ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The French and American Presidents: How Did They Begin?

Updated on December 2, 2019
Bibowen profile image

Bill has advanced degrees in education and political science. He has been a political science teacher for over 27 years.


In ancient times, political executives were known by such titles as king, “pharaoh,” or “Caesar.” In modern times, most of these executives have gone the way of the dinosaur and have been replaced with positions like that of “president.” In fact, some of the most influential nations in the world like Russia, Mexico, and Germany have a president as their head of state. This is also true of France and the United States. In order to help you understand more about the presidential form of government, this essay will compare the creation of these two presidencies.

In both France and the United States military generals played an important role in the creation of that nation's presidency. In the U.S., George Washington (above) was the "indispensable man" while in France, it was Charles de Gaulle (below).
In both France and the United States military generals played an important role in the creation of that nation's presidency. In the U.S., George Washington (above) was the "indispensable man" while in France, it was Charles de Gaulle (below). | Source

In the Beginning

In both France and the United States, the office of the president was birthed during a period of government instability that was characterized by weak executive power. In America, the period following the American Revolution and leading up to the Constitution was referred to by historian John Fiske as the “Critical Period of American History.” It was regarded as a period of great instability, especially in the economy. Some of Founding Fathers like James Wilson and Alexander Hamilton, blamed the lack of a single executive for the lack of "energy" in the government. Those of the period that fancied themselves as “Republicans” flirted with the idea that a single executive was not necessary. They thought that it might be possible for the legislature to act as the executive. However, this was not the thinking of men like the New Yorker Hamilton who thought that a single executive was an antidote to the ineffective Confederation government.

Once the Constitutional Convention convened in May, 1787, it became apparent that other men also desired a strong single executive, with men such as James Wilson and Gouverneur Morris joining Hamilton in advancing a new government under a written constitution with a single national executive imbued with powers in excess of those given to most state governors. Although they did not get all that they wanted, suffice it to say that a powerful executive "president" was the result of that Constitutional Convention which convened in Philadelphia in 1787. Prior to that time, a “president” was someone that chaired a meeting which was fitting since the word comes from the Latin which means to “preside over.”

As for France, they had presidential positions reaching back to their first president, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) of 1848. However, their modern presidency was born during a time of instability, much like the American presidency. After World War II, France had trouble creating a stable government following a period of legislative dominance, extremist politics (like that provided by the Communist Party), and the crisis in Algeria.

In both France and the United States, prominent military generals played in important role in the formation of their presidencies during their periods of instability. George Washington, the first president to occupy the American presidency, was close at hand with the creation of the American presidency, but his influence over its creation was much different than that of the founding father of the Fifth French Republic, General Charles de Gaulle. While de Gaulle had a vital hand in the creating of the office that he would later occupy, Washington did little to craft the actual office. There is no record that Washington was a major figure in any resolution put forward on the executive position. He was present when the national executive position was being crafted (he was the “President of the Convention”). So, even though Washington presided over the creation of the Constitution, other men at the Convention created the presidency, keeping in mind that Washington would probably be the man that would first occupy the office.

As for de Gaulle, he had a more direct hand in the creation of the modern French presidency. After WWII, the French nation had a difficult time sustaining a ruling majority for any length of time. With the Fourth Republic producing 24 governments across 12 years (1946-1958), de Gaulle felt that the reason for France’s decline as a world power had been because of unstable majorities resulting in unstable governments. De Gaulle had retired from politics, having served as president of the provisional government at the end of WWII. He reentered government in 1957 as prime minister and minister of defense. During the Algerian War, de Gaulle called for France to revise its government with a stronger presidency which he felt would stabilize the government. De Gaulle proposed a president that would govern under a seven-year term and with a prime minister that he would appoint. The new constitution would provide a strengthened president and a weakened parliament. By referendum, French voters overwhelmingly accepted the de Gaulle constitution.

In short, we can say that there are some similarities and differences in the creation of the presidency in these two countries. In both countries, the nation called upon a national hero which resulted in the creation of a new government. However, George Washington appears to have been the reluctant warrior. At age 55, he was content to live out the remainder of his days at Mount Vernon. For de Gaulle, it appears that he was eager to offer himself once again for his nation and certainly on his terms. As for their actual influence in the creation of the presidency, Washington appears to have had little direct hand in its creation, although many of those that were crafting the new government were intent on creating an executive with Washington in mind.

In the case of both the French presidency and the American presidency, both were created because of a belief that a stronger executive was needed. In the case of the United States, the nation lacked a single executive under the Articles of Confederation. The American framers created a single, powerful, but constitutional executive with powers such as veto, pardon and commander-in-chief. In France, the nation suffered from legislative-dominant governments following WWII, which facilitated instability in government, a malady which de Gaulle hoped to cure with a constitution of his own making.

© 2014 William R Bowen Jr


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)