What do you know about the 17th Amendment?

There’s probably a limited audience to be reeled in by the title of today’s blog post, but I couldn’t think of a more creative way that might trick some unsuspecting readers to dive in.

If US Constitutional History is not your cup of tea, please visit my blog again next week. I’m not sure what the topic will be, but I’ll try to avoid the US Constitution.

You might recall that I mentioned the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in my May 31, 2021 blog post because I’d read that it was ratified on May 31, 1913. After discovering that it was actually ratified on April 8, 1913, I had to come up with another topic for May 31. I’ll explain the confusion somewhere below.

Here we go…

Thank goodness for the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America!

Even though I majored in political science in college, if asked out of the blue what the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was about, I’d be hard-pressed to give you the correct answer.

Photo credit: Anthony Garand on unsplash.com

The 17th Amendment, in a nutshell

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States mandates that the two Senators from each state “shall be” elected by the people of each respective state. It also states that U.S. Senators shall serve six-year terms and each Senator shall have one vote.

What about before the 17th Amendment?

The 17th Amendment was passed by Congress on May 13, 1912. Prior to the amendment’s ratification on April 8, 1913, each state’s U.S. Senators were chosen by the state legislatures. Whoa! Let that sink in for a minute! I shudder to think about the possibilities.

Living in the state of North Carolina, I tremble to think about who the NC General Assembly would have chosen for the US Senate, especially over the last decade or more. Granted, the general populous has rarely elected the people I would have preferred for these offices since Senator Sam Ervin died, but at least a fair and open election gives the citizens some measure of confidence in the people we send to Washington, DC. What they do after they get there is a whole other story. But I digress.

The reasoning behind the way it was before 1913

The framers of the United States Constitution weren’t sure the average citizen was smart enough to vote. They formed our government as a democracy, yet the white men who were in charge in our country’s infancy didn’t completely trust the general populous to elect the right people.

Come to think of it, the white men in charge in Washington, DC and in many state legislatures today don’t trust us to “vote right” either. It seems like we would’ve made more progress than this in more than 200 years, but I digress again.

The framers of the Constitution wanted the United States Senate to be a check on the masses. James Madison assured the attendees of the Constitutional Convention that cooler heads would prevail in the Senate than in the House of Representatives where representatives were elected by popular vote of the people. (Well, not really “the people,” for you could only vote then if you were a white male who owned some real estate. The Electoral College was also instituted as a buffer between the people and the US President. But that’s a topic for another day.)

The reasoning behind having the state legislatures elect US Senators was that the senators would be insulated from public opinion. To borrow a question from Dr. Phil McGraw, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

An examination of Senatorial elections, 1871-1913

The political scientist in me found a study online of how the system worked from 1871 until 1913. Written by Wendy J. Schiller, Charles Stewart III, and Benjamin Xiong for The University of Chicago Press Journals, their article, “U.S. Senate Elections before the 17th Amendment: Political Party Cohesion and Conflict, 1871-1913,” can be found at U.S. Senate Elections before the 17th Amendment: Political Party Cohesion and Conflict 1871–1913 | The Journal of Politics: Vol 75, No 3 (uchicago.edu). (If this link doesn’t work, please do a search for the article.)

I was eager to see what their study found. My hunch was that the election of US Senators was viciously fought over in the state legislatures and the said elections, no doubt, took up weeks and weeks of the legislatures’ time.

Unfortunately, it would have cost me $15 to gain access to the study, so I’ll just give you this quote from the article’s abstract: “We find significant evidence that under the indirect electoral mechanism, Senate elections were contentious, and winning majority control of the state legislature did not always ensure an easy electoral process. Specifically, the breakdown of caucus nominating processes, the size of majority coalitions, and whether the incumbent senator was running for reelection each exerted an effect on the probability of conflict in the indirect election process.”

Point of confusion

In my opening remarks, I promised to explain the confusion over the date of the 17th Amendment’s ratification. It was ratified on April 8, 1913, when the Connecticut legislature approved it. With Connecticut’s vote, three-fourths of the state legislatures had approved it. That met the requirement for an amendment’s ratification. It was not until May 31, 1913, that Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan officially announced the ratification in writing. Some sources have picked up that date as the date of ratification.

More than a century later, that’s probably all we need to know. This blog post probably already falls into the category of “too much information” for many of you, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been busy working on my novel. The working title is still either The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon. Unless I self-publish it, I won’t get to choose the title. The manuscript stands at just over 91,000 words. That number fluctuates from day-to-day as I make changes.

I’m re-reading World of Toil and Strife: Community Transformation in Backcountry South Carolina, 1750-1805, by Peter N. Moore. As more of it “soaks in,” I’m making some changes in my novel manuscript – changes that should result in a richer story and an additional layer of setting authenticity.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash. I’m trying to finish reading it by tomorrow night, so I can write about it in my blog post next Monday.

