Looking back through a history of the electoral college, many of the states did not at first actually have a popular vote to decide the electors for president. Instead many states chose electors by having the state legislative branch choose the Electors for their state, with only a few of the states putting the decision to a popular vote.

For example in the 1800 election of Thomas Jefferson, only Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Rhode Island held a popular vote, with all other states having the legislative assembly decide the electors (except Tennessee which had an unique system).

However, over the course of a couple of decades, most states switched to a popular vote, excepting South Carolina. South Carolina continued to have the legislative body choose the electors all the way until the end of the Civil War, where upon they started using a popular vote to decide electors.

What were the reasons for South Carolina to not use a popular vote to decide the Electors for so long compared to other states and why did they finally decide to put the decision to a popular vote in future elections after the Civil War?

  • 2
    SC was also the most militantly pro-slavery state in the antebellum era. I suspect the two facts are not unrelated.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 14, 2016 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


It was a power move. A way to exploit the rules in their favor.

Congress for the first 50 years of the Union did not say exactly when you had to select your electors, there was a window. South Carolina would postpone their selection until near the end of that window. In a tight race, the combination of selecting near the end of the process and the state legislature controling the selection allowed South Carolina's politicians a greater ability to effect the race. This allowed them to make deals, barter, and generally have an overly representative voice in national politics. At least it's a strategy for such.

The Congress, in 1845, therefore adopted a uniform day on which the States were to choose their Electors. That day - the Tuesday following the first Monday in November in years divisible by four - continues to be the day on which all the States now conduct their presidential elections.


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