Mode of choice of the chief executive

Methods Followed : Four different methods of choosing the chief executive have been followed in practice first, the hereditary principle, second, direct election by the people, third, in direct election by a body of intermediate electors, themselves either popularly elected or chosen by some branch of the government and, fourth, election by the legislature.

In all the monarchical states of Europe today the nominal or titular executive is hereditary in a particular family or dynasty, although, as pointed out in an earlier chapter elective monarchs were not unknown in former times and it is still the legal theory that the British monarchy is elective.

Before the rise of popular government this principle of selection was practically universal and it still survives in a large part of the world today, but is tolerated perhaps rather than preferred, being more the result of historical conditions than of deliberate creation, It is doubtful whether the principle is destined to be extended in the future either through the reorganization of existing states or the establishment of new ones.

The value of a hereditary executive in the government of the state was well set forth by the English writers Bagehot and Todd. Bagehot, in his defense of monarchy, declared that the masses have little respect or reverence for an executive which they assist every half-dozen years to create.

A hereditary monarch, he argued is a powerful means of attaching the masses to the government and of securing their loyalty and obedience. Among the advantages of the hereditary principle, says Burgess, that are manifest even to one surrounded by the prejudices of the New World are first of all, a respect for government and a readiness to obey the law which can in no other way be attained until the political society shall have reached a degree of perfection far beyond any thing which at present exists anywhere in the world.

But when all is said that can be said in favor of the hereditary principle as a mode of selecting the executive, the testimony of experience is against it. It can be looked upon only as a survival of a past age, and its ultimate disappearance Will doubtless follow in the course of the political evolution of the future.

Direct Popular Election :

The choice of the executive by the direct vote of the people represents the opposite principle to that of the hereditary method. At the present time the national executives of a number of the South American republics, notably those of Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, and Peru, are chosen by direct popular vote and this is true of the local state executives in the United States and of the local executives of all the Swiss cantons except Freiburg and Valais. In forum, the method of electing the President of the United States is indirect, though, owing to a metamorphosis of the electoral system, the method has in fact come to be plactically almost direct.

Of the new republics established in Europe, since the Close of the World War, only Germany provided for the system of direct popular election. Under the constitution of 1848 the president of the French republic was elected by direct vote of the people, but the exploitation of this system by Napoleon III to convert the republic into an empire with himself as emperor wholly discredited the system. in French eyes and it was abandoned in 1871. There is little public sentiment in France today in, favor of a return to the method of popular election.

The advantages of the method of popular election are, that it is most distinctly in accord with modern notions of popular government, stimulates interest in public affairs, affords a means of political education for the masses, and secures the choice of a chief magistrate in whose ability and integrity the people have confidence and to whom he is, theoretically at least (except in states which have the cabinet system) responsible for his official conduct.

The principal objections to direct popular election are the incompetency of the masses in a country of vast area to judge wisely of the qualification of a candidate for so important an office, their liability to be in influenced by demagogues, and the general demoralization and the political excitement which are almost inseparable from a contest of such magnitude. The election of a supreme magistrate for a whole nation, wrote Chancellor Kent, affects so many interests and addresses itself so strongly to popular passions and hold out such powerful temptations to ambition that it necessarily becomes a strong trial to public virtue and even hazardous to the public tranquillity.

Among the framers of the constitution of the United States only three or four favored direct popular election of the chief magistrate. Nearly all the delegates who expressed an opinion on the subject were full of profound distrust of such a method. Roger Sherman declared that the people would never be sufficiently informed of the character of men to vote intellectually for the candidates that might be presented  Charles C. Pinckney thought

“the people would be incited by designing demagogues”

Gerry stigmatized the proposition as radically vicious, Mason went so far as to say that it would be as unnatural to refer the choice  of a proper person for President to the people, as to refer a trial of colors to a blind man and Hamilton feared that it would convulse the community with extraordinary and violent movements and lead to heats and ferments that would disturb the public tranquillity.

Experience has shown, however, that the evils which the framers of the constitution predicted were greatly exaggerated, and, happily, their worst fears have not been realized. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that some of these evils have-not been entirely absent. The long period of business depression, the intense strain upon the public virtue, the heated political excitement, and the lavish expenditure of money on behalf of presidential candidates, which have come to be regular features of our quadrennial contests over the choice of the chief magistrate in the United States, have abundantly shown that the method of popular election is not in all respects ideal

One of its worst  features is what Mill called the mischief of intermittent electioneering.  When the highest dignity in the state, he declared, is to be conferred by popular election once in every few years, the whole intervening time is spent in what is virtually a canvass. President, ministers, chiefs of parties, and their followers are all electioneers.

The whole community is kept intent on the mere personality of politics, and every public question is discussed and decided with less reference to its merits than to its expected bearing on the presidential election. If a system had been devised, Mill went on to say, to make party spirit the ruling principle of action in all public affairs and create an inducement to make every question a party question, it would have been difficult to contrive any means better adapted to the purpose.

Indirect Election :

The method of indirect election is the system employed in choosing the national executives of the United States, Argentina, Spain (1931), and Finland (Constitution of 1919), although the elective scheme for choosing the President of the United States has, as has been said, come to be almost direct in fact. The advantages claimed for the indirect system are that it affords a means of avoiding the heats, tumults, and convulsions of direct election, and at the same time leads to a more intelligent choice, by restricting the immediate selection to :a small body of capable representatives.

