PRESIDENT (Fr. president, from Lat. praesidens, postAugustan Lat. for praeses, director, ruler, from praesidere, to sit in front of, preside), a style or title of various connotation, but always conveying the sense of one who presides. In classical Latin the title praeses, or president, was given to all governors of provinces, but was confined in the time of Diocletian to the procurators who, as lieutenants of the emperor, governed the smaller provinces. In this sense it survived in the middle ages. Du Cange gives instances from the capitularies of Charlemagne of the style praeses provinciae as applied to the count; and later examples of praeses, or praesidens, as used of royal seneschals and other officials having jurisdiction under the Crown.
In England the word survived late in this sense of royal lieutenant. Thus, John Cowell, in his Interpreter of Words (1607) defines " President " as " used in Common Law for the King's lieutenant in any province or function; as President of Wales, of York, of Berwick. President of the King's Council." In some of the British North American colonies (New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina) there was a president of the council, usually elected by the council; and when Pennsylvania and New Hampshire became states, one member of the Executive Council was called president. The chief (and single) executive head in Delaware, South Carolina and New Hampshire (1784-1792) was called president.
During the revolutionary struggle in America from 1774 onwards, the presiding officer of the Continental Congress was styled " President " and when the present constitution of the United States was framed in 1787 (in effect 1789) the title of President was transferred to the head of the Federal government. " President " thus became the accepted style for the elected chief of a modern republic, the example of the United States being followed by the South American republics, by France in 1849, and by Switzerland.
In the simple sense of " one who presides " the word " president " preserved its meaning alongside the technical use implying royal delegation. . In this sense the New English Dictionary quotes its use by Chaucer (Troylus, iv. 185) in 1374. In ecclesiastical terminology praesidens was sometimes used for the head of cathedral chapters, instead of dean or provost; and it was sometimes the title given to the principal visitor of monasteries, notably in the reformed congregation of Cluny (Du Cange). In the United Kingdom the heads of many colleges are styled "president," the title being of considerable antiquity in the case of one college at Cambridge (Queens', founded in 1448) and four at Oxford (St John's, Magdalen, Corpus Christi, Trinity). At five Cambridge colleges (Pembroke, Gonville and Caius, St Catherine's, St John's, Magdalene) the title " president" is borne by the second in authority, being the equivalent of " vicemaster." In the United States " president " is the usual style of the head of a college and also of a university wherever this has developed out of a single college. " President ' is also the style of persons elected to preside over the meetings of learned, scientific, literary and artistic academies and societies, e.g. the president of the Royal Academy (P.R.A.) in London; the title of the president of the Royal Society (P.R.S.) dates from its foundation in 1660. In the United States the style " president " is also given to the person who presides over the proceedings of financial, commercial and industrial corporations (banks, railways, etc.), in Great Britain usually styled " chairman," but in the case of the Bank of England and certain other banks "governor."
In Great Britain the title " president " is also borne by certain ministers of the Crown and certain judges, and preserves some of the ancient connotation of a royal lieutenancy explained above. Thus the style of " president " applied to the heads of the board of agriculture, local government board, board of education, board of trade, etc., which are all committees of the privy council, is derived from that of the lord president of the council, the representative of the king. The presidents of the court of session in Scotland, and of the probate and divorce division, etc. in England, also bear this style ultimately as representatives of the Crown.
In France, besides the president of the republic, there are presidents of the senate and of the chamber of deputies. In Germany the word Prdsident is used in most of the English senses of " president," e.g. of a corporation, society, assembly or political body. As a judicial title President is confined to the head of any one of the corporations (Kollegien) on the basis of which the judicial system of the empire is organized (Landgericht, Oberlandesgericht, Reichsgericht), and must be distinguished from that of Vorsitzender (literally also praesidens), i.e. the judge (who may or may not be the Prdsident) selected to preside over a division of the court appointed to try particular cases.
In Prussia Prdsident also retains its old sense of " governor," Oberprasident being the title of the chief of the administration of a province, Prdsident that of the head of a government district (Regierungsbezirk). The consistories of the established Protestant Church are also presided over by a Prdsident, who is a royal official.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)