I’m also still making my way through The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s not a book one can rush through. At least, I can’t.

Note: Get Ready! December is Read a New Book Month!

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Janet           

#OnThisDay: “Blog about the 12th Amendment,” they said. “It’ll be fun!” they said.

If not for the 12th Amendment to the US Constitution, Donald Trump could now be president and Hillary Clinton could now be vice president. Talk about an unworkable state of affairs!

The ratification of an amendment to the US Constitution deserves a blog post on its anniversary. Unfortunately, the 12th Amendment gets into the Electoral College – something that has always baffled me. I’m probably the last person who should be trying to explain the 12th Amendment to you, but I’m going to plow my way through it.

#Vote #PresdentialElection #12thAmendment
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

As soon as I started doing the necessary research so I could write today’s blog post, I ran into conflicting dates. I’m going with June 15, 1804 as the date the 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. I’ll address the conflicting date later in this post


What is the 12th Amendment about?

The 12th Amendment to the US Constitution determined how every US President and Vice President have been elected since 1804. It mandates that electors in the Electoral College vote for president on one ballot and for vice president on a separate ballot.


Presidential Elections Prior to the 12th Amendment

Under Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution, each state was entitled to appoint a slate of electors equal to the number of US Senators and US House Representatives the state had. Each state had (and still has) two Senators. The number of Representatives a state has is based on population.

Every four years those electors, now known as the Electoral College, chose the president and vice president. Each of them could vote for two people; however, they couldn’t vote for someone from their state of residency.

The highest vote getter became president and the one with the second highest number of votes became vice president, as long as their total votes exceeded one-half the number of appointed electors. Therefore, the president and the vice president weren’t necessarily from the same political party.

If not for #12thAmendment, Trump could be president and #HillaryClinton could be VP! http://www.JanetsWritingBlog.com

If no one got a majority of votes, or if two candidates received the same number of votes, the House of Representatives chose the president and the person with the second highest number of votes became vice president.

#ElectoralCollge #USConstitution #12thAmendment
Photo by Luke Michael on Unsplash

Political Parties

In the 1790s, differences of opinion on domestic and foreign policies became pronounced enough that two political parties formed. The founders of the United States had not anticipated the formation of strong political organizations/parties. The two parties were known as the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans.

Yes, it’s very confusing to us in 2020 when there are two major political parties in the US:  Democrat and Republican.

The Federalists wanted a strong central government that was friendly to Great Britain. The Democratic-Republicans wanted strong local governments and were more in line with the French Revolution.


The Early US Presidents

Without opposition, George Washington was elected the first US president in 1788 and again in 1792. He announced he would not seek a third term. He became increasingly aligned with the Federalists, although he saw the dangers inherent in factionalism. John Adams was Washington’s vice president. He identified himself with the Federalists. Thomas Jefferson was Washington’s Secretary of State until 1793. Jefferson became the leader of the Democratic-Republicans.

The 1796 election was the first time candidates for president ran from two political parties. John Adams and Charles C. Pinckney were the foremost Federalists running against Thomas Jefferson. John Adams won a majority of votes, but Thomas Jefferson was elected vice president. Remember, they were from opposing political parties and ideologies. Such a situation is difficult for modern Americans to imagine.

Moving on the 1800 election, John Adams ran for reelection and Thomas Jefferson ran for president again. The political parties had gotten stronger and electors divided their votes between “only” five candidates. John Adams received 65 votes. In order to avoid a tie vote between Adams and Pinckney, one of the electors from Rhode Island voted for John Jay so Adams would have a one vote advantage over Pinckney.

But Democratic-Republicans Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received 73 votes. The Federalists thought they had an edge in the House of Representatives that would result in the election of the more conservative Aaron Burr, so they weren’t worried. They thought they could work better with a President Aaron Burr than a President Thomas Jefferson.

In order to be elected president, a candidate had to receive nine votes from the 16 states. Eight states favored Jefferson, six aligned with Burr, and two states were divided in how to cast their votes. Voting on the floor of the House of Representatives continued for six days and 35 ballots!

#ElectoralCollege #12thAmendment #USConstitution
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Although he personally favored Burr, Delaware elector James A. Bayard let it be known that he would vote for Jefferson after Senator Samuel Smith assured him that Jefferson would not undo the accomplishments of the Washington and Adams administrations. In the end, 10 states voted for Jefferson, electing him the third US president.

The 1800 election proved to the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans that the electoral system was deeply flawed.

On December 9, 1803 Congress proposed a 12th Amendment to the Constitution.


What the 12th Amendment did

The 12th Amendment didn’t change the structure of the Electoral College but, in order to understand the purpose of the amendment, one needs to have some knowledge of the Electoral College.