The choice of several to form an intermediate body of electors, said Hamilton, in, defense of the scheme adopted for the election of the President of the United States, and the metamorphosis of which was not then foreseen, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary and violent movements than the choice of one who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes.

It was desirable,he continued that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station. A small number of persons selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.

In theory, the method of indirect election possesses conspicuous merits but the difficulty lies in the fact that the electors, are apt to be chosen under party pledges to vote for a particular candidate, and thus become mere agents for registering the will of the voters. This is almost inevitable in states where political parties are highly developed and well organized. This is exactly what happened in the United States as soon as party lines came to be fully drawn and party discipline became effective.

In the early presidential elections the best results expected of the electoral scheme were fully realized, the electors exercising their full. judgment in choosing the President  but in the course of time they became mere “party puppets” with no discretion or freedom in the discharge of what were originally intended to be solemn and important functions. Their duties now consist in registering the choice of the party voters-a function which an automaton without intelligence or volition could as fittingly discharge.

Thus what was intended to be a scheme of indirect election, in which the immediate choice of the chief executive was to be made by a select body of highly capable men, has in the course of a remarkable development become in reality a system of direct election by the millions, who still go through the form of voting for electors whose real office has long since disappeared. Such was the scheme of which Hamilton did not hesitate to affirm that  if the manner of, it be not perfect, it is at least excellent, and which Was the only part of the constitution that escaped without severe censure or which received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents.

Election by the Legislature :

Finally, the chief executive may be chosen by the legislative branch of the government. This method is followed in Switzerland  in France (where the two chambers organized in national assembly at Versailles constitute the electoral body for choosing the president of the republic)  in, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Portugal, Venezuela, and China.

In Prussia where there is no president of the republic, the minister-president is elected by the Landtag the lower chamber of the legislature-and this system is in force in various other German states. This was the system employed for the election of the governor in a number of the American states for a time after the Revolution, and is still the method prescribed in several of them in case no candidate receives a majority of the popular vote. It was the method first decided upon by the Philadelphia convention of 17 87 for the election of the President of the United States, but was’ finally abandoned upon reconsideration for the scheme mentioned above.

The main objection to choice by the legislature is that it violates the principle of the separation of governmental powers by imposing upon the legislative branch a duty alien to its primary function, and makes the executive to some extent an agent or instrument of the legislatures

If the executive owes his office to the legislature  bargains, intrigues, and “cabals” between him and it will not be wanting. It would be in the power of an ambitious candidate, observed Judge Story, by holding out the rewards of office, or other sources of patronage and honor silently but irresistibly to influence a majority of votes and thus by his own bold and unprincipled conduct to secure choice, to the exclusion of the highest and purest and most enlightened men in the country A similar opinion was entertained by Chancellor Kent, who remarked that all elections by the representative body are peculiarly liable to produce combinations for sinister purposes.

Both reason and ,experience (for example in France, where the president has been reduced to a position of dependence upon the legislature and where he may be forced by it to resign his office) teach that election by the legislature not only impairs the independence of the executive and tends to make him subservient to its will, but creates a powerful temptation to an ambitious candidate to gain the support of the legislature by promises of official reward or influence. Once elected, he is under the same temptation to secure reelection. Tobe fully independent of legislative control and free of such temptations, the executive must derive his office from a different source.

Finally, it should be observed that the imposition of so important a political duty upon the legislature is likely to interfere with its normal function of lawmaking, by introducing a distracting element which on occasions of great and exciting contests must necessarily consume its time, lead to conflicts and deadlocks, and give a party coloring to the consideration of many measures which are in reality nonpartisan in character.

The chief argument in favor of choice by the legislature is that the selection is likely to be more wisely made than when done by the masses of voters, or by a body of intermediate electors. Being actively concerned with public affairs and acquainted with the leading statesmen, the members of the legislative branch are of all persons most qualified to choose a fit man for so high a station. John Stuart Mill was an advocate of this method for the election of executives of republics, although he questioned whether it was the best for all times and places.It seems better, he said,

that the chief magistrate in a republic should , be appointed avowedly, as the chief minister in a constitutional monarchy is virtually, by the representative body. The party which has the majority in parliament would then as a rule appoint its own leader, who is always one of the foremost, and often the very foremost, person in political life.

Whatever the merits and demerits of the system of election by the legislature, the present practice is distinctly in favor of it. Among republics, outside of America, it is now by far the most widely accepted mode of election. In France, where it has existed since 1871, proposals to substitute the system of popular election have been rare and they have found few advocates.

Numerous proposals, however, have been made and advocated for the enlargement of the electoral body which chooses the president, by joining with it a number of delegates representing certain local bodies or interests such as the departmental councils, the academics, the universities, the chambers of commerce, the labor unions, etc.

It may be interesting to note in this connection that the people of Switzerland in 1900 defeated by an immense majority a proposal to substitute popular election of the federal executive council in the place of the existing method of election by the legislature.

This was a striking illustration of the Swiss conception that popular election of executive functionaries is not an essential feature of democracy. It should be noted also that in parliamentary governed state, or those in which the cabinet system is fully. established, the actual executive is virtually chosen by the legislature or by the lower house of the legislature.

In those states so numerous and so well governed there is no attempt to separate the executive and legislative powers, but on the contrary the plan is devised to secure cooperation and harmony between them While the actual executive the cabinet, or at least the prime minister may be nominally appointed by the titular executive the appointment must be in conformity with the wishes of the popularly elected representatives in the legislature, as explained in a previous article.

Leave a Comment