How the formation of political parties changed the Constitution

Today’s post will be different. Missouri is approaching its 2012 primary. Moving veeery slowly it seems at times. In this lull, I’ve been exchanging messages with one of our church’s teenagers…about politics.

This young man lives in Texas with his mother. He grew up in our church and when his mother moved to Texas last Christmas, he went with her.  He’s the youngest of four. All his siblings have graduated from high school and his older brother just graduated from a local college.

He is a Facebook friend and has been reading my daily posts.  He lamented that he would be two months shy of being able to vote in the Fall.  Yesterday he sent me a message asking me a question about national politics. In our exchange the subject wandered into history and the Constitution—specifically about the Electoral College.  When I was researching an answer for one of his questions, I came across the article below.

Apparently our high schools, if they teach the Constitution at all, skip this piece of history.  How many of you, without cheating, knew that the present method of selecting President and Vice-President is not the method originally devised by the Founders? Originally, the President and Vice-President were not partners—not two peas in the same political pod?  The selection of these two offices was another component of the checks and balances built into the Constitution.  It didn’t last long.

Julia Shaw, June 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm

The ConstitutionThe 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.

Surprising isn’t it. Even the Founders could make a mistake…and correct that mistake.  In retrospect, if the Vice-President had some actual power, other than being a figure-head in the Senate, it could be worthwhile having the VEEP being the political opponent of the Prez. Unfortunately, he has no power beyond breaking ties in the Senate. In the words of John Nance Garner, FDR’s first 2-term Vice-President, “Being Vice-President isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Tea Party and the Founders

From Bob Gorrell.  Very appropriate this election year.

Next steps

Last week, I posted about Susan from Glendale and her impassioned discussion with Rush Limbaugh. A couple of days prior to that broadcast, I attended an ACT, Americans for Conservative Training, meeting where photos and home-videos were shown of the 9-12 march in Washington. A number of ACT members attended the march and spoke about their experiences.

At the end of the presentation, and older lady, that is, older than me, rose and spoke. I don’t remember her exact words, but she spoke the same as Susan from Glendale—what can we do to regain our country? That is a very timely and pertinent question. One I’ve thought about for some time.

Who is there that we can gather behind on the federal level? For the moment, I’m supporting Sarah Palin. She has some flaws, but I do not doubt her integrity. I can’t say that about much of the Republican politicos in Congress. The Republican Party can probably retake much of Congress in 2010. Enough, I think, to give us more power in the Senate. I don’t know if the changes will be enough to regain the Majority. Ditto for the House.

But, what good will it be if a sufficient number of elected ‘Pubs turn out to be RINOs like Snow, Collins, Edwards or Bond? We’ll still be endangered by the elected spineless who won’t oppose the tyrannical agenda of the dems and libs. What is needed is to return the Republican Party to its conservative roots. To embrace the vision of the Founders for limited government and maximum personal liberty.

There are three options as I see them. All have serious vulnerabilities, perhaps fatally so. One is to create a new political party—a Conservative Party with a solid conservative core whose purpose is to rebuild the federal government along the original lines of the founders. Another, is to work from the inside of the Republican Party to make it into a conservative party with the goals of rolling back and eliminating all the socialist legislation going back as far as beginning of the 20th Century with Teddy Roosevelt. The third, would be to switch enmass to the Libertarian Party.

Our current system severely limits the ability to create a viable third or alternative party that has sufficient membership to oppose either the democrats or the remaining RINOs. The impact of a third party is to dilute the electoral power of the conservatives. This has been demonstrated many times. Most notably with Ross Perot. The dems will remain dems. The “yellow dog” members of the Republican Party will remain there. The usual result is a Democrat Party retaining most of its current voting power, a crippled Republican Party and a weak new third party. The dems and libs retain their hold on the central government and the nation as a whole steps closer to civil war.

These same arguments apply to moving to the Libertarian Party. In this scenario, few conservatives would move because of the damage Libertarians have taken from the antics of Ron Paul, his supporters and other factions within the party with similar views. There are many who agree with portions of the Libertarian agenda. Myself for one. But the negatives of the Libertarians prevents the party from being a major player without a large change in their platform.

That leaves remaking the Republican Party into a true conservative party. Can this be done? I’m not sure. I’ve contacted a number of Republican party officials at various levels; local, county, state and federal levels. At every level, the committees were mostly a closed shop. Committees have become inbred to such a point that change is almost impossible. In many instances, you have to “pay your dues” to gain admittance to the party committees. But you can’t pay those dues from without. In addition, once you have gained admission, the committees are factioned to such an extent that they have become locked into internal conflicts, constant combat between members to gain position and power.

So, what to do? Of the three, I believe working within the Republican party is the best option. We don’t have time to build a better, sufficiently powerful third party before 2010, not before 2012. We don’t have time for the long view. If we don’t stop the libs by 2010 and definitely 2012, they will have passed enough legislation that no amount of conservative political power will be able to undo or heal the damage.

And we’re closer to civil war.

I’m trying to be optimistic about our future. But, it’s increasingly more difficult. I’m open to other options than the three I’ve mentioned if someone has one. So far, I’ve not found any.