Nature of the Executive Department: In its broadest sense the executive department consists of all governmental officials except those acting in a legislative or judicial capacity. It includes all the agencies of government that are concerned with the execution of the state’s will as expressed in terms of law As thus considered it includes.
1. The executive head, whose accession, tenure, powers, and relation to other departments differ in different states.
2. The executive council, more or less distinct from the lawmaking body that has absorbed many of its powers.
3. The cabinet, or heads of great departments of administration, forming more or less of a unit, and standing, in different states, in widely divergent relations to the executive head and to the legislature.
4. The civil service, or the numerous subordinate officials in the administrative departments, including the military and police forces of the state. Their selection, tenure, and organization form one of the leading problems of modern politics.
Numerically, the executive branch of the government far out numbers all the others combined. Those who hold that the functions of the state are twofold, to create law and to administer law, would include the judiciary, when applying the law, as a part of the executive department.
Some writers make a distinction between the executive and the administrative branches of government, viewing the former as a political organ with considerable discretionary powers, whose duty it is to see that the laws are enforced, and to represent the state in its international and military relations and the latter as a nonpolitical organization, without discretionary powers, which is engaged in the detailed duties of actually putting the policies of government into operation.
In ordinary usage the executive department includes the chief magistrate of the state and his ministers, advisers, and department heads. It represents the original organization of the state, in the form of a chief and council but its ancient powers, once enormous, have been considerably reduced in modern states by the transfer of powers to the judiciary, the lawmaking body, and the electorate.
The executive function is essentially different from the legislative hence the executive department requires a different form of organization from that of the legislature. The latter body is concerned with deliberation, discussion, the balancing of numerous interests, and the formulation of general policies.
It requires a fairly numerous body chosen at frequent intervals by the entire voting population. The executive, however, is concerned with the execution of the policies and the enforcement of the laws that are made by the legislature and upheld by the courts.
Efficiency in administrative functions requires prompt and energetic decision and action, consistent policy, and even secrecy in procedure. The advantages 0f numbers in legislation, where caution and compromise are essential, become dangers when energetic action is needed, especially in crises.
For this reason executive power should be concentrated in a single person or a small number of persons. Centralized responsibility and unity of organization are needed, and political, experience tends to favour a single headed executive.
States in the past have tried the experiment of a plural executive. Ancient Sparta had two kings, and in Athens the executive power was divided among a number of officials. Republican Rome had two consuls, and in France after the Revolution a Directory of five persons for a time wielded the executive power.
At the present time the Swiss republic, where the executive power is vested in a council of seven persons, and Russia, where some executive power is vested in councils of commissars, are the only states with plural executives. In a sense the cabinet form of government vests the executive power in a body of ministers, but the preeminence of the prime minister prevents this system from being a plural type of executive.
In local governments plural executives are frequently used, the commission form of city government being a conspicuous example. It has been argued in favor of the plural executive that a group of men are likely to possess more wisdom and to exercise better judgment and discretion in forming policies of direction than a single individual. It is also held that a plural executive is a guaranty against the dangers of oppression and abuse of power that may result when all executive power is concentrated in a single head.
Experience has shown that the plural form of executive is usually unsatisfactory, resulting in feeble authority, divided responsibility, and dissension among its members. Modern political opinion is almost unanimous in favour of unity in the organization of the executive office.
The Executive Head:
In the beginnings of political organization authority was centered in a group of men, among whom, because of age or wisdom or personal prowess, a leader arose. This position might be attained by birth, by popular choice or by force, and was usually supported by the idea of divine right. The natural desire to perpetuate power in the same family, aided by the close organization of the patriarchal group, led often to hereditary rule.
Thus an autocratic monarch, supported by divine sanction and surrounded by a group of advisers that formed a hereditary nobility and priesthood, was the usual organization under which the early states emerged. While in theory the power of such a ruler was absolute, in reality his actions were limited by custom, religion, and ceremony, and by the influences and intrigues that permeated his court.
The development of monarchy was characterized by the placing of numerous checks on the autocratic powers of the ruler and by a transfer of many of his functions to other organs at the same time his authority was made more definite and unhindered in such powers as he retained.
