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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Amendment 12 – Choosing the President and Vice President

From The Founders, Religion and Government:

The U.S. Constitution
Part 30 of 44
Amendment 12 – Choosing the President and Vice President

With the Twelfth Amendment we see once again the value of Article V. When the Framers originally wrote the Constitution the candidate who received the most electoral votes became the president. The candidate who came in second was named Vice President. There is logic to this. Should something happen to the president, then the people’s second choice would step up. Unfortunately, the men writing the Constitution had not realized what else could also happen.

At the time of the Constitutional Convention there were no political parties. Not that there had not been political disagreements. During the Revolution there had been those on either side of the question of independence. But there were no official parties. The first two did not appear until the presidency of John Adams, and his election was the one which showed the flaw in how the president and vice president were chosen.

In the election of 1796 John Adams received the most electoral votes and Thomas Jefferson the second most. This meant Jefferson would be Adams' vice president. However, by this time the two were of different parties. Adams was a Federalist and Jefferson a Republican. Imagine for a moment a President Obama and a Vice President Mitt Romney. That was the situation for the Executive Branch. While both parties, at that time, had the same goal, a strong and prosperous America, they had very different ideas about how to go about it.

The Federalists believed in a strong yet quite limited central government, the promotion of industry, and a national bank. The Republicans wanted more of the power to remain with the states, individual ownership of farms and businesses, and no bank. Having two men with such different ideas was a recipe for trouble, though Adams had even more difficulty with his fellow Federalist Alexander Hamilton than he did with his Republican vice president. In the end, Jefferson retreated to Monticello where he spent much of his vice presidential term.

The next election in 1800 was the most divisive the country had ever seen. While candidates in this era did not actively campaign for office (their friends did it for them), both candidates were accused of gross immoralities and ideas contrary to republicanism. Adams was said to want a monarchy. Jefferson was accused of wanting to take away everyone’s Bibles. Obviously neither was true.

But this election highlighted another flaw. If having two men with opposing political ideas was bad, how about having a tie?

Also running in this election was Aaron Burr. It was understood by the Republicans that Jefferson was to be president and Burr his vice president, but when the votes were tallied there was a draw. Each had 73. At the same time Adams received only 65 votes and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney received 64 votes. According to the Constitution, any time was to be referred to the people’s representatives in Washington, the House of Representatives. But after 35 ballots, the House wad dead-locked. Some wanted Burr while others Jefferson. Finally, the representative from Delaware, Federalist James A. Bayard, being the only one from his state, said he would abstain. Several of his fellow federalists did the same. This started a domino effect of representatives changing their votes, declaring Jefferson the President on the 36th ballot.

(On a side note, there is another story about this election. It has it that Hamilton, an enemy of Burr, influenced the final outcome by getting some of the Federalists to vote for Jefferson. It is rumored he said that while he disliked Jefferson, he hated Burr. Hamilton’s actions here, along with his activities in the New York gubernatorial race, contributed to his growing quarrel with Burr which ended in a duel at Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11, 1804. Hamilton was shot and died the next day.)

After the difficulties of these two elections, Congress decided that the Constitution needed a change. The result was the 12th Amendment, approved in Congress on December 9, 1803 and swiftly ratified. The main result was that the president and vice president would run on a single ticket. They did not want a repeat of the Adams/Jefferson administration nor another tie like in the election of 1800.

The 12th Amendment:

“The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;

“The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;

“The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.

“The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.”

(Proposed 12/9/1803, Ratified 6/15/1804)

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