THROUGH THE YEARS: Massachusetts’ Electoral College history on display
By Evan Lips | December 19, 2016, 17:40 EST
BOSTON — A letter penned by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803, marking the passage of the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution updating the rules of the Electoral College system, was one of several historic documents on display outside Beacon Hill’s House Chamber just prior to the convening of the state’s 2016 presidential electors.
Prior to this amendment, American presidents were elected according to a system where Electoral College members picked two presidential candidates, with the top vote-getter being named president and the runner-up being named vice president.
Jefferson himself experienced firsthand the confusion in 1796 when as a Democrat-Republican presidential candidate he earned the second most votes, trailing Federalist Thomas Pinckney, a member of the rival party. Jefferson ended up serving as vice president under President John Adams, with whom he had vehement political disagreements.
An even stickier situation occurred in 1800 when Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr unexpectedly finished in a tie. Jefferson ultimately won the presidency thanks to a vote by the House of Representatives.
The 12th Amendment effectively cleared up the confusion.
Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Thomas Pickering playing a major role — it was Pickering who made a speech arguing that the amendment would add “stability and duration” to the Constitution.
Below, take a visual tour of Jefferson’s December 1803 letter in addition to other historical documents: