For Inauguration Day – Churchill on the American Presidency

January 19, 2009 at 5:18 pm Leave a comment

The rigid Constitution of the United States, the gigantic scale and strength of its party machinery, the fixed terms for which public officers and representatives are chosen, invest the President with a greater measure of autocratic power than was possessed before the war by the Head of any great State. The vast size of the population, the safety-valve functions of the legislatures of fifty Sovereign States, make the focussing of national public opinion difficult, and confer upon the Federal Government exceptional independence of it except at fixed election times. Few modern Governments need to concern themselves so little with the opinion of the party they have beaten at the polls’ none secures to its supreme executive offer, at once the Sovereign and the Party Leader, such direct personal authority.

The accident of hereditary succession which brings a King or Emperor to the throne occurs on the average at intervals of a quarter of a century. During this long period, as well as in his whole life before accesion, the qualities and dispoisition of the monarch can be studied by his subjects, and during this period parties and classes are often able to devise and create checks and counterchecks upon personal action. In limited monarchies where the responsibilities of power are borne by the Prime Minister, the choice of the nation usually falls upon Statesmen who have lived their lives in the public eye, who are moreover members of the Legislature and continuously accountable to it for their tenure. But the magnitude and the character of the electoral processes of the United States make it increasingly difficult, if not indeed already impossible, for any life-long politician to become a sucessful candidate for the Presidency. The choice of the party managers tends more and more to fall upon eminent citizens of high personal character and civic virtue who have not mingled profoundly in politics or administration, and who in consequence are free from the animosities and the errors which such com bative and anxious experiences involve. More often that not the campion selected for the enthusiasms and ideals of tens of millions is unversed in State affairs, and raised suddenly to dazzling pre-eminence on the spur of the moment. The war-stained veterans of the party battle select, after many fierce internal convulsions, a blameless and honorable figure to bear aloft the party standard. They manufacture his programme and his policy, and if successful in the battle install him for four years at the summit of the State, clothed thenceforward with direct executive functions which in practical importance are not surpassed on the globe…

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