future of the electoral college mounts, there certainly is no shortage of youthful, progressive, cocksure "experts" exuding but one message - the Founders were narrow, provincial men who took no thought for tomorrow - while we, the elite class of the Latter Days are a better educated, more forward looking group of Universalists, who are so much the wiser.

But wisdom doesn't work that way. Wisdom slows down, takes a deep breath, looks back into history and humbly searches the moral and political memory banks of those "old men" for a few valuable lessons to apply where appropriate. Wisdom knows - if one fails to learn from history, one will ultimately fail.

It was out of respect for the wisdom of the senior class, that inspired the Founders to wear white wigs, because back then, generally the older, meant the wiser.

Where is that humility, patience, and respect for tradition today? In a "crisis," moderns prefer to do, arrogantly and impulsively, whatever it takes, and get it over with, regardless of the principles compromised, regardless of the long-term risks, regardless of how they trample upon the graves of their Forefathers.

Consider election 2000. One side believes if we lose the count, fair and square, let's reinvent the counting process. If the republican electoral college system gets in our way, let's get rid of it and shout democracy. If we lack instant answers to tough questions like "why not one person one vote?" let's not rummage through dusty old books in search of ageless answers, but let's cave in, in order to fit in.

One person, one vote, one national tally sounds like a good rule, but if we listen to the voices of the past, we might just learn that flat out majority rule is not the best rule. After all, absolute reliance upon the wisdom of majorities, without the balance and checks of other considerations, can get us into big trouble. De Tocqueville wrote in 1832: "If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event will arise from the unlimited tyranny of the majority."

Lincoln echoed the same: "If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time, or die by suicide." Moderns don't seem to understand that liberty brings with it those kind of risks, and that to decrease the risks, the Founders put together something more complex than majority rule, a republic.

John Marshal, chief justice of the Supreme Court between 1801 and 1805, explained: "Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos."

An over-reliance on majority opinion brings injustice, stupidity, and eventually suicide. There is evidence:

By majority vote, ancient Israel rejected a free system of judges, for kings.

By a majority (unanimous) vote Christ was convicted and sentenced to death.

By majority vote, Greek city-states came and passed away in violent, short-lived fits of passion.

By majority vote, Rome changed from a free republic to a brutal empire.

By majority vote the British House of Commons soundly rejected Thomas Jefferson's proposal to abolish slavery in colonial Virginia.

By majority vote the British House of Commons passed the Stamp Tax, and other oppressive measures, which led to the War of Independence.

By majority vote the Continental Congress forced Jefferson to remove from the Declaration of Independence a passage calling for the abolition of the British tradition of slavery in the United States.

By majority vote, the Sedition Act of 1798 passed, restricting liberty of speech and the press. By majority vote, in the early and mid 1800's, the institution of slavery continued, and spread to new states as they joined the Union.

By majority vote, the south seceded, state-by-state, initiating a civil war, the bloodiest war in US history, and the beginning of the end for state rights. By super majorities, Congress and the states passed the 17th Amendment in 1913, rejecting America's most important check against socialism and federal domination of the states - the election of US Senators by state legislatures - in favor of the direct election of the Senate by the people. A decade later, socialism began.

Ever since then, by majority vote Americans have adopted one socialist measure after another, until the majority have come to believe that the federal government has the right to redistribute wealth, and control nearly every economic and educational activity in this nation.

Recently, by majority vote, jurists were manipulated and intimidated by a liberal majority media to set a new and dangerous pattern where compelling evidence against a murderer was ignored because the murderer was a member of a minority race. Ever since then, racial profiling has come to mean more, in the minds of many, than innocence or guilt.

By majority vote, last year, a President, guilty of perjury and obstruction of Justice, was acquitted - and by the feigned majority vote of opinion polls, a Senate refused to examine the evidence of those crimes and others, because the polls told them that a conviction might hurt their re-election hopes.

