As Thomas Jefferson said in 1805, “In a government bottomed on the will of all, the life and liberty of every individual citizen becomes interesting to all.” The Founding Fathers knew very well the tyrannies of an elitist minority from their experiences under British colonial rule. However, they also understood that consent of the governed extends to all individuals as a plurality. The Constitution has, by and large, succeeded in addressing the challenge that faces a resilient constitutional democracy: preserving the balance between simultaneous acknowledgment of the rule of the majority, and protection of minority against oppression.
The Civil Rights Movement shows how the independence of the judiciary through separation of powers is a major factor in limiting majority rule, as seen in Brown v. Board of Education, which ended the de jure segregation of Plessy v. Ferguson on the basis of the 14th amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Along the same lines, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 created protected classes of race, religion, sex, and national origin, and prevented private discrimination against minorities. Both the legislative branch and judicial branches work in tandem to enforce the Constitutional principles of equality that the founders envisioned. As Benjamin Franklin once proposed, “an equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy.” In many ways, the constitutional government of the US has accommodated a path towards progressive social changes that have empowered the many minorities of America to become an equal majority.
Looking at the 2016 presidential election, it’s easy to argue that the electoral college undermines the fundamental principle of democracy. However, in the long run, it is not the design or purpose of the electoral college to protect minority interests simply through offering a path to victory without the popular vote. Just consider a system of direct election, where candidates could win by catering just to white voters, a large majority of the electorate. A representative system makes it essential for candidates to gain the support of a diverse range of ideological interests. Although Hillary Clinton had decisive victories with many racial minorities, it is also true that Donald Trump won by appealing to a wide range of economic minorities, such as working-class, blue-collar voters. Ultimately, the democratic republic laid out in the US Constitution necessitates an appeal to a wide array of the nation’s minorities, embodying the motto of America, E Pluribus Unum.
History has shown that several aspects of the structure of US government have contributed to giving the minority a voice while preserving fundamental democratic rule. As predicted by James Madison in Federalist 10, tyranny of the majority has been restrained by the diversity and breadth of our nation. The structure of the Constitution has effectively preserved the dichotomy on which free society depends — the minority’s acceptance of majority rule, and a willingness to offer those same rights to individuals in the minority.