4

While defending Donald Trump from removal from office by the Senate after Trump's impeachment, Prof. Alan Dershowitz said the framers of the Constitution explicitly rejected the system used in England, by which the head of government serves at the pleasure of the legislature.

The Constitution of the United States was written in 1787. I had the impression that the usage by which the British prime minister resigns if there is a vote of no confidence, today considered a venerable tradition, was new at the time, having begun five years earlier with Frederick North's resignation, so that it was not yet clear that that was to become the usual way of doing things.

How close is my impression to the truth?

Do Madison's notes on the convention of 1787, or any other evidence, indicate that the question of whether to use that kind of system was considered and rejected?

2
  • 3
    Note for prospective answerers: the best place I know of to look up an answer for this would be Farrand's Records – T.E.D. Jan 31 '20 at 23:28
  • 1
    @JMS if you see this: I see that someone deleted your posting as offensive, presumably because your opinion of Alan Dershowitz was not politely expressed even though you agree with him in this instance. However, your reply misses the point of the question. I know very well that the Constitution of the United States establishes a quite different system from what is used in Britain. But my question was whether that system used in Britain was discussed and rejected by the framers. I have doubts about it because it seems it wasn't yet the established system in Britain at that time. – Michael Hardy Feb 1 '20 at 18:30
4

A vote of no confidence only makes sense when the Executive is accountable to Parliament.

Depending on the country, this results in new snap elections (e.g. UK) or a new PM getting nominated by the President (or other Head of State) to form a new government (e.g. France, which has several instances of cohabitation).

My understanding of the US debates at the time is that they wanted none of that. Rather, they wanted equal branches of government, sort of mapped after Montesquieu, with the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary forced to coexist and cooperate with one another whether they liked it or not.

So in short yes, they did consider the idea of a vote of no confidence. Specifically, they made it so that Congress could impeach the Executive in the US Constitution -- which is more or less equivalent for a Presidential system. (See Federalist 65.)

Another factor that likely played is simply that the concept of votes of no confidence barely existed at the time to begin with. In fact, the first ever such motion passed appears to have been in March 1782, following news of the siege of Yorktown's outcome.

4
  • I'm not sure you understood the question. Were the framers of the Constitution aware of a system like the one that has since become standard in England, and did they consider and explicitly reject that, or were they simply not aware of that as a possibility? – Michael Hardy Feb 4 '20 at 0:11
  • @MichaelHardy: I believe the edit to the answer should cover that. – Denis de Bernardy Feb 4 '20 at 6:35
  • The closest equivalent the USA really has to a parliamentary Prime Minister is The Speaker of the House. The Speaker can in fact be removed via The House passing a resolution. – T.E.D. Feb 6 '20 at 11:04
  • "yes, they did consider the idea of a vote of no confidence" and "the concept of votes of no confidence barely existed at the time" These two sentences seem to conflict with each other. If they idea barely existed, doesn't that mean they couldn't have talked about it much? – Michael Hardy Nov 2 '20 at 20:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.