Constitution 225: Blueprint for the Electoral College

Commission of David Brearly to be an elector for the state of New Jersey for the purpose of choosing a President and Vice President of the United States, 01/07/1789 (ARC 306228)

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

By the end of August, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were tired. They had been convening and debating for the entire summer, and they sensed they were nearing a finished product.

Throughout August, much of the debate had revolved around the report delivered by the Committee of Detail early in the month. The delegates had discussed at great length that committee’s report, but there were several issues on which they suspended debate before reaching a decision. On August 31, those postponed matters were referred to another committee comprising one delegate from each state and chaired by David Brearly of New Jersey.

This “Committee of eleven,” as Madison referred to it in his journal notes, considered each of the postponed matters and reported back to the Convention during the first week of September with proposals. Included in the committee’s proposals were providing Congress the authority to collect taxes, assigning the Vice President to preside over the Senate, and specifying treason and bribery as crimes deserving presidential impeachment.

Perhaps the most important proposal, however, was a blueprint for the Electoral College. The Electoral College was designed to preserve the separation of powers by creating a system for electing the President that was separate from the legislative branch. Brearly himself carried this commission as one of New Jersey’s electors in the first presidential election less than two years after reporting the system to the Convention.

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