Whereas the Constitution had required each elector to vote for two people for president (yes, you heard me right!), the 12th Amendment required each elector to cast one vote for president and one vote for vice president.

If no one receives a majority of votes for president, the House of Representatives will choose the president under the rules of the original procedure as set forth in the Constitution, except they will choose between no more than three candidates instead of five, as was stipulated in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.

In case no candidate receives a majority of votes for vice president in the Electoral College, the US Senate chooses the winner from the top two vote getters. However, if there is a tie between multiple candidates, the Senate will choose from all those in the tie.

Additionally, the 12th Amendment requires a two-thirds quorum for balloting procedures. It also provided for a remedy should a president not be chosen by March 4. That remedy was that the newly-elected vice president would act as president until the election of the president could be settled. (March 4 was the first day of a presidential term until the ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933 which established January 20 as the first day of a presidential term.)

Under the 12th Amendment, if no president or vice president have been elected by January 20, Congress will appoint a president. We almost got into that situation in the 2000 election, but that’s a whole other story, #HangingChads.


The Pros and Cons of the Electoral College

I’ve read various reasons and speculations about why the framers of the US Constitution provided the Electoral College as a way to elect the president. I’ve read that it was to ensure that people who had wisdom (in other words, that knew about politics, had some education, and understood this new form of government) would have enough sense to elect a president.

I’ve read that they didn’t want people living in the population centers of the nation to have an advantage over the citizens in the backcountry because the people in the cities would be more likely to know the candidates. (They obviously didn’t foresee the advent of the radio or television.)

There is much confusion over the Electoral College. As a political science college student, I was more interested in the administration of government than its political aspect. I made a conscious decision not to take the senior-level Political Science course called “The Electoral Process.” Looking back, perhaps I should have taken that class.

#college #class
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With practically every presidential election, pro-Electoral College and anti-Electoral College opinions rise to the surface. There are people who would prefer the candidate receiving the majority of the popular vote (the votes of all citizens) to be president, while people who like the idea of the popular vote in each state being sifted through the Electoral College electors of their state want us to keep the Electoral College.

I’m going to go out on a limb today and say that I would like to see the Electoral College ended. I think each American’s vote should count equally to every other American’s vote. The people in favor of the Electoral College typically fear a populous state such as California or New York could influence an election by the sheer number of voters who live there.

Americans stand in line to cast their votes for president on the first Tuesday in November every four years, and then the electors who make up the Electoral College meet in their states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December and cast their votes.

Since we elect the president and vice president via the Electoral College, in 2016, Donald Trump became president even though Hillary Clinton had some three million more popular votes than Trump. There are other elections in which the top popular vote getter lost the election, but I think that one example suffices.

I think it’s time to rethink the electoral process, but I’m not impassioned enough about it to lead the campaign to amend the 12th Amendment.


Ratification of the 12th Amendment

#USConstitution #Preamble #ElectoralCollege
Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash

On June 15, 1804, 189 days after the 12th Amendment had been proposed by Congress, it was ratified by 14 or the 16 states. North Carolina was the first state to ratify it, doing so on December 21, 1803. By the end of February 1804, it had been ratified by nine states.

By mid-May 1804, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Connecticut had rejected the amendment. New Hampshire ratified the 12th Amendment on June 15, 1804, meeting the requirement that in order to be adopted, a US Constitutional amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.


What about the conflicting dates I found?

Technically, when three-fourths of the states have ratified a US Constitutional amendment, it is officially ratified and becomes law. That’s what happened on June 15, 1804 with the 12th Amendment. That’s why I went with today being the anniversary of the amendment’s ratification.

Secretary of State James Madison sent a letter to the state governors on September 25, 1804, declaring the 12th Amendment as ratified. Some history books use September 25, 1804 as the date of ratification.


Since my last blog post

I opened my blog with some trepidation last Monday. I didn’t know how my blog post that morning would be received. I was very pleased with the response the post got. As of last night at 10:00 pm, last Monday’s post, “I can’t breathe!”, has had 147 visitors from 15 countries. That’s a record for my blog. It has received more comments than any of my other blog posts. My thanks to each reader!


Until my next blog post

If you still have questions about the 12th Amendment and the Electoral College, please research them. I’ve said all I know about the subject, and I’m still a bit confused. Perhaps I should have gone with the September 25 date. That date doesn’t fall on a Monday (the day I blog) until 2023. After more than a little frustration, I wish I’d postponed today’s post until then!

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have lots of creative time.

Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask in respect for other people.

Don’t be shy. Share my blog!

#12thAmendmentRatification 216th anniversary. #ElectoralCollege http://www.JanetsWritingBlog.com

Janet