NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 99


The Ghosts of Elections Past , Present and Future

By Professor Wallace Ford
The 2016 presidential election from primaries to conventions to campaigns to debates to elections will probably be remembered as one of the strangest and most unique political events in the history of the republic .
But are those assessments accurate , or even partially accurate ? The only way to be sure is to look at the history of presidential elections in this country from 1788 to the present and to look closely at the current political landscape that gave rise to the bewildering set of circumstances , which are now the platform on which the 2016 presidential election stands .
And then the question must be asked : To the extent that the past and the present offer a glimpse of the future of American presidential politics , what does any of this mean to Black Americans in the 21st Century ?
It is a little known and absolute fact that political parties , conventions , and primaries are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution of the United States . Indeed a reading of accounts related to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution of the United States in 1787 , it is quite clear that the majority of drafters , delegates , and signatories were more than a little suspicious of the concept of unfettered and universal participation in the new democracy called the United States of America . It is well-known that Americans of African descent were absolutely absent from consideration in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence . Indeed , African Americans were only a bargaining chip in the overall drafting of the Constitution , ultimately being relegated to being a 3 ⁄ 5th fraction of one of the many compromises that preceded ratification .
What is casually ignored is the fact that all women and any White male Americans who did not own property were given little or no prospect of engagement in the political / electoral process upon the founding of the republic . The ghosts of elections past reveal to us that non-land holding White males were gradually granted the franchise during the 19th Century , but women were not able to vote until 1920 , and that only took place with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution . Even a cursory overview of the earliest days of the Republic shows that the direct vote of the people was viewed with suspicion and concern by the so-called Founding Fathers . For example , the reason that the Electoral College was established was to ensure that no president would be elected by a direct vote of the people . While members of the House of Representatives were elected by direct popular vote , United States senators were elected / selected by their respective state legislatures , until the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913 . It should therefore come as no surprise that , despite all the rhetoric regarding the United States as a participatory democracy , the earliest presidents were selected and elected through a fairly closed process . In point of fact , George Washington became president and was re-elected virtually by acclimation with no real opposition .