In recent years the hereditary type of ruler has been replaced in many states by a nonhereditary executive head or president chosen by some form of election. At present all types of executive headship may be observed. Some native peoples are still governed by tribal chiefs.
Autocratic monarchy supported by divine sanction was found in Japan. Hereditary monarchy limited by constitutions, parliaments, and cabinets survives in a number of states, the actual power of the monarch ranging from that of an important organ of government to that of a nominal and ceremonial head of the state. The powers of elected presidents also show wide variations.
In some Latin-American states the president is virtually a dictator in the United States he is a powerful and independent executive in France he has but a few nominal powers and in Switzerland he is merely the chairman of an executive commission.
In classifying the executive heads of modern states, three questions are of chief importance the method of selection, the tenure of office, and the actual powers exercised.
1. Method of selection:
Four methods are used at present in choosing executive heads the principles of heredity, direct popular election, indirect election by a body of electors chosen for that purpose, and election by the legislature. Until the rise of modem democracies, the hereditary principle was generally followed in the selection of rulers.
The laws of succession showed certain variations, the most important difference being between those states which permitted succession through the female line and allowed women to rule and those in which succession passed through the male line only.
In modern democratic states the existence of a hereditary monarch is rather the result of the historical evolution of the state than of deliberate choice. It implies the existence of a royal house whose foundation reaches far back of the revolution which changed the state from its monarchic or aristocratic to its democratic form.
It implies that that house has accommodated itself to the spirit of the revolution-has, in fact, placed itself at the head of the revolution and brought it to its consummation has retained its hold upon the people has kept and still keeps attached to itself the most capable personalities of the state, the natural leaders of the people is content to surrender sovereignty and retain a limited governmental power only, and, in the exercise of this power follows always a liberal and popular policy.
While the hereditary principle is a survival of a past age and is disappearing in the modern world, it has at its best certain advantages, especially in countries that have not reached an advanced stage of political development. It contributes a certain prestige in international dealings, and by its permanence and traditions tends to create a sense of responsibility and dignity in the heads of the government and to maintain a stable and efficient civil service. They great objection to the system of selection by hereditary descent is the uncertainty as to whether the person secured in this way will be competent.
The selection of the executive head by direct popular vote is used at least in theory, in some of the Latin American states and was adopted in the constitution of the former German Republic. It is frequently employed in selecting the chief magistrates 0f the territorial divisions of modern states. The governors of the states are chosen by this method in the United States, and the American president, while in theory elected indirectly, is in fact elected by popular vote, though the vote is counted on the basis of the electoral system, as apportioned among the states.
Those who favor direct election argue that it stimulates the interest of the people in political affairs and affords a means of political education, that it tends to secure an executive head in whom the people have confidence and to impose upon him a sense of public responsibility, and that it corresponds with modern ideas of democracy.
The Opponents of direct election believe that the masses are incompetent to make a wise selection of an executive head, that they are likely to be influenced by demagogues or by campaign methods which are confusing rather than enlightening, that it tends to overemphasize the importance of political parties, and that it makes the periodic elections for so important an office times of disturbance and political demoralization. Some believe that a chief executive chosen by direct election is likely to assume dictatorial powers because he feels that he has popular support behind him.
Others believe that popular choice is likely to select inconspicuous men of mediocre ability rather than national leaders because democracy is suspicious of men of outstanding ability and because the methods of partisan politics do not attract able men to political careers.
Executive heads are chosen by indirect election in Argentina. Finland, and the United States, although in the latter the actual process is practically direct election. Under this system the voters are expected to choose a small body of capable and intelligent men who will possess the information and judgment necessary to select the chief executive.
It was also believed that this method of choice would avoid the evils of popular excitement and tumult and of partisan bitterness which would accompany direct election. If the electors are distributed on a territorial basis they also to some extent prevent concentration of power in the thickly settled portions of a country which contain a numerical majority of the entire electorate.
The system of apportioning electors in the United States to correspond with the number of senators and representatives from each state gives proportionately greater influence to the states with small populations. The defect in this system is that, where political parties are strong and well organized, the electors tend to become mere figureheads chosen under party pledges to vote for the candidate of their party rather than to register their independent judgment. This development, which soon occurred in the United States, destroyed most of the advantages that were expected from the indirect method of choice.
