WI: The US Had Abolished the Electoral College in 1804?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Amadeus, Aug 5, 2018.

  1. Amadeus Well-Known Member

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    After the confusion of 1800, the US amended it's constitution to ensure that Presidential electors vote for one Presidential ticket. Simultaneously, President Jefferson privately expressed support for abolishing the electoral college altogether. His argument was essentially the same as those often heard today: the EC is undemocratic because it takes what should be the peoples' right and hands it over to a small minority of delegates. Given Jefferson's immense political influence and public stature, had he pushed for an end to the EC there was a chance he could have gotten it.

    Here is the POD: In 1796, after a few votes are shifted in PA and MD, Adams wins the Presidency without the popular vote. Jefferson feels cheated and eight years later the 12th Amendment provides for a unified Presidential ticket and an end to the EC. What if, since 1804, the US has direct elections for the Presidency?
     
  2. Tonifranz Well-Known Member

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    What popular vote in 1800?

    Problem was that there was no popular vote in 1804, or even 1796! If you look at the elections, the popular only started to be recorded in 1824! So what argument since most states electors were chosen by state legislatures before 1828, so nobody would think to institute popular vote in 1800, 1804, just like in 1789.
     
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  3. Carl Schwamberger Well-Known Member

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    Might be useful at this point to review who wanted the electoral college and why.
     
  4. Amadeus Well-Known Member

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    Pennsylvania, Maryland, and parts of Georgia counted popular votes for President in 1796. That is what I was clearly referring to. The popular vote was created on a state by state basis over time and this preceded 1824. That year, the popular vote was counted mostly in Southern and western states. Much of the Northeast (including New York, the most populous state at the time), did not count popular votes for President. By 1860 every state counted popular votes for President with ths exception of SC, which finally came around in 1868.

    Also, you seem to have missed the part where I laid the entire basis of this thread on the fact that Jefferson preferred the people to vote directly for the President. So yes, somebody did think to institute a popular vote system and he just so happened to be Chief Executive of the entire country and a major founding father.
     
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  5. Tonifranz Well-Known Member

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    But the premise is wonky. There was no total national popular vote for the entire nation which Jefferson could feel cheated by just because Adams won. If you look at the sources, in 1796 or 1800, Jefferson did not condemn anything because he happened to have a greater popular vote in 1796 or 1800. What he condemned what the effort to put his own running mate Burr as President in 1800 because both received the same number of votes. Which was easily remedied in 1804 by instituting separate ballots for President or Vice President.
     
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  6. Amadeus Well-Known Member

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    It was the product of a compromise at the Constitutional Convention between factions who wanted Congress to elect the President and those who wanted a direct popular vote system. The premise of the thread is that Jefferson who privately - but not publically - held the latter position is motivated to reform the Presidential election system entirely, not just streamline it as in OTL. I picked this time period since aside from 1828 (which to my knowledge has already been done on this site), 1804 seemed like the best political window to get rid of the EC.
     
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  7. Amadeus Well-Known Member

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    Neither was there one in 1824, but Jackson still felt cheated because he won the popular vote in a plurality of state that had them and once elected he supported efforts to abolish the EC in favor of a national popular vote. Ultimately he decided not make this a political priority because being Andrew Jackson he became consumed by a paranoid fear of the National Bank and his legendary bloodlust for indigenous peoples. Had he maintained his focus on electoral reform and made it a defining issue like Jefferson did with the 12th Amendment, Jackson could have done away with the EC.

    The conceit of the thread is that the 1824 situation is more or less repeated twenty eight years early, and in too consecutive election years America sees the flaws of a Presidency not accountable to the few popular votes cast and the inefficient system that caused the 1800 deadlock. Where Jackson failed, the rational, cool headed Jefferson succeeds. This is just a what if, I'm not saying this necessarily would have happened. We might disagree on the details of how all this comes about, but I am curious to know your thoughts on what the history of the US would be without an EC for most of its history. Which really is the whole purpose of this thread.
     
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  8. Heliogabalus Well-Known Member

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    Not as unlikely as it seems. By 1804, it was obvious that the Electoral College had failed in its original purpose - in the absence of any organized political parties or national campaigns, electors were supposed to be disinterested, nonpartisan gentlemen who voted for whichever two candidates they thought were most qualified, and then whatever candidate happened to have the most support among the electors would become president. But as early as 1796, everyone knew whether the elector they were voting for was a Federalist who would cast him ballot for John Adams or a Republic who would cast his ballot for Thomas Jefferson. It made sense to reform the system, especially once the Democratic Republicans - who were far less enchanted by the concept of "disinterested gentlemen" making decisions on behalf of the common people - became dominant.

