XXV. The Election of the President

Catechism of the Constitution Book CoverThe Federalist Papers has posted a PDF copy of an Elementary Catechism on the Constitution from 1828 written by Arthur J. Stansbury. I’m publishing it on Mondays in a series of posts. Because the date of publication was 1828, some content has been changed by later Constitutional amendments. There are no sections in the book, so I’m dividing it into any natural breaks of topics and the posts will vary in length. Any emphases within the text are Stansbury’s.

Because of later changes made in election of the President, you may be interested in reading these essays from The Heritage Guide to The Constitution.

  • Presidential Electors by Einer R. Elhauge, Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Law, Harvard Law School.
  • Presidential Vote by Einer R. Elhauge, Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Law, Harvard Law School.

XXV. The Election of the President

Q. How does any man become President of the United States?

A. He is elected [chosen] by the people of the United States.

Q. How is this done; do the people themselves at once choose the President?

A. No; this might lead to great confusion. But the people choose the Legislatures of the different States, these Legislatures appoint electors, and those electors choose the President.

Q. Explain this more particularly.

A. You know what is meant by the Legislatures of the States; they consist of persons chosen in each State to make the State laws. These persons, when met together, appoint, in any way they think proper, a number of persons who are called Electors, because they afterwards choose the President.

Q. How many of these Electors of President are appointed in each State?

A. As many as the state has members in both Houses of Congress. For instance; a state which is entitled to two Senators and eight members of the House of Representatives must appoint ten electors of President; a state which has two Senators and twenty members of the House of Representatives, must appoint twenty-two electors.

Q. May any person they please be appointed an elector?

A. Not every person may; Senators of the United States, members of the House of Representatives, and all persons who hold any office of trust or profit under the United States, are incapable of being electors of the President.

Q. Why?

A. For fear any President of the United States might use improper means to get himself chosen again when bis time of service should expire. The President has frequent opportunities to see the members of Congress and persuade them; and as he himself has the appointment of most persons who hold offices, he might threaten to remove, or promise to keep them in their places, and thus destroy their freedom of election.

Q. How do these electors proceed?

A. The electors appointed by each state meet in the states that appointed them, and vote by ballot for the President, and for another officer called the Vice President of the United States. The electors all meet on one and the same day in their several states; the day is fixed by Congress.

Q. What do you mean by voting by ballot?

A. When it is wished to conceal the manner in which each particular person voted, and yet to know what is the opinion of the greater number of voters, the voters instead of speaking their minds, put each a piece of folded paper into a box; these papers are called ballots, and when all have voted, these ballots are examined and counted.

Q. May both the persons whom the electors of any state vote for, as President and Vice President, be natives of that state in which they are voted for?

A. No; only one of them ; the other must be a native of some other state.

Q. How do they distinguish which of the persons is voted for as President and which as Vice President?

A. The ballots are taken separately, on different pieces of paper, and it is besides written on the ballot whether the person is voted for as the one or as the other. Separate lists are kept in which they put down the names of all the persons who are voted for, either as President or as Vice President, and the number of votes given for each; these lists are signed by the electors, and then sealed up and sent to the seat of government directed to the President of the Senate. For the greater security, two copies are made, one of them is sent by the mail, and another by a messenger, sent for the express purpose of carrying it.

Q. What does the President of the Senate do with these lists?

A. He opens them in the presence of the Senate and the House of Represen- tatives, who are all met in one hall to be present when the votes are counted. Each House appoints some of its own members who unite in a committee and count all the votes; when the person having the greatest number of votes for President is declared to be the President, and he who has the most votes for Vice President is declared Vice President of the United States.

Q. Suppose no one person has a majority (that is more than half) of all the votes for President, is the person who has the most votes considered as chosen?

A. No.

Q. What is done in that case?

A. The House of Representatives immediately proceed to choose, by ballot, from those persons, not more than three, who stand the highest on the list of votes for President, one to be President of the United States.

Q. Are they bound to choose the person who has most votes?

A. No; they may take either one of those three persons who have the most votes.

Q. Do they vote, on this occasion, in a different manner from what they do on all other occasions?

A. Yes; in choosing the President they vote, not by single members, but by States; that is, each State has one vote only, whether its Representatives are many or few ; and a majority of the whole number of States is necessary to a choice.

Q. Must all the States vote?

A. All may vote if they are present and desire it; but if only two thirds of the States vote, the election is good.

Q. Suppose the House of Representatives cannot, or do not, choose any one, must there be no President?

A. In that case, the Vice President must perform the duty of President.

Q. If neither of the persons voted for by the Electors as Vice President has a majority of all their votes, what is done?

A. The Senate then chooses one of the two persons who have the most votes. A majority of the whole number of Senators is necessary to the choice, but two thirds of their number is sufficient to vote.

In the heading under Charters of Freedom, you will find a copy of the Constitution as well as links to other pertinent primary documents and commentary on the Constitution, including essays at The Heritage Guide to The Constitution:

Elementary Catechism on the Constitution posts:

Elementary Catechism on the Constitution (Preface)
I. The Necessity of Government and Its Forms
II. The American Revolution
III. The Occasion and Purpose of the Constitution
IV. State and National Laws
V. The House of Representatives
VI. The Senate
VII. Impeachment
VIII. Impeachment of the President & The Rule of Law
IX. Meetings of Congress
X. Members of Congress
XI. The Making of Federal Laws
XII. Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises
XIII. Finance and Commerce
XIV. Courts & International Offences
XV. Declaration of War
XVI. State Militia
XVII. Congressional Governance of Washington, D.C. & Military Facilities
XVIII. Congressional Authority On Enactment Of Laws
XIX. Slaves
XX. Habeas Corpus, Bill of Attainder & Ex Post Facto Law
XXI. Direct Tax & the Census, Seaports & Duties, Treasury & Appropriation
XXII. Titles of Nobility
XXIII. Powers Prohibited To The States
XXIV. The Duty and Limit of Power of the Executive Office
Book image from The Federalist Papers. Other reading formats of the Elementary Catechism on the Constitution can be found here.


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