October 8

Blog #140 – Time to get rid of the Electoral College?

The Electoral College is one of a kind.  No other country uses this system to elect their leaders – in fact, no other American politician or judge is elected using an electoral college – they all get elected via majority vote.  Only the President of the U.S. is chosen with this cumbersome system.  Throughout American history, the presidential candidate with the most votes has lost the electoral vote 4 times, twice lately (in 2000 and 2016).  So why do we have it?

Some textbooks and teachers (including this one!) have said that the Framers of the Constitution didn’t trust the American voter to pick the right candidate, so someone else should pick the president.  Hence, charges of elitism.  Others have claimed that the EC protects the small states from being overrun by the larger states in an election, where a candidate from a small state would never get elected.  While others claim that the EC has its roots in racism and the protection of the slave states who feared that the Northern states would dominate the South b/c there were more voters in the North than in the South (based upon landownership). But, before we get going any further, please watch this video for a better understanding of the Electoral College, what it is, and how it works.  It also includes some arguments for and against it.

To counter the argument that the Framers were elitist, one must remember that only landowners were the voters (except in Massachusetts where all males had the right to vote), supposedly the best people in the community and not the “rabble” that some have characterized American voters were in 1787.  The Framers most likely didn’t trust local politicians given the insanity that happened between 1781 – 1787 in states like Rhode Island (remember the paper money fiasco).  Furthermore, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, only Elbridge Gerry expressed any concern about “the evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy.”  No other Framer expressed a similar sentiment.

To counter the argument that the Framers created the EC to protect small states, all one has to do is to look at Madison’s Notes on the Convention and see that this idea never appears in the notes.  This doesn’t mean that delegates didn’t care about the difference between the large and small states, it just means that in the discussions for choosing the president, the issue of large and small states didn’t come up (though it definitely did when figuring out the configuration of Congress).

When discussing how to chose the president, one initial suggestion was by Edmund Randolph of Virginia who said that he/she should be chosen by the national legislature.  James Madison later suggested that the lower house of Congress should pick the president.  There was also significant debate as to how many people should be president – should it be one person, a pair, or several?   James Wilson made a proposal that the president be chosen by a popular vote, using the example of New York and Massachusetts popularly electing their governors.  Gouverneur Morris also made an argument for a popular vote: “he ought to be elected by the people at large, by the freeholders (landowners) of the Country… If the people should elect, they will never fail to prefer some man of distinguished character or services; some man, if he might so speak, of continental reputation.  If the legislature elect, it will be the work of intrigue, of cabal (conspiracy), and of faction…”  Southern delegates, for the most part, opposed popular vote because the Northern states had more voters than the Southern states despite having similar populations (because the enslaved didn’t vote).    The popular vote idea would eventually be voted down.

Eventually, in mid July, Oliver Ellsworth proposed that electors appointed by the state legislatures chose the president and that the number be determined by the state’s population.  Madison feared that the South would never be able to affect the outcome if it was based upon the free population because there were more free white and Black folks in the North than in the South.  Madison would then support the EC because of the 3/5 Compromise which would give the Southern states a bigger say in who became president.  This can be seen in the 1800 election.  Jefferson had more votes than Adams because of the 3/5 Compromise but without it, Adams would have won.  In fact, 10 of the first 12 presidents elected, from Washington to Taylor, would be slaveholders.  So it might seem that the EC was created to the benefit of slave states.

For some more modern arguments about the EC, here is Adam Ruins Everything on why we should ditch the EC:

They bring up an interesting point in this video, that if the winner – take – all system was gotten rid of, you wouldn’t have so many solidly blue (Democratic) or red (Republican) states.  In the article that I asked you to read for this blog, it states that 2/3 of the states don’t even matter in a presidential election because they’re not battleground states, and that in 2016, 94% of the candidates’ visits were limited to just 12 states (and 2/3 of the visits were in just SIX STATES!).  Somehow, a popular vote would fix this, get rid of battleground states, and make sure that the candidates get around the country to go see everybody in order to get their vote.

For the other side of the argument to keep the EC, here is a video by Prager U:

The video states that the EC promotes coalition building and protects against voter fraud.  The video also stated that the Framers didn’t intend to have a pure democracy (or popular vote) when it came to the president (or the Senate for that matter).  In the article for the blog, they stated that the Framers were worried about only a few large states picking the presidency while the rest would be ignored.

Just so you know, in order to eliminate the EC, it would require a Constitutional amendment.  That would require 2/3 of both houses of Congress and 3/4 of all of the state legislatures.