    The main obstacles are that many states didn't even have a statewide popular vote, instead electing electors by congressional district or via state legislature, so it will be difficult for them to adapt, and that states with lower populations and/or a higher number of slaves will oppose the move because it gets rid of their inflated electoral vote count.

    But this is a WI, not an AHC. Immediately, there's going to be a transfer of power from electors and state legislators, who are more loyal to their party and are thus likely to back an unpopular "establishment" candidate, and the voting population, who are more inclined to support people like Andrew Jackson. The Jefferson-Madison-Monroe succession might still occur, but after that it's unpredictable. In the long term, the popular vote will give a less power to Southern states, which could lead to an earlier slavery crisis and civil war.
     
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  9. Mikestone8 Well-Known Member

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    A lot depends on what happens if no one gets a majority vote. Do we get a runoff between Adams and Jackson in 1824, and (butterflies permitting) between Lincoln and Douglas in 1860?
     
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  10. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    The electoral college hands more power to small states, or so the small states believe. How on Earth are you going to get a majority of small states to pass such an amendment?
     
  11. Carl Schwamberger Well-Known Member

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    Was the EC not also favored by the slave states?
     
  12. Just a Rube Well-Known Member

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    Very much so. The 3/5 Compromise for presidential voting only works if you have something like the Electoral College to weight the votes of different states differently (notably, Jefferson actually benefited from this in 1800, as the pro-Federalist states were either Free or trending that way, while the major slave states all voted Democrat-Republican).

    That's less important in 1800, where other issues dominate, but still important enough that getting rid of it would require some other way to mollify the slave states (who, again, are Jefferson's base).
     
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  13. funnyhat Well-Known Member

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    I assume it would just go to the candidate with the most votes, as is typically true of US elections.
     
  14. Mikestone8 Well-Known Member

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    In that case, the 1824 election is effectively decided in New York. OTL, its State election drew out nearly 200,000 voters, while the national popular vote for POTUS (in those states which had one) was less than 400,000. It NY's presidential vote is anything like its legislative one then Adams probably wins outright, while if for any reason it isn't, then Jackson wins. This is probably still the case whether or not Clay and Crawford remain in the contest. [1]

    1860 is harder to call. If the popular vote divides as OTL then Lincoln wins. But it almost certainly won't. If there is no hope of a contingent election in the HoR, there is no point in Breckinridge or Bell running, as neither has any chance of topping the poll. Even if they do run, in these circs their vote is apt to be heavily squeezed. As their combined popular vote was about 1.5 million, if a third of it switches to Douglas then he overtakes Lincoln. If they don't run, then of course Douglas walks away with it.

    [1] Are VPs voted for separately or do they have to be part of a ticket? In particular, can Calhoun still be running-mate to both Adams and Jackson, as OTL, or must he choose between them?
     
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  15. Mikestone8 Well-Known Member

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    One thing which might improve the chances for something like this.

    In May 1802 the HoR passed an earlier (and much shorter) version of the 12th Amendment, which merely provided that Electors must designate whom they were voting for as president, and whom as Vice-President. The vote in the Senate was 15-8, just one short of the required two-thirds. Had it passed, it would likely have been ratified, as the dominant Dem/Reps were anxious to have this change in place before the 1804 election.

    However, this amendment would have left a lot of unfinished business. It did not specify that a majority was required to elect a VP,or that no one constitutionally ineligible as POTUS could be eligible as VP, nor that a VP could act as POTUS if the HoR failed to choose one by March 4. Perhaps most interestingly for 1824, it does not reduce the HoR's choice from the first five candidates to the first three.

    In this situation 1824 could be even weirder than OTL, perhaps with Clay, despite coming last in electoral votes, managing to win in the HoR, or else the HoR failing to make a choice, resulting in a constitutional dispute as to whether the VP-elect can become POTUS on March 4. Either would be sufficiently controversial to produce a demand for a further amendment, and Jacksonians might well argue for a direct popular vote. Whether they would get it, though, is another matter. Imho it would still be a pretty long shot, with either a choice of electors in districts or (less probable) a proportional division of each state's electoral votes being more likely to emerge.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2018
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  16. David T Well-Known Member

