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For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789 Hardcover – September 8, 2014
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"This book is tremendously rich in its historical account of the title controversy and in showing the dynamics of that controversy in a new and interesting way. The author reveals that a controversy that had previously seemed like nothing more than an odd 'sideshow' is actually illustrative of a fundamental shift inthe republican character of the country. She also demonstrates that the controversy played a decisive role in republicanizing the Constitution and, by doing so, making the Constitution stronger."(Benjamin A. Kleinerman American Historical Review)
"[T]his is a first-rate scholarly work. The text supports the fact that the author has diligently researched the use of titles within the US during this period. Her research is also responsible for her deep knowledge of the national debate over a presidential title. Helpful to scholars and advanced students will be the 56 pages of notes and the 16-page bibliography. A mandatory acquisition for four-year institutions and major public libraries. Summing Up: Essential. Most public and academic levels/libraries."(J. J. Fox, Jr. CHOICE)
"Bartoloni-Tuazon's well-crafted book investigates popular conceptions of the presidency. It examines the controversy surrounding John Adams’s attempt to grant Washington an official title at the opening of the first session of Congress. In this, Bartoloni-Tuazon understands the Senate’s attempt to grant the president the title 'His Highness the President of the United States of America' as a key problem of post-Revolutionary political culture and not as a frivolous diversion that distracted from the real problems of governing the new republic."(Andrew J. B. Fagal Reviews in American History)
"Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon has written a small but ambitious work on the presidential title debate that occupied the new Congress in May 1789. She offers a meticulously researched and well-written study of the controversy."(Sandra Moats Journal of American History)
"This delightfully well-written and meticulously researched book is by far the fullest and finest study of the legislative debate over a presidential title, and it is the only study of the public debate over the controversy."(Stuart Leibiger Journal of the Early Republic)
"This is an outstanding work of historical writing. All of Bartoloni-Tuazon's assertions are strongly backed up with historical evidence. The book is thoroughly researched (with fifty-five pages of notes), and includes a very useful bibliography. In sum, this book is a balanced and thorough examination of an important episode in American history. The title controversy decided that America―at least until the twentieth century―would have a presidency of moderation with a lack of pageantry."(Benjamin Huggins Journal of the American Revolution)
"Throughout, Bartoloni-Tuazon's deployment of well-chosen quotations render sthe dispute, in all its iterations, freshly vivid.... Bartoloni-Tuazon absolutely demonstrates the importance of the titles controversy to the early development of the US presidency and to our understanding of contemporary American political sensibilities. She also, not always the case with deeply researched work, tells a thoroughly good story."(Finn Pollard American Studies)
"For Fear of an Elective King is a tightly focused and impressively researched book about the controversy over what to call the president during the opening days of the first Washington administration. Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon has examined an extraordinary array of materials on the question of titles more generally as well as on the debate itself in its legislative and public phases."(Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor, Emeritus, University of Virginia, author of The Mind of Thomas Jefferson)
About the Author
Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon is Visiting Scholar at the First Federal Congress Project in Washington, D.C.
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The Senate initially advocated that the Presidential title should be “His Highness the President of the United States of America, and Protector of their Liberties”. John Adams, who forcibly argued that the President needed a “respectable title” to be taken seriously by foreign powers, comes across as characteristically stubborn and seemingly impervious to criticism, thus earning the mock sobriquet “His Rotundity”. Fortunately for posterity, the Senate ultimately acquiesced to the desire of the House to have no official title and since then we now refer to the President simply as Mr. President. (Perhaps Madam President sometime in the future?) Ironically, George Washington was never addressed by the title Mr. President, but instead was addressed as "Sir", "General" or "Excellency"--the latter being his title as commander in chief during the Revolutionary War.
Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon has mined an impressive array of primary sources of newspapers in the public debates over the naming controversy and persuasively makes the case that this dispute was far more than just about the title of the President. Instead, the naming dispute was an early installment of the broader--and ongoing--partisan debate on the extent of Presidential power. This book is highly recommended for those interested in the early days of the new republic and the evolution of perceptions of power of the executive branch.
Every U.S. Citizen knows that our leader is the President of the United States, but it might be surprising for many to learn that all manner of titles were initially considered for the office. Some of them seