The Founders' Amazing System to Ensure Peaceful Elections
Every two years or so many Americans endure the frustration that comes with elections and the current election cycles that have evolved. Especially in highly contested elections, as some of us have just experienced in primary elections, the feeling is quite general that we just can't wait until all of this is over. It seems ironic that Americans, who value the freedom of the most prosperous nation in the world, have to endure a system that is becoming more and more repulsive.
What most Americans don't realize is that there is a better way-a way that would be much smoother, less costly, generate less contention, and produce more qualified public servants! It is a system developed by our Founding Fathers to avoid the very problems we have today. It is a system they spelled out for us to follow. It is a system we have stopped teaching and therefore stopped practicing. It is definitely a system worth restoring. Let's review this incredible wisdom.
The Founders' Guiding Principles about Public Service
Political office is different than any other activity because it involves power over people and their money. This kind of power often leads to competition for the office and, once obtained, corruption of the office holder. Here is the way Benjamin Franklin explained it during the Constitutional Convention:
"Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambitions and avarice; the love of power and the love of money. Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action [in private pursuits]; but when united in view of the same object [in political office], they have in many minds the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall at the same time be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it."
Franklin then went on to say that if such political offices carry high salaries and are seen to wield great power, the wrong people will contend for the job and, if they win the office, will have ongoing enemies trying to dislodge them from office. Said he:
"And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable preeminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your government, and be your rulers. And these, too, will be mistaken in the expected happiness of their situation; for their vanquished competitors, of the same spirit, and from the same motives, will perpetually be endeavoring to distress their administration, thwart their measures, and render them odious to the people."
Public office should never be considered as a job or career but as a service or mission. Because political office involves power over people and money, it should never be looked upon as a long-term way of life or occupation for someone. Political office should only be held for a short period of time by someone who has already proven capable of handling the powers of government by developing a high degree of virtue and talents in his private life. In other words, he has been successful at something-building a successful business, raising a strong family, contributing to the betterment of the community, and living under the laws and regulations passed by others. He has been through the fire of life sufficiently to know how to serve in government to be a protector of individual freedoms. Thomas Jefferson said that our government needs to have a system whereby these people can be identified and asked to serve. He called this process the natural aristocracy:
"There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.... There is, also, an artificial aristocracy, founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; .May we not even say, that that form of government is the best, which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?"
Ideally, to assure independence and the spirit of service, public officials should have a separate means of support . In the specific case of legislators, this will have a tendency to keep legislative sessions to the absolute minimum so they can return to their livelihood. This will insure the concept of a citizen-legislature. Of course, the Founders recognized that some full-time officials, such as executives, may have to be given a minimum salary to sustain them during their brief period of full-time service. The early constitution of Pennsylvania contained the following provision to emphasize this principle. Notice it also contained a suggestion of what action should be taken if too many people would apply for the job:
"As every freeman, to preserve his independence, (if he has not a sufficient estate) ought to have some profession, calling, trade, or farm, whereby he may honestly subsist, there can be no necessity for, nor use in, establishing offices of profit; the usual effects of which are dependence and servility, unbecoming freemen, in the possessors and expectants; faction, contention, corruption, and disorder among the people. Wherefore, whenever an office, through increase of fees or otherwise, becomes so profitable, as to occasion many to apply for it, the profits ought to be lessened by the legislature."
Public service should be considered a call to serve, therefore necessitating no campaigning for the office. Listen to one of America 's most honored public servants, George Washington, who never campaigned for the office:
"I should unfeignedly rejoice in case the electors, by giving their votes in favor of some other person, would save me from the dreaded dilemma of being forced to accept or refuse."
"If I should receive the appointment and if I should be prevailed upon to accept it, the acceptance would be attended with more diffidence and reluctance than I ever experienced before in my life."
"It would be...with a fixed and sole determination of lending whatever assistance might be in my power to promote the public weal, in hopes that at a convenient and early period my services might be dispensed with, and that I might be permitted once more to retire, to pass an unclouded evening after the stormy day of life, in the bosom of domestic tranquility."
With the welfare of the nation or state in mind rather than the power of the office, if another good candidate is willing to accept the request for temporary service, it is a mark of true patriotism and statesmanship to step aside and let the other serve. How many times have we seen candidates so forcibly aspire to office that they will participate in denigrating an otherwise good person during an election campaign. Such conduct finds no justification in Christian principles or Holy Writ. Washington expressed:
"The presidency...has no enticing charms and no fascinating allurements for me,....Let those follow the pursuits of ambition and fame who have a keener relish for them, or who may have more years in store for the enjoyment."
