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Constitution of USA
American constitution is the oldest written constitution which has served as the model for a number of other constitutions of the modern world. The basic principles of this constitution were inspired by the “thinking of Rousseau, Montesquieu and John Locke." It manifests two basic concepts:
The framers of the constitution never intended to establish a very domineering central government as it would threaten, they thought, the autonomy of the component units.
They wanted limited sphere of state action in order to protect property rights.
The principle of “Separation of Powers” was also incorporated in the constitution under the influence of Montesquieu’s thought.
The Preamble of the constitution signifies the theory of Popular Sovereignty, as it is not granted by any person rather American people are regarded as the source of all authority.
Features of Constitution
1. Written Constitution:
American constitution consists of a brief document comprising a preamble and seven articles in all. Only twenty seven amendments have so far been made. Despite its written form, the constitution also includes certain unwritten parts.
The constitution is rigid one and the framers prescribed a very difficult and cumbersome procedure of its amendment so that any government may not alter it easily for timely gains or under the turbulence of popular thinking.
3. Supremacy of the constitution:
The constitution stands supreme over all citizens, institutions and all branches of government, federal as well as regional. No institution of government is authorized to make a law or chalk out a policy that is against the constitution.
4. Limited Government:
The constitution eliminates all possibilities in respect of concentration of powers in any branch of the government, and all have to function within constitutional restraints. The constitution prescribes certain matters in which neither the federal nor state governments can interfere.
5. Separation of Powers:
Montesquieu’s theory of “Separation of Powers” weighed heavily on the minds of the framers. They incorporated this principle in the constitution and thereby demarcated the jurisdiction of all the three branches of government. But this separation was not of water tight compartments; a system of “Checks and Balances” was also evolved, as Montesquieu himself never contemplated a rigid Separation of Powers.
6. Federal System:
It was not a matter of choice at the time of drafting the constitution to opt for any other system than the federal one, as the components states were not willing at all to surrender their autonomous status. The Confederal experience had already flopped. Consequently, a federal set up was evolved which could secure an effective central government along with autonomous regional governments.
7. Presidential Form:
The framers had full perception regarding the weakness of the confederation in the past. The underlying purpose of introducing presidential for of government was to have an effective and stable executive. The president is indirectly elected by the people for four years and is accountable to them. The Congress can remove him from his office only through impeachment. The president can be re-elected for another term. The president appoints his ministers who are individually accountable to him and they are not the members of the Congress.
American Congress consists of two chambers. Senate is the upper House while the name of the lower House is the House of Representatives. Senate has been constituted on the basis of equal representation of all states. The lower House is a popular chamber directly elected by the people and comprises 435 members. Both chambers have been given equal powers in the constitution. House of Representatives commands somewhat superior position in financial legislation in the sense that all money bills originate in this chamber. The Senate is fully authorized to propose an increase or decrease in estimates for expenditure or in respect of proposals for raising funds.
9. Judicial Review:
An important feature of the American Constitution lies in the important role of the courts, especially relating to their power of Judicial Review. The constitution stands paramount over the whole state apparatus, while the Supreme Court exercises the authority to interpret it. It is the duty of the Supreme Court to see that all institutions perform their respective functions within the constitutional limits.
10. Fundamental Rights:
Fundamental Rights were not given constitutional guarantees in the original documents. These were incorporated immediately after its implementation. It was through first ten amendments in the Constitution in 1791 that a Bill of Rights was incorporated in the Constitution which was also made judiciable. All fundamental rights are given constitutional protection, such as right to life, right to personal security, freedom of conscience, right to property, freedom of expression, protection against unlawful detention, trial by jury, right to family life, etc.
Public officials and persons holding any political office can be removed from office on the conviction of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The House of Representatives brings charges of misconduct by voting a bill of impeachment. The accused official is tried in the Senate, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding at the trial.
