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The first idea of an electoral college

The Creation of the Electoral College

by Dr Nicholas Cole (npcole)

Cite as: Dr Nicholas Cole, ‘The first idea of an electoral college’ in N. P. Cole, Grace Mallon and Kat Howarth, The Creation of the Electoral College, Quill Project at Pembroke College (Oxford, 2016), item 62.

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The first idea of an electoral college


Wilson's proposal here replaced the idea of electing the executive in the national legislature with the idea of a separate body of electors that would choose (though not from amongst themselves). An element of popular election was introduced, though perhaps the intent here was more to create a wholly separate assembly rather than to make the election of the executive more democratic. As the subsequent debate suggests, this amendment was intended to distance the executive from the congress and preserve his independence, more than it was intended to introduce a greater element of democracy.

And indeed, Williamson's objection to the amendment was precisely on the ground that it merely replicated the kind of relationship that voters already enjoyed with their state legislatures or with the national legislature.

In suggesting the creation of a separate electoral college, Wilson was trying to grant the executive independence from the national legislature while at the same time avoiding making him a creature of the state legislatures. It was, as the Convention recognized, an extremely delicate issue and one that would colour reception of the Constitution.

At this point, however, the Convention remained unconvinced, and voted to retain the idea of an executive elected by the national legislature -- apparently persuaded that the office of the executive would not be too much corrupted by this procedure.

Approved for publication