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ADAMS: Electoral College under assault
States ignore Constitution in move toward popular election
Question of the Day
In a strange and dangerous pandering to populism over constitutionalism, the Massachusetts legislature approved a law on July 27 that overturns the Electoral College in that state. In other words, nullification is alive and well in the Bay State. According to Democratic state Sen. James B. Eldridge, “every vote will be of the same weight across the country.” This nullification of Article 2, Section I, Clauses 2 and 3 (Electoral College) of the Constitution is meant to facilitate a particular political outcome.
The nullification phenomenon is all the more important because of the deafening silence from Washington. Nullification is not new. The 1832 Nullification Crisis involving tariffs ended with compromises and threats of war by President Andrew Jackson. The greatest predicament in our history was a nullification crisis that finally was resolved by the defeat of the Southern states in the Civil War.
It should come as no surprise that there are no fiery, angry complaints from Washington regarding this challenge to the Constitution by Massachusetts legislators. Five other states already have passed similar measures. The current administration is very choosy in how it asserts its authority.
For example, the U.S. government has sued the state of Arizona for its immigration bill, which asserts Arizona’s right and authority to secure its international border. Border security falls under the purview of the government in Washington, but that government chooses to leave the border porous and insecure. This may seem an absurd and dangerous situation to most observers.
There is, of course, a serious possibility that enemies of our country have crossed the Arizona border with the drug smugglers and illegal long-term visitors. Still, there was no action from Washington, thus finally prompting Arizona’s legitimate actions to do what the national government is mandated to do but chooses not to do. It may seem strange to some that the federal government takes no action against the state of Massachusetts for nullifying the Constitution but vigorously opposes Arizona’s attempts to secure our national boundary with Mexico.
Many on the political left think illegal immigrants will be a supportive voting bloc if immigration amnesty is passed. The inaction of the federal government in Arizona would appear to show that its position is “the more illegals, the better.” Likewise, it seems the feds think nullification of the Electoral College, which enforces the checks and balances created by the Founders to ensure representative democratic rule rather than direct rule of the people, will facilitate liberal majorities in the future.
The Constitution can be altered or amended only through a constitutional convention or a two-thirds vote in both Houses of Congress (Article 5). State legislatures are not empowered to alter or amend the Constitution.
The Founders were very specific about their preference for representative versus direct democracy. They thought, with a few exceptions, that direct democracy would be more likely to lead to a tyranny of the people very much like what was seen in the murderous and cruel actions of mobs in the latter stages of the French Revolution.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson argued these points extensively, especially during their famous correspondence. Adams took the representation side and Jefferson the populist.
Adams was motivated by a lack of trust in the ability of “the people” (as a bloc) to make the wisest decisions. He argued that better-qualified people (educated and with upstanding character) should be selected by the general electorate so they could then make the best decisions in their representative capacity. In this way, the mob mentality of large populations, like that of the French Revolution, could best be negated.
Jefferson argued for direct representation. Then came the French Revolution. Jefferson supported it; Adams did not.
In a letter to Jefferson dated July 13, 1813, Adams wrote, “You were well persuaded in your own mind that [France] would succeed in establishing a free republican government; I was as well persuaded, in mine, that a project of such a government over five and twenty millions of people, when four and twenty millions and five hundred thousands of them could neither write nor read, was as unnatural, irrational, and impracticable as it would be over the elephants, lions, tigers, panthers, wolves, and bears in the Royal Menagerie at Versailles.”
Regarding Jefferson’s position, Adams wrote, “Your steady defense of democratical principles and your invariable favorable opinion of the French Revolution laid the foundation of your unbounded popularity.”
The populist position has long been a powerful one, but the resulting carnage and disintegration of the French Republic with its final devolution to dictatorship and Bonapartism supports Adams’ view, not Jefferson’s.
We should heed the warning of the second president (from Massachusetts) and take caution from the words of the third. The wisdom of the Constitution’s checks and balances should be understood and appreciated. There are processes by which the Constitution can be altered or amended - nullification laws passed by state governments is not one of them.
D.L. Adams is an analyst and historian and is contributing editor at New English Review and Family Security Matters.
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