Separation of Powers
The Framers of constitution fully kept in view the principle of “Separation of Powers” as envisaged by Montesquieu. The latter attached much importance to this theory in order to demarcate the functions of all the branches of government. He argues that public liberties suffer in case all the governmental authority is concentrated in any one branch. This principle was fully preserved by the Framers of the state constitutions as well. The Framers assigned the governmental functions to three different branches. Accordingly, the constitution lays it down that the executive powers shall belong to the President, legislative to the Congress while the Supreme Court shall be the repository of the highest judicial authority.
Checks and Balances:
The smooth functioning of a government is dependent on a closer collaboration between all of its branches. The Founding Fathers adopted a moderate path and introduced the principle of Checks and Balances.
The constitution has specified separate identity of each branch of government; and for that purpose details have been laid down. For example, President is elected by the people and is accountable to them. The Congress can remove him only by impeachment. The President appoints all his Cabinet Ministers with the approval of Senate and is authorized to remove them at his own discretion. The Ministers are neither the members of Congress nor they attend its sessions.
The Congress on the other hand has full control over federal legislation. The President can neither summon the Congress nor can prorogue or dissolve it. The Supreme Court exercises supreme judicial authority and its independence from undue interference by other two departments, has been fully ensured under the constitution. The President appoints federal judges but he can not remove them.
Areas of Cooperation:
All the three branches of government extend mutual cooperation. The President has some legislative and judicial powers. The Congress too has certain powers regarding the organization and formation of the executive and judiciary.
Legislative role of the President:
The President has also been given certain legislative powers. He can send messages to the Congress, suggesting proposals for legislation. These messages cannot be overlooked in the legislative process. He can summon extra ordinary sessions of the Congress and veto the bills passed by the Congress.
Congress and the Executive:
The Congress also shares some administrative powers with President. The Senate approves all Presidential appointments of federal officials and the treaties made with foreign governments. Being guardian of the purse of the nation, the Congress can affect the formulation of administrative and foreign policies. It can also impeach the President.
Role of the Judiciary:
The Chief executive and the Congress, both have some judicial powers as well. The President appoints federal judges with the approval of the Senate. He can also grant pardon, reprieve and clemency. Congress can affect the organization of judiciary through its control of exchequer. The Congress determines the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and can also remove the judges through impeachment. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, can declare void such laws of the Congress and orders of the President which are found against the Constitution.
Disadvantages of Separation of Powers
Separation of Powers, as it works in America, has been criticized from various point of views. Its serious drawbacks emerge in a situation when the Presidency and the Congressional majority belong to both rival parties. Under such circumstances there is tussle between both the branches of government.
2. Division of Responsibility:
Under a parliamentary setup, as the same party controls both the branches of government; it can therefore held responsible for all governmental actions. But under American system of government based on Separation of Powers, no single branch of government can be held responsible, especially when two rival parties control these branches.
3. Ineffective Control over the Executive:
The President and his Cabinet members do not attend the sessions of the Congress; as such they remain unaware of the trends and aspirations of people’s representatives. The Ministers, being non representatives are not accountable to the people. There is a possibility that the executive may become autocratic while discharging its responsibilities.
The American political system had to pay heavily due to the rigidity in the application of the Separation of Powers during the early period. With the growth of the Constitutional Conventions, however, certain devices of parliamentary system gradually got infused into this system. At present, there exists coordination between both branches of the government, to an extent that the Framers could not even imagine.
George Washington had advised Americans to avoid party politics. The Founding Fathers, while chalking out details regarding the organization of different political institutions, completely ignored inevitability of Political parties. But growth of political parties started, simultaneously with the evolution of other political institutions. America developed two party system right from the inception of its political system. The importance of political parties for a country as big as America is, cannot be underestimated. Credit goes to the working of the political parties that have preserved discipline, harmony and integration in the political life.
The growth of political parties started immediately after the enforcement of the constitution and their presence was regarded inevitable despite George Washington’s hatred against party politics. As a matter of fact, political parties are indispensable to the working of representative democracy. They educate the masses and portray the most complicated political issues before the people in an intelligible manner. Political parties always performed most effective role in the maintenance of maximum harmony and coordination in between the state governments and the central governments.
Salient Features of American Political Parties:
Emergence of political parties was completely ruled out at the time of constitution making, hence the constitution remained silent on this issue. Parties had their growth after the enforcement of the constitution.
The level of rigidity in party discipline found generally in a parliamentary democracy does not exist to that extent, in the Congress due to Presidential form of government. Congressmen enjoy more freedom of speech within the chambers. The members of the Congress also give much importance to safeguarding their respective regional interests and talk little about a coherent and uniform policy. As a result, the organization of both parties is characterized by decentralization.
American parties are not ideologically divided into two opposite camps nor do both differ diametrically on basic national issues. They have differences only on the details of the national issues and on plan of action. As a matter of fact, both parties draw up their programs and line of action at the time of election, keeping in view the contemporary requirements. Lord Bryce
was of the view that both parties are like two bottles, each one bearing a distinct label that indicates the kind of wine, but both are empty from within.
Both American political parties have nation-wide organization and they actively participate at different levels in governmental activity. They take part in federal election as well as in state and local elections.
Two party system has been retained as a legacy of British rule. Apart from two big parties, there exist a number of smaller ones but these are not very effective. During many recent congressional elections, other parties could not obtain many seats. Either of the two big parties, dominates the political scene regarding governmental organization and policy formulation.
Party Manifesto and Program
The organization of political parties in America is not based on any established principles or concepts. As the present problems confronted by American society have become much complex; the traditional line of party politics has also become ambiguous. At present, industrial interests have overshadowed the agricultural issues and this change also shape party programs.
President Eisenhower, during his Presidential term, intended to undertake welfare programs and increase the wages while his own party, Republicans, deadly opposed this policy. It rather tried to curtail the powers of the President; whereas the majority of the Democratic Party members in the Congress voted in support of Presidential proposals.
The voters in America do not owe permanent allegiance to any one party. At the time of election, they decide about their choice of the party. For instance, if they like a Democratic Presidential Candidate, they will support the same party. There is every possibility that they may support the other party in the very next election.
Differences between both Parties
Republican Party believed in tax concessions for low income groups, whereas Democrats had a different approach and did not want to introduce drastic changes in the taxation policies.
Republicans intended to safeguard the agrarian interests in particular and stood for status quo in agricultural produce; while Democrats wanted agricultural development through raising the prices of agricultural commodities.
Republicans did not believe in increasing the wages in the industrial fields; while Democratic Party wanted just the reverse and stood for the repeal of old laws for the realization of this goal.
As far centre-state relations, Republican Party wanted to give maximum aid and support to state governments in order to boost up production in the private sector. Democrats on the other hand, prefer to rely on increased sphere of national government’s responsibilities.
Both parties have nation-wide organization; each has its own administrative apparatus and modes consisting of permanent office bearers and different committees at national and regional levels. Each party has its own constitution, set of rules and values that regulate disciplinary and fiscal matters. As independent candidates have remote chances of success in the American elections, every person interested in politics has, therefore, to join any political party and thereby binds himself to party discipline. This is the party that nominates the candidates during elections and is responsible for organizing election campaign in their support.
American Congress, which is the repository of legislative authority in the federation, consists of two chambers: Senate which is the upper chamber and the House of Representatives is the lower one. Bicameralism was not adopted merely as a legacy of British rule it had to be adopted due to some unavoidable reasons. As all the states, under the “Articles of Confederation” had equal status, the smaller states at the same time of formation of the federal union, were not willing to join it unless their previous equal status was not secured at least in one chamber of the federal legislature. Formation of bicameralism was, therefore, indispensable.
The House of Representatives
The House of Representatives has been organized on popular basis. According to the constitution, the Congress determines its total strength, subject to two conditions: “Each state shall have at least one representative irrespective of its population”, and “the electors in each state shall have the qualification requisite for electors of the most numerous branches of the state legislatures. In addition to it there must be at least one representative for at least 30, 000 population. At present, the total membership of this House is 435.
