Alexis de Tocqueville on electing a president

The dangers of the system of election, applied to the chief of the executive government of a great people, have been sufficiently exemplified by experience and by history. I wish to speak of them in reference to America alone.

These dangers may be more or less formidable in proportion to the place which the executive power occupies, and to the importance it possesses in the state; and they may vary according to the mode of election, and the circumstances in which the electors are placed. The most weighty argument against the election of a chief magistrate is, that it offers so splendid a lure to private ambition, and is so apt to inflame men in the pursuit of power, that, when legitimate means are wanting, force may not unfrequently seize what right denied. It is clear that, the greater the prerogatives of executive authority are, the greater is the temptation; the more the ambition of the candidates is excited, the more warmly are their interests espoused by a throng of partisans, who hope to share the power when their patron has won the prize. The dangers of the elective system increase, therefore, in the exact ratio of the influence exercised by the executive power in the affairs of the state.

Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America. Translated by Henry Reeve. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Sever and Francis, 1863, 160-61.

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