Monday, May 9, 2016

How we got into this mess

So, just how did we get to where we are today? We have two major political parties that seem to exist for the sole purpose of staying in power. That's not really anything new, but this year, things seem ... different. The number and intensity of people dissatisfied by both the presumptive nominees of the two major parties is greater than I can remember ever happening before.

Now, not everyone is dissatisfied by those expected to get their party's nomination. Otherwise, they wouldn't get the nomination. But, many are unhappy. Heck, many are just plain pissed, at the nominees, at their supporters, at the parties, and at the process.

So, how did we get here?

Well, I think it all began in 1804. Let me give the background to that, what happened after, and how that caused what we have today.

The first thing to remember -- or learn, if you never knew this -- is that the selection of those in government today isn't exactly how the Founding Fathers set it up. Things changed. The first big change was in 1804. More about that in a minute.

When the Founding Fathers were setting up our Constitution, there was a great disagreement on how to lay out the government. They broke the functions up into three main branches, which we still have today: the Legislative branch, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch. Let's start with the Legislative branch.

Some, led by Virginia, which had the largest population at the time, thought a body of representatives of the various states, based upon population, was the way to go. Others, led by New Jersey, which was one of the least populated states, thought this gave an unfair advantage to states with large populations, and wanted each state to have the same number of representatives.

Under the Virginia plan, the four largest of the 13 states were 1 member shy of holding a majority, meaning those four states could run roughshod over the other nine. But under the New Jersey plan, states having one third of the population could push through legislation contrary to the wishes of two-thirds of the population.

The solution was a compromise in which the Legislative branch would consist of two Houses. A House of Representatives would be selected by the people, and each state's delegation would be sized in proportion to the population, as the Virginia plan wanted. The other House of Congress, the Senate, would provide two members for each state, as the New Jersey plan wanted. Each body had to approve legislation.

The House of Representatives would be elected by the people. The Senate, though, would be selected by the legislatures of the states. People didn't vote for Senators. The people you voted for to represent you at the state level, in your state legislature, would in turn select the two members of the Senate for that state. That's how the Founding Fathers set it up.

The Executive branch was led by a president, who was to be chosen by electors appointed in a manner directed by the state legislatures. How these electors were selected was left up to the states. In the first election, in 1789, only ten states participated -- Rhode Island and North Carolina hadn't yet ratified the Constitution and New York's legislature was deadlocked. Five states chose electors by popular vote. Five states had electors chosen by the legislature. In the second election, ten states had electors chose by legislature, while five used popular vote.

Oh, and each elector cast two votes, with at least one of the votes having to be for someone from a different state than the elector. There were no presidential and vice presidential running mates. Whoever got the most votes was president and whoever came in second was vice president. In 1796, that meant rivals John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were elected president and vice president. More about this in a minute.

The Judicial branch was led by a Supreme Court, with members appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. That really hasn't changed.

So, that was the original setup: a Congress with one House elected by the people, and the other House filled by the state legislature; a President and Vice President selected from the top two recipients of votes by electors chose primarily by state legislatures; and a Supreme Court appointed by the President and approved by the Senate.

We had four major divisions making up three branches of government, with only one of the four selected by voters. The House of Representatives was designed to be the part of the government that represented the people. Everything else is checks and balances to keep the House of Representatives from going crazy.

Where did it all fall apart? It started in 1804 with the 12th Amendment, which changed the electors' votes to separate ballots for President and Vice President. That led to running mates, which strengthened the parties. That same year, for the first time, more states chose electors by popular vote than by legislative appointment.

In 1913, the 17th Amendment changed the method of selecting Senators from the state legislature to popular vote.

So, what's wrong with the voters making all these choices? House, Senate, President? Well, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the rest that group thought it wise to spread the power, and the selection of those weilding the power, out among different groups.

And it worked, until people started screwing with it.

Imagine for a minute if today, the House of Representatives was the only group elected by the voters. What kind of Senate would we have today? And with fewer electors chosen by the voters, would we have a campaign that ended up with Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump?

I think Washington, Jefferson, and Madison were on to something.


  1. This is also how more power got transferred from the State Legislature and to the Federal Government. WIth the House representing the will of the people and the Senate representing the interests of the States it made you care about who you elected locally. Turn out for general election for President and Congress is dismal and state and local elections are even worse. If folks do bother to vote it is for Federal and not State. This is also why a lot of folks that do run for Local and State office just do it as a stepping stone to a cushy Federal Office. Either go back to the old system or select the House and Senate like jury duty. You get selected to serve, go for two years with a per diem and then you never have to do it again.

  2. The 17th Amendment was certainly the death blow to "of the people, by the people, and for the people". We need to repeal it and to return to the original electoral college (or perhaps and improved modern version) to restore liberty to America. If we do that there's a chance that our current government of the oligarchs, by the oligarchs, and for the oligarchs will perish from this land. And good riddance.

  3. THe problem with politics is that it includes politicians.

  4. I hope somehow that this lesson, this concept, can be brought to the attention of enough people to matter. I don't know how but we have to get people to understand and to care about this.

    This is the key.

    Nothing else can really succeed until this is straightened out. This is how it was done, and this is how it must be undone.


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