Petrella on Slavery, Democracy, and the Racialized Roots of the Electoral College | @AAIHS

In response to the recent election, #ADPhD is sharing reflections, short takes, and responses from scholars of slavery. To submit yours, click here.

On November 14, 2016, in light of the recent election, the Christopher F. Petrella published this essay on the African American Intellectual History Society blog:

Petrella writes:

“In a direct election system, the North would have outnumbered the South (which had a large population but far fewer eligible voters), whose roughly 550,000 enslaved black people were disenfranchised. Delegates from the South generally supported Madison’s idea of the Electoral College over a direct election system because it was based solely on population volume, not citizenship status or enfranchisement. In conjunction, and at Madison’s urging, the convention agreed to count each enslaved black person as three-fifths of a citizen for the purpose of calculating each state’s representation in the Electoral College and in the allotment of congressional seats.”

“Colonial Virginia won big under the Electoral College system: the state occupied 12 of the 46 electoral votes (26 percent) needed to win an election in the first round. (As a reference point, such disproportionate overrepresentation would be tantamount to present-day California enjoying 70 electoral votes.) Whereas the Electoral College artificially enhanced the political influence of the South, it deflated the political influence of the North. After the 1800 census, for instance, Pennsylvania had 10 percent more free persons than Virginia, but had 20 percent fewer electoral votes. According to legal historian Akhil Reed Amar“Perversely, the more slaves Virginia (or any other slave state) bought or bred, the more electoral votes it would receive. Were a slave state to free any blacks who then moved North, the state could actually lose electoral votes.” Simply stated, the Electoral College incentivized the institution of slavery; it was created to protect and propagate the enslavement of black people. The Electoral College operationalized the 3/5ths compromise and helped to secure, extend, and enhance the political power of the white slaveholding class whose epicenter at the end of the eighteenth century was Virginia…”

Read the rest: Slavery, Democracy, and the Racialized Roots of the Electoral College

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