Types of republican executives.
The Presidency of the United States.-If we leave aside the Swiss executives, which is sui géneris because of its collegial organization and its peculiar relation to the legislature, the existing executives of republican states fall into three fairly well differentiated classes, American, French, and German.
The American type includes the presidency and governorship’s of the United States and the presidencies of the Latin-American states,which have imitated the example of the United States. The characteristic features of the office in these countries is, as already pointed out, the chief executive’s almost complete independence of the legislature, in respect to his mode of election, his tenure, the sources of his power, and the manner in which he exercises the authority conferred upon him by the constitution or which, as is sometimes contended, maybe regarded as inherent in the nature of his office.
His position is one of almost absolute irresponsibility to the legislature in respect to his political acts and policies, and, as pointed out in an earlier chapter, his responsibility to the electorate which chooses him is one which is practically unenforceable. Unlike the presidents of cabinet-governed republics, the presidents of the American , republics (except of course the few like Chile, which have the cabinet system) actually exercise, subject to no direct control by the legislature, the powers which the constitution confers upon them and the same is true of the governors of states in the United States.
Lord Bryce once remarked that the presidency of the United States was generally recognized to be the greatest political office in the world. The office has often been characteri7ed as monarchical in character because of the actual irresponsibility of the incumbent either to the people or their legislative representatives
The late President Wilson pointed out that in the hands of a strong man, unafraid of responsibility and having the gift of leadership, the power and influence of the office are nearly unlimited. He himself attributed to the President a triple role first, that of executive or administrative head of the government-the legal or constitutional role , second, that of leader of his political party , and third, the guide and leader of the nation in legislation.
As leader of his party, according to Mr. Wilson, it belongs to the President to exercise a dominant role in the formulation of the party program, and since he alone of those who represent the country is chosen by it as a whole, he alone can be properly regarded as the spokesman of the country it belongs to him to assume the leadership in bringing about the enactment into laws of the measures in favor of which the nation has pronounced.
To this end he is not limited to making perfunctory recommendations to Congress and occasionally vetoing a bill Which he disapproves, but may intervene personally with leading members by argument and persuasion, refuse to accept the recommendations of recalcitrant or hostile members for appointments, may make direct appeals to public Opinion and in other ways employ pressure and use the whip hand to cause Congress to give effect to the policies and measures which he advocates.
Mr. Wilson and some other Presidents before him were able to carry out this theory of executive leadership with some success, but it has naturally found vigorous opponents, and in practice most Presidents have acted upon the negative principle that the leadership in legislation properly belongs to Congress and not to the President.
The Presidency of the French Republic :-
The presidential office in France represents the antithesis of the type described above. The French constitution is most generous in the extent of the powers which it confers upon the president. With the exception of the veto it gives him virtually all the powers that are conferred by the constitution of the United States,upon the American president and in addition other powers which commonly belong to kings, such as the power to convoke, prorogue, and adjourn the parliament, to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies (with the consent of the Senate), to introduce bills in parliament, to appoint commissaries to appear therein to give information and explanations, to create new offices, and to make appropriations of money from the treasury during the recess of parliament to meet unforeseen emergencies, etc.
The national assembly which framed the constitution apparently believed that it was creating an office of great power, one which would be independent of parliament, and for this very reason it was attacked by the republicans as inconsistent with true republicanism and even dangerous. It turned out, however, that the fears of the republicans were unnecessary.
After enumerating the powers of the president the constitution proceeded to paralyze him-to imprison him in an iron cage, as some French writers have characterized it-by the addition of a brief clause which states that every act of the president must be countersigned by a minister.
All official acts by the president-appointments, dismissals, introduction of bills in parliament and the others-are in the form of decrees each of which must be signed by a minister who is responsible, not to the president but to the parliament, for the consequence of his signature. Thus the president was placed under the guardianship of the ministers who are in tum dependent upon parliament.
As a result, he can perform no official act Which in the opinion of the ministers parliament would not approve. He is, therefore,a dependency of parliament and it is parliament, not the president, who really governs.
Commentators on the French constitution are accustomed to say that the only power conferred by the constitution upon him which he can exercise freely and without the necessity of obtaining the consent of a minister is to preside over national festivals. To this, Casimir-Perier, who resigned the office in a spirit of some disgust after having occupied it for only six months, added the power of the president to send his resignation to parliament. The president, he said, was little more than an automaton and the record of his official a cts consists of nothing but an autograph collection.
As stated above, the president is not only in large degree a figurehead, but it is now established by precedent that the parliament may whenever it sees fit compel him to resign. Aside from the conditions of the parliamentary system, which necessarily reduce the role of the president to a minimum, the mediocre, negative character of many of the men who have occupied the office has contributed to its enfeeblement.