The members of this House are elected for a period of two years, which is, too short to get full knowledge of the procedural rules of the House. Moreover, the members have to start thinking and preparing for new elections very soon. That accounts for the comparatively low quality of its membership.
During its first meeting, the newly elected House elects and appoints a number of office bearers, such as Speaker, Clerk, Sergeant at Arms, Religious guide etc. With the exception of Speaker, all others are nominated. The most senior member of the House takes the oath of office from the Speaker, while the latter administers oath from all other members collectively. It is then followed by the framing of rules to control the business of the House.
Most of the work of the House is done by its committees which are formed in the very first session of a newly elected House. Committees are named after the subjects they have to deal with. At present, there are about 20 Standing Committees of which important ones are, Rules Committee, Committee on Ways and Means, Committee in Supply, Judicial Committee etc. Each committee consists of 25 to 40 members. Both parties get representation in the committees according to their numerical strength in the House.
Powers and Functions
The House shares with the Senate the power to enact laws on all federal subjects. It can initiate a bill and its concurrence is required over the bills passed by the upper chamber. It enjoys somewhat superior position over the Senate in respect of financial legislation, as all the money bills originate in the House.
The House can also initiate impeachment for the removal of the President, Vice-President and other higher federal officials. For this purpose the House prepares a list of allegations against the concerned persons and pleads the case before the Senate. It can propose amendment to the constitution in collaboration with the Senate. Similarly, both Houses of the Congress can admit new states in the Union. When the election of any member of the House is challenged on legal grounds, the House is the final decision-making authority in this context.
The Senate has been organized on the basis of parity of representation to all states i-e. two seats are allocated to each state. No state, according to constitution, can be deprived of its equal representation without its consent.
Senators are elected for a period of six years but one-thirds of them retire after every two years. Hence after every two years, new element steps in the lines of its membership. It has the advantage that the Chamber keeps itself well informed about the trends of public opinion. Long tenure of membership, on the other hand, has the definite advantage of promoting stability and continuity in the legislative process.
American Vice President is legally the President of the Senate as well, but due to his pre-occupation in administrative matters, a President Protemporo, who is a member of the majority party, performs this duty. He implements rules and regulations and maintains discipline in the House. He ahs full authority to give his ruling on point of order and decide when the vote has to be taken during the deliberations. Traditionally, he remains aloof from party politics.
Most of the work of the Senate is done by its committees consisting of its members. All parties are given representation in these committees in proportion to their numerical strength in the House. In the very first session of the newly elected Chamber, party leaders nominate their members to different committees, while the House, and later formally elect them. Chairman of the Committees are always senior members. All standing committees are constituted for the entire term of the Senate.
Powers and Functions
The Senate shares equal powers with the House of Representatives in respect of legislation; while it shares with the President certain administrative powers. From this point of view, it commands somewhat superior position over the Lower House.
1. Legislative Powers:
The Senate shares, in contrast to British House of Lords, with the lower chamber equal legislative powers. It does not merely revise the bills rather most of the bills originate in the upper chamber. The Senators are the senior party members and the members of the House of Representatives pay full respect to the verdict of their party leaders. Senate has comparatively an inferior position in financial legislation as all the money bills originate in the House of Representatives.
2. Administrative Functions:
The Senate enjoys following administrative powers:
a) Presidential Appointments:
All the Presidential appointments of the senior federal officials got to be approved by the Senate by a two-thirds majority vote.
b) Ratification of Treaties:
The President is empowered to negotiate treaties with foreign countries, but these got to be ratified by the Senate by a two-thirds majority. When draft of a treaty is submitted before the Senate for approval it is referred first of all to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. After receiving its report, Committee of the Whole House reconsiders it and report it back to the Senate. On the basis of the reports of both the Committees, the Senate finally gives its approval or withholds it.
Removal of the public officials through impeachment was a method adopted as a legacy of British rule. The President, Vice-President, judges and civil officials can be impeached while Congressmen are exempted. Such a session of the Senate is presided over by the Chief Justice. The Senate can call for evidence and necessary public records. In order to impeach a person, Senate’s approval by two-thirds majority vote is essential. The maximum punishment of impeachment implies merely the removal from the office. Impeachment can be done on serious charges involving gross misconduct or treason.