The executive head is chosen by the legislature in a number of states, including France, Austria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. The executive council of Switzerland also is chosen by the legislature. It is legal theory in Great Britain that the monarch is elective by Parliament. In states with the cabinet form of government the prime minister, who is the actual executive, though not the nominal head of the state, is virtually chosen by the legislature, since he is the leader of the majority group or a coalition of groups in that body.
The advantage claimed for this method of choice is essentially similar to that Of indirect election, that is, selection by a picked group of men who are presumed to be of superior intelligence and political experience. Besides, if the executive is selected by the body whose laws he is expected to administer, a greater degree of cooperation and harmony between the legislative and executive branches of government may be expected than might obtain otherwise.
In Opposition to this method of choice it is urged that it destroys the independence of the executive and tends to make him subservient to the legislature, or else that it tempts ambitious candidates to use corrupt methods, bargains, and promises of patronage to secure the votes of the legislature.
Besides, it imposes upon the legislature a political function alien to its primary function of making laws, distracts its attention from its real duties, and may even lead to the selection of legislators primarily from the point of view of their attitude toward the candidates for executive office. Selection of the executive by the legislature violates the principle of separation of powers, which requires that these departments be independent and it was for that reason that the system was not adopted in the United States.
2. Tenure of office:
Opinion differs as to the proper length of term for elected executives. In practice modem states show variations between two and seven years. Those who favor long terms argue that it secures the advantages of executive independence, of stability and consistency of policy, and of experience. It so avoids too frequent recurrence of the disturbances and distractions that accompany elections.
In favor of short terms it is argued that the executive will thereby be kept responsible tu public Opinion and will have less temptation and Opportunity to abuse his power. In some states, as in the United States, the chief executive may be reelected indefinitely in others, as in Mexico, he is ineligible to reelection after a single term formerly in Austria, he might serve two terms, after which he became ineligible in still others, as in Brazil, he may be reelected after the lapse of an intervening term.
In some states, where the executive is legally eligible to reelection, custom has Faxed a definite tenure. Thus the tradition of a single term has been established in France and that of two terms in the United States. The argument in favor of reelection is essentially the same as that in favor of long terms the value of experience stability, and consistency of policy.
In opposition to the re eligibility of the executive, the danger of personal ambition and of using the office to secure reelection to the neglect of more important duties has often been pointed out. The dangers of re eligibility y depend to some extent upon the length of term and upon the actual powers exercised by the executive head. Usually some method is provided for removing elected executives, by impeachment or by recall, and some provision is made for succession to the office or for a new election in case of death or removal.
3. Actual powers:
The distinction between nominal and actual executive heads depends largely upon the relation of the executive to the legislature. The two great types of government, cabinet and presidential, into which modern states may be classified have already been discussed have already been discussed in the former to executive head is a nominal ruler, the real executive being the cabinet, a group of men whose tenure of office is dependent upon the support of the legislature. In the latter the tenure of the executive head is independent of legislative approval of his policies, and he exercises extensive powers independently.
It must be remembered that the distinction between hereditary and elected executives and between nominal and actual executives is a cross classification. The hereditary British king and the elected French president are nominal executives, both states having cabinets that are responsible to their legislatures and that exercise the real powers of administration.
On the other hand, the elected president of the United States is an actual executive, exercising large and independent powers, especially in foreign affairs. In most cases, however, a hereditary monarch, except in those states Whose government is still despotic, is a nominal ruler, though often exercising considerable influence because of the traditional respect for the royal office or because of his personal ability.
The development of the executive branch of government has usually been marked by the rise of some form of council, which, at first serving in an advisory capacity, often secured considerable control over the actions office executive head and exercised important administrative functions in its own right.
The more recent formation of representative legislative bodies has somewhat diminished the importance of such councils, often, in fact, partially absorbing their organization as well as their functions. Even in these cases important survivals of their administrative, as distinguished from their legislative, powers may be traced.
The association of an advisory council with the executive head has certain advantages. The complex work of administration often requires expert and technical knowledge, which can be furnished by competent advisers and the decisions of the executive may be strengthened by the support of wise counsel.
