Princeton professor and historian Sean Wilentz recently published a book in which he argued that the Electoral College should be changed or scrapped due to it having been devised by the Founders as a way to help protect the repugnant institution of slavery.
In a new op-ed for the New York Times, he's changed his tune: "I used to favor amending the Electoral College, in part because I believed the framers put it into the Constitution to protect slavery. I said as much in a book I published in September. But I’ve decided I was wrong. That’s why a merciful God invented second editions."
I encourage you to read the entire op-ed so that you can explain to the next liberal hater of the Electoral College whom you have the misfortune to encounter why her view is wrong: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/04/opinion/the-electoral-college-slavery-myth.html
While I appreciate his acknowledgement of his error, I think his apology contains another error, or at least a misleading discussion of a key aspect of the American Founding, so I sent the good professor a note explaining my view, which I post here for your reading enjoyment (if you're a nerd like I am):
Good afternoon, Sean, from a fellow Columbia alum,
I appreciate your correction regarding the Electoral College and slavery.
Just one nit I would pick with you. You repeatedly described the 3/5 compromise as a boon to slaveholders, e.g. “the notorious provision that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person to inflate the slave states’ apportionment in the new House of Representatives.”
However, keeping in mind that some compromise was needed to allow our new nation to be formed, and keeping in mind that the South wanted slaves to be counted as whole persons, it is at least as accurate – and probably more accurate – to argue that the 3/5 compromise was a negative for the South; it surely was in their minds. A fairly balanced discussion is, as you well know, available in Federalist 54.
Describing the compromise as a gift to the South and a boon to slavery erroneously implies to the uninformed that counting slaves as zero for purposes of representation would have nevertheless resulted in the formation of the United States of America, which is surely false.
While there are obviously some parts of the discussion in the late 18th century that we all find distasteful today and many found distasteful then, including the idea of representing property in Congress, Hamilton said in 1788 that “The first thing objected to is that clause which allows a representation for three fifths of the negroes. Much has been said of the impropriety of representing men who have no will of their own. Whether this be reasoning or declamation, I will not presume to say. It is the unfortunate situation of the Southern States to have a great part of their population as well as property in blacks. The regulation complained of was one result of the spirit of accommodation which governed the convention; and without this indulgence no Union could possibly have been formed.” (emphasis mine)
Therefore, to the extent that you’re an honest writer and historian, willing to revisit your prior conclusions and approaches, I would suggest and request that you consider moving forward with more neutral characterizations of the 3/5 compromise. Someone once told me that the best compromises are where each side ends up slightly unhappy. That was undoubtedly the case here. To portray it, even by implication, as an unnecessary gift to slave states and slavery is inaccurate and unfair both to history and to your readers as it “poisons the well” of many further discussions emanating from the creation of our union, particularly discussions regarding the structure of Congress and the Electoral College.
All the best,
Ross G Kaminsky