Background on the Patriot Attitude Toward the Monarchy

… 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…

Guiding Questions

How did the Patriots view the King of England and his effect on their lives?

How was the role of "President" defined by the founding fathers in order to distinguish the position from that of a monarch?

Learning Objectives

Describe the role of the English monarch as perceived by the Patriots.

Describe how the Patriots envisioned distinguishing the role of the president from that of a monarch.