Today we celebrate the anniversary of the 12th Amendment (ratified June 15, 1804). Here’s what you need to know:
WHAT IT DOES
WHY IT WAS ADDED
Originally, Article II, Section 1, Clause 3, of the Constitution prescribed that whoever received the most electoral votes would become president, and whoever received the second-highest amount would become vice president–regardless of party affiliation. (Political parties, in fact, are never mentioned in the Constitution.)
In 1796, we had the only election that resulted in a president and a vice president drawn from opposing tickets–John Adams from the Federalist Party and Thomas Jefferson from the Democratic-Republican Party.
What’s more, in 1800, a tie in the Electoral College between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr meant the House of Representatives had to settle the election.
The difficulties of the clashing Adams-Jefferson administration in 1796 and the chaos of the Election of 1800 convinced Americans that the Electoral College system needed to be changed. Within just a few years, the 12th Amendment was approved.
The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate.
The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.
The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.
The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
Civic holidays are occasions to commemorate America’s history, celebrate our rights and responsibilities as citizens, and learn about our constitutional ideals. Download a PDF of the 2013 Civic Calendar here.
Holly Munson is the assistant editor of Constitution Daily.