University of Wisconsin–Madison

Monarchial Tendencies in America

For many, the verdict of history was that republics were unstable and short-lived. Their propensity to devolve into chaos was followed by periods of a strong centralized government frequently in the form of a dictatorship or monarchy. When Congress was unable to resolve many of the crises during and after the American Revolution, there were voices advocating a limited dictatorship until the emergencies had passed. There was even a suggestion in Congress that George Washington be given power to do “all things as shall appear to him necessary to promote the welfare of these United States.” Although rejected by Congress, the idea continued to appear in some quarters. Even as the Philadelphia Convention met, a small number of newspaper items continued to espouse monarchy. Additionally, suspicions circulated during the summer of 1787 suggesting that the Convention delegates might be creating some form of monarchy. Later during the ratification process, Federalists would have to answer charges made by An Old Whig V (pdf) and others that the executive branch as designed in the Constitution was nothing more than a king. Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist #67 (pdf) attempted to allay these Antifederalist suspicions. Later, the moniker of “monarchist” haunted some Federalists as doubts about their commitments to republican government surfaced again in the 1790s. For an extended headnote on this, see Monarchial Tendencies in America (pdf) taken from our Commentaries on the Constitution, Volume XIII. The selections below will give a sense of the anxiety that some felt and the logic that flowed from that desperation.

John Adams and the Publication of A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States

In the first of three volumes published in December 1786, Adams expressed an admiration for the English system of government and for balanced government with a strong executive. Critics saw the threat of monarchy in this treatise and branded Adams a monarchist.