Last Updated:November 30 @ 11:48 am

Williams: Democracy and Majority Rule

By Walter E. Williams

President Barack Obama narrowly defeated Gov. Mitt Romney in the popular vote 51 percent to 48 percent. In the all-important Electoral College, the difference was larger, with Obama winning 303 electoral votes and Romney 206. Let's not think so much about the election's outcome but instead ask: What's so good about democracy and majority rule?

How many decisions in our day-to-day lives would we like to be made through majority rule or the democratic process? How about the decision to watch a football game or "Law and Order"? What about whether to purchase a Chevrolet Volt or a Toyota Prius? Would you like the decision of whether to have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner to be made through the democratic process? Were such decisions made in the political arena, most of us would deem it tyranny.

Democracy and majority rule give an aura of legitimacy and decency to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny. Most people would agree that having our decisions on what television shows to watch, what kind of car we'll purchase and what we'll eat for Thanksgiving dinner made through the democratic process is tyranny. Why isn't it also tyranny for the political process to determine decisions such as how much should be put aside out of our paycheck for retirement; whether we purchase health insurance or not; what type of light bulbs we use; or whether we purchase 32- or 16-ounce soda containers?

The founders of our nation held a deep abhorrence for democracy and majority rule. The word democracy appears in neither of our founding documents: our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wrote, "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority."

John Adams predicted, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

Edmund Randolph said, "... that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy."

Chief Justice John Marshall observed, "Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos."

In a word or two, the founders knew that a democracy would lead to the same kind of tyranny the colonies suffered under King George III. Our founders intended for us to have a republican form of limited government where political decision-making is kept to the minimum.

Alert to the dangers of majoritarian tyranny, our Constitution's framers inserted several anti-majority rules. One such rule is that election of the president is not decided by a majority vote but instead by the Electoral College. Nine states have more than 50 percent of the U.S. population. If a simple majority were the rule, conceivably these nine states could determine the presidency. Fortunately, they can't because they have only 225 Electoral College votes when 270 of the 538 total are needed. Were it not for the Electoral College, presidential candidates could safely ignore less populous states.

Two houses of Congress pose another obstacle to majority rule. Fifty-one senators can block the designs of 435 representatives and 49 senators. The Constitution gives the president a veto that weakens the power of 535 members of both houses of Congress. It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto. To change the Constitution requires not a majority but a two-thirds vote of both Houses to propose an amendment, and to be enacted requires ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures.

Today's Americans think Congress has the constitutional authority to do anything upon which they can get a majority vote. We think whether a measure is a good idea or a bad idea should determine its passage as opposed to whether that measure lies within the enumerated powers granted Congress by the Constitution. Unfortunately, for the future of our nation, Congress has successfully exploited American constitutional ignorance or contempt.


Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.


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  1. inluminatuoComment by inluminatuo
    November 21, 2012 @ 8:42 am

    Funny is it not that when the Liberal Democrats are out of power that it is the minority opinion that must be protected at all costs, in fact particularly at the financial cost of the majority. However whenever they win elections and are placed into positions of power, the interests of the minority opinion just become casualties of the electoral wars where election have consequences and the rights of the minority are abandoned faster that a Clinton on a shirt chase.
    The founders gave us our Bill of Rights to protect the minority position. Not until the law is passed that you cannot discriminate based upon personal income will there again be true equality, equal opportunity, and actual reward for those who are now in the minority that seek excellence and reward. Each and every individual has a right to be protected in his personal property from those who would seek to level our people and our nation from that of excellence seekers of success to that of equal failure. We also have a social responsibility to protect those who lead and choose to excel lest we all become motivated to join the ranks of the cumulative collective of failures that now run this nation in the form of the newly minted majority of entitlement to that which others create, which is soon followed by even those who create just laying down their burdens in surrender and finally giving up. This is why our economy has not turned, this is why our recession deepens,,,,we destroy the very segment of society with the means and talent to pull us out of this mess, all in the name of political correctness.

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    • geoinsdComment by geoinsd
      November 22, 2012 @ 10:12 am

      Amen brother! Very well said.

      I like the commonly told illustration of tyranny by the majority: a community of two wolves and a sheep vote on what is for dinner. And an illustration of the true purpose and need for the 2nd Amendment: liberty is an armed sheep.

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  2. DidoComment by Dido
    November 21, 2012 @ 9:59 am

    As Ben Franklin answered the lady in Philadelphia in the fall of 1787 who asked him, “What form of government have you created for us Mr Franklin?” Ben responded, “A republic, Madam, if we can keep it!”

    Excellent article Williams. And here is more proof:

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    • CarmineComment by Carmine
      November 23, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

      Is it just me or does it look like we are not keeping it?