So, please answer the following:

  1. Which video – Adam Ruins Everything and Prager U – had the more persuasive arguments?   Why?
  2. Do you believe that the electoral college should be eliminated?  Why or why not?
  3. Should the winner – take – all system of how states assign their electors be changed to be proportional?  Why or why not?  For instance, Texas has 38 electoral votes which Trump won in 2020 by a margin of 52% – 47%.  If the electoral votes were assigned proportionally based upon the vote, Trump would have won 20 and Biden would have won 18.

Your total answer for all 3 questions should be a minimum of 350 words.  Due Monday, October 11 by class.  

October 28

Blog #66 – War of 1812 Debate

You’ve heard the arguments, now decide where America should have headed that summer of 1812.

Bro, lend me your advice.

Let’s say you had President Madison’s ear (no, not really, that would be gross).  But let’s say you could sway him with your amazing argumentation skills.

And you’d just heard the four arguments (which I’m about to sum up for those reading at home):

Option 1 – All out war with Britain – this means invading Canada to stop them from supplying our Indians w/ weapons; it also means setting sail to do battle with the mammoth British navy.  Yes, that British navy.  We must defend ourselves and our rights from being violated.

Option 2 – Strictly limited to naval war – land invasion is too costly and Canada might be a pesky target to invade (who knew?), therefore, we’ll attack them in the Caribbean while the British are busy w/ the French.  Or we’ll bombard Canadian towns.  Or make mayhem on the high seas.

Option 3 – wait until we’re ready to make war – obviously Britain is too big and burly right now, so let’s wait until we build up our meager armed forces into something a little more formidable and then go and attack.  We might just catch them by surprise.  Everyone loves a good surprise.

Option 4 – Peace is the only recourse – seriously?  You want to take on the British?  The last time we battled them we had loads of help, and this time around we can’t even count on that.  Our army is small and navy is miniscule by comparison.  Rights, smights, who needs them?

Using notes from the debate, and your own common sense, give President Madison your learned opinion who will then steer America on the correct course.  Nothing is at stake here but the future of the country.  No pressure.

Your  opinion is due by class on Thursday, October 30.  250 words minimum. 

October 15

Blog #56 – Did America “win” the War of 1812?

America went to war with Britain and Canada over three main issues:  1. freedom of the seas for trade; 2. gaining new land like Canada; 3. dealing with Indian issues.

Since the French Revolution, British and French navies seized American ships and sailors who had been caught up in trading either in the West Indies or in Europe.  In order to keep America out of these situations, President Jefferson approved of the Embargo Act of 1807 which ended all American trade with the world.   Even the dust-up with the American (Chesapeake) and British ship (Leopard) in 1807 ten miles off the coast of Virginia raised Americans’ blood pressure.  When we began trading with the rest of the world (Non-Intercourse Act and Macon’s Bill No. 2), more impressment and interference made American shipping a difficult business.

The War Hawks saw Canada as a great prize to be taken if the Americans attacked.  They thought that with Britain distracted by Napoleon’s war, the Canadians would be an easy target for a coordinated American invasion.  American forces invaded not once but twice, in 1812 and in 1813, and the only successful win was the Battle of the Thames where Shawnee chief Tecumseh was killed. In 1814, the Canadian capitol, York (modern day Toronto) was burned by American forces, but Canada proved to be extremely difficult to capture – we invaded Canada with only 5,000 soldiers/ militia while in Europe, Napoleon invaded Russia with half a million soldiers and still lost!  In addition, the southern and western War Hawks wanted to capture Canada to stop the New Englanders from illegally trading with Canada (seen as a traitorous act b/c we were at Britain / Canada).

Lastly, Americans on the frontier (Northwest territory, Southern territories like Alabama and Mississippi and Spanish File:Battle of tippecanoe, battlefield map.jpgFlorida) had been fighting the Indians and white Americans continued to encroach on their territory.  For instance, Indiana territorial governor William Henry Harrison negotiated the transfer of 3 million acres in Indiana with the Treaty of Fort Wayne signed with the Pottawattomie, Lanape, and Miami tribes in 1809.  This treaty had angered Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet (Tenskwatawa) who wanted Indians to not sign treaties with America, and return to their old ways by getting rid of alcohol, finished clothes, farming, and Christianity.  Harrison’s forces kill the Prophet at Tippecanoe in 1811, and Tecumseh continues to fight until 1813 when he was killed at the Battle of the Thames.  Andrew Jackson also defeated Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 in Alabama before heading to New Orleans to defeat the British.  Jackson would later campaign into Florida a couple of years after the War of 1812 and seize the territory by defeating the Seminoles and taking the Spanish capitol, Pensacola.


