10/16/09 - democracy

In today's excerpt - because of the inherent distrust of pure democracy that existed in the 1780s, only the members of the House of Representatives were to be elected directly by the people in the original U.S. Constitution; Senators were chosen by their state's legislature and the President was to be chosen by electors. The comments below come from the notes of the debate of the Constitutional Convention itself and show there was considerable opposition even to allowing the people vote directly for representatives:

ROGER SHERMAN [of Connecticut]: Election [of the members of the House of Representatives] should be by the state legislatures. The people immediately should have as little to do as may be about the government. They lack information and are constantly liable to be misled. If the state governments are to be continued it is necessary in order to preserve harmony between the national and state governments that the elections to the former should be made by the latter. The right of participation in the national government will be sufficiently secured to the people by their election of the state legislatures.

ELBRIDGE GERRY [of Massachusetts]: The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not lack virtue but are the dupes of pretended patriots. In Massachusetts it has been fully confirmed by experience that they are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions by the false reports circulated by designing men. One principal evil arises from the want of due provision for those employed in the administration of government. It would seem to be a maxim of democracy to starve the public servants.

CHARLES PINCKNEY [of South Carolina]: The people are less fit judges in such a case than the legislatures, and the legislatures will be less likely to promote the adoption of the new government if they are to be excluded from all share in it.

WILLIAM PATERSON [of New Jersey]: If the sovereignty of the states is to be maintained the representatives must be drawn immediately from the states not from the people.

JOHN RUTLEDGE [of South Carolina]: Election by the legislatures would be more refined than an election immediately by the people and more likely to correspond with the sense of the whole community. If this Convention had been chosen by the people in districts it is not to be supposed that such proper characters would have been preferred. The delegates to [the Continental] Congress have also been fitter men than would have been appointed by the people at large.

JOHN MERCER [of Virginia]: The people cannot know and judge of the characters of candidates. The people in towns can unite their votes in favor of one favorite and by that means always prevail over the people of the country who being dispersed will scatter their votes among a variety of candidates. ...

PINCKNEY: The first branch should be elected by the people in such mode as the state legislatures shall direct.

GERRY: The people should nominate a certain number out of which the state legislatures should be bound to choose. Experience has shown that state legislatures drawn immediately from the people do not always possess their confidence. An election by the people should be so qualified that men of honor and character might not be unwilling to be joined in the appointments. The people could choose double the requisite number the legislature to appoint out of them the authorized number of each state.

MERCER: Candidates should be nominated by the state legislatures and elected by the people who should not be left to make their choice without any guidance.


Jane Butzner


Constitutional Chaff: Rejected Suggestions of the Constitutional Convention of 1787


Kennikat Press




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