For six long weeks this past Fall the country waited to find out who our next president would be. We waited, watched, and blamed. We blamed the newscasters, we blamed the parties, we blamed candidates, counters and voters. We blamed ballots, both pregnant and butterfly, but mostly we blamed the system that allowed for such a jumble.
But the real reason for the whole mess is Pierce Butler, the creator of the Electoral College System.
Pierce Butler was born in County Carlow, Ireland, the son of Sir Richard Butler, a Member of Parliament. He came to the Colonies as a major in His Majesty’s 29th Regiment to settle unrest in Boston. But when the revolution erupted he took up the cause and served as adjunct general in the South Carolina militia.
After the war he was elected to the Continental Congress and then to the Constitutional Convention. At the convention he said, “[Presidential powers would not] have been so great had not many of the members cast their eyes toward General Washington as President; and shaped their ideas of the Powers to be given to a President, by their opinions of his Virtues.” Butler was quite aware of the power of the executive branch and of the possibility of a few large states to determine who got to hold such power despite the opinion of the smaller states of the nation. He was determined to not let this happen, so he came up with a solution – the Electoral College. He convinced the convention to include the Electoral College in the constitution, and it wasn’t too long before it became a thorn in the side of the country’s politicians. The first controversy came in 1824 when the popular-vote victor, Andrew Jackson, lost the presidency to the electoral winner, John Quincy Adams. It would not be the last. ♦