When Grévy became president after the resignation of MacMahon in 1879, he expressed the view that the office was intended to afford an honorable retirement for weary veterans of long political struggles, and that the duty of the president was to give advice, to efface himself, and not to act.
His own course as president was strictly in accord with that conception. Some of his successors, notably Loubet and Fallieres, imitated his example. The former, at the first meeting of his cabinet,outlined the impersonal negative role which he actually played. I shall advise you, he said, and at times criticize, but there will be no Elysée policy. Several presidents with strong personalities have wished to exercise independently the powers which the constitution confers upon them and to play a more active role in the government of the country.
Casimir Perier even announced at the time of his election his intention not to neglect the exercise of these powers, but he found it impossible in view of the attitude which the parliament then took and has always taken in regard to its own right to govern.
He resigned six months after his election and years afterwards (1905) in a letter to the Temps he described the president as an automaton without power, condemned to play the undignified role of signing whatever documents the ministers laid before him. Poincare entertained the same view of the presidential office and he too desired to play a more important part in the government of the country, and it must be admitted that in the field of foreign relations at least he achieved some success.
When Millerand became president in 1920, he made known in no uncertain and not altogether tactful language his intention to do what he could to have the actual powers of the French president extended-by constitutional amendment if necessary-so as to enable him to play somewhat the same role as the President of the United States does.
He also intimated that his ministers, although responsible to parliament, would be expected to accept his own views of public policy. These utterances, which were regarded as being in violation of the constitution, coupled with his taking sides with the Nationalist party in the parliamentary elections of 1924,which also was regarded as being in conflict with the spirit of the constitution, were the chief reasons which caused parliament to force his resignation in 1924.
Doumergue, his successor, announced that his own policy would be that of an impartial neutral and that he would bow to the will of parliament. Like Grévy, Loubct, and Fallieres, he was little more than a ceremonial figurehead.
Considering that parliament has refused to regard the president as a co-equal collaborator, has insisted upon controlling him, and has compelled those who have attempted to exercise the powers, which the constitution gives them, to resign, it is hard to see how the president of the French republic can ever be more than what he has often been described by French writers a prisoner in an iron cage, mute idol in a pagoda, a mere dummy, a useless symbol to please the people, the emaciated shadow of a roi -faineant etc.
The question has often been discussed in France as to the necessity or utility of such an office. For a long time its abolition was demanded by the Radical and Socialist parties, one of its leading advocates being Clemenceau (who, however, in 1921 was a leading and active candidate for the office). There may be some excuse, they argued, for a hereditary figurehead in a monarchy, but there is no place for an elective one in a republic.
Aside from the selection of the prime minister when a new cabinet is to be appointed a function which might very well be discharged by the parliament itself or by a committee of parliament, the actual role of the president is ceremonial and decorative: presiding on the occasion of national fetes, attending inaugurations of various kinds, including the races and the annual military review at Longchamps, opening expositions, conferring decorations awarding the grand prize, entertaining distinguished personages, and the like.
Nevertheless, the great majority of Frenchmen believe that a chief of state of some kind, an exalted functionary to represent the state in its international relations, to receive diplomatic representatives from foreign states, and to personify the majesty of the republic, is desirable. Such a person, moreover, if he is esteemed and respected abroad, is capable Of exerting a valuable influence in the conduct of the foreign relations of the country, especially in concluding alliances and understandings with the heads of other states, as the examples of Faure, Carnot, and Poincaré showed. Parliament would doubtless tolerate positive action of the president in this field-if it were not partisan or unduly open.
Finally, the presidency has its value as a magistracy of influence, as Barthélemy characterizes it. Prevost Paradol once described the president as a surveillant generale of the state. If he is a strong, popularly esteemed, impartial leader, he Will be able to exert a moral authority and a moderating influence in a country where party passions are strong, which will be wholesome and valuable.
The Presidency of the German Republic :-
The presidential office in Germany, from 1919 to 1934, differed from the American and French models. The president of the German republic was neither a powerful functionary such as the president of the United States nor a figurehead like the president of France. He occupied a position and played a role of an intermediate character somewhere between the two, although approximating more nearly that of France, for the reason that Germany, like France, had the cabinet system of government, which necessarily limited the role of the titular head of the state.
Among the framers of the German constitution the Independent Socialists were Opposed to the creation of the office of president on the ground that if the titulary of the office were vested with the actual exercise of power as in the United States, Germany would be no better off than she was under the monarchy. On the other hand, if a genuine cabinet system were established under which the government would be ,carried on by ministers responsible to parliament, the president would be limited to playing a purely ornamental role, which in the opinion of the Independents was not worth the cost.
