Category Archives: The first reference to semi-presidentialism

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism? (6)

I have been doing more research on the early use of the term ‘semi-presidential’, specifically Duverger’s use of the term.

For years, my received wisdom came from reading Duverger himself. For example, Duverger wrote the entry on ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ in Olivier Duhamel and Yves Mény (eds.), Dictionnaire constitionnel, PUF, Paris, 1992, p. 901. Here, he says: “The term ‘semi-presidential regime’ was invented by Hubert Beuve Méry … when General de Gaulle entered the Elysée on 8 January 1959. It was introduced into the language of constitutional law and political science by the author of this article in the 11th edition of his student textbook in 1970” [my translation].

Last week (see previous post), I found a reference to the phrase ‘semi-presidential regime’ dating back to December 1958. However, this was in a US magazine. So, Beuve-Méry was not the first to use term ‘semi-presidential regime’, although Duverger might, apparently, have been forgiven for thinking that he was, if we assume reasonably enough that he was not aware of the usage a few weeks earlier in the US.

However, this week I have found a reference by Duverger himself to the term ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ apparently prior to 1959. So, not only is Duverger wrong to state that Beuve-Méry invented the term in 1959, he was also wrong to say (or at least strongly imply) that he first used the term himself in 1970!

According to Google Books (search for the exact phrase ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ and author ‘Maurice Duverger’), Duverger first used the term in the 1955 edition of his book Droit constitutionnel et institutions politiques (p. 444). (I do not have the hard copy to verify and it is worth noting that there is mention of a similar reference in the 1956 version of Finances publiques, whereas the snippet of text clearly shows this to be a post-1958 reference. So, I am assuming the reliability of Google Books for the 1955 reference). In addition, Duverger also used it on a number of occasions in various textbooks prior to 1970. In other words, Duverger seems to be using the term ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ from the mid-/late 1950s onwards.

That said, the references in Google Books do seem to tell a certain story. There are eight references to Duverger using the term ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ prior to December 1962. However, there are only two references from January 1963 to December 1969, one of which is a repeated reference in Les partis politiques. (I have a hard copy and so I can verify it). He then uses the term in the 11th edition of his textbook in 1970 as per the above quote.

What seems to be happening is that in the mid-/late-1950s/early 1960s Duverger is using the term descriptively, or behaviourally. However, at some point in the early 1960s he seems to start thinking of the concept of semi-presidentialism legalistically i.e. as a specific constitutional type. This leads him to stop using the term behaviourally in the mid-1960s and then to be systematic about its use when he reintroduces it from 1970 onwards.

To back up this hypothesis, I have a hard copy of his book La Vème République from 1964. In this book, there are plenty of opportunities for him to use the term ‘semi-presidential’, but I have not been able to find one (and none is identified in Google Books). For example, he persistently compares the institutions of the fledgling Fifth Republic to those of Weimar, but he does not call either ‘semi-presidential’, whereas he does in 1970. Instead, he repeatedly describes the Fifth Republic to be a case of ‘orleanist’ presidentialism, meaning that there is a limited but nonetheless strong president. In other words, at this point he seems to prefer this term to describe the actual power of the president.

Incidentally, there are over a dozen references by other authors to the term ‘semi-presidential regime’ (in English) prior to 1970 and an equivalent amount to the term ‘régime semi-présidentiel’ (in French). So, undoubtedly, the term is in relatively common usage, albeit not in the domain of constitutional law, prior to Duverger’s reference in 1970 and was used, albeit uncommonly, prior to Beuve-Méry’s reference to it in January 1959.

I think what can be concluded from all of this is that the terms ‘semi-presidential’ and ‘semi-presidential regime’ in both French and English were in relatively common usage prior to 1970, but Duverger was the first person to systematise the use of the term to refer to a specific constitutional arrangement rather than a description of presidential behaviour. This provides some sort of justification for his statement in the quote at the beginning of this blog, but a clearer (meaning more accurate) statement of the history of the term would have avoided years of misunderstanding!

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism? (5)

Last week, on the basis of a search of journals, the earliest reference to the term ‘semi-presidential’ that I had found dated back to 1952. This week, using Google Books, I have found earlier ones still as well as lots more early references. My understanding is that Google Books is a reliable source and can be cited.