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    Many states chose electors (pledged to a particular candidate) by popular vote (either statewide or by district) before 1824, and it is a myth that the popular vote before that time is unknown. Scholars have been able to reconstruct it fairly well, using old newspapers and other sources. An excellent source is "A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns 1787-1825" https://elections.lib.tufts.edu/about.html For example, here are the 1812 returns for Pennsylvania: http://staffweb.wilkes.edu/harold.cox/pres/PaPres1812.html

    The basic problem with a national popular vote before the ACW was slavery. Indeed, the Electoral College was chosen largely because it was the closest you get to national popular vote without putting the South at a disadvantage. To quote an old post of mine:

    ***

    A fact that is insufficiently recognized is that at the Constitutional Convention, the big issue in electing the president was *not* between direct popular vote and the Electoral College, but between popular vote (whether directly or through an electoral college ) and election by Congress. The obvious problem with direct popular election is that it would put the southern states at a disadvantage--even one as large as Virginia, for as Hugh Williamson of North Carolina remarked, "Her slaves will have no suffrage."
    http://books.google.com/books?id=n0oWAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA32

    One might think that the advocates of legislative election based their arguments on the idea that the legislature should be supreme, but that was not really the case. The delegates quickly decided that the president should be independent of the legislature, but almost until the end of the Convention the small states still favored legislative election, which they felt would be more beneficial to their states and, as Williamson argued, not inconsistent with executive independence, given a fixed salary for the president and no possibility of re-election. What was ultimately decided on was a compromise satisfactory to the legislative-election advocates, not only because the Electoral College was based on legislative apportionment--with the resulting advantage to the small states, especially thanks to the two electoral votes each state got for its Senate representation--but also because it was widely assumed that in most elections, no candidate would get a majority, and the race would go into the House, to be decided on a one-delegation, one-vote basis.

    Contrary to the widespread belief that the Electoral College was meant as an "elitist" anti-democratic measure, the most avid supporters of the Electoral College were the advocates of popular election. They felt that the Electoral College was the closest one could get to a popular-election plan that could actually pass the Convention, given that small states had the balance of power there, and given the practical difficulties posed by differences in electoral laws and conditions from state to state--and especially the obvious difficulty pointed out by Williamson on how direct elections would limit the power of the slave states. James Wilson who as early as June 1 had called for popular election of the president, on June 2 called for election by electors chosen by the people, "but this was not meant as a significant change and was never really considered as such by the leading members of the Convention. The major alternatives were legislative election versus some form of popular election, either direct or indirect..." David K. Nichols, *The Myth of the Modern Presidency,* p. 40. http://books.google.com/books?id=x6qPrM4B32IC&pg=PA40

    Nichols notes that "It is also commonly assumed that the use of electors was a product of the Framers' distrust of popular opinion. In support of this claim we are often treated to quotations from delegates to the convention such as George Mason who said 'It would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief Magistrate to the people, as it would be to refer a trial of colours to a blind man.' There is, however, a major problem with using such statements to show the antidemocratic character of the electoral college. The delegates who expressed the deepest distrust of popular votes were delegates who eventually opposed the Constitution, such as George Mason or Elbridge Gerry, or those who favored election by the legislature, such as Roger Sherman, Charles Pinkney, or George Mason...

    ""But what of Alexander Hamilton's argument in the *Federalist*? There Hamilton claimed that the electoral college would refine popular opinion, would prevent the worst aspects of popular opinion from operating in the election of the President. Some delegates probably supported the electoral college because they saw it as a check on popular opinion. But it is interesting to note that Hamilton's argument in the *Federalist* for the refining effect of the electoral college was not made at the Constitutional Convention. Instead, Gouverneur Morris argued that the extent of the nation would serve to refine popular choice. Morris contended that although persons of dubious character and ability might be elevated to office in a single district or state, they would be unlikely to be elected by the nation as a whole. Only worthy candidates would have a chance of gaining election from so large a constituency. For Morris it was the size of the nation, and not the judgment of the electors, that would screen unworthy candidates. Hamilton borrows Morris's language for use in the *Federalist* but he substantially alters Morris's argument..." http://books.google.com/books?id=x6qPrM4B32IC&pg=PA43

    Morris, as it turns out, was more perceptive than Hamilton (or than many small-state delegates who wishfully thought that presidential races would frequently be thrown into the House; Morris correctly predicted that this would not be the case, arguing that under the new constitution with its more powerful national government, men with national reputations would be likely to arise, and people would vote for them rather than waste their votes on local or regional favorites). The Electoral College never really "screened" public opinion; the party system did that. Even as early as 1796, the first "faithless elector" provoked howls of outrage ("What, do I choose Samuel Miles to determine for me whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson shall be President? No! I choose him to act, not to think.") and even further back, in 1792, when the presidency was uncontested, the vice-presidency was basically determined on party lines, with electors voting for Adams or Clinton based on which party had the support of the voters or legislatures that chose the electors. In short, from a *very* early time, the Electoral College became an essentially popular election (admittedly in a modified form), and arguably was intended as such from the beginning.

