Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Difference between European and American Executive Power

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville describes the main differences between the European and American Executive.  How do we, as a nation, match up to his descriptions today?  Here is an excerpt from his writings:

“The sovereignty of the United States is shared between* the Union and the States, whilst in France it is undivided and compact….In the United States the executive power is as limited and partial as the sovereignty of the Union in whose name it acts; in France it is as universal as the authority of the State.  The Americans have a federal and the French a national Government.”

“Sovereignty may be defined to be the right of making laws:  in France, the King really exercises a portion of the sovereign power, since the laws have no weight till he has given his assent to them; he is, moreover, the executor of all they ordain.  The President is also the executor of the laws, but he does not really co-operate in their formation, since the refusal of his assent does not annul them.  He is therefore to be considered as the agent of the sovereign power.”

Toqueville continues:

“But not only does the King of France exercise a portion of the sovereign power, he also contributes to the nomination of the legislature, which exercises the other portion.  He has the privilege of appointing the members of one chamber, and of dissolving the other at his pleasure; whereas the President of the United States has no share in the formation of the legislative body, and cannot dissolve any part of it.  The King has the same right of bringing forward measures as the Chambers’ a right which the President does not possess.  The King is represented in each assembly by his ministers, who explain his intentions, support his opinions, and maintain the principles of Government.  The President and his ministers are alike excluded from Congress; so that his influence and  his opinions can only penetrate indirectly into that great body.  The King of France is therefore on an equal footing with the legislature, which can no more act without him than he can without it.  The President exercises an authority inferior to, and depending upon, that of the legislature.”

Or does he?

*My emphasis added

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