The Treaty of Ghent was essentially an armistice, or an end to the fighting.  The British didn’t get their Indian buffer zone in the Great Lakes area nor did they get Maine and Minnesota like they had originally proposed.  The British had stopped impressment of American soldiers after the Napoleonic Wars were over in 1814.  And Canada remained safe from American invasion, so the borders all remained where they were before the war.  The treaty released all prisoners and seized ships, and Britain and America gave back territory that they had held at the end of the war (including Fort Mackinac).

So, looking at the three goals that America had going into the war, the only one that we had achieved was dealing with Indian issues.  The British and the French stopped impressment of American sailors without us having to resort to much naval warfare.  We failed in our attempt at taking Canada from the Brits, so why is this war considered an American victory?  Or should it be considered a tie, much like the Korean War where after three years of bloody fighting (1950-53), an armistice was also signed and little if any land changed hands.

Canadians don’t think of this as an American victory; they see it as a joint British / Canadian victory.

What’s your opinion on the War of 1812?  Is it a victory (a second war for American Independence like the book mentioned) or is it a defeat like the Canadians believe?  Or should it be regarded as a tie between Britain and America (which, considering the relative military might of both countries, may be considered a win for America)?   Explain your answer in at least 250 words

Due Monday, October 21 by class time. 

October 30

Blog #42 – Slavery disqualifier?

“All men are created equal…” Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

“There is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery]… we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”  Thomas Jefferson’s letter to John Holmes

An argument that discredits some of the Founding Fathers, including men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison among others is that because these men owned slaves yet fought for freedom, they are hypocrites.  The line of reasoning goes – “how could someone who so courageously advanced the cause of human freedom still be a slaveowner?  They can’t possibly be both for and against freedom.”   The next point in this line of thinking is that because of this hypocrisy, some of Founding Fathers, especially the Virginians, are racist because they neither had the courage to free their slaves or that they profited from their slaves’ labor. 

One of the most biting quotes about this dilemma is from this time period (not ours) by Englishman Samuel Johnson:

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” (Ambrose 2).

But were our FFs neglectful of this slavery dilemma?   It appears not.  When Jefferson describes the perpetuation of slavery in his book, Notes on the State of Virginia, he talks about how the slavemaster attitude is passed on down to his children:

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise in the most boisterous passions…The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives loose to his worst passions, and thus nursed, educated and daily exercised in tyranny…”

Here, the child of the slaveowner learns how to treat slaves like chattel, and the cycle is perpetuated.  But modern critics say, how could Jefferson recognize this contradiction in American society and not do anything about it?   Even in the same book where he criticizes slavery and its depravity, Jefferson embraces the racism of the time by asserting that slaves hadn’t produced any real literature, they smelled bad, and engage in sex constantly (Ambrose 4).  Yet, confoundingly, Jefferson also wrote a passage into the original draft of the Declaration of Independence that condemned slavery, and he also signed the bill that outlawed the international slave trade in 1808. 

“I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery].” —George Washington

Then there’s Washington.  He was the only one of the nine slaveowning president who had freed all of his slaves (neither Adams owned slaves).   He held the nation together through the force of his personality and will during some of the darkest times.  But that didn’t stop a school in New Orleans from being renamed in the 1990s from George Washington Elementary to the Charles R. Drew Elementary(Dr. Drew is the developer of hemoglobin) (Ambrose 11). 


Ben Franklin and Benjamin Rush, FFs from Pennsylvania, helped found the nation’s first anti-slavery society in Philadelphia.  Rush is quoted as saying: “Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity… It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father.”

On the other side, there’s the assertion by Michelle Bachman, former Republican presidential candidate, who said that  the FFs “know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.”   Specifically, Bachman mentions John Quincy Adams as one of these tireless founders, our 6th president. 


 1. What is happening here to the Founding Fathers?  Why are some people quick to attack and blame them for allowing slavery to exist at the foundation of a freedom-loving nation?  And why do some people defend the FFs with every ounce of their being? 

2. Do you think the FFs are being judged by today’s standards or by the standards of the day in which they lived?  Have the FFs become some kind of political football that candidates use for their own purposes?  Why?

Answer both questions by Thursday, class time, November 1.  300 words total. 


Ambrose, Stephen E. To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. Print

http://theweek.com/article/index/216841/did-the-founding-fathers-really-work-tirelessly-to-end-slavery  The Week.