When we follow it, our Constitution is well suited to achieve its Preamble’s enumerated ends, namely to: “…form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
That more people question the Constitution’s viability today isn’t due to its questionable relevance or effectiveness; rather, it is that we’ve strayed too far from its timeless operating principles.
Congress has delegated far too much of its power to unelected bureaucrats.
These regulators and officials, invested with the power to create law, enforce law, and adjudicate law, then intrude into powers intended to be “…reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
This, in turn, builds resentment, fueling talk of a so-called “national divorce,” as Acela Corridor sensibilities turn into regulation that binds states and citizens in far-flung reaches of the republic.
But for all the talk of a national divorce among some opinion leaders, its execution would be fraught with danger.
In The Federalist No. 4, John Jay warned of a national divorce should the Constitution not be ratified, predicting that America might “…split into three or four independent and probably discordant republics or confederacies, one inclining to Britain, another to France, and a third to Spain, and perhaps played off against each other by the three.” And again in The Federalist No. 5: “Hence it might and probably would happen that the foreign nation with whom the SOUTHERN confederacy might be at war would be the one with whom the NORTHERN confederacy would be the most desirous of preserving peace and friendship.”
Despite the exhortations of Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, ratification of the Constitution was a closely contested endeavor from the fall of 1787 through the spring of the following year. Had it failed, America might have seen an early divorce—one that might be seen a reversal of everything the colonies had fought for over eight years in the War for Independence against Britain.
This is the alternate history explored in my latest novel, Crisis of the House Never United: A Novel of Early America. I wrote it, in part, to warn against a national divorce as well as to illustrate the Constitution’s practical benefits. For instance, some, mostly on the Left, are promoting a national popular vote—an end run around the Constitution’s Electoral College.
In the chapter titled, fittingly enough, “National Popular Vote,” we see Aaron Burr become “the first directly elected president in North America” from his perch in Tammany Hall. How Burr ensured his victory illuminates one of the advantages of the Electoral College. We see it two chapters earlier, as Burr conspires with his Tammany Hall lieutenants:
Burr stared at his notes: “We must ensure victory, but not overdo it. We can’t have our rivals credibly accuse us of manufacturing victory.”
Lespinard smiled: “Easy enough. We need 10,000 new votes out of New York. How much do we have to make that happen?” …
Burr responded: “I’ve reserved enough land in the north for veterans that we could enfranchise up to 7,000 in time for the election. They’d have conditional titles that they could present to the registrars.” …
Burr was beaming. He and Lespinard would now be able to generate an additional 10,000 unexpected votes to ensure the election, scheduled in the four states for March 9, would go completely as planned.
“A question though,” Pintard said, “What’s to keep New Jersey from changing their enfranchisement rules? What if they dropped the property requirements? Wouldn’t that put our plans in jeopardy if they could put up more votes?”
Lespinard had an answer: “No, I don’t think so. Of the four states in play, New York has the highest bar for enfranchisement. Some 90% of New Jersey men can vote. Hell, even women can vote there if they own their own property.”
Historically, Burr politicized and built into a powerful machine what had been merely a social club in Tammany Hall, generating additional votes for the Democratic-Republican Party in the 1800 election to flip New York away from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson.
But what if New York’s votes would have counted nationally in an election determined by the overall popular vote? A similar situation might occur today with California, a state where a person’s mere signature on a voter registration card is sufficient proof of his or her initial eligibility to vote—and that signature can be verified by any of some 30 forms of ID, such as a health club ID or utility bill! Clearly, California’s voter registration system is designed to maximize people on the voter registration rolls—whether they’re legally eligible to vote or not. Shifting to a national popular vote scheme, as currently proposed by 15 states and with only a few more needed to operationalize the plot, would give California and other states with lax voter registration systems an advantage over states that exercise care in the maintenance of their voter rolls. But for states like California, that’s the whole point.
Our Constitution is the cure for much of what ails us as a republic—with most of the ailing caused by our not adhering to its dictates.