As far as I can tell, the first reference to the term ‘semi-presidential’ dates back to 1875! It appears in The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 238, ref. on p. 178. Google Books has neither the full text, nor the title of the piece, nor the author (though I understand that anonymous contributions were not unusual). So, it is difficult to know what the text refers to. This is all they have: “… no Septennate [sic], no squabbles of Right and Left, no semi-royal semi-presidential tour through France …”. MacMahon’s name is then mentioned. I assume this is a reference to President MacMahon of France. So, all in all, this does seem to be a political reference.

The next references are in 1923. However, one is not a political reference. It refers to “a semi-presidential chair” at a Gentleman’s Club! It appears in Edmund Gosse, A history of eighteenth century literature (1660-1780), ref. on p. 291. The other, though, is a political reference: Herbert Arthur Smith, Federalism in North America, 1923, ref. on p. 35. The wording is “… the tentative introduction of semi-presidential government in Great Britain under Mr. Lloyd-George”. This is interesting because Kenneth O. Morgan used this phrase about Lloyd-George in a 1970 article. (See last week’s post). It is also interesting because Google Books has a reference to the term being used about Lloyd-George in Hansard, the record of parliamentary debates in the UK, in 1921. However, they have no further details and the online Hansard search does not generate any such reference.

There are two other pre-1952 references:
James Morgan, Our Presidents, 1930, ref. on p. 50. This is a book on US presidents. The wording is: “Forbidden to earn their living and required to keep up a semi-Presidential state, two of our earlier Presidents were reduced to want …”.

Frederic Austin Ogg, Harold Zink, Modern Foreign Governments, 4th ed., 1949, ref. on p. 506. The whole text is not available on Google Books. So, it is not exactly clear what the reference concerns, though it is in the context of a mention of de Gaulle.

Also, I found another 1953 reference to the term ‘semi-presidential’, as usual referring to the constitution of Eritrea:
A. Arthur Schiller, ‘Eritrea: Constitution and Federation with Ethiopia’, American Journal of Comparative Law, vol. 2, no. 3, 1953, pp. 375-383 (ref. on p. 382).

So, it is clear that the term ‘semi-presidential’ has been around for some time, though its initial use seems entirely behavioural i.e. it does not seem to relate to constitutional structures, more the actual exercise of power. Systematic use of the term seems to begin in 1952-1953 and, here, its use is related to constitutional structures. However, all of the 1952-1953 references relate to just one topic – the Eritrea constitution – and they are all derived from the UN Commissioner’s description of it as semi-presidential. (See previous post).

Aside from Eritrea, the term comes to be used systematically from 1958/1959 with the onset of the Fifth French Republic and then in the early 1960s in relation to the constitutions of some of the newly independent African countries. (See below).

So, the myth, perpetrated by Duverger himself (see previous post), that Hubert Beuve-Méry invented the term in 1959 is false, though he may have helped to popularise it around that time in the context of references to France.

Interestingly, I have also found an earlier reference to the term ‘semi-presidential’ by Duverger! Previously, I had thought the first reference by Duverger came in the 1970 version of his French-language textbook on political institutions. However, Google Books identifies a reference by Duverger to semi-presidential regimes in the 2nd English-language edition of his book, Les partis politiques. The reference is Political Parties, Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State, Methuen, 1959, p. 393. There is also a reference in the third edition (1964) on p. 393. Assuming Duverger’s first reference is in 1959, then it is possible that he was motivated to use the term by Beuve-Méry. The fact is, though, that Beuve-Méry did not invent it.

There are also lots and lots of references prior to what I had thought was the first reference by Duverger in 1970. Here are the ones prior to 1965:

There is a reference by an anonymous writer in The Atlantic magazine, December 1958, vol. 202, issue 6, p. 22, in an article about the 1958 French Constitution and in which reference is made to France’s “semi-presidential regime”.

Gordon Wright, The Reshaping of French Democracy, 1959, (refs. on pps. 48, 50, and 82).

Richard William Barron, Parties and Politics in Modern France, 1959, ref. on p. 152.

Taylor Cole, European Political Systems, 1959 (ref. on p. 207 in relation to France).

Dorothy Maud Pickles, The Fifth French Republic, 1960, refs. on pp. 132 and 142.

Ferdinand Aloys Hermens, The Fifth Republic, 1960, ref. on p. 77.

Alexander Werth, The De Gaulle Revolution, 1960, ref. on p. 251 (again on the 1958 French Constitution.

Guy B. Hathorn, Howard Rae Penniman, Harold Zink, Mark F. Ferber, Government and Politics in the United States, 1961, p. 246, footnote 2 (a ref. to the 1958 French Constitution).

John Gunther, Inside Europe Today, 1961, ref. on p. 83.

