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AP Gov: CON‑1.C.1 (EK) APUSH: KC‑3.2.II.D (KC), PCE (Theme), Unit 3: Learning Objective I

Video transcript

- [Instructor] In this series of videos about the Constitution, we've been discussing all the elements of balance and compromise that appear in the Constitution, the balance between large states and small states and between the different branches of government. But in this video I want to talk about one particular compromise made at the Constitutional Convention over how the president of the United States is elected, and that is the electoral college. I think these compromises reveal some real conflict among the framers over how they think the American Revolution did. Did they think that the Revolution went too far, had created too much equality and too much liberty for people who weren't ready to deal with it? Or did it not go far enough? So let's talk about this idea that perhaps the Revolution went too far, that the average American Joe, or Jedediah, I guess, could be the Revolutionary version of Joe, had too much a sense of his own importance, was going to tear down the social structures that had seemed natural during the American Revolution, the wealthy elites, the middling farmers, the rough and rowdy workers. You'll remember that one of the incidents that led to the decision to revise the Articles of Confederation was Shays's Rebellion in which a group of unruly farmers, Revolutionary War veterans, had marched against the governor of Massachusetts. So the people were used to rebelling, and they first had rebelled against Great Britain. But now that war was over, and they started rebelling against state governments. So there's a real sense throughout the Constitution that the founders were attempting to balance democracy, a representative government, with what they saw as too much democracy or mobocracy in their words, that unruly mobs who perhaps lacked the virtue of elite, educated citizens would foolishly tear down government that they weren't prepared to be part of. Now, you see that in things like the Senate. The members of the Senate were appointed, not elected, up until the 20th century. The idea that there had to be one part of the legislative branch that was selected by the better sort of men, the sort of people who really knew what good leadership looked like, not by a mob that might be swayed by any fancy talking politician. The founders didn't want all white men to be able to vote. They wanted voting to be reserved to the elite, the propertied, the educated, those who were prepared to be virtuous citizens. It wouldn't be until the 1820s that all white men could vote in elections, regardless of how much property they owned. Of course, it wouldn't be until the late 19th and 20th centuries that women and minorities would get the right to vote. So they had a very dim idea of the average citizen's ability to engage productively in democracy. And another way that they show this in the Constitution is in the process of electing the president. Article II establishes the executive branch, and it also discusses how presidential elections shall work. And it's a kinda complex process, the electoral college. But the simple version is that instead of having citizens vote directly for the president, the citizens would vote in each state, and then that state would have electors equal to the number of senators and representatives. And those electors would then cast votes for the president, and whoever got the most electoral votes should be president. And we still have this system today. This is a map of the current number of electoral votes that each state has. And really, what the founders intended here was to have a safeguard of the office of the president, believing that it would be possible for a mob to be swayed, even the better sorts of citizens, into voting for a politician who wouldn't be good for the office. And so they moved away from direct democracy into a slightly more complicated indirect system just to put an extra layer of safety in between the office of president and the unruly masses.
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