Supremacy of the Senate
American Senate commands a very significant position in the political system and has been regarded as the most powerful upper chamber. It stands superior not only to its British counterpart but also to the lower House of the Congress.
1. Representative Nature:
In contrast to the British House of Lords, Senate of America has been organized on the basis of elected representation. Since British House of Lords is basically a hereditary chamber; it has, therefore, been deprived of important powers. The Senators participate most earnestly and with full devotion in the legislative process as this Chamber enjoys extraordinary powers.
2. Limited Membership:
The total strength of this Chamber is limited hence deliberations are most effective. Most of the other legislative chambers have vast membership as a result higher standards of discussion can rarely be maintained.
3. Long Tenure:
An important reason of the supremacy of the Senators lies in their long tenure i-e six years as compared to two years of that of the House of Representatives. Senators are also re-elected twice and sometimes thrice. Long tenures ensure more commitment to the business of the House on their part. They also get more experience of legislative routine. As the term of the House of Representatives is two years, soon after their elections, the members have to start preparing for the next election. Consequently, the members are unable to devote themselves fully to the legislative business.
4. Superior Membership:
The Senators are mostly seasoned politicians due to the long tenure of the Chamber and the special privileges and powers it enjoys. They are regarded party leaders in their respective states.
5. Representation of States:
Senate has been considered as the guardian of state rights and autonomy. As all states get equal representations in the Chamber, smaller and comparatively less resourceful states, do not object to any move aiming at the extension in its powers.
6. Special Privileges of Senators:
The Senators enjoy certain special privileges in the Chamber which are not secured to the members of the lower House. They enjoy maximum freedom of expression on the floor of the chamber so much that they can obstruct the passage of undesired laws by delivering long speeches. Moreover, the leadership is less domineering in this Chamber and the members may cast their vote in an independent manner.
7. Continuity in Membership:
The membership of the Senate undergoes complete change at no time, as only one-thirds of its total strength keeps on changing after every two years. Hence a new group of members is introduced regularly after a short spell. As an advantage of it, the Senate remains well informed about the trends of public opinion on the one hand, and the continuity in its membership brings more decorum to this Chamber, on the other.
The underlying purpose of the Founding fathers to make this chamber more powerful, was that they expected from it to act as a conservative check on the turbulence of democracy likely to appear in the lower House. There was a time when it played its traditional role to block progressive legislation. But at present, records show that this Chamber has become comparatively more progressive in approach.
At a time when contemporary European societies had hereditary monarchies, the idea of an elected chief executive, with limited powers, was unbelievable. American Presidency has been considered as the most powerful political office in the modern world. The highest executive authority is concentrated in one person. Framers of the constitution envisaged a limited control of the President over the legislative process so as to avoid the dictatorship of the President. But gradually the powers of the President in legislation expanded, responding to the needs of the circumstances.
Being the leader of the nation, the President can exercise such powers which are not explicitly laid down in the constitution. Through his Presidential messages and interviews, he can influence and shape public opinion. The Framers of the constitution intended to keep the Presidency over and above the turbulence of democracy. For this purpose, they thought it appropriate to entrust in a limited body, the mandate to elect the President. With the development of party politics, this procedure has virtually been rent ascender.
The President is elected for a period of four years. He can resign prior to the completion of his term or can be removed through impeachment. A president can be re-elected for a second term and invariably the President in office is elected for a second term. The third term was considered undesirable and undemocratic, right from the early period although it was not disallowed in the constitution. George Washington had refused to be elected for a third term. Jefferson did likewise. But this Convention was broken under the stress of World War II and President Roosevelt, was re-elected not only for third but even for fourth term. Ultimately the constitution was amended in 1951 and third term was disallowed. In case of death of a President, the Vice President performs the functions of President and completes the unexpired portion of his tenure.
