This was going to be the last of the weekly installments of ‘Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism?’ However, it turned out to be a much longer post than I had anticipated. Therefore, the final post in this series will be this time next week.
As promised, this week I am going to look at non-academic references.
In last week’s post, I confirmed that, as far as I can tell, the first academic reference to the term ‘semi-presidential’ dated back to 1923. It was a reference to the governing style of David Lloyd George, who was the British Prime Minister from 1916-1922. Well, it turns out that Lloyd George is closely associated with the first proper non-academic references to the term as well.
On 20 October 1919, the (unnamed) Parliamentary Correspondent of The Times (of London) published a piece about the forthcoming parliamentary session. In his article, he referred to “Mr Lloyd George occupying a semi-presidential position hitherto unknown to the Constitution”. On 13 December 1919 the Editorial in the The Times made a similar reference. Another reference in the same vein was made by the Parliamentary Correspondent on 24 December 1919.
Indeed, there were three further references of this sort in The Times in 1920 and three more in 1921. Two of the references in 1920 refer to political leaders more generally, but include Lloyd George among them.
In addition, on 16 August 1921 in a speech in the House of Commons Earl Winterton twice accused Lloyd George of operating a “semi-presidential system” of government. This comment was reported in The Manchester Guardian on 17 August and The Scotsman on the same day. (The Winterton references can be found in 146 H.C. Deb 5 s, 1320 and 1327).
So, piecing the story together, what seems to have happened is that the Parliamentary Correspondent of The Times coined the phrase ’semi-presidential’ to refer to Lloyd George’s governing style and the phrase was used quite regularly in The Times from October 1919 to March 1921. This phrase was taken up by Earl Winterton in Parliament in August 1921 and reported in other newspapers. The term was also adopted by Herbert Arthur Smith when he was writing his book about parliamentary government in 1923. However, when Lloyd George stepped down in October 1922, the phrase was not applied to his successors. Thus, it fell into abeyance. Indeed, the next reference in The Times is on 13 March 1972 in relation to France. There is a reference in the New York Times of 22 February 1960 to Cameroon’s semi-presidential system. However, it was only in 1976, with the creation of the Portuguese Constitution, that the term re-entered newspaper discourse on a fairly regular basis.
As an addendum, in a previous post I noted that in 1970 there was an academic article about Lloyd George’s governing style that used the term ‘semi-presidential’. (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.) Presumably, Professor Morgan did not coin the term himself, but he came across it when doing archive work on The Times.
What all of this means is that the term ‘semi-presidential’ was regularly being used in a way that would be familiar to scholars today, though not in the specific sense that it is used in this blog, over 90 years ago.
Next week, in the final post of this series, I promise that I will reveal the earliest ever reference that I have come across.