The Prussian, Badenese, and Bavarian republics had decided to give up the luxury of a titular chief executive and to rely upon minis tries, and the Reich should follow their example. A large majority of the members of the national assembly, however, were in favor of a president of some sort. They might, therefore, choose between the three existing types the Swiss, the American, and the , French. But not one of these commended itself to the assembly the Swiss type because it was collegial in organization, the American type because it was regarded as autocratic and dangerous, the French because it did not comport with the German conception of a strong executive power.
The Germans had no taste for figureheads. Germany, it was argued, must have a strong president who not only would worthily represent and personify the majesty of the state, but also would act as a counterbalance to a parliament which might otherwise become omnipotent and dangerous. The office finally agreed on was a compound which embodied certain features of both the American and the French conceptions.
The American principle that the executive organ should be coordinate with the legislative organ was adopted, and this involved the rejection of the French principle of the election of the president by the legislature, which, as French experience had demonstrated, reduced the president to the position of a dependency of the legislature. On the other hand, the French principle of ministerial responsibility to parliament, coupled with the political irresponsibility of the president, was introduced. But to insure that the president would not be reduced to the role of a figurehead, his position as head of the state was strengthened by provision for his election by the people as in the United States.
Thus, while the Germans preferred a system of parliamentary government, they preferred a parliamentarism whose mechanism Was controlled not by the legislature but by the people. They also preferred a system in which the ministry alone, and not the president also, as is virtually the case in France, should be responsible to the legislature.
More logical, democratically, than the United States, they also provided for the popular recall of the president. Much larger powers were also conferred upon him, especially in respect to legislation, than are conferred upon the president of France. Thus, although he was not given the power of veto such as belongs to the President of the United States, he might, if he disapproved a bill passed by the Reichstag, submit it to a popular referendum. He was not, therefore, obliged as the president of France is to promulgate it when it did not meet his approval.
Likewise, in case there was a disagreement between the two chambers over a bill, the president could submit,the issue to a referendum. Article 48 gave him power to declare a state of siege, suspend various constitutional rights of the citizen, and to govern virtually as a dictator, a power which Was actually exercised more than once, whereas in France a state of siege can be declared only by parliament.
The president was also given the power to dissolve the lower chamber whereas in France this power can be exercised by the president only with the Consent of the senate. It is true that the president’s acts required for their validity the countersignature of chancellor or some other minister, who was himself responsible to the Reichstag a requirement which so far as it relates to the power of dissolution was vigorously opposed by the parties of the Right in the National Assembly, on the ground, as they argued, that the president would never be able to obtain the counter signature of a minister to the dissolution of a chamber of which he was himself a member and to which he was responsible.
The right of the president in case of a Conflict between him and the chamber to dissolve the chamber and appeal to the people ought not, they said, be dependent upon the will of the chamber itself. Preuss, the principal author of the constitution, however, insisted upon the necessity of the counter signature.
He argued that if the presidential and the ministry were in agreement the counter-signature could be easily obtained, if the ministry were opposed to dissolution or a referendum, it would resign and the president would find a new chancellor who would give his signature.
Notwithstanding the necessity which the president was under of obtaining ministerial approval of his acts, as in France, his dependence upon parliament was considerably less than is that of the French president, and it was possible for him to exercise his constitutional powers with greater freedom from parliamentary control.
It was Clearly the intention of the authors of the constitution that the Reichstag should be given full political control over the government without meddling with the details of ad ministration, as the French parliament so often does, and in fact a proposal made in the national assembly to give the Reichstag power to issue binding directions to the government was rejected.
It was not possible for the parliament to reduce him to subjection and compel him to resign as the French parliament may do. If there was an irreconcilable conflict between him and the parliament, he could submit the conflict to the people for decision, and if the parliament desired his resignation, its proposal for his recall, which could be made only by a two-thirds majority, had to be submitted to the people for their decision.
In this respect his independence of parliamentary control was much greater than is that of the French president, who can be forced to resign by the vote of a simple majority of the Chamber of Deputies. As already stated, the fact that he derived his office from popular election insured him, certainly if he was a popular and highly esteemed chief magistrate, a position of strength and influence which the French president, elected as he is by parliament can never be sure of.
These arrangements were greatly altered in 1933 and 1934 by the Hitler dictatorship. The ministry was empowered to legislate without the approval of the parliament, grid in practice the president was reduced to the role of a figurehead. Finally, in August, 1934, following the death of President von Hindenburg, the powers and duties of the office were added to those of the chancellor Adolf Hitler, who was to combine in his person both offices. Whether the office of president will ever be separated again from the chancellorship, or whether both will be replaced by a king of emperor, is a matter on which it would be unsafe to make a prediction.