Though Presidential term of office is fixed and he can’t be removed, unlike Parliamentary practice, before the competition of that period by a vote of no-confidence. Nevertheless, the Congress can remove him by impeachment on the grounds of gross misconduct involving treason, accepting bribe, or any other serious charge.
Being the head of state, the President enjoys certain privileges. He cannot be arrested on the basis of any charge nor can be summoned in a court as a witness. He can only be impeached by the Congress, but is given full opportunity of defence to plead his case. The President is paid huge amount as salary including other allowances. Huge sums are reserved for expenditure at the disposal of the President in the annual budget.
Powers of President
1. Executive Powers:
a) Enforcement of Law:
Being the head of the executive, the President is responsible for the enforcement of Constitution as well as of all federal laws. Different government departments assist him in the performance of these functions. In the collective interest of nation, he can use armed forces under federal laws.
b) Presidential Appointments:
The President appoints all higher federal officials with the approval of the Senate. The Senate can invest him the power to appoint subordinate officials. Senate approves al the Presidential appointments by two thirds majority.
c) Powers of Removal:
The Constitution does not throw light on the issue of the removal of federal officials. But the Supreme Court declared that the President is fully authorized to remove the federal officials in his own discretion except the judges of the Supreme Court who can be removed only by impeachment.
d) Diplomatic Powers:
American President has exercised enormous powers in foreign affairs right from the early period. He has been regarded as the chief spokesman of America in its relations with foreign governments. In his messages and comments, the President can express the principles of foreign policy which may be hostile to an otherwise friendly country or cordial for an enemy one. Another important power of the President is the appointment of ambassadors, consuls and other members of diplomatic corpse, subject to the confirmation by the Senate. President receives the ambassadors of foreign countries, an action indicating indirectly the recognition of that state. His power to make treaties with other governments has been subject to the ratification by the Senate with the two thirds majority vote.
e) Role in Defence:
The President is responsible for the defence of the country. He is the Supreme Commander of the armed forces and as such appoints a number of higher military officials. He can make rules and regulations for the execution of the acts of the Congress relating to defence. He is fully authorized to deploy the armed forces anywhere in or out of the country and take the command in his own hands. To declare war is, no doubt, a matter which falls within the domain of the Congress, but the President can create such a situation that declaration of war becomes inevitable.
2. Legislative Powers:
Executive interference in legislation has been minimized in America due to the working of “Separation of Powers”. But rigidity in traditional separation has receded into the background and both branches cooperate in many respects. Credit goes to the political parties for performing integrative role. Under certain Conventions, President’s role in legislation becomes extensive while the Congress has itself appreciated the legislative role of the President.
a) Extraordinary Sessions:
The President can’t summon ordinary sessions of the Congress but can summon its extraordinary sessions under special conditions. Such sessions are rarely convened as the Congress remains in session from eight to nine months in a year.
Neither the President nor his Ministers participate in deliberations of the Congress and as such laws are enacted without the guidance of the administrative branch. But the chief executive sends messages to the Congress conveying his proposals on important issues.
c) Indirect involvement:
All the bills in both the chambers of the congress are introduced by private members, the executive, however, indirectly participates in the drafting of many bills. Rather certain bills are prepared under the exclusive supervision of the executive branch and the president gets these introduced in the Congress through his party men.
d) Presidential Veto:
President can veto the bills passed by the Congress, and every bill passed by the legislative branch got to be signed by the President. Hence a single Presidential vote can override decision taken by the majority of 289 votes of the House and 66 that of the Senate. When the bill is sent for presidential approval, the latter shall either approve it within ten days or withhold his assent. But if he fails to do any of the things within ten days, the bill shall deem to have been passed without Presidential assent.
In case the session of the Congress adjourns before the expiry of ten days while the bill has not been approved by that time, it will die, termed as Pocket Veto. This power of Pocket Veto is useful device in the hands of President to check undesired legislation. This suspensive veto of the President very often becomes permanent veto as it becomes difficult for the Congress to manipulate majority support for getting the bill passed.