Edward Ashcroft, De Gaulle, 1962, ref. on p. 200.

Harry Eckstein, David Ernest Apter, Comparative Politics. A Reader, 1963, ref. on p. 398.

Charles Frederick Strong, Modern Political Constitutions, 1963, ref. on p. 250.

Erwin C. Hargrove, The Tragic Hero in Politics, 1963, ref. on p. 630.

Jasper Yeates Brinton, Federations in the Middle East, 1964, refs. on pp. 5 and 21.

Paul A. Gagnon, France since 1789, 1964, ref. on p. 474.

There are a few other references too, but Google Books does not have sufficient information to cite them.

What this all suggests is that the term ‘semi-presidential’ was in relatively common usage prior to 1970, particularly after 1958/59. However, Duverger still seems to be the first to use it to refer specifically to a system where the president is directly elected and where the PM is responsible to the legislature.

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism? (4)

I don’t know whether this series of posts is interesting to anyone other than me, but I have been doing some detective work and I can confirm that, contrary to Duverger’s assertion, Hubert Beuve-Méry, was not the first to use the phrase ‘semi-presidential’ in 1959. Moreover, the term was indeed in some sort of current usage prior to the first use by Duverger in 1970.

I searched JSTOR for references to ‘semi-presidential’, ‘semipresidential’ and ‘semi-presidentialism’. This provides coverage of a lot of US-based journals, including Law, areas studies and political science. I also searched, which provides access to the most established French journals going back decades. Finally, I searched Parliamentary Affairs, a UK journal that is a likely source of places for references to semi-presidentialism.

Anyway, the unequivocal conclusion is that, on the basis of these sources, the earliest references to the term ‘semi-presidential’ date back to the early 1950s and, in particular, in relation to articles on Eritrea.

Two of these articles were written by the same person, Sir Duncan Cumming, who was a British administrator in the area at the time. The content of the two articles is basically the same. They are:

Duncan Cameron Cumming, ‘The UN Disposal of Eritrea’, Middle East Journal, vol. 7, no. 1, 1953a, pp. 18-32 (ref. on p. 28).
Duncan Cumming, ‘The UN Disposal of Eritrea’, African Affairs, vol. 52, no. 207, 1953b, pp. 127-136 (ref. on p. 132).

However, an article in French on the same subject was published the previous year.

Roger Pinto, ‘Une expérience constituante des Nations unies’, Politique étrangère, vol. 17, no. 5, 1952, pp. 349-360 (ref. on p. 357).

So, what is the story? In 1950 the UN agreed to create a federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Within the federation Eritrea would have its own constitution, including legislative, executive and judicial powers over domestic affairs. A UN Commissioner, Dr. Eduardo Anze Matienzo from Bolivia, was appointed to help prepare the constitution.

The Commissioner is reported as describing the constitution as “semi-presidential”. The system was not semi-presidential in the way the term is understood now. Instead, it referred to where “a Chief Executive is elected by a one-chamber legislature for the term of its own office. The Chief Executive is to be charged with all executive power and is not politically answerable to the Assembly” (Cumming, 1953a, p. 28). So, Dr Matienzo currently has bragging rights about the first use of the term.

Aside from these references, I also found two further pre-1970 references. Both are in Parliamentary Affairs:

Jean Blondel, ‘Constitutional Changes in Former French Black Africa’, June 1960, vol. XIV, pp. 507 – 517.
J. E. S. Hayward, ‘Presidentialism and French Politics’, August 1964, vol. XVIII, pp. 23 – 39.

While I am on the topic, there is also a further reference to the term ‘semi-presidential’ in 1970. The historian, Kenneth O. Morgan, refers to the British PM, David Lloyd George, having “semi-presidential stature” during the First World War.

Kenneth O. Morgan, ‘Lloyd George’s Premiership: A Study in ‘Prime Ministerial Government’, The Historical Journal, vol. 13, no. 1, 1970, pp. 130-157 (ref. on p. 144).

I will post about the first use of the term ‘semi-presidentialism’ another time.

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism? (3)

In a couple of previous posts (see below), I reported on the first ever references to the term ‘semi-presidentialism’ or ‘semi-presidential regime’.

To recap, the usual wisdom is that Hubert Beuve-Méry, the then editor of Le Monde, first coined the phrase ‘semi-presidential’ in 1959. Duverger then used the term in its academic sense in the 11th edition of his textbook Institutions Politiques in 1970.

