Amendment XII

[Volume 5, Page 473]

Document 8

William Rawle, A View of the Constitution of the United States 57--59 1829 (2d ed.)

It must however be acknowledged that in no respect have the enlarged and profound views of those who framed the constitution, nor the expectations of the public when they adopted it, been so completely frustrated as in the practical operation of the system so far as relates to the independence of the electors.

It was supposed that the election of these two high officers would be committed to men not likely to be swayed by party or personal bias, who would act under no combination with others, and be subject neither to intimidation or corruption. It was asserted that the choice of several persons to form an intermediate body of electors, would be much less apt to convulse the community with extraordinary movements, than the choice of one who was himself to be the final object of their wishes.

Whether ferments and commotions would accompany a general election by the whole body of the people, and whether such a mode of election could be conveniently practised in reference to the ratio of representatives prescribed in the constitution, is yet to be ascertained; but experience has fully convinced us, that the electors do not assemble in their several states for a free exercise of their own judgments, but for the purpose of electing the particular candidate who happens to be preferred by the predominant political party which has chosen those electors. In some instances the principles on which they are chosen are so far forgotten, that the electors publicly pledge themselves to vote for a particular individual, and thus the whole foundation of this elaborate system is destroyed.

Another innovation has also been introduced. Members of congress, entrusted only with the power of ordinary legislation, have frequently formed themselves into a regular body at the seat of government, and undertaken to point out to the people certain persons as proper objects of their choice. Although the mild and plausible garb of recommendation is alone assumed, yet its effect is known and felt to have been often great and sometimes irresistible.

If the Constitution, as originally proposed, had contained a direct provision that the president and vice president should be chosen by a majority of the two houses of congress, it is not probable that this part of it would have been adopted.

That the chief executive magistrate should be the creature of the legislature; that he should view in them the source from which he sprung, and by which he was to be continued, would at once destroy the dignity and independence of his station, and render him no longer what the Constitution intended,--an impartial and inflexible administrator of the public interests. To the people alone he would no longer consider himself responsible, but he would be led to respect, and would be fearful to offend, a power higher than the people.

Such principles cannot be found in the Constitution; and it is wholly inconsistent with its spirit and its essence, to effectuate indirectly, that which directly is not avowed or intended. These instances fully prove that the safety of the people greatly depends on a close adherence to the letter and spirit of their excellent Constitution; but it is probable that a late failure will prevent a renewal of the last mentioned attempt. And in reference to the election of 1828, it has not been renewed, but, with a strict adherence to the forms prescribed, the voice of a great majority of the people has decided the choice.

Before we close the subject, it is proper to add that, in one respect, the caution of the Constitution cannot be violated--no senator or representative or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States can be an elector, and therefore the vote of every such person would be void.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 5, Amendment XII, Document 8
The University of Chicago Press

Rawle, William. A View of the Constitution of the United States of America. 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1829. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1970.

© 1987 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 2000