3. Financial Powers:
Federal budget is prepared by the Bureau of the Budget under the supervision of the President and the Director of the Bureau remains in constant touch with the President during this time. It is submitted in the Congress for approval on behalf of the President. The latter can effectively shape financial legislation through his party men in the Congress. Generally, the estimates proposed by the President are approved as the ordinary members do not normally understand the complexities involved in fiscal matters.
4. Judicial Powers:
American President appoints federal judges with the approval of the Senate. He can grant pardon, reprieve and clemency, with the exception of sentences given through impeachment. He can also announce general amnesty for all sentences given for political crimes. Abraham Lincoln did the same after the end of civil war. The President generally exercises judicial powers on the advice of the Attorney General. It should be kept in mind that the Supreme Court has no advisory jurisdiction i-e President can not seek legal advice from the Supreme Court.
After having been elected as President, a person becomes not only the party chief but also assumes the role of a national leader. Consequently, he enjoys the privilege to control members of the Congress belonging to his party, as well as to guide the nation. Much depends on the personal caliber of a President. The early Presidents, such as Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison were great statesman while their successors of the 19th century, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, were average. With a President of higher intellectual caliber and political sagacity, the head of the state can expand his constitutional role and expert powers even in those spheres, an ordinary office holder cannot even think.
The President is the repository of all administrative authority. As it is difficult for one man to carry on the business of state exclusively, he appoints advisors as heads of the departments to assist him in the performance of his responsibilities. The constitution does not mention the Cabinet nor did it get legal recognition till 1907. President Washington started practice of consulting heads of the departments later the Presidential Cabinet began holding its meeting regularly.
The members of the Presidential Cabinet cannot be members of the Congress simultaneously. If any such person is included in the Cabinet he has to resign his seat of the Congress. The Senate very often, gives approval of the President’s choice of his Cabinet colleagues. The President can remove any of the members of his Cabinet in his own discretion. In case of the resignation, removal or death of a President in office, all the Cabinet members shall have to quit their offices.
The President has of course, a free hand in the selection of his ministers. Nevertheless, he has to include not only competent and sincere persons in his cabinet but also to satisfy different factions of the party. Pressure groups can also exert pressure for the inclusion of certain persons as heads of particular departments. For example, the appointment of a person as incharge of treasury may complicate the matter, who is not acceptable to big bankers.
All the Cabinet members are regarded as the personal representatives of the President and every one is individually accountable to him. President presides over the meetings of the Cabinet but is not bound even by its unanimous decisions. The meetings are held once a week and the proceedings are kept confidential. There is no regular agenda of the meetings. Only those matters can be discussed which are put for discussion by the President. Sometimes, the President simply informs the Cabinet about his important decisions and no discussion is allowed. Private advisors of the President are sometimes more effective than the Cabinet members in political decision making. Sometimes, the Vice President may also attend the Cabinet meetings on special invitation. President has the sole discretion to invite any other person to attend the cabinet meeting.
Vice President is elected simultaneously with the President. Conditions governing this office are similar to those relating to the Presidency. According to a Convention, the President and Vice President should not be from the same state. Generally, the candidates to both offices represent the different wings of the party. If Presidential candidate, for example, belongs to liberal faction the Vice Presidential candidate will be from conservative group.
As the Vice President has to act as President in case of removal or death of the President, this office gained much importance. According to 25th amendment of the constitution, the office of Vice President cannot remain vacant. In case of death, removal or resignation of the Vice President, the President shall nominate any person as Vice President, with the approval of Congress by a two thirds vote.
The candidate for Vice President is nominated at Party Convention, according to the choice of the Presidential nominee, as the former has to assist the President in statecraft. Vice President is also the President of the Senate; as he finds little time to attend its sessions a President protemporo, therefore, performs this function in place of Vice President.
The office of Vice President remained insignificant for a long time. Truman, who acted as Vice President for three terms under the presidency of Roosevelt, writes in his Memoirs that his position as Vice President and President of Senate was rolling in between the executive and the legislative branch and that he was neither accountable to any of these nor trusted by both. Senators, he writes, would rarely consult him on any issue while outwardly they were quite friendly to him, but would never treat him as a member of Senate. The President, on the other hand, would not consult him on confidential matters lest these would be disclosed in the Senate.
