Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory
… the executive authority, with few exceptions, is to be vested in a single magistrate. This will scarcely, however, be considered as a point upon which any comparison can be grounded; for if, in this particular, there be a resemblance to the king of Great Britain, there is not less a resemblance to the … khan of Tartary, to the Man of the Seven Mountains....”
—Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers #69 on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Avalon Project at the Yale Law School
“if you adopt this government, you will incline to an arbitrary and odious aristocracy or monarchy…”
—Anti-Federalist Paper Cato #5 Executive Power on the Constitution Society website.
At the time the Founders were shaping the future of a new country, John Adams suggested the President should be addressed as “His Excellency.” Happily, others recognized that such a title was inappropriate. Understanding the Patriot attitude toward the British monarchy is helpful in understanding the Founders' reluctance to have a strong executive under the Articles of Confederation as well as their desire to build in checks of executive power under the Constitution.
By 1776, Britain's government had been a limited monarchy for almost a century. According to the Official Web Site of the British Monarchy, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Internet Public Library, the result of 1689's
… so-called 'Glorious Revolution' … was a permanent shift in power; although the monarchy remained of central importance, Parliament had become a permanent feature of political life.
The Sovereign was forbidden from suspending or dispensing with laws passed by Parliament, or imposing taxes without Parliamentary consent. The Sovereign was not allowed to interfere with elections or freedom of speech, and proceedings in Parliament were not to be questioned in the courts or in any body outside Parliament itself.
Finally the King was forbidden to maintain a standing army in time of peace without Parliament's consent.
The Bill of Rights (Britain, 1689)—full text available on the Colonial Williamsburg website, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library—added further defenses of individual rights. The King was forbidden to establish his own courts or to act as a judge himself, and the courts were forbidden to impose excessive bail or fines, or cruel and unusual punishments. However, the Sovereign could still summon and dissolve Parliament, appoint and dismiss Ministers, veto legislation and declare war. Later, the Act of Settlement of 1701
…further restricted the powers and prerogatives of the Crown.
…Under the Act, parliamentary consent had to be given for the Sovereign to engage in war or leave the country…
…the Federalist Papers, is a series of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison between October 1787 and May 1788. The essays were published anonymously, under the pen name “Publius,” in various New York state newspapers of the time.Students with an understanding of the fears of the Founders—especially the Anti-Federalists—regarding a powerful executive will benefit the most from this lesson. When discussing the structure of the Executive sketched in the Articles of Confederation, it is useful to refer back to the complaints of the colonists as summarized by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Help students understand why and how the Founders were cautious. Consult the following EDSITEment lessons for grades 6-8 for more information on
The Federalist Papers were written and published to urge New Yorkers to ratify the proposed United States Constitution, which was drafted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. In lobbying for adoption of the Constitution over the existing Articles of Confederation, the essays explain particular provisions of the Constitution in detail. For this reason, and because Hamilton and Madison were each members of the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers are often used today to help interpret the intentions of those drafting the Constitution.
What word is repeated often? (He)
To whom was Jefferson referring? (King George III of England) Why? (As the King of England, he was deemed responsible for the problems the colonists had with British policy in the Colonies.)
Which of the complaints refer to some action that would have to come from the British Parliament, such as complaints about taxes or standing armies?
For a long time, the colonists did blame Parliament. Even as late as July 1775, three months after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Continental Congress sent the so-called Olive Branch Petition—complete text available on the EDSITEment resource Learner.org—to the King. Share the last two sentences of the petition with the class:
For by such arrangements as your Majesty's wisdom can form for collecting the united sense of your American people, we are convinced, your Majesty would receive such satisfactory proofs of the disposition of the colonists towards their sovereign and the parent state, that the wished for opportunity would soon be restored to them, of evincing the sincerity of their professions by every testimony of devotion becoming the most dutiful subjects and the most affectionate colonists.
That your Majesty may enjoy a long and prosperous reign, and that your descendants may govern your dominions with honor to themselves and happiness to their subjects is our sincere and fervent prayer.
How would students characterize the tone of the petition?
What does it seem to indicate about the attitude of at least some colonists toward the King (John Adams, for one, disagreed with the petition; however, the majority in Congress agreed)?
What was the King's response? According to Learner.org:
King George refused to read the petition and on August 23 proclaimed that the colonists had “proceeded to open and avowed rebellion.”
—From The Olive Branch Petition
The colonists' statements of loyalty, the King told Parliament, were meant “only to amuse” while they schemed to found an independent country.
