Did you ever wonder why we are called "The United States of America"; I didn’t think about it until I read an article by Jeff Jacoby for the Boston Globe.
We could have been called the United People of America, many of the worlds dictatorships in fact refer to themselves as "The Peoples Republic" of this or that or by similar mislabels. No, instead the founders created a country where an assembly of individual states is brought together under one federal government. The intention was clearly that the national government only be given limited powers because history up to that time had numerous examples of the evils an overpowering central government, and the succeeding centuries bore out this concern.
For the founders the best way to avoid destruction of freedom was to minimize authority of the national government in favor of state’s rights. The reason is that it was expected the people would be better able to have their voices heard at the state level than at the national government far away in the capital city. Of course they had no way of knowing this immensely important aspect of government would be destroyed by an overbearing congress and an uncontrolled judiciary. They expected those inuring to positions in the legislature and the judiciary would be honorable and would practice self restraint; in this they were unfortunately most naive.
The founders also contrived a new way of selecting those who would represent the people. In addition to limiting the national government, they knew it was also very important to prevent "tyranny of the majority." The framers of the Constitution did not believe that political contests should be decided by majority rule. They rejected "pure democracy," as James Madison explained in Federalist No. 10. In his article Jeff Jacoby wrote: "They knew that with ‘nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual, blind reliance on majority rule can become as great a menace to liberty as any king or dictator". As Jeff Jacoby says "the term ‘tyranny of the majority’ was coined for good reason".
The founders went to great lengths to prevent popular majorities from getting their way too easily and dominating the federal government unreasonably. They did not concentrate unlimited power in any single branch of government or in the voters. They divided authority among the three branches of the federal government, and subdivided the legislative branch into two chambers; while reserving all powers not expressly given to the federal government to the states.
One bed rock provision in the constitution does a great deal to try and avoid tyranny by the majority; the creation of the Electoral College for the election of the president and vice president.
More than 700 constitutional amendments to abolish or alter the Electoral College have been proposed during the last two hundred years. None has ever come close to being adopted which indicates that the present system is acceptable to the country.
However to put this in perspective, in only four of the nation's 54 presidential elections since 1789 has the electoral vote winner not been the candidate who won the popular vote. Moreover, in each case the margin separating the candidates has been very small. (George W. Bush won the presidential election in 2000 in the Electoral College but lost the national popular vote by about 500,000 votes, which was just one-half of one percent of the more than 105 million votes cast.)
Ironically the Senate itself eschews the one-person-one-vote rule. States are represented in the Electoral College roughly in proportion to their population with each state having the same number of electors as it has members of Congress; from just three for the smallest states (and the District of Columbia) to 55 for California. But the founders did this intentionally; they wanted all states to be equal in the senate. This means all voters are not equal; for example, California, with over 14 million registered voters is entitled to the same number of senators as Wyoming which has 265,000 voters. By doing the arithmetic, one voter in Wyoming is 53 times as influential as one voter in California. This may seem unfair to some but this was exactly what the founders had in mind so that just a few large states would not dominate the federal government over smaller states.
The people who wrote and approved the constitution believed that national elections should not be decided by majority rule as in a true "democracy."
James Madison explained (in Federalist 10) that regarding "Pure democracy," they knew that with "nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual, blind ‘majoritarianism’ can become a menace to liberty the same as a king or dictator". "Tyranny of the majority" was of great concern.
To avoid such tyranny, the founders went to great lengths to prevent popular majorities from easily dictating to the minority; so unlimited power was not invested in a single branch of government or in majority of voters. Authority was divided among the three branches of the federal government with the legislative branch being subdivided into two chambers, and all powers not expressly given to congress were reserved to the states.
The founders wanted to preserve the most important role in the country for the states and not the federal government. They did this by establishing the Electoral College. Thus, the country was named "United States of America" to reflect the fundamental limitation of the federal government; that was their deliberate intention. Consequently we are a nation of states having distinct identities and interests, not of autonomous individuals. The founders took great pains to protect the rights of states. Most Americans today either never learned or forgot that the states created the federal government; not the other way around.
Since democratic elections take place in each state, the majority of voting citizens in each state choose the electors to vote there will in the Electoral College. Therefore, elements of democracy are preserved in the Electoral College system.
The losers of the four elections in our history who achieved a national majority vote may complain, but by and large the system works and tyranny by majority is avoided. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68 "If the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent."