Trent England | August 16, 2019

Hamilton on the Electoral College

Trent England

Key Points

  1. The Electoral College was one of the least controversial parts of the original Constitution.
  2. Alexander Hamilton wrote of the presidential election system: "it is at least excellent."
  3. In fact, the Electoral College works even better than the Founders thought it would.

It's an interesting fact that, despite modern angst, the Electoral College was one of the least controversial parts of the Constitution during the ratification debates. Writing in Federalist essay No. 68, Alexander Hamilton points this out.

The mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit that the election of the President is pretty well guarded. I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages the union of which was to be desired.

Of course, the Electoral College did not end up working exactly as the Framers of the Constitution thought it would. They assumed that once states elected or appointed their Presidential Electors, those Electors would meet and actually deliberate before deciding and voting. This is one area where the American Founders were a little shortsighted about human nature. Whether it was legislators appointing Electors, or voters electing them, people wanted the power for themselves--in this case, the power to direct, or at least know, how the Electors would vote. And from the very beginning, it has basically worked that way. Nobody sits around wondering how the Electors will vote; we make sure to know that before choosing them.

Far from being a flaw in the system, this makes the Electoral College work even better than the American Founders thought it would. Rather than often deadlocking and throwing the election to the House of Representatives, there is almost always an electoral vote majority (the magic 270+). And yet the system still contains the election within individual states, keeping power at the state level and recognizing states as the building blocks of our federal system.

Trent England David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England

David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.

Loading Next