The final decision and responsibility, however should rest with the executive head, since the unity of executive power is impaired if the council actually controls the chief executive or if responsibility is divided between them. A brief survey of executive councils in several leading modern states follows:
While the British parliament through its control of finance, was developing legislative powers, a council, growing out of the old Curia Regis, was aiding the Crown in its administrative and judicial duties. This body, to which the name Privy Council was later applied, grew under weak kings until it exercised wide legislative, judicial, and administrative functions.
At present the Privy Council consists of more than three hundred members appointed by the Crown and holding office for life. It includes several ecclesiastical officials, the most important judges and retired judges, many eminent peers, especially those who have held high administrative posts at home and abroad, a few colonial statesmen, and certain men of distinction in literature, art, science, law, and other fields, upon whom membership has been conferred as a mark of honor.
The main method of recruitment, however, is the appointment as privy councilors of all the members of each successive cabinet. The main body of its membership, therefore, consists of present and past cabinet officers. Since the prime minister selects his colleagues in the cabinet, it is really he who confers upon them membership in the Privy Council.
The Privy Council has lost most of its judicial powers, though it still acts as a court of appeal for the colonies its administrative duties are now largely exercised by a small group of its members known as the cabinet. It still retains its power of advising the Crown in issuing ordinances, known accordingly as “orders in council” its approval is necessary for the validity of ordinances issued by local authorities, and its members alone have the legal right to advise the Crown. Accordingly, the powerful cabinet, the real executive in Great Britain, has no legal existence and can exercise no legal powers except as a part of the Privy Council. Several administrative and judicial boards, now more or less independent, have had their origin in this body.
The executive council in France has had a brilliant history. During the period of absolute monarchy it was almost the only guaranty of good government, and under the empires it exercised large legislative powers and accomplished an enormous amount of work. When legislative bodies were established in the republic, the council was limited to advisory executive duties and to certain important judicial functions.
The council of State was, on the one hand, a political council which served as an advisory body to the national ministry on a number of questions of a political nature. While the government wax not bound by its advice, many questions were referred to it which were valuable as offering precedents for future action. Its more important function, on the other hand, was its judicial work as the supreme administrative court.
This function was performed by a group of members of high judicial standing, quite distinct from the ministerial advisory group. It could annul acts of administrative officials that exceeded their legal powers or that were performed for purposes not intended by law, and could grant relief to persons injured by acts of government officials. It could also annul administrative ordinances and acts of local bodies that exceeded their legal powers. As a court the Council of State stood high in the esteem and confidence of the pe0ple.
The Council of State was abolished by the Constitution of 1946. In contrast to the executive councils of Great Britain and France, which are organized as a part of the administrative system and which have little direct share in legislation, the executive councils of the German Empire and in the United States acted as the upper houses of the lawmaking body, and were more important as legislative than as administrative organs.
In the German Empire the Federal Council (Bundesral), in addition to being the more powerful house in the legislature , shared with the emperor executive powers so important that in many ways it was the real executive. In the former German Republic the Reichsrat, which replaced the former Bundesrat was less important in both legislation and administration.
As an executive council it participated in important appointments received reports from the ministry, and was consulted by it on important matters. Its approval was necessary also to certain ordinances issued by the cabinet. In the American colonies the upper house of the colonial assembly was a council whose consent was necessary for the validity of certain of the governor’s acts and in the early state constitutions the executive was usually subjected to the control Of a council.
This policy was the result of the fear of executive power and the belief that authority was safer if distributed among a number of persons. Some of the New England states retain a governor’s council whose consent is necessary for the governor’s appointments. When the Constitution of the United States was framed, an effort was made to set up an executive council to check the powers of the president, but this plan was finally rejected.
The Senate, however, acting as an executive council separate from the House, has the right to annul certain acts of the president. Its consent is necessary for some of the most important appointments, and its approval, by a two-thirds vote, is necessary in order to give validity to treaties.
Heads of Departments:
As the functions exercised by the state expanded and became more complex, the administration differentiated into distinct branches. Among these were foreign, military, legal, financial, and internal affairs. Other branches were added later or were formed by subdividing the existing departments. These included divisions for the navy, for colonies, agriculture, commerce, labor, education, and the like.
At present all states have numerous departments, each devoting itself to some particular administrative activity and it has come to be a recognized political principle that each of these fundamental departments of administration should be under the authority of a single head.