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  3. rdog1Comment by rdog1
    November 21, 2012 @ 10:37 am

    It’s of my opinion that our Constitutional Representative Republic of Sovereign States and the Electoral College System could be greatly enhanced by changing the system to give just ONE Electoral Vote to each of our Sovereign States and Territories; rather than basing it on population as the House of Representatives is based!

    The Founders may very well have thought of this themselves in hindsight. The populations of the original 13 States were not so different as they are now; and, they don’t have the problem America now has of having urban areas being so diametrically opposed to the rest of their States in ideology, of reasons obvious to most conservatives.

    I’d LOVE to see and analysis of how our Presidential Elections would have turned out historically had this “One Electoral Vote Per Sovereign State / Territory” been in place since the beginning. I think it would be enlightening!

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    • JDZComment by JDZ
      November 21, 2012 @ 11:21 am

      If it were based on just how each state itself voted, Mitt Romney would have won the election. Currently, 30 of the fifty states are run by Republican governors which, to me, shows that most of the states prefer a conservative based government where the government itself is restrained and fiscally responsible.

      The country is politically dominated by the large urban populated states which have become addicted to government social programs which provide massive government subsidies to the inner city communities who are dominated by minority populations of Hispanics and African Americans. These are bastions of union based Democratic voting districts, which in the last election all voted for Obama. In Philadelphia, for example, the Democrats were bragging about 59 voting districts where Mitt Romney received zero votes out of the tens of thousands of votes cast.

      When Mitt Romney was talking about voting blocks and referred to the 47% who would vote for Obama no matter what, most of these voting blocks reside in these huge urban areas like NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, LA, Miami, and SF. When you take these population dominated areas out of the picture, the country is basically conservative.

      The state of California, for example, is now a slam dunk for Democrats as most voting districts are now liberal based primarily driven by the millions of Hispanic and other minority voting blocks. California is a model for the liberal political mentality and it is not an attractive model to be representative of where the country is being forced to accept by the Obama administration. CA is slowly deteriorating due to deficit overspending driven by service union demands and continual increases in government subsidy programs that are unaffordable, which is exactly what is happening at the federal level. California lawmakers keep doing exactly the same insane things that have caused the financial disaster that is coming, much like the federal government. They keep,coming up with creative ways to increase taxes and fees to tax the declining number of taxpayers in the state. It is insane to keep doing the same things but think that the outcome will be different.

      So, I agree that when the system is a simple majority rule (a form of democracy) that it cannot really be representative and that is why our founders created a Republic. Unfortunately, the dramatic changes in demographics have undermined the ability of the country to behave like our founders intended.

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    • Jota_Comment by Jota_
      November 21, 2012 @ 3:09 pm

      “greatly enhanced by changing the system to give just ONE Electoral Vote to each of our Sovereign States” – rdog1

      They currently get two electoral votes for each state regardless of population and at least one more for population

      “I’d LOVE to see and analysis of how our Presidential Elections would have turned out historically had this “One Electoral Vote Per Sovereign State / Territory” been in place since the beginning. I think it would be enlightening!”

      Are you kidding?

      Each state has always had two. Am not at all sure how you think by giving the states only one would then be a greater balance to a vote from a representative whom exist because of population

      One thing which has changed is limiting the number of representatives

      Article I, Section II
      “The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at Least one Representative;”

      312 million and a representative per 30,000 would be 10,400 in the house

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    • rdog1Comment by rdog1
      November 21, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

      I don’t have a clue where your information comes from; but, the following is the makeup of the electoral college! My only error in recollection was that I thought that the territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.) had votes. However, as you can see, being based on Congressional Representatives, rather than on “One (Two if you prefer) Vote for Each State” (aka – for the mathematically challenged, each state has equal say!) would completely change; and, for the betterment and stability of our Constitutional Representative Republic; the Presidential Elections historically and in the future!

      While we’re at it, the WORST thing ever done to redefine our Republic to mirror the worst, most discriminatory, form of government on earth, “Democracy” (Something our founders ALL agreed on!), was to change the Senate from a body of representatives of the Sovereign States and State Rights; into a second people’s house. This defeated the entire purpose of how our Founders saw separation of powers; and, why they even created two houses in Congress!

      This MUST be repealed if we are EVER to rediscover our Freedoms and Rights as Americans!

      “The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of members of Congress to which the state is entitled.[2] The Twenty-third Amendment has always resulted in the District of Columbia having three electors. There are 538 electors, based on there being 435 representatives and 100 senators, plus the three electors from the District of Columbia.”