Finally, the broad majority vote of the nation's electors in the year 2000 is being challenged by the narrowly focused majority vote of a few big city/states who want the right to break the rules, bully their way into supremacy, and for future convenience, abolish the electoral college system.

This big city/state majority feels that it matters not that the opposing candidate has won the support of 2,434 counties, compared to their candidates 677 counties; that the opposing candidate won the approval of the people who lived in over 2.4 million square miles of US territory as compared with their candidates half a million miles, that the opposing candidate won 60 percent of the states, and captured the virtual representation of 143 million Americans v. their candidates 127 million (this is so, because the electoral college rule gives you a vote representing the entire state, including those who failed to vote, for whatever reason). (See Inside Cover's electoral map) None of that matters, it seems, for some majorities are intent on proving the Founders right about majority rule being for mobs of bullies and tyrants.

That is why, in many of the above examples, certain other factors came in to play, or should have come in to play, that did or could have halted the mistakes of the majority, things like unalienable rights, or alternative or appellate court hearings, or war, or republican checks.

Everywhere we look, in fact, we find our government offers all kinds of alternatives or checks to majority rule which are helpful. Consider:

  • Appellate courts of state and federal judges (with no jury involved) reverse the decision of people's courts of original jurisdiction.
  • Civil convictions hold accountable those who fooled a jury on capital charges.
  • A President's veto checks the majority will expressed in congressional bills.
    Supreme Courts declare unconstitutional laws approved by majorities of both Houses of Congress.
  • Congress and the President pass new legislation to reverse the majority decision of the Supreme Court, or limit its jurisdiction.
  • Constitutional amendments override Constitutional laws previously approved by supermajorities of the people.
  • Amendments are won, not by simple majorities, but by a tough and time consuming house by house, state-by-state process, in search of new supermajorities.
  • The Bill of Rights overrules laws which violate those rights.
    Governors and Presidents issue pardons which overthrow the majority votes of juries, the affirmations of appeals courts, or which prevent civil court action from taking place, in the interest of preserving the peace, or reversing a possible injustice.
  • State legislatures (like in Vermont) create laws which reject a law approved by the national will in Washington. All of which points to one thing, obtaining a sense of the majority will is important; but the majority will is not the word of God, and in far too many cases, it is about as far from that word as one can go. We all know this is true. So who are we trying to kid by insisting upon it?

Our government is a republic, and republics, though imperfect, are careful about making laws and initiating change. They explore the law from a variety of angles, rather than just the one angle of the majority. If anything, we should sure up, and restore our Republican features, not throw them out or tear them down.

John C. Calhoun

American statesmen John C. Calhoun warned: "People do not understand liberty or majorities. The will of a majority is the will of a rabble. Progressive democracy is incompatible with liberty. Those who study after this fashion are yet in the hornbook, the ABC of governments. Democracy is leveling -- this is inconsistent with true liberty. Anarchy is more to be dreaded than despotic power. It is the worst tyranny. The best government is that which draws least from the people, and is scarcely felt, except to execute."

Some of our worst mistakes as a nation, and by other nations, have been made by majority vote. It is only by considering the rights and interests of a broad sweep of our nation that we hope to avoid making such errors again. That is why we have a Republic, and why we have such features as the electoral college.

The tendency of moderns to arrogantly and impulsively do whatever it takes, to win, to move on, to avoid having thinking about it, is as great a danger as a free people can face.

Yes, "Young men think old men are fools." but there's more to Chapman's quote: "Old men know that young men are fools." Perhaps, with a little bit of wisdom, a little bit of listening and learning, a little bit of patience and a little bit of faith, some of those young progressives might find out why this is so.

Steve Farrell is a freelance writer, a graduate of the University of New York, and a constitutional law student at George Wythe College. His column appears every Tuesday and Thursday in NewsMax.com. Missed a column? Visit Steve's archives at http://www.newsmax.com/columnists/Farrell.shtml.

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