The No. 3 House Democrat, Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, invoked founding father Alexander Hamilton in defending a more robust federal role in elections.
House Majority Whip Clyburn echoed Hamilton in telling “Fox News Sunday” that presidential elections “cannot” and “should not be left up to the states” just three days after the first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, breaching of the Capitol on the day Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election over then-President Donald Trump.
Clyburn cited the Federalist Papers in buttressing his argument. The Federalist Papers are a collection of 85 articles and essays by Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay promoting the ratification of the proposed U.S. Constitution, which was drafted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787.
Specifically, Clyburn pointed Federalist No. 59 in which Hamilton argues the federal government should be the only entity as a whole that can regulate its own elections, rather than states or other local entities being able to do so.
“That’s why states were not allowed to put term limits on federal officials, so the elections were not solely conducted by the states,” Clyburn made clear. “That’s why the voting rights act was necessary, and that’s why the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, why the 18th Amendment to the Constitution are necessary — all because it had to go beyond the states to determine.”
The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, protects the voting rights of all citizens regardless of race or the color of their skin.
The 18th Amendment, ratified in 1919, prohibited the “manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors” for “beverage purposes.” (The 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment.)
Clyburn and other top House Democrats are calling on the Senate to abolish the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation.
Should the federal government have a more prominent role in elections?
Congress needs to “’mature’ with the times and make changes as necessary,” Clyburn argued.
“What is true today was not true then, and therefore, the kind of changes that we need to make, the kind of modifications that we need to make must fit the times,” Clyburn urged.
“Just because you’ve got one little nugget that was true back in 1876 doesn’t meant that that is true in 1976 … This country has matured,” he said. “This is not the same country it was over 200 years ago. We as a people must mature right along with it.”
Clyburn may have been making an oblique reference to the presidential election of 1876, one of the most disputed elections in American history in which Democrat Samuel Tilden outpolled Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote, securing 184 electoral votes to Hayes’ 165, with 20 votes uncounted.
The 20 disputed electoral votes – 19 electoral votes from Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina and one elector from Oregon – were ultimately awarded to Hayes after a bitter series of negotiations and compromises between Republicans and Democrats, giving Hayes the victory and the presidency.
Clyburn stood firm in his belief federal officials should have a prominent role in elections.
“I am a federal official, but I understand very well how federal elections are run,” Clyburn said. “Most people who are now serving at the federal level have at one time served in some capacity at the state and local levels as well, so they too have an understanding.”
On the surface, Clyburn’s Hamilton defense seems solid in that the founding father wanted a new national government that had complete political authority. He disliked state governments and believed they should be eliminated entirely.
Nevertheless, Hamilton ended up drafting a proposal for a new national government that would centralize power but still allow states to retain their rights and individuality.
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