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    • Jota_Comment by Jota_
      November 21, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

      Yes, senators being elected by popular vote does change who they cater to, to get a vote for their own elections

      However, it does not change the electoral college at all for popular vote

      Check out this graph

      Popular vote would make a vote from Wyoming have to represent the same number of people as one from Texas, but it does not because it has two votes just because it is a state

      Let me repeat, just because it is a state, those votes have not changed since the founding of the nation

      The power of those two votes was not changed by the Seventeenth Amendment

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    • rdog1Comment by rdog1
      November 22, 2012 @ 3:04 pm


      I don’t understand your logic. The 17th amendment changed completely the purpose of the Senate! Sure, proportionally, the “power” didn’t change. However, the BALANCE OF POWER, carefully designed to protect our Republic changed drastically; and, is responsible, for the most part, for the expansion of the Federal Government exponentially beyond the limited size and limited powers into areas reserved for the states. AND, the Sovereign States no longer have representation in the Federal Government at all.. The Senate was established as a house whose members were elected by the State Legislatures; and, their responsibility was to represent STATE’S RIGHTS!

      When the Senate became a second “People’s House”, the Federal government began its expansion into responsibilities and powers reserved to the states, or citizens of the states; and, violating or destroying State’s Rights; beginning the march to replacing the Republic with the form of government feared most by the founders, “democracy”! (aka -”Mob Rule”)

      You need to expand your study of the Constitution; and, that must include the Federalist Papers! (May I also suggest reading the Constitution of the Confederacy; It had no Federal Courts, making State Supreme Courts of the land. That would have eliminated the biggest source of intrusion into states rights; and, the current tool of the fringe left in forcing their ideologies on others.)

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    • Jota_Comment by Jota_
      November 22, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

      “It’s of my opinion that our Constitutional Representative Republic of Sovereign States and the Electoral College System could be greatly enhanced by changing the system to give just ONE Electoral Vote to each of our Sovereign States and Territories; rather than basing it on population as the House of Representatives is based!” – rdog1

      The sovereign states are currently given TWO electoral votes JUST FOR BEING A STATE

      And NOTHING in the Seventeenth Amendment change that

      The Electoral College ALREADY gives TWO electoral votes to each of our sovereign states and are also given at least one for population

      Have no idea how you think just giving one is better than the two they now have

      Really have no idea what you think will change

      This may come as a shock but states are imaginary entities, which only exist by the will of the people, so it is not like you can talk to them and ask how they would like to vote

      So how will you know which way the state wants her vote cast?

      Divination? Visions? Majority of votes cast?


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  4. cfhardersonComment by cfharderson
    November 21, 2012 @ 10:49 am

    Where have you been for the last 12 day?
    The Florida presidential vote favored President Obama. With those 29 electoral votes, the final tally is Obama 332 and Romney 206. That makes me wonder what other numbers in this commentary are WRONG !

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    • JDZComment by JDZ
      November 21, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

      You miss the whole point of the discussions which is typical of those that continue to get bogged down in details and miss the big picture. Sort of like the Captain of the Titanic up on the deck rearranging deck chairs while the ship is sinking.

      This past election was full of this and the Dems did a great job of exaggerating the issues that are not our highest critical priorities (like abortion rights, immigration, global warming, etc) and suppressing the failure of the Obama administration to make any significant progress to deal with our highest priority problems which are those involving our economy and fiscal crisis.

      Unless the economy is turned around and people have jobs and are paying taxes, every other good idea is compromised and every entitlement and social program is put at risk. The American people (at least slightly more then half) still do not get it or more of them would have voted and helped elect Mitt Romney who was our near term best chance of getting the economy back on track.

      Too bad, and the suffering of those out of work and running out of options are going to have to resort to welfare and food stamps just as over 100 million are currently doing. The Obama administration is stuck with their ineptness and proven failed policies which are not going to change anything. High unemployment, increased national debt, deficit based government borrowing and spending, etc. are all going to continue and our private economy is going to stay stuck where it is.

      This is the way Obama and his socialist minions want it. They hate capitalism and the independence it gives the American people at large.

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  5. Blu OwenComment by Blu Owen
    November 21, 2012 @ 10:49 am

    This country is a Constitutional Republic NOT a Democracy!
    In the very first Presidential election there was a total of 138 Electoral votes from a total of 10 States. Votes George Washington received 69 the rest was split between 11 other candidates with John Adams coming the closest with 34 votes. Four of the States had only 2 candidates and all were evenly split between the two. At that time ALL used the majority vote by Congressional District to determine the Electoral vote now none of them use this method.
    Political parties realized years ago that by changing the States election laws to a majority vote winner takes all Electoral votes system it destroyed the whole concept of the Electoral College and made it easier to solidify their party’s position within the State. The basic concept of the Electoral College was that every area in a State (Congressional Districts) would have an equal say in electing the President.
    This nation should be one of ALL the people and not a nation of the majority of the people with no protection for the minority.
    If Article 4 Section 4 of the Constitution, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government”, there would be no such thing as a State using a majority vote to determine who gets the electoral votes.

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  6. lwessonComment by lwesson
    November 21, 2012 @ 11:08 am

    Enjoyed Williams commentary greatly. The Founders are seldom discussed these days, which is curious, as they built this device, this Representative Republic.

