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Constitution Monday: Fixing Strange Bedfellows

Here is the 12th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

AMENDMENT XII

Passed by Congress December 9, 1803. Ratified June 15, 1804.

Note: A portion of Article II, section 1 of the Constitution was superseded by the 12th amendment.

The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; — the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; — The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. [And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. –]* The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

*Superseded by section 3 of the 20th amendment.

Before the 12th Amendment, whoever got the highest number of electoral votes in a Presidential election became President and the runner up became Vice-President. If that rule were in effect today, we would have the Obama/McCain administration which would have followed the Bush/Kerry Administration which would have been preceded by the Bush/Gore Administration.

When the Constitution was first drafted, parties as we know them today did not exist. For some reasons the Founders naively assumed that parties would not arise in the United States as they had in Great Britain, so the Constitution wasn’t written to prevent members of antagonistic parties from splitting the President/Vice President slots.

The error of their ways was revealed to them in the election of 1796, which produced the unlikely “team” of President  John Adams (Federalist) and Vice-President Thomas Jefferson (Republican). This was about as viable as a Bush/Gore Administration would have been so Congress went to work and fixed its mistake.

Thomas Jefferson’s Republican party was the ancestor of today’s Democratic Party. See http://americanhistory.about.com/od/politicalparties/p/democratic_party.htm or any American history textbooks for details. This is not to claim that Jefferson would recognize today’s Democrats any more than Lincoln would recognize today’s Republicans.

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