The Founders set an example of how to
choose good and wise public officials
One of the most debated items in the Constitutional Convention was how to choose the president. Over 60 different suggestions and straw ballots were had among the delegates. They finally decided on a unique plan to ensure the best possible choice for president. Here is the way it was designed to work. It has come to be called the electoral college. It may also be called a council of electors.
Electors would be chosen every four years in each state according to the number of Senators and Representatives in each state. Note that less populated states would be weighted slightly more. This lessens the possibility of control by the vulnerable masses. Also, no government employee or office holder can be an elector. The electors would meet in their respective states and, by secret ballot, each would nominate two persons, one of which could not be in the same state. Note that there would be no national conventions to emotionalize the choices.
The ballots would then be tallied and a list of candidates with the number of votes for each would be transmitted to the President of the U. S. Senate. The lists would be opened in the presence of the Senate and House and the votes tallied and a list made according to the total number of votes from all the states. The one who received the most votes, if a majority of the total number of electors, would be president. The next highest would be the vice-president. Note that only on a rare occasion would this step produce the final decision, because there would likely be many candidates nominated, most probably being "favorite sons."
If two or three received the same number more than the required majority, the House of Representatives would make the decision. If no one received a majority, the House would make the decision from the five names receiving the most votes. In either case, the voting in the House would be by state with each state having one vote. Note that under the Founders' plan, the House would probably make the decision most of the time. Also note that the president would not be a leader of the masses of people, as in a democracy, but instead would be the leader of a union of united, sovereign states, as in a republic. Hence each state, regardless of its population, would have one vote in the choice.
Notice how this system avoids the pitfalls of political parties, national conventions, emotional appeal to the masses, empty promises, charges and counter-charges between candidates, and the necessity of raising huge amounts of money for campaigning.
The Founders system of electors should be
an example to the states for other offices
This unique thinking of the Founders introduces a "council" concept in choosing public office holders. Imagine how that could work on a state level. The states would each have an electoral council which would interview, investigate, and evaluate those whose names have been put forward by the respective counties. Then, on a certain day, they make their nominations by ballot and the results are sent to the state House of Representatives which follows the same procedure. Whoever has the most votes, if a majority, is chosen to that particular office. If no one has the majority then each county represented in the House has one vote in the final choice from the list of highest number of votes of the elector council.
The value of working through carefully selected councils
Notice that these councils, whether choosing national officers or choosing state officers, are composed of citizens chosen from "lower level" jurisdictions. This insures, insomuch as is humanly possible, that decisions made will be much wiser and more responsive to the real needs of the people in maintaining individual liberty and justice. These "lower jurisdictions" would also be sensitive to the possibility of factions forming, such as a clique or a political party. When this happens they can immediately dissolve the council and form a new one.
Some may wonder where the element of democracy is in this procedure. It is on the very grassroots level, where it should be, as people choose wise and honest citizens to serve on these councils. This is really democracy at its best!
Rejecting the example of the Founders
has proven to be a serious mistake
The so-called progressive movement to reject the Founders' council system has nearly demolished the remnants of their marvelous formula for choosing wise leaders. For example:
Instead of resisting the growth of political parties, state and national laws have given political parties actual political power in choosing our public officials.
The Supreme Court decision of "one man, one vote" has destroyed the concept of the lower jurisdictions having a major influence on the direction of the higher jurisdictions. States were forced to divide into legislative districts rather than let the counties be represented in legislatures; hence, counties can no longer protect themselves from the intrusions of higher levels of government.
The Seventeenth Amendment ripped the states right out of the federal machinery by depriving state legislators of the right to send their representatives to the senate to preserve states' rights. States can no longer protect themselves from federal intrusion.
The movement to completely abolish what is left of the electoral system will make the nation one large democracy, reflecting the emotional will of only the swayable masses of the people.
The concept of government by wise councils is severely damaged by initiative and recall measures in some states, where some laws and public officials are left to the decisions of the masses, which are usually influenced by money, media, emotion, and debauching tendencies of the people.
Hopefully, the reawakening that seems to be happening in America will lead the people to study and better appreciate the system the Founders gave us for choosing wise leaders. They set the example and hoped we would pick up where they left off to provide an even stronger and greater America.
Earl Taylor, Jr.