The Electoral College: The Adams family
In 1775, the East coast colonies declared war against, and independence from, Great Britain. The Colonial leaders expressed that their number one reason for leaving was a loss of liberty, that they were being held against their will by an empire that did not treat them as full subjects, but as nothing more than a supply of income. So what would the new government look like, and who would be represented, and how?
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress declared the 13 Colonies a separate nation, and on July 4 of the same year, approved the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
While a hefty piece of the Declaration consisted of Jefferson laying out the criminalities of Britain upon the Colonies as a justification for leaving, the striking rhetoric is found in the preamble; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Jefferson continued, saying that the government derives its power from the “consent of the governed,” and that the governed have the right to “alter or abolish it.” Voting is key to American governance because it is how the people give their consent, and how they alter the system of governance through elected officials, and points on the ballot such as “vote yes for this or vote no for this.”
The question remained this; in the new America, a nation built on the idea of independence and fair representation, who received the right to vote, and what of those who did not?
To aid in the war effort, the Continental Army under George Washington offered freedom from slavery to Blacks in exchange for military service. Despite military service and being recognized as “freedmen,” African Americans still lacked the right to vote. This was not the universal case in all of the states, some joining under the impression of granted freedom, but not receiving it. Apparently not all men were perceived as equal, even if fighting for the same cause.
After the Revolutionary War concluded in 1783, the founders of the brand new nation had much to do, including nailing down what freedom actually meant, and who had it.
One of the most outspoken minds for freedom reaching past white men was Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams.
An amazing string of correspondence took place between Abigail and John during the war, and while being madly in love with each other, their ideals buttedheads often, but that is probably something the lawyer in John loved; he always had someone to argue with, and someone he probably saw to be just as bright as himself.
Abigail was a strong abolitionist and arguably one of the first women’s rights activists. Her quick wit and sharp mind produced words to John such as, “How strong could be the passion for Liberty among those accustomed to deprive their fellow citizens of theirs?”
Abigail also told John and those in Congress to “remember the ladies,” because all men “would be tyrants if they could.” Cries of tyranny was the cause for the new nation after all, and Abigail hated hypocrites. Despite Abigail’s reminder, suffrage for women was well over a century away.
“Women,” Abigail said, “will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Jeannette Rankin, in 1916, was the first elected female to a federal position. Rankin was a Montana Representative.
Who had the right to vote, and the requirements to be met in order to vote have changed drastically from 1783 to 2020. One man with a printing press released a pamphlet that read, “every silly clown and illiterate mechanic” should be able to vote. If you pay taxes, you should be represented by the government you are paying taxes to.
John Adams felt differently. Only a certain class had the ability and the right to have a say in the governing of the nation. Those people just happened to be white, male landowners. People without land, Adams reasoned, worked for someone else or lived under someone else, and therefore had “no judgement of their own.”
Removing the land requirement would, “confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostate all ranks to one common level.” Adams revealed himself to be another who did not perceive all men as equal.
By the 1780s a majority of white males did meet voting requirements, except for Virginia, Maryland, and New York. Many people in cities were artisans, craftsmen, and laborers not capable of land ownership by trade or economic ability.
America had its freedom from Britain, and was setting up a system of increased, but not perfect, representation for the American people, which would continuously be subject to change through Constitutional amendments.
The popular vote would not be a single determinant of the nation’s president, however, because Article II Section I of The Constitution implemented the Electoral College.
The next question is what is the Electoral College, what does it do in theory and practice.