America Chooses A Successor To George III (13 of 20)

Thomas E. Dewey would be the vice-president instead of Harry S. Truman if the Constitution had remained unto this day as it was originally written by the framers and accepted by the people. Hoover, Landon, and Willkie would each have presided over the Senate as holders of the second highest office in the power of the American people to bestow, if we had not departed form the procedure given in the original Constitution.

The people of the United States have never elected a president or a vice-president. They have provided through their Constitution that this power will be exercised by an Electoral College. The delegates to this unique organization are chosen by the qualified voters of the several states.

The original Constitution provided that the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes in the Electoral College should be the President, provided that this number was a majority. Then that candidate for president who received the next highest number of votes would automatically become the vice-president.

This procedure was established in the days when there were no political parties as we know them today. Differences existed among the colonies, but they were geographic and economic differences. Washington was elected the first president and John Adams the first vice-president on a strictly non-partisan basis.

With the development of political parties it became apparent that this Electoral College system if left without change would thwart the will of the voters in every presidential election. Under the two party system it would mean that every defeated presidential candidate would be come vice-president.

The 12th Amendment was devised to preserve the form of the Electoral College, but to change the procedure so that the president and vice-president would represent the same political party, A man is now a candidate for either the office of president or of vice-president and not for both at once and that on the same ballot. This is the Amendment which chose March 4th as the inaugural date. The only change since then has been the “lame-duck” or 20th Amendment which provides that the terms of the president and vice-president shall end and commence at noon on the 20th day of January following their elections.

The selection of a term of office and a manner of election of a president was one of the difficult decisions which faced the Constitutional convention. Hamilton preferred a monarchy patterned on that of mother England, and under his plan there would have been no problem of election, nor would there have been created the republican form of government which we now enjoy.

There is considerable debate recorded on the merits and demerits of an elected life tenure. The term of office was interwoven with the matter of eligibility for reelection. Time after time the delegates agreed upon one term or another only to discard their decisions and vote for some other term at a subsequent ballot. A 20-year term was suggested by King, a 15 by Gerry, and an 11 by Martin. Mason sponsored a 7-year term and on two occasions the convention voted for that term. Later a 6 year term was accepted and finally the present 4 year term. There have been well over 100 resolutions introduced in Congress calling for an amendment to the Constitution which would change the presidential term.

It took 11 different polls of the delegates to finally determine upon the method of choosing the president. At one time the proposition of popular election passed with a vote of 9 states to one, the Pennsylvania delegation being the only one voting in the negative.

In the absence of political parties and under the conditions existing in the 13 original states the Electoral College undoubtedly was an ingenious success. Today it is completely outmoded. Even the election of senators who were designed to represent the states and not the people, has been changed by amendment to a direct election by the people, rather than by state legislatures.

Twice in the history of presidential elections candidates have been elected after receiving only a minority of the popular vote. Tilden in 1876 and Cleveland in 1888 both received more popular votes than Hayes and harrison, but the latter two were elected. In 1912 Wilson received 42 percent of the popular vote and 82 percent of the electoral vote. It has been calculated that 300,000 strategically placed votes for Dewey would have been worth more than the 3,000,000 vote lead of Roosevelt.

There is no method for changing the Electoral College setup except by an amendment to the Constitution. This ought to be done.

This Article was serialized in 20 segments
which appeared on the editorial page (page 4) of
The Deseret News, 19 March 1945 through 10 April 1945.

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