I'm doing some personal research on the electoral college as it has been becoming more and more relevant in modern US elections. I've seen tons of people talking about how it was designed to protect small or slave states. However, when examining James Madison's notes from September 4th, the day it was debated, all of the discussion seemed to be over how it protects from total control by the legislature and corruption.

I was wondering if there was a primary source to look at that would explain somewhat the reasoning behind giving each state the same number of electors as senators and representatives combined, as that seems to be something already decided on by the first time it is proposed.

I am by no means a constitutional scholar and have not read the full text of Madison's notes as of yet, so I may have overlooked an obvious answer.

Just to clarify, I am not looking for someone explaining that the electoral college was put in place because of difficulty taking a true popular vote, or to protect the people against ignorance, nor am I looking for someone to explain the three-fifths compromise. I am looking for an explanation as to why the number of electors is not directly tied to the population of the state.

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    Why do you think the number of electors is not directly tied to the population of the state? California has 55 electors and some states have only 3. Don't you think it is somewhat directly tied to the population? What do you mean by "already decided on by the first time it is proposed"?
    – Rathony
    Nov 13, 2016 at 6:05
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    By tied to pop I meant the fact that it isn't directly proportional, 1 vote in Cali is about 3 in Wyoming. Already decided on means the first time it was mentioned in Madison's notes the full text appeared with no reference to where it came from or debate on specifics and it was passed with no discussion of the specifics of the clause Nov 13, 2016 at 6:35
  • Correct me if I'm wrong I'm referencing the notes taken on September 4th 1787 Nov 13, 2016 at 6:36
  • Well, at least for other pieces of the constitution, Madison took relatively good notes of the debates. Nov 13, 2016 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


Yes, there is.

The deliberations took a while and the participants were all literate, letter-writing folk, so there is actually a lot more documentation about the deliberations than many people think.

I have a book in my library, Slavery and the Founders, that goes over this in its first chapter. It relies primarily on records of the deliberations for its arguments. Prominent are Max Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, along with numerous personal correspondence about the deliberations. All the information below is derived from that book, with footnotes pointing back to Farrand.

What he found was that the actual voting for and against the Senate wasn't a small-state vs. large-state split, but rather a Slave state vs Free state split. His thesis is that the design of the Senate, including what powers it was given, was specifically to prevent a Federal government from being able to outlaw slavery based on popular votes from the more populous northern states. This is also why states were allowed to count 3/5ths of their slaves toward their state's representation in The House (which also impacted the Electoral College). A straight-up popular vote would have given slaveholders much less voice in the selection of the POTUS. When next it came to debate that office itself:

On July 17, the Convention considered, and rejected by wide margins, election by the Congress, direct election by the people, and election by the state legislatures. Significantly, the most vocal opposition to election by the people came from three southerners: Charles Pinckney, George Mason, and High Williamson. While Pinckney and Mason argued against the competence of the "people," Williamson was more open about the reasons for southern opposition. He noted that Virginia -- and by extension the rest of the South -- would not be able to elect her leaders president because "her slaves will have no suffrage"

James Madison claimed in his correspondence to be particularly supportive of direct popular election, but saw that Southern states would be faced with a choice of having much less voice that way, or giving their slaves actual votes, neither of which they would ever agree to. So he eventually (on July 20th) came out in support of the Electoral College as a way to give the states weighted voices in the Presidential decision, on the basis that had already been negotiated for Congress (specifically the 3/5ths compromise).

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    Thank you so much! I have been wondering about this for a while and I don't have a great collection of literature on the subject within easy reach Nov 17, 2016 at 4:21
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    Note that Pinckney may sound familiar to longtime readers of this website as the name attached to the infamous Gag Rule that helped increase tensions prior to the Civil war. This was that guy's father. Quite a family.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 17, 2016 at 4:33

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