Actually, Alexander Hamilton was a brilliant man. But even brilliant men sometimes advance ideas that turn out to be spectacularly wrong-headed. Such is the case with Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 68.
This long-forgotten work is suddenly relevant because a bunch of celebrities–some famous, some you’ve never heard of, and one whose plastic surgery makes you go “DEAR GOD!”–have appeared in a “public service” ad imploring the electors to the Electoral College to vote for someone other than Donald Trump. Citing Federalist Paper No. 68, they claim that Hamilton designed the electoral college to ensure that the only persons who were to “an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications” would be President.
Here is the entire paragraph from which that quote is taken:
The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,” yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.
That has to be one of the stupidest things Hamilton ever wrote. Is there any process–let alone an electoral one–that is so perfect it “never” produces a man who is not eminently qualified? The presidency has been held by many people lacking ability or virtue or both–Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, etc. The Electoral College has never functioned as Hamilton envisioned. But now, 228 years in, it is supposed to work as planned because the political left has a serious case of the vapors.
A “constant probability” of “characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue” running for a powerful political office? Hamilton should have known better. Indeed, there are only two things that Federalist Paper No. 68 is good for. The first is as a demonstration of how very intelligent people can get carried away with their ideas to the point of imbecility. The second is as an inspiration for self-important show biz types to make fools of themselves.
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