In addition to their political position as leaders in formulating the policy of government and as advisers of the executive head and as agents for the discharge of his duties, these officials usually have large powers of appointment and supervision over subordinate officials and exercise a delegated ordinance power, filling out by general orders the details of administrative law.
Such heads of departments, often called ministers, as a body form the cabinet. Their relation to the executive head and to the legislature and the nature of their functions may be best viewed by a brief summary of the nature of the cabinet in several leading modern states.
In Great Britain the cabinet has had a gradual development and even now rests on custom rather than on law. The king’s ministers were at first his chosen advisers, often hostile to the growing powers of Parliament. whose only control over them was that of impeachment. As the king’s advisers, or Privy Council, as they were called, increased in numbers, a smaller group, or “cabinet,” took over the most important duties.
When Parliament was recognized as supreme, the king, to secure its support, usually chose his ministers from its majority party. At first these men did not act as a body, neither did they resign if their policies were defeated in Parliament both these principles have developed since the middle of the eighteenth century.
At present the British cabinet consists of from fifteen to twenty members appointed by the Crown on the nomination of one of their number, who is First chosen prime minister The prime minister is the leader of the party in power in the House of Commons, and usually holds the office of First Lord of the Treasury, partly because its nominal duties give him opportunity to devote himself to questions of general policy, and partly because of its extensive powers of appointment.
The members of the cabinet, usually all of the same party as the prime minister, are in most cases also members of Parliament, where they take an active part at the same time they serve as heads of the most important departments of administration. They determine their policy in secret session and act as a unit. If defeated in the House of Commons, they resign collectively or, if they believe that their policy is supported by the people, they require the Crown to dissolve Parliament and stake their tenure on the outcome of the following election.
The prime minister is therefore the actual executive head in Great Britain. He directs the other heads of departments and, in turn, is dependent upon the legislature, because of the necessity of maintaining a favorable majority in the House of Commons.
In France the president nominally appoints and dismisses the ministers. Actually, the ministers are controlled by the legislature, especially by the lower house or National Assembly, to which they are collectively responsible for the general policy of administration and individually responsible or their own personal acts. Since there are many parties in France, the cabinet usually represents a coalition, and cabinet changes are frequent.
The ministers exercise supervision over the administration of the laws and give unity to the affairs of state, and every act of the president must be countersigned by the minister of the department concerned. The ministers are usually members of the legislature and have the right to speak before it whenever they desire.
When the support of the National Assembly is lost the ministers resign: and any individual minister may he forced out of office if a vote is taken expressing lack of confidence. This is frequently done after an interpolation, by which the minister is compelled to answer before the Assembly, questions concerning the policy of his department. Accordingly, the chief of the council of minister a statesman who commands the confidence of the National Assembly, and who is usually minister of the interior or of foreign affairs, is the real head of administration.
On his recommendation the other ministers are appointed and he can force them out of office if dissatisfied with their actions. The position 0f the French president is therefore very difficult. Elected by the legislature for a fixed term, he has apparently large powers but the fact that all his acts must be approved by ministers responsible not to him but to a legislative body often controlled by parties hostile to the president makes his authority nominal.
In the former German Empire the chancellor, appointed by the empire and responsible to him alone, was the head of the administration, and all other ministers were his subordinates. In the German Republic the working executive was a group of ministers, appointed by the president on the nomination of the prime minister, or national chancellor, whom the president selected, but responsible to the national assembly (Reichstag) for all the acts of the government. Like Great Britain and France, Germany had adapted the cabinet system of government, although leaving to the president considerable influence on the course of political affairs.
While in the former countries the maintenance of harmonious relations between ministers and legislative majority is largely a matter of custom, in German) the constitution provided that the national chancellor and the national ministers required for the administration of their offices the confidence of the national assembly each of them mu resign if the national assembly by formal resolution withdrew its confidence.
The German constitution also recognized the cabinet as a definite organ of government, and conferred certain specific duties and powers upon it. Ministers did not need to be members of the legislative body, but they could be present at its meetings, could take part in its proceedings, and could introduce bills.
In the United States the president, with the approval of the Senate, appoints and, on his own initiative, removes the heads of departments, whose responsibility is therefore merged in that of the president. They have no collegiate existence as a cabinet under the Constitution, and even in administering their departments are subordinate to the president.