    That said, lets go further into the missives of the Founders, as they were most prolific, in the “operational handbook” for their creation.

    Why would Franklin, or Hamilton and a host of others have a very dim view of, The People? Hamilton: “The People cannot be trusted.” What a mean thing to say in today’s sanctimonious parlance, in an age where everybody, dead, alive, mentally not there, are urged to vote, and vote often. The Founders were clear headed on who they wanted to “steer” the ship of State. Silly dead white men. They were fearful of the general public, getting in, and ultimately doing what has been done before, exercising the deadly power of The State, to vote themselves the treasure of The State, the monies, the wealth of others…

    Williams could have explored this area, but it is not a tidy, user friendly subject.

    Another area, one that was largely destroyed in the 19th Century in a horrific war, was that of the various Free & Independent States, putting a huge check on a Federal Tyranny. State power became so woefully impotent that National Geographic gleefully threw out in the 1970′s, the thoughts of many who despise States, that they could all be mish-moshed into general regions, somewhat like a FEMA map that I recently saw.

    So as Thomas Jefferson surmised, if the States are not free to leave, they are NOT free. Or, one could just read The Declaration of Independence. Oh, the horrors! Jefferson also mused, that it could very well be The Courts, that could quickly do away with The Republic. We have in the Supreme Court, justices that do not like The Bill of Rights, The Constitution, (Ginsberg, Kagan) and also think that International Law is just peachy. Kind of like hiring a baby sitter who hates, BABIES! Good going Banana Republik Amerika!

    The Founders so distrusted the power of Government, and dubious of The People, that most agreeded to creating The Bill of Rights that Illuminatuo added to this important conversation. The Bill of Rights clearly enumerated the God Given Rights of The People and clearly defined what the Government cannot do. The Power Players, have willfully sought to maneuver around this obstacle.

    Williams might have mentioned the ever delightful PROGRESSIVES, who did away with a US Senate, elected outside the popular vote. The Progressives did do good deeds, yet ultimately, they have morphed into what Allen West called correctly, Communists. Progressive just sounds so much more positive though.

    The Communists have had a long standing, neatly outlined plan, on achieving total power, and they have done a dandy job of it! The Founders insisted that The People be religious and moral. The Communists, I mean Progressives, have been hard at work to end that. Anything perverse has been twisted to be mainstream and any counter to this, is hateful and somehow, ever delightful Atheists have highjacked the rest of it.

    In short, The People have been so diluted with aliens, so homogenized into narcissistic consumers, unaware, on purpose, of the Republic’s History and it’s creators, that anything goes. As one Obama supporter said, “I don’t care how many people Obama kills…”

    So, are we surprised that what was once something that would cause outrage, like Benghazi, or Obama’s numerous Communist connections make little difference to half of the voters? No. At least I am not shocked.

    As a WW2 Vet. that is a close friend, and I know that WW2 is Ancient History, said to me before the “election” that someone like Obama in his age, would never have gotten anywhere near the power of the Presidency. I need to call and see if he survived the so called, “Election” Day as he did survive fighting Imperial Japan. Hope he is still with us.

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    • Blu OwenComment by Blu Owen
      November 21, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

      Iwesson, if you read my earlier comment you understand my feelings regarding the electoral process.
      I wanted to post a link to this but evidentally I can’t post links to other sites for some reason, anyway, the easiest way to understand my view is do a simple search for:
      “Red vs Blue parts of the U.S.A.”

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    • lwessonComment by lwesson
      November 22, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

      Hi Blue Owen.

      I posted close to your posting and did not get a chance to read your informative comment. I agree with your thoughtful analysis per the Electoral College. The Founders would be appalled at how elements of the Constitution have been twisted to serve the needs of those that seek and maintain power.

      Would have replied earlier this Thanksgiving morning but have been dealing with the Police, Constables as some of Obama’s delightful minions were in our backyard early this morning, casing the place. The Missus is rattled, as am I. Hope they are likewise scared spitless to dare come back. Appropriate I guess here on Thanksgiving Day, when so many are gone. Time to gate up the property… as we are getting really low in the water. (humm, ice on the deck, how thoughtful)

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  7. howe77Comment by howe77
    November 22, 2012 @ 11:41 am

    This is precisely the problem today…the voter. Fully half of American voters could care less about taxes because they don’t pay them. This blinds them to the reality that nothing is free. America has reached it’s tipping point and the average voter won’t even make the connection between THEIR carelessness and OUR financial collapse. Mr Williams is trying to connect the dots between Romneys defeat and the majority rule that favored Obama and the importance of the electoral college. Radical groups and the entitlement crowd have finally morphed into a majority, but that is not the definition of majority rule, it is the definition of an irresponsible and clueless society of people that do not understand the critical importance of the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. We are fast becoming the United States of Titanic.

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