However, previously, I reported finding an article by Jean-François Bayart in the Revue française de science politique, 1970, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 681-718, where there is a reference to Cameroon being ‘semi-presidential’. Then, in the Revue Juridique et Politique d’Outre-Mer, vol. 14, no. 3, 1960, p. 318, I found a reference by Bertrand Mounier to the system in Madagascar as a ‘semi-presidential democracy’.

In terms of an update, it is Duverger himself who says that Beuve-Méry first coined the term and Duverger implies that Beuve-Méry did so in print. Duverger makes this comment in his 1986 edited book Les régimes semi-présidentiels. However, I have scoured the newspaper articles by Beuve-Méry to which Duverger seems to refer and there is no mention of the term ‘semi-presidential’. Therefore, either Duverger’s reference is to another article that I do not have, or I assume that the term was used conversationally but Beuve-Méry never actually put it in print. (In 1959 Duverger was a regular contributor to Le Monde and the two undoubtedly met often and talked about the new regime in France).

Moreover, in a personal communication, Jean Francois Leguil-Bayart confirms that he did not meet with Duverger prior to using the term himself in 1970 and that it was most likely a common phrase amongst his student cohort.

So, it seems as if the term ‘semi-presidential’ was doing the rounds informally prior to 1970. Moreover, it also seems to be the case that M. Mounier can still claim to be the first person to have used the term in print in 1960.

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism? (2)

The usual wisdom is that Hubert Beuve-Méry coined the phrase “semi-presidential’ in 1959. Duverger then used the term as a classification of a specific political regime, in contrast to presidential and parliamentary regimes, in the 11th edition of his book Institutions Politiques in 1970. Certainly, the 10th edition in 1968 does not make reference to this type of regime.

Previously, I reported an article by Jean-François Bayart in the Revue française de science politique, 1970, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 681-718, where there is a reference to Cameroon being ‘semi-presidential’. Anyway, while rooting around in the LSE library on Friday I came across an earlier reference still.

In the Revue Juridique et Politique d’Outre-Mer, vol. 14, no. 3, 1960, p. 318, Bertrand Mounier calls the then new political system in Madagascar a ‘semi-presidential democracy’. He notes that the president is elected by a then French-style electoral college, rather than being popularly elected as in the US and that, for him, makes Madagascar semi-presidential.

I have no information about M. Mounier, apart from his then affiliation as an adviser in the Madagascan Senate.

Even though the term was being used differently then than now, it is interesting that the concept of semi-presidentialism was in circulation nearly a decade before Duverger first used the term in his textbook.

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism other than by Duverger?

In an article entitled ‘L’Union nationale camerounaise’, which was written by Jean-François Bayart and which appeared in the Revue française de science politique, 1970, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 681-718, there is a reference to Cameroon being ‘semi-presidential’. The article is available as a free download from

On p. 708, Prof. Bayart states (my translation): “The Constitution of 1 September 1961 establishes a semi-presidential regime, where the head of state enjoys greater powers than those set out in the constitution of the Fifth French Republic”.

On the basis of the definition of semi-presidentialism used in this blog, the 1961 Cameroon constitution was not semi-presidential. Indeed, by 1970, at the time of the article, Cameroon was still not semi-presidential. For example, while East Cameroon and West Cameroon had prime ministers for their regions during this period, the country as a whole did not even have a prime minister until the 1975 amendment to the 1972 constitution and even then the PM was not responsible to the legislature. The 1972 constitution ended the Federal Republic of Cameroon and replaced it with a unitary state, the Republic of Cameroon. All that said, it is still interesting that Prof. Bayart is using the term as far back as 1970.

It would be fascinating to know whether Prof. Bayart, who is now the Director of Research at CERI, was associated with Maurice Duverger in 1970. For example, as far as I can tell, Duverger’s first ever reference to semi-presidentialism came in the 1970 edition of his textbook Institutions politiques et Droit constitutionnel, 11th ed., Paris, Presses Universitaires de France. Also, it is noticeable that Prof. Bayart quotes Duverger a number of times in his 1970 article, but usually in relation to his book Partis politiques. So, unless the term was coined by two people independently in the same year, which is possible though unlikely, it would seem to be the case that Prof. Bayart, whose first publication this seems to be, was in communication with Prof. Duverger in that period and was aware that he was using this term.

Anyway, given the fact that Duverger’s concept has never been accepted by French academia, it is interesting to come across such a reference so early on.

If anyone knows of any earlier examples of Duverger using the term ‘semi-presidential, then please let me know.