Repeal the Twelfth!

A new group called is proposing to create a moderate force to run candidates for President and Vice-President from different parties in order to break the stalemate and posturing that characterize the two-party system.

Back in 1796, that’s how the system worked. The candidate who finished second became Vice-President. The winners were John Adams (Federalist) and Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican). They happened to be the two best qualified, even though they were from opposing parties and significant disputes occured during Adams’ term.

The system broke down in 1800 when both Democratic candidates (Jefferson and Aaron Burr) received equal numbers of votes (the Federalist, John Adams, finished third). The solution was the Twelfth Amendment — requiring members of the Electoral College to cast two votes. That cleared up the problem of who would be President and who would be Vice-President. But it forced the nation into a system where the President and Vice-President were nearly always from the same party (Lincoln’s second Vice-President, Andrew Johnson, succeeded to the presidency on Lincoln’s death and survived impeachment by only one vote).

The vast aggrandizement of presidential power in the 20th and 21st centuries should lead to a reexamination of this system. The Vice-President’s primary constitutional role is to preside over the Senate, a position which fits nicely with the idea of the Vice-President as the leader of the electoral minority. Wouldn’t we be better off today if George Bush’s Vice-President were … Al Gore? A LOT better off?

We need to get rid of the Electoral College and provide for direct popular election of the President on a nationwide basis. And we ought to think about ditching the Twelfth Amendment while we’re at it. Instead of “may the best person win,” why not “may the best two candidates win?” (Political scientists have been pushing variants on this for some time.)

A system of this kind would get every voter, in every state, passionately interested in the election. And it would get people thinking about not just who their first choice for President would be. They would have to think: of the remaining candidates, who my favorite considers to be bozos, which one would I want leading the opposition and potentially becoming President? That would add a great deal of civility and wisdom to the electoral debate without a great deal of effort. It might help centrist candidates win office. And all it takes is a constitutional amendment.

(We’d also need to modify the 22nd Amendment to give anyone a maximum of eight years as President and a maximum of, say, twelve years combined as President and Vice-President.)

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1 Comment

  1. Joe Orchid

    May 29, 2007 @ 4:23 pm


    I would honestly agree with your article. This sure has aggravated our economy.

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