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James Bryce believed that the Founders intended that the American President would be “a reduced and improved copy of the English king” (1885)

Bryce discusses the office of President and the manner of his election in a Chapter on "The President":

Assuming that there was to be such a magistrate [the office of President], the statesmen of the Convention, like the solid practical men they were, did not try to construct him out of their own brains, but looked to some existing models. They therefore made an enlarged copy of the state governor, or to put the same thing differently, a reduced and improved copy of the English king. He is George III shorn of a part of his prerogative by the intervention of the Senate in treaties and appointments, of another part by the restriction of his action to federal affairs, while his dignity as well as his influence are diminished by his holding office for four years instead of for life. His salary is too small to permit him either to maintain a court or to corrupt the legislature; nor can he seduce the virtue of the citizens by the gift of titles of nobility, for such titles are altogether forbidden. Subject to these precautions, he was meant by the Constitution-framers to resemble the state governor and the British king, not only in being the head of the executive, but in standing apart from and above political parties. He was to represent the nation as a whole, as the governor represented the state commonwealth. The independence of his position, with nothing either to gain or to fear from Congress, would, it was hoped, leave him free to think only of the welfare of the people.

Assuming that there was to be such a magistrate [the office of President], the statesmen of the Convention, like the solid practical men they were, did not try to construct him out of their own brains, but looked to some existing models. They therefore made an enlarged copy of the state governor, or to put the same thing differently, a reduced and improved copy of the English king. He is George III shorn of a part of his prerogative by the intervention of the Senate in treaties and appointments, of another part by the restriction of his action to federal affairs, while his dignity as well as his influence are diminished by his holding office for four years instead of for life. His salary is too small to permit him either to maintain a court or to corrupt the legislature; nor can he seduce the virtue of the citizens by the gift of titles of nobility, for such titles are altogether forbidden. Subject to these precautions, he was meant by the Constitution-framers to resemble the state governor and the British king, not only in being the head of the executive, but in standing apart from and above political parties. He was to represent the nation as a whole, as the governor represented the state commonwealth. The independence of his position, with nothing either to gain or to fear from Congress, would, it was hoped, leave him free to think only of the welfare of the people.

This idea appears in the method provided for the election of a president. To have left the choice of the chief magistrate to a direct popular vote over the whole country would have raised a dangerous excitement, and would have given too much encouragement to candidates of merely popular gifts. To have entrusted it to Congress would have not only subjected the executive to the legislature in violation of the principle which requires these departments to be kept distinct, but have tended to make him the creature of one particular faction instead of the choice of the nation. Hence the device of a double election was adopted, perhaps with a faint reminiscence of the methods by which the doge was then still chosen at Venice and the emperor in Germany. The Constitution directs each state to choose a number of presidential electors equal to the number of its representatives in both houses of Congress. Some weeks later, these electors meet in each state on a day fixed by law, and give their votes in writing for the president and vice-president. The votes are transmitted, sealed up, to the capital and there opened by the president of the Senate in the presence of both houses and counted. To preserve the electors from the influence of faction, it is provided that they shall not be members of Congress, nor holders of any federal office. This plan was expected to secure the choice by the best citizens of each state, in a tranquil and deliberate way, of the man whom they in their unfettered discretion should deem fittest to be chief magistrate of the Union. Being themselves chosen electors on account of their personal merits, they would be better qualified than the masses to select an able and honourable man for president. Moreover, as the votes are counted promiscuously, and not by states, each elector’s voice would have its weight. He might be in a minority in his own state, but his vote would nevertheless tell because it would be added to those given by electors in other states for the same candidate.

No part of their scheme seems to have been regarded by the Constitution-makers of 1787 with more complacency than this, although no part had caused them so much perplexity. No part has so utterly belied their expectations. The presidential electors have become a mere cog-wheel in the machine; a mere contrivance for giving effect to the decision of the people. Their personal qualifications are a matter of indifference. They have no discretion, but are chosen under a pledge – a pledge of honour merely, but a pledge which has never (since 1796) been violated – to vote for a particular candidate. In choosing them the people virtually choose the president, and thus the very thing which the men of 1787 sought to prevent has happened – the president is chosen by a popular vote. Let us see how this has come to pass.

About this Quotation:

There are three points to make concerning Bryce. The first is that it is always stimulating to see America through the eyes of a foreigner, like Alexis de Tocqueville or Harriet Martineau. Secondly, that this quote was posted while an election was taking place in the U.S.. And thirdly, that like other Victorian gentlemen such as Herbert Spencer or Lysander Spooner, he sported a luxuriant beard which one can see in the photograph.

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