The president is not obliged to take their advice, and the resignation or removal of one member does not necessarily affect the others. Accordingly, the president is the only bond uniting the executive departments. What is called the cabinet is a voluntary association of the heads of departments, whose opinions the president may require but need not accept, and whose tenure is dependent upon his will. By law the heads of departments are not allowed to hold seats in Congress, and by custom they are not permitted to speak before it, though they frequently appear before congressional committees to give information and to answer questions.
In recent years many political thinkers have urged a closer connection between cabinet and Congress, some urging that heads of departments be given seats in Congress others, that they be allowed to appear and speak before it others, that bills introduced by them be given preferential treatment. The legislature except in last resort by impeachment exercises no control over their tenure of office although, by detailed statutory provisions prescribing their fundamental activities and by the control of appropriations, it exercises considerable influence over their functions.
The Civil Service:
In its broadest sense the executive department includes the general body of officials serving under the heads of the various administrative departments and known collectively as the civil service.
These are distinguished on the one hand from legislative and judicial officers, and on the Other from members of the army and navy, who are under special military and naval organization and rule. The heads of the more important subdivisions of administration may have some discretionary powers, but the great mass of minor officials and clerical employees perform their duties under definite directions.
Subordinate administrative officials am usually chosen by election or by appointment. If chosen by election, as is the case to a considerable extent in the commonwealths of the United States, they are not directly responsible to any superior official, and there is likely to be little coordination or supervision in the work of administration.
Besides, if elected for short terms, the personnel is likely to change frequently, and the whole system is drawn into the arena of party politics. If appointed without restriction by superior officials, there is danger that the civil service may be used as a means of rewarding political followers, for the purpose of creating a political machine, and with the resultant evils of the spoils system.
In most states administrative officials form more or less of a hierarchy, subordinates being definitely responsible to their superiors and tenure, except for heads of departments, is fairly permanent, not being affected by changes in government caused by the rise or fall of administration.
In carrying on administration in local areas two general systems are in use. Sometimes the administration is highly centralized, with the local agents responsible to central officials sometimes the system is decentralized, with local officials chosen by local authority and with little central supervision or control.
The ministers or heads of departments who frame the general policies of administration or who carry out policies set by the legislature can at best give only a general oversight to their task. They are dependent upon the numerous minor officials in the civil service for information and for the detailed work of carrying out the law.
The efficiency of government depends to a large degree upon the competence of this group. The permanent officials of the civil service should be neutral in politics, serving wholeheartedly whatever party is in power. Neither popular election nor appointment as a reward for political service is likely to prove a satisfactory method of selection.
The best solution seems to be appointment as a result of competitive tests by a nonpartisan commission, with assured permanence of tenure, promotion based on ability, and retirement at an age sufficiently early to keep important officials in touch with new ideas. The chief dangers of the civil service are rigidity of routine and the growth of a bureaucratic spirit. Government officials frequently mistake red tape for efficiency and fear experiment and initiative.
A device that has been found useful to keep the civil service in touch with public opinion has been the creation of advisory committees, representing the interests affected, to consult and cooperate with department chiefs. In this process the officials become informed concerning public needs and desires, and the public becomes educated concerning some of the practical difficulties of government.
Functions of the Executive:
A distinction is often made between the political and the administrative functions of the executive. The former includes the relation of the executive to the other departments of government and its determination of questions of general policy, both external and internal. The latter includes the mass of business details which modern government demands in carrying out its policies.
For this purpose the executive organizes its departments, selects its officials, and directs and supervises their work. A more detailed classification of executive functions, especially those performed by the executive head, is as follows:
The diplomatic function relates to the conduct of foreign relations, and includes the right to conclude treaties and other international agreements with foreign states, to appoint diplomatic representatives to foreign states, to receive those accredited to him by foreign states, and to act as representative of his state in its relations with other states.
The power to receive foreign representatives is generally held to include the power to recognize or refuse to recognize the independence of the state or the legitimacy of the government sending the representative. In most states the assent of the legislature or of one of its houses is required for the validity of treaties or of certain classes of treaties.