—From The Coming of Independence: Transcript, Page 3
The King's refusal to read the petition (and perhaps his remarks about it) became known in America, according to the Journals of the Continental Congress: November 9, 1775 on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory:
By authentic intelligence from London by the last vessel, we learn that on the 21st of August a copy of the petition to the King, which was sent from the Congress by Mr. R. Penn, was sent to the Secretary of State for America, and on the first of September, the first moment that was permitted, the original was presented to him, which his Lordship promised to deliver to his Majesty. "His Lordship was pressed to obtain an answer, but those who presented it were told "THAT AS HIS MAJESTY DID NOT RECEIVE IT ON THE THRONE, NO ANSWER WOULD BE GIVEN.'
On that same day, 87 members of the Congress signed the following agreement:
That every member of this Congress considers himself under the ties of virtue, honor and love of his Country not to divulge directly or indirectly any matter or thing agitated or debated in Congress before the same shall have been determined, without leave of the Congress; nor any matter or thing determined in Congress which a majority of the Congress shall order to be kept secret and that if any member shall violate this agreement he shall be expelled this Congress and deemed an enemy to the liberties of America and liable to be treated as such and that every member signify his consent to this agreement by signing the same.
If desired, share with the class the Journals of the Continental Congress: November 10, 1775, available on American Memory. What was the thrust of the resolutions of November 10? (The Congress continued and appeared to accelerate its military planning.)
Patriot sentiments about the monarchy were largely cemented with the wide circulation of Tom Paine's Common Sense (available on From Revolution to Reconstruction, a link from the EDSITEment resource American Studies at the University of Virginia), which sold thousands of copies immediately after it was published on February 14, 1776. Share the following excerpt with the class.
… if we will suffer ourselves to examine the English constitution, we shall find them to be the base remains of two ancient tyrannies, compounded with some new republican materials.
First. The remains of monarchical tyranny in the person of the king.
Secondly. The remains of aristocratical tyranny in the persons of the peers (NOTE: The House of Lords, the house of Parliament in which seats were inherited, a system abolished in 1999).
Thirdly. The new republican materials, in the persons of the commons (NOTE: The House of Commons, the house of Parliament to which members are elected), on whose virtue depends the freedom of England.
… But as the same constitution which gives the commons a power to check the king by withholding the supplies, gives afterwards the king a power to check the commons, by empowering him to reject their other bills; … the will of the king is as much the law of the land in Britain as in France, with this difference, that instead of proceeding directly from his mouth, it is handed to the people under the most formidable shape of an act of parliament.
A brief biography of Thomas Paine is available on U.S. History.org, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Internet Public Library. American Treasures from the Library of Congress, a link from the EDSITEment resource American Memory, offers a brief overview About Common Sense with links to digitized images of the first six pages of the original publication.
How did Paine characterize the British system of limited monarchy?
Did he feel the monarchy was sufficiently checked?
After independence and especially after the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the Founders worked hard to devise a system without the defects they saw in Britain's limited monarchy. The Federalists, including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, believed the experience of the country with the Articles of Confederation proved that, among other things, a strong executive was required. The Anti-Federalists feared this strong executive. The Anti-Federalist Paper Cato #5 Executive Power-full text available on the Constitution Society website, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library-states:
… the president cannot represent you because he is not of your own immediate choice, that if you adopt this government, you will incline to an arbitrary and odious aristocracy or monarchy that the president possessed of the power, given him by this frame of government differs but very immaterially from the establishment of monarchy in Great Britain …
As late as 1823, Thomas Jefferson, an Anti-Federalist, recalled that, "The original objects of the Federalists were, 1st, to warp our government more to the form and principles of monarchy …" However, in the Federalist Papers: No. 69, available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Avalon Project at the Yale Law School, Hamilton answered accusations that the Federalist design for President of the United States was creating a virtual monarchy.
Share with the class Hamilton's summary of his arguments:
The President of the United States would be an officer elected by the people for FOUR years; the king of Great Britain is a perpetual and HEREDITARY prince. The one would be amenable to personal punishment and disgrace; the person of the other is sacred and inviolable. The one would have a QUALIFIED negative upon the acts of the legislative body; the other has an ABSOLUTE negative. The one would have a right to command the military and naval forces of the nation; the other, in addition to this right, possesses that of DECLARING war, and of RAISING and REGULATING fleets and armies by his own authority. The one would have a concurrent power with a branch of the legislature in the formation of treaties; the other is the SOLE POSSESSOR of the power of making treaties.
How did Hamilton distinguish between the role of the English monarch and that of the President of the United States under the Constitution? Have students fill out the last two columns of the The Chief Executive chart, the last page in the pdf files provided here.
Students should be able to state some of the colonist's objections to establishing the country's leader in a position similar to that of a monarch, using Paine's description, and both the Federalists and Anti-Federalists arguments.
2-3 class periods