Why was the 12th Amendment needed?
George Washington disapproved of political parties. He was not alone in that, and those founding fathers who gathered for the 1787 Constitutional Convention mainly were of a similar mind. Nevertheless, independence had been won, and the heady atmosphere was one of unity and purposefulness.
The electoral system they created introduced the Electoral College system of electing the President and Vice President. The Electors represented the states. Every Elector had two votes and could vote for two candidates, with one being from outside the Elector’s state.
The candidate with over 50 percent of votes cast was elected President, while the next most votes became vice-president.
This system was created to support the assumption that the nation’s most capable politicians would be elected. Moreover, they would be elected on individual merit and not because they belonged to a particular political party. The system worked well until the end of George Washington’s second term as President.
When the 12th Amendment became necessary
His vice-president, John Adams, stood for election as President in 1796 and was opposed by Thomas Jefferson. Adams became President, and Jefferson was voted in as Vice-President. However, they held quite different views and failed to work together.
In 1800, they stood against each other again, but each had running mates representing their parties this time. When the Electoral College met, things got messy, and it took the intervention of Alexander Hamilton to ensure that Jefferson was elected President. It took 36 separate votes in the College to achieve that result. Things, it was decided, had to change.
What is the 12th Amendment?
The first major reform was to insist that each Elector in the Electoral College cast one of their votes for the President and the other for the Vice-President. The Electors could not cast both their votes for presidential candidates. In this way, there would no longer be a President and Vice-President from different political parties. The idea of a ‘ticket’ was born.
Tie or no majority for President
The 12th Amendment confirmed the existing arrangements should there be a tie or no majority for one candidate.
The House of Representatives is tasked with choosing the President in this situation, and the Senate then chooses the Vice-President.
12th Amendment Ensures A Winning Candidate
The 12th Amendment also provides a solution if the House of Representatives fails to elect a President under these terms. Should this happen, then the Vice-President will act as President in the same way as they would if the President died or ceased to be President in some other way.
After the difficulties experienced during the 1800 election, it was imperative that a solution be found and adopted quickly. The 12th Amendment changed a section of the Constitution and was passed by Congress in 1803 and ratified by the states in 1804. This was just in time for the 1804 election.
The 12th Amendment shows that even the founding fathers were willing to adapt to changing circumstances in American society. Despite George Washington’s opposition to political parties, they were a fact of life by 1796. By making the necessary changes to the Constitution, they paved the way for smooth elections.
12th Amendment Timeline
The Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was proposed to the legislatures of the several States by the Eighth Congress, on December 9, 1803, in place of the original third paragraph of the first section of the second article. It was declared in a proclamation of the Secretary of State, dated September 25, 1804, to have been ratified by the legislatures of 13 of the 17 States.
The dates of ratification were:
North Carolina, December 21, 1803;
Maryland, December 24, 1803;
Kentucky, December 27, 1803;
Ohio, December 30, 1803;
Pennsylvania, January 5, 1804;
Vermont, January 30, 1804;
Virginia, February 3, 1804;
New York, February 10, 1804;
New Jersey, February 22, 1804;
Rhode Island, March 12, 1804;
South Carolina, May 15, 1804;
Georgia, May 19, 1804;
New Hampshire, June 15, 1804
Ratification was completed on June 15, 1804.
Tennessee, July 27, 1804, subsequently ratified the Amendment.
The Amendment was rejected by:
Delaware, January 18, 1804;
Massachusetts, February 3, 1804;
Connecticut, May 10, 1804.