    In fact, even the Anti-Federalists conceded the popular nature of the Presidency. To some, that was part of the problem. Patrick Henry said, "To me it appears that there is no check in that Government. The President, Senators, and Representatives all immediately, or mediately, are the choice of the people." http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch11s13.html
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2018
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  17. Anarch King of Dipsodes Overlord of All Thirst

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    But they don't know that. In the era before polling, expectations about the outcomes of election were often wildly different from the actual results. For instance, in 1856, Chief Justice Taney wrote to his son-in-law predicting the election of either Fillmore or Frémont. In 1904, Roosevelt was still worrying about the outcome as of election eve.

    And the 1860 election was chaotic - no one could really say what was going to happen. The Republicans were very worried that Bell would split the non-Democrat vote in the North, though he actually had little effect.

    I would add that the Bell backers were terrified of the possibility of secession and civil war, and hoped desperately that to avert it by electing a "Union" candidate with no slavery stance.
     
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  18. Mikestone8 Well-Known Member

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    But weren't things a lot clearer by 1860?

    Fillmore's dismal performance in the North in 1856, and that of the "Buchanan" Democrats in Illinois in 1858, and of Old Whigs/Americans generally in the 1858 midterms, surely made it pretty clear that the battle in the North was between the Republicans and the Douglas Democrats, with Bell a distant third or fourth everywhere, and Breckinridge ditto save perhaps in PA. And given that, of the four million votes cast in 1856 [1] only 1.1 million were cast in the Slave States, the latter's division between B&B made it a dead cert that the next POTUS would be chosen in the North, so that effectively the race was between Lincoln and Douglas.

    The Republicans were indeed worried about Bell, but not because they thought he had any chance of winning a Northern state. They feared that the five or ten percent which he might get here and there could be enough to tip crucial states into the Douglas column. That question wouldn't arise w/o the Electoral College.



    But did they suppose that their man had any chance of topping the poll in November? I had always assumed they were looking to a deadlock and a "brokered" election in the HoR - which can't happen on this TL.


    [1] I am of course assuming here that the 1856 turnout has been about the same as OTL. In fact it might go slightly higher, as supporters of the minority parties in "safe" states would have more incentive to vote. But at 78.9% it was pretty high already, so we're probably only talking a percentage point or two - and the disparity between the free and slave states is unlikely to be altered much.
     
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  19. Anarch King of Dipsodes Overlord of All Thirst

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    Hardly. Since 1852, a major party had collapsed, two new major parties had arisen, and one of those had collapsed. The Democrats were split. In those conditions, almost anything seemed possible.

    Popular votes were irrelevant, it is electoral votes that count.

    Sure they did. As noted, the Democrats were split. Suppose that split carried through the South, while Bell held the old Whig vote and rallied Unionists; he could sweep the region.

    The free states would be harder. But again, the Democrats were split. And the Republicans were expected to nominate Seward, who had a reputation as an extremist. Moderate Whiggish voters would prefer Bell. If Bell won a few of the free states, he could get an electoral majority.

    Or so they thought.

    Also, there were Bell-Douglas fusion slates of electors in several states. The fusion slate (four Bell, three Douglas) in New Jersey would have won narrowly OTL, except that a few thousand Democrats rejected the fusion deal and voted for Democrats instead of the four Bell electors. This allowed four Republican electors to win narrowly. If other fusion slates won, Bell could win a bunch of EV that way.

    BTW, Lee wrote in fall 1860 that if Douglas would just withdraw and throw his support to Breckinridge, Breckinridge could win, which was truly unrealistic.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2018
  20. Mikestone8 Well-Known Member

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    OTL yes - but TTL this election (and others since 1804) have been by direct popular vote.

    Per the OP there's no such thing as an "electoral majority" You would need a plurality of the popular vote, something which the CUs - essentially a remnant of the defunct Whig Parry - weren't even remotely likely to get.

    See above. TTL there are no EV any more.

    Evidently Lee's political nous was about on a par with most generals.