Amendment XII

[Volume 5, Page 472]

Document 7

James Madison to Henry Lee

14 Jan. 1825Writings 9:216--17

The nature & extent of the obligation on a representative to be guided by the known will of his Constituents, though an old question, seems yet to be in a controvertible state. In general it may be said to be often a verbal controversy. That the obligation is not in strictness constitutional or legal, is manifest; since the vote of the Representative is equally valid & operative whether obeying or violating the instruction of his constituents. It can only be a moral obligation to be weighed by the conscience of the Representative, or a prudential one to be enforced by the penal displeasure of his Constituents.

In what degree a plurality of votes is evidence of the will of the Majority of voters, must depend on circumstances more easily estimated in a given case than susceptible of general definition. The greater the number of candidates among whom the votes are divided, the more uncertain, must, of course, be the inference from the plurality with respect to the majority.

In our complex system of polity, the public will, as a source of authority, may be the Will of the People as composing one nation; or the will of the States in their distinct & independent capacities; or the federal will as viewed, for example, thro' the Presidential Electors, representing in a certain proportion both the Nation & the States. If in the eventual choice of a President the same proportional rule had been preferred, a joint ballot by the two Houses of Congress would have been substituted for the mode which gives an equal vote to every State however unequal in size. As the Constitution stands, and is regarded as the result of a compromise between the larger & smaller States, giving to the latter the advantage in selecting a president from the Candidates, in consideration of the advantage possessed by the former in selecting the Candidates from [Volume 5, Page 473] the people, it cannot be denied whatever may be thought of the Constitutional provision, that there is, in making the eventual choice, no other controul on the votes to be given, whether by the representatives of the smaller or larger States, but their attention to the views of their respective Constituents and their regard for the public good.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 5, Amendment XII, Document 7
The University of Chicago Press

The Writings of James Madison. Edited by Gaillard Hunt. 9 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900--1910. See also: Federalist

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