The legislature because of its numbers and fluctuating composition, is not suited to the negotiation of treaties, which requires certain secrecy promptness of decision, and consistency of national policy yet in modern democracies it is felt that the representatives of the people should possess a negative check in case the executive should be unwise or unscrupulous. Switzerland government further in providing for a popular referendum on all treaties of more than fifteen years duration.
The executive head is usually commander in chief of the military forces of the state. As such he appoint and dismisses officers, disposes of the armed forces of the state, and directs campaigns. While the actual declaration of war usually requires the consent of the legislature, and successful prosecution of war depends upon the support of the legislature because of its control over finances, nevertheless the executive, through its control over foreign relations, may bring about a condition of affairs that makes war inevitable.
In time of war the executive exercises greatly increased powers, in many states becoming a virtual dictator. He may suspend the ordinary constitutional rights of citizens, establish martial law, and vastly expand the authority of government on the grounds of military necessity. Most political thinkers agree that the military power, more than any other, should be concentrated in a single executive head.
As head of the internal administration of the state, the executive directs and supervises the execution of the laws. For this purpose he possesses the power to appoint, remove, and supervise subordinate administrative officials, although this power is checked in some states by the requirement that appointments shall be approved by one house of the legislature and by the selection of many minor administrative officials by competitive tests, or by popular election.
In administering the laws, the executive frequently issues ordinances for the propose of supplementing or Filling in the details of general law or of laying down rules for the conduct of administrative services. This is done in the form of decrees, orders, proclamations and regulations issued by the executive head, and by rule and instructions issued by various departments bureaus, and commissions. In some states the executive is given an extraordinary power to issue ordinances in time of emergency.
In states with the cabinet form of government, the executive heads share directly in legislation as members of the lawmaking body, guiding and directing its policy as long as they possess its support. Even in states with the presidential form of government, where an effort is made to separate executive and legislative functions, the executive participates to some extent in the work of lawmaking.
The executive usually has some control over the assembling, adjourning, or dissolving of the legislature or the holding of Special sessions. He initiates legislation, directly or indirectly, by furnishing the legislature with information concerning the needs of the country and recommending measures for its consideration. In many states the executive head may disapprove the acts of the legislature by means of a veto.
Usually the executive veto may be overridden by an extraordinary majority of the legislature. In France the veto is merely suspensive and requires reconsideration of the matter by the legislature, repassage of the vetoed measure by ordinary majority making it a valid law. In the German Republic a law not approved by the president might be submitted to popular referendum.
The veto power of the executive is upheld on the ground that it enables the executive to point out defects in legislation and demand their reconsideration, that it prevents hasty and ill considered actions, and that it enables the executive to protect itself against legislative encroachment upon its constitutional powers.
In some cases, especially in the United States, the legislature deliberately shifts the burden of opposing undesirable measures which are supported by public clamor by passing them, in the expectation that they will be vetoed by the executive.
The power of reprieving or pardoning criminals and of granting amnesty to persons who have taken part in revolutionary movements is usually regarded as properly belonging to the executive. It provides a means of correcting errors in the a administration of justice because of the rigidity of the criminal law enables review of cases where new evidence is discovered and makes possible a consideration of extenuating circumstances to which the law cannot give cognizance.
In some cases, persons convicted of certain crimes, such as treason, or persons convicted by impeachment may not be pardoned. Sometimes the power of the executive to pardon is unrestricted sometimes it requires the approval of a court or of an advisory board, while the power to pardon is required by considerations of humanity, it is liable to abuse in the hands of weak and unscrupulous executives, and may seriously interfere with the proper administration of justice.
As freedom has been won by resistance to arbitrary monarchs, the executive power was long deemed dangerous to freedom, watched with suspicion, and hemmed in by legal restraints, but when the power of the people had been established by long usage, these suspicions vanished.
The confidence of a century ago in representative legislative bodies has markedly declined, and the weakness and incompetence of parliamentary government have been seriously criticized in recent years. The demand for vigor and efficiency in government has given an impetus to the expansion of executive power which is noticeable in many modern states.
Side by side with the disappearance of the hereditary monarch has developed a strong executive in the form of president, prime minister, or dictator, supported by general consent or by an organized party group. It seems likely that the immediate future of political development will be marked by a further expansion of the powers of the executive and administrative branches of government.