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Prime Minister of the United States

There is no Prime Minister of the United States, and there is no one for whom the term might be accurately used.

Nonetheless, the term "Prime Minister" has sometimes been applied, either as a pejorative term, a bon mot or through ignorance, to an official within the government of the United States.

In Vol. CI (101), 1977 of The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Fred S. Rolater equates Charles Thomson as a sort of "Prime Minister" of the United States. Thomson served as the secretary of the Continental Congress with commitment and diligence for its entirety (1774 to 1789).

During and after the American War of Independence, many Americans saw government as deceitful and untrustworthy. The British political system, especially, was considered tyrannical. The men around the King, namely the prime minister, through corruption, had achieved complete control. It was also generally believed that the men around the King utlized the British financial system to destroy its once balanced political system. When, under the Washington administration, Alexander Hamilton established the Bank of the United States, Hamilton met fierce opposition. The National Gazette said Hamilton was working as a prime minister, and alleged that his manipulation of the financial system would lead to the downfall of the republic.

Today, the term is applied by people unfamiliar with the American presidential system of government, who assume that the most powerful official (the President of the United States) is instead the prime minister (e.g. "Prime Minister Clinton"). People accustomed to parliamentary systems where the duties of the head of state and head of government are separated sometimes fail to realize that the President of the United States performs both these functions.

The soubriquet "Prime Minister" has in some instances been applied to American political officials who appear to be exercising substantial executive power. The term generally has more to do with the notion of perceived power, rather than legal, or constitutional power.

The nickname of "Prime Minister" is sometimes used by pundits, political insiders, or journalists as a critical, satirtical, or observational title, and not an attempt at a formal government definition.

Some offices whose occupants have occasionally been suggested as being "America's Prime Minister" include:

In the late nineteenth century, in particular following the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and the damage that was perceived to have done to the American presidency (already shaken by the assassination of his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln), it was speculated by academics, foreign diplomats based in Washington, D.C. and even by leading members of the Senate that the United States would evolve from a presidential to a parliamentary system of government, with the Speaker becoming a de facto prime minister, sidelining the President of the United States. The President would in turn evolve into a form of nominal chief executive head of state, in whom legal executive authority would continue to be nominally vested but whose role as policy-maker and head of government would in effect move to the Speaker.

Situations where this has occurred have included Reagan Chief of Staff Donald Regan and Nixon Chief of Staff Alexander Haig. Howard Baker, Reagan's last Chief of Staff had great distaste for what he perceived to be a pseudo-royal power balance in the White House, and denounced the idea of a Chief of Staff Prime Minister as a symptom of what he deemed to be an increasingly "Imperial Presidency." See also Arthur Schlesinger's book, The Imperial Presidency.

Examples of use
In the early 1950s, the Prime Minister of the United States was a character played by Frazier Thomas on the afternoon children's television show Garfield Goose and Friend.