Summary and Analysis
Section XI: Need for a Strong Executive: Federalist No. 68 (Hamilton)
The way of electing a president, Hamilton noted with relief, was almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure."
Rightly, the "sense of the people should operate in the choice" of the chief executive. But this was to be accomplished in a special way. Instead of committing the election of the president to any established body, the choice should be made by men chosen for the special purpose, and meeting at particular times. Such men of distinction would be the most capable of deciding which presidential candidate had the best qualifications for office.
Under the plan, each state was to choose a number of electors equal to the state's number of senators and representatives in the national government. The electors would meet in each state and transmit their decision to the national government. A candidate had to obtain a majority of votes in the electoral college to be named president. In case there was not a majority, provision had been made to have the choice determined by the House of Representatives, in which each state was to have only one vote. How each state voted as a unit was to be determined, presumably, by a caucus taken among the state's delegates to the House.
A vice president was also to be elected by the electoral college. He was to be the candidate who received the next highest vote after the president-elect. Among his other duties, he was to be ex officio the presiding officer in the United States Senate, entitled to vote only to break a deadlock in the Senate when the vote on a particular measure was tied.
Hamilton's high praise of the electoral college system of electing a president is interesting, particularly in view of the current growing feeling that the electoral college system should be abolished entirely as cumbersome, irrelevant, and potentially dangerous. Most of those who take that view seem to favor a plan whereby the president would be elected by direct popular vote, as in the case of governors, mayors, legislative members, and all other elected officials.