For the past 240 years, American presidential elections have been bound by a concept never mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since the 1840’s known as the “Electoral College.” But the author of the Constitution, James Madison had a much darker intention for this clever bit of legerdemain to control how the White House is occupied every four years. From the time of the Constitutional Convention, the states from Delaware to Georgia knew that they had to pursue all efforts to preserve what they euphemistically called their “peculiar institution,” the right to own human beings. To that end, delegates to the Convention from South Carolina and Georgia made it abundantly clear to Madison and to the delegates from the northern states that at the first sign that anyone was threatening abolition of slavery, they would pack up, return home, and create a separate nation. This threat rapidly produced a notion that would drive American domestic policy over the next ninety years: preservation of “the Union” (“our federal union; it must be preserved” –Andrew Jackson, 1830). From that point in the Convention, it was almost as if the floor were scattered with glass shards, and the delegates forced to remove their shoes; all walked very carefully around the topic of slavery.
Benjamin Franklin simply advised a popular election from the American electorate: the candidate with the most votes becomes President. But other delegates feared the rabble, and feared that ignorance would produce jingoism in the Oval Office. They wished to delegate this ultimate authority to the various state legislatures, based upon the population of the various states. In the wake of the “Connecticut compromise” of two houses of Congress, the idea of some sort of hybrid between the Senate and House selecting the President was deemed a reasonable compromise. But then the obvious question arose: in that setting, what loyalties and what demands could arise from a Congress that held the authority to choose a President? These delegates feared a White House lapdog to Capitol Hill. By this time, Madison had had the opportunity to hear his colleagues out, and with sentiments at a standstill, he nefariously proposed a “compromise.” Madison’s solution as iterated by various mouthpieces during the convention would allow for a census that would include slaves at a ratio of 3/5 of a true human being (read: White person) to account for the discrepancy in the constituents of the populations of the northern and southern states.
With the elocution skills of a Whole Life Insurance salesman, Madison sold his concept on the basis of “fairness” to accommodate the slave-owning southern Patriots, and with the Pinckney cousins of Charleston, and especially with William Few of Georgia sitting in assent, the northern delegates swallowed hard, and then swallowed Madison’s hook. In an instant the Electoral College was brought to life. And with it was carried the idea that the more voters a state could disenfranchise, the more that state would control every presidential election. A cursory review of the occupants of the White House prior to the Civil War bears stark witness to the wisdom of Madison in “counting his Negroes:” with the exception of van Buren who was an acolyte of Jackson, there is not one northern president who was opposed to slavery prior to Abraham Lincoln, and not one two-term northern president at all. With Madison’s craftiness, the south literally owned the White House for its first seventy years.
In the years after the Civil War, the southern states would persist in their realization (which is quite correct) that “the more voters we can disenfranchise, the more control we have in a presidential election.” To that end, the south replaced slavery with chain gangs made up of Black Americans convicted of various non-crimes over the next one hundred years. These chain gangs would assist mightily in building infrastructure and assisting in the various southern harvests every year, an ongoing source of free labor and disenfranchised voters. To this day states continue in the madness of the Electoral College and its quiet encouragement to disenfranchise those voters who “don’t vote correctly” (read: don’t vote for White candidates) by any means from poll taxes to questionnaires, to photo identification requirements. And when we ask about the support for the concept of the Electoral College its most staunch supporters remain the same: those who would suppress minorities, immigrants, and the working poor from their right to vote.