At present, the office of Vice President has grown in importance. He actively participates in the meetings of the Presidential Cabinet and also presides over these in the absence of President. He can be sent abroad as spokesman and personal envoy of the president.
Comparison of American President and British Prime Minister
A comparison of American president with his counterpart in any other political system is difficult as it involves many complexities. American President is neither counterpart of British Monarch nor that of Prime Minister. A comparative analysis has been given below in order to explain the nature of both political offices:
Supremacy of Presidency:
The term of office of the President is fixed and before the expiry of that period he cannot be removed except through impeachment. The latter method is difficult and no President has so far been removed through impeachment. Moreover, it signifies a quasi-judicial process and is not a political one, hence rarely adopted.
But English Prime Minister can be removed along with his Cabinet by a vote of no-confidence passed by the Parliament and it happened many a times. Although the Cabinet, very often enjoys the support of the majority party due to the existence of a stable two party system; even then the office of Prime Minister lacks such stability due to the absence of fixed term.
The Congress has least interference in the administrative affairs on account of the Separation of Powers. The President enjoys full administrative authority and is accountable not to the legislature but to the nation.
Whereas the Prime Minister, on the other hand, is accountable to the Parliament and has to seek the approval of the Parliament for all of his policies.
American President commands dominant position in his Cabinet. He can appoint any one as his advisor and get him removed on his own discretion. All Ministers are individually accountable to the President who is exclusively responsible to the people.
But the British Prime Minister does not enjoy a free hand regarding the choice of his Cabinet colleagues, nor does he command pre-dominant position within the Cabinet. Moreover the Cabinet is collectively responsible for the formulation and execution of administrative policies.
A clear example regarding the comparatively dominant position of the President is provided by an event of the World War II. When Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill met in connection with the preparation of Atlantic Charter, President Roosevelt appeared to have full authority to take any decision without any further consultation or approval, while Prime Minister Churchill, on the other hand, had to consult his Cabinet colleagues quite frequently. The latter had to contact his colleagues for almost thirty times in London within three days, as he had to pay due heed to the principle of Collective Responsibility of the Cabinet.
Unique Role of the Prime Minister:
The British Prime Minister has more advantageous position than the American President in many ways. All the discretionary powers of the President as explained above are also, in practice, exercised by the Prime Minister. The reason being that the latter enjoys the support of the majority party and is regarded as its leader.
As regards the threat of a vote of no-confidence against the cabinet, it remains ineffective so long as the ruling party commands majority within the Parliament. Even if it is passed, the Prime Minister can get the Parliament dissolved by rendering such advice to the Queen. The Prime Minister also enjoys a leadership role within the Cabinet. His opinion carries great weight and is held in esteem by his Ministers. He can force any Minister to resign.
2. As leader of the House:
The Prime Minister performs a pivotal role within the Government due to his position as head of the government as well as that of the legislature, i-e he is head of the Cabinet and the leader of the House as well. He is not responsible merely for the formulation of administrative policies but also performs a dominant role in legislation. In contrats to this, the President of America does not exercise so effective control over legislation due to the working of Separation of Powers. The situation becomes more alarming when the Congressional majority belongs to the President’s rival party.
3. Fiscal Control:
The Prime Minister performs comparatively more effective role in financial legislation than that of the American President. All the fiscal estimates proposed by the Cabinet are normally approved by the Parliament in the Original form.
Despite the effective role of the Prime Minister in the governmental machinery, the position of the President can be underestimated, as his office has grown into power in the present century. Due to ever increasing coordination in both the branches of American government, the President acts as legislator in his own right as well and can exert his influence over the Congress through his party members. It is difficult to conclude categorically which of the two offices is more important and powerful, on the basis of a comparative analysis. Most of the theorists believe that the Presidency is more domineering in respect of its responsibilities and powers.