De Tocqueville on the President

Alexis de Tocqueville was a brilliant French philosopher and writer of the 19th century. He was so enamored of the American Republican experiment that, in the 1830s, he visited the United States to investigate why this country’s Republican democracy was so successful, something at which both the British and French had failed miserably. De Tocqueville wrote of his investigations in a two-volume set entitled Democracy in America. It is considered a classic and, indeed, in is print to this very day.

This learned Frenchmen, in these two books, obviously wrote on many subjects, but I want to focus on one short quote. In talking about the American system of government, he penned these words about the office of the President:

“The President is…the executor of the laws, but he does not really cooperate in making them, since the refusal of his assent does not prevent their passage. He is not, therefore, a part of the sovereign power, but only its agent…the President is placed beside the legislature like an inferior and dependent power…[The office of the president is] temporary, limited, and subordinate…when he is at the head of government, he has but little power, little wealth, and little glory to share among his friends; and his influence in the state is too small for the success or the ruin of a faction to depend upon his elevation to power…The influence which the President exercises on public business is no doubt feeble and indirect.”

Heavens. Does that sound like the office of the POTUS today to you? But that is exactly what our Founding Fathers intended. This imperial, narcissistic, megalomania that has come to dominate the presidency is definitely not what the men who formed our government intended.

More on the powers of the President—as defined in the Constitution--in a future post. It won’t be a long one.