Front Page Titles (by Subject) Of Executive Power 16 - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 1
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Of Executive Power 16 - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 1 
Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 1.
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Of Executive Power16
Dependence of the President.—Elective and accountable.—Free in his sphere; the Senate oversees him and does not direct him.—The salary of the President fixed at his entry into office.—Qualified veto.
The American law-makers had a difficult task to fulfill: they wanted to create an executive power that depended on the majority and yet was strong enough by itself to act freely in its sphere.x
The maintenance of the republican form required that the representative of the executive power be subject to the national will.
The President is an elective magistrate. His honor, goods, liberty, life answer continually to the people for the good use that he will make of his power. While exercising his power, moreover, he is not completely independent. The Senate watches over him in his relations with foreign powers, as well as in the distribution of positions; so he can be neither corrupted nor corrupt.
The law-makers of the Union recognized that the executive power could not fulfill its task usefully and with dignity, if they did not succeed in giving it more stability and strength than it had been granted in the particular states.
The President was named for four years and could be re-elected. With a future, he had the courage to work for the public good and the means to implement it.
The President was made the one and only representative of the executive power of the Union. Care was even taken not to subordinate his will to those of a council: a dangerous measure that, while weakening the action of the government, lessens the accountability of those who govern. The Senate has the right to strike down some of the acts of the President, but it can neither force him to act, nor share the executive power with him.
The action of the legislature on the executive power can be direct; we have just seen that the Americans took care that it was not. It can also be indirect.
The chambers, by depriving the public official of his salary, take away a part of his independence; it must be feared that, masters of making laws, they will little by little take away the portion of power that the Constitution wanted to keep for him.
This dependence of the executive power is one of the vices inherent in republican constitutions. The Americans have not been able to destroy the inclination that leads legislative assemblies to take hold of government,y but they have made this inclination less irresistible.
The salary of the President is fixed, at his entry into office, for the entire time that his leadership lasts. In addition, the President is armed with a qualified veto that permits him to stop the passage of laws that would be able to destroy the portion of independence that the constitution left to him. There can only be an unequal struggle, however, between the President and the legislature, since the latter, by persevering in its intentions, always has the power to overcome the resistance that opposes it. But the qualified veto at least forces it to retrace its steps; it forces the legislature to consider the question again; and this time, it can no longer decide except with a two-thirds majority of those voting. The veto, moreover, is a kind of appeal to the people; the executive power pleads its cause and makes its reasons heard. Without this guarantee, it could be oppressed in secret. But if the legislature perseveres in its intentions, can it not always overcome the resistance that opposes it? To that I will answer that in the constitution of all peoples, no matter what its nature, there is a point where the law-maker is obliged to rely on the good sense and virtue of the citizens. This point is closer and more visible in republics, more removed and more carefully hidden in monarchies; but it is always found somewhere. There is no country where the law can foresee everything and where the institutions must take the place of reason and mores.
[16. ] Federalist, Nos. 67-77, inclusive. Constitution, art. 2. Story [Commentaries (ed.)], p. 315, pp. 515-80. Kent’s Commentaries [vol. I (ed.)], p. 255 [235 (ed.)].
[x. ] The President and in general the executive power of the Union./
Some advantages of a strong executive power:
1.It executes the constitutional desires of the legislatures with more skill and sagacity than they would be able to do themselves.
2.It is a barrier against the abuse of their power; it prevents their omnipotence from degenerating into tyranny (see, on the subject of the requisite conditions for the creation of a sufficient executive power, the Federalist, pp. 301 and 316 [No. 70 (ed.)]).
To divide the executive power, to subordinate its movements to the desires of a council, is to diminish its accountability.
It was necessary to liberty that the President depended on the national will. He is elective, not inviolable (YTC, CVh, 1, p. 53).
[y. ] In the manuscript: “The Americans have not been able to destroy the inclination [v: tendency], but they have made it less irresistible [v: rapid].”
Gustave de Beaumont:
On this page there is an error of style. Executive power is taken here in a double sense; first, as presenting the idea of the persons who govern, and then, as including the idea of the administration itself. This word can indeed be used in this double sense, but not in places so close together, because it sows confusion in the mind. That is so true that, when we read: The Americans have not been able to destroy the inclination to drag the executive power into the legislative assemblies . . ., we think we are going to see the President of the United States brought into the House of Representatives, because you were speaking about him a moment before under the name executive power. This is certainly not the thought of the author, since he means, on the contrary, that the legislative assemblies are always led toward taking hold of the executive power. I would put: The Americans have not been able to destroy the inclination that leads legislative assemblies to take hold of power, but . . .” (YTC, CIIIb, 3, pp. 51-52).