• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • How Political Parties Almost Ruined the Constitution

    The Constitution is for sale.  No, really. Christie’s in New York will auction off George Washington’s 223-year-old copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights next week.

    The pages are largely unmarked, except for a few of Washington’s notes about the presidency. That’s appropriate, considering that Article II was drafted with George Washington in mind. This has largely worked out well, except in one area: the Electoral College for selecting the President.

    According to Article II, electors were to meet in their home states and cast two votes. One vote had to be for a candidate from another state. The person with the majority of votes became President; the runner up, Vice President. In the event of a tie, the House of Representatives would select the President. The Electoral College as written in Article II worked perfectly—twice.

    The retirement of George Washington and the rise of political parties disrupted the Electoral College. In the election of 1796, Federalists campaigned for John Adams and Democratic-Republicans for Thomas Jefferson. Adams won the most votes and became President, but his intended running mate, Thomas Pinckney, finished third. Thomas Jefferson came in second and therefore became Vice President.

    In 1800, The Democratic-Republican candidates trounced the Federalist candidates. But a voting error led to a tie between Thomas Jefferson and his intended running mate, Aaron Burr. The Federalist-controlled House of Representatives would decide which Democratic-Republican would become President. It took some 36 ballots and backroom dealing before Jefferson became President and Burr Vice President.

    Americans realized that without a mechanism to vote for a President and Vice President separately, the Electoral College could fail to select a President, leaving the House of Representatives to settle each election.

    The 12th Amendment corrected this problem. It was ratified 208 years ago today.

    Under this amendment, electors vote for President and Vice President separately. The House of Representatives selects the President if no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes; the Senate has the same power for the Vice President. Since the 12th amendment, only one election has been settled in the House: 1824.

    But there’s a larger lesson here. The Constitution is a stable document. The amendment process has contributed to this stability. When political parties disrupted the function of the Electoral College, the Framers amended the Constitution to fix the problem. The Constitution that we have today is basically the same one George Washington owned. The Constitution has endured for more than two centuries, thanks to the wisdom of the Framers and, when necessary, the amendment process.

    Posted in Ongoing Priorities [slideshow_deploy]

    11 Responses to How Political Parties Almost Ruined the Constitution

    1. Johncdavidson says:

      What was the reasoning behind changing the way Senators were elected? Before, they're longer term could be shortened by state legislators if they stopped supporting state issues. With the change, we're stuck with them far too long and most ignore local issues.

      • napensnake says:

        The Seventeenth Amendment was ratified to reduce the corruption that was going on in state governments in selecting senators. Also, the amendment was ratified during the Progressive Period of the early 20th Century in which the voice of the people was considered more important than checks and balances.

      • napensnake says:

        Additional comment: Yes, with the Seventeenth Amendment, the states lost their voice in Washington. Senators are no longer accountable to the states but, rather, the people. When the President is elected by popular vote, the people will control the national government and their will be no stopping all of the "good" they will do like the EPA, Labor Department, Health and Human Services, etc. In other words, there will be nothing to hold the national government to its rightful limited constitutional authority.

    2. John Machinski says:

      You are absolutely correct, John. What is strange is that the amendment passed through three-fourths of the state legislatures. It is difficult to imagine that they willingly gave up their respresentation in the Congress.

    3. Blaine says:

      From what little research I have done, One excuse was that the senators were just the Governors "good old boys". People were convinced that they needed more say choosing there senators. Which was completely foolish, The Governor would nominate a senator and the state legislature would vote after questioning the nominee. These legislators were representatives from all the districts in the state.
      I truly believe the 17th amendment was the first Big block smashed away from the Constitution, and needs to be repealed.

    4. Lisa says:

      Corrupt politicans — the ones who bribed their state legislators to be elected Senator, and the ones who accepted the bribes. Here's a very interesting article on the subject: http://www.nhinet.org/hoebeke.htm

    5. Sonny119 says:

      Almost, they have ruined the US Constitution and the Republic for which it stands. These conniving, corrupt, seditious people have destroyed America and everything America stands for, that which the Founding Father s had created, and more specifically President and General George Washington. Of course not literally, but every sense of the meaning. When you see these people doing what they are doing today, it's absolutely tragic and abhorrent. This is why the rise of the Tea Party has been so crucial in it's timing and purpose. This is exactly what the Tea party folks say and mean, as we hold their feet to the fire of the US Constitution, that the country and the elected officials within the US Govt., aka politicians, must be held accountable, responsible, and responsive to the Will of the Majority of the American People.

      We will, and we are doing just that, no matter how hard, no matter what it takes, no matter how long it takes, and matter who we deal with, it will be done, and we will do it, and they will know it and abide by it, for this Nation, quote- "Shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." U.S. President Abraham Lincoln

      One last point, why doesn't the US govt declare this artifact document copy of the U.S. Constitution owned by George Washington, a National Treasure and stored in the Smithsonian, or in the old Museum in Washington DC, instead of allowing it to be sold to private people. This is America piece of American history.

    6. Frank Norton says:

      I agree with President George Washington – there should be no political parties. I regestered for voting in 1954 as non-partison, have voted in every election for independants, except three times for Republican Presidents. I liked Ike and Ron.Political parties are like unions. I had to join a union once to get a job. Quit it after six months. No union membership since.

    7. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      Back in the early 1980s, I think it was 1981, PBS aired a series with former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and Bill Moyers, called The Constitution: That Delicate Balance. I don't think it was rebroadcast six years
      later in 1987, when we celebrated the Bicentennial of the Constitution, Bill Moyers did Constitution Minutes, just
      like the minutes during the U.S. Bicentennial, eleven years earlier.

    8. Donald Cole says:

      Perhaps you would be kind enough tp post your guidelines for determining what gets posted and what gets rejected. I can't speak for others, but I post comments to share with others. When the comment is rejected (not posted) I've wasted precious time. Wasting time is at the bottom of my list of things to do with the time God has given me.
      God bless America.

    9. Bobbie says:

      GUESS you have to be less then common men to disrespect or misinterpret the magnificence of a document written for humanity. the document leaves no one out. The American Constitution specifies to exclude no race, creed or culture. People in authoritative positions educate the false interpretation to understand it otherwise to soften the blow when the man made global governance moves in. NOT!

      Disrespected by some of any people to claim, the white man wrote it the white man lives it. Now severely mischaracterized by people in places out of our control. Very ungrateful, wrong and dangerous to enable and act such inferiority of a document where no inferiority is mentioned or acknowledged. The men of high intellect and human decency who wrote the constitution happened to have white skin.
      THEY COULDN'T HELP IT! GET OVER IT AND MOVE ON OR MOVE OUT!
      it's just such a bummer people of a FREE country would rather express disrespects and falsities on the constitution so tremendously humane under it's proper interpretation, that they would use such an extreme of lowliness to pay themselves to change the strength of it's meaning into pathetic using tax funding from people none the wiser. Never thought America would have people take advantage of her to become her traitors using America's positions of leadership to spew wrongful slander of her nature, instigating hatred and resentment within her people.

      The peoples' American constitution needs proper interpretation from those that live it and in government,
      from those with the dignity to conduct their governance rightfully according to it with discipline to all others.
      Sorry to rant but this and few other documents are the only ones that protect we the people FROM THE ABUSES AND CORRUPTION WITHIN GOVERNMENT CONTROL. STOP the distortion of the constitution! Americans deserve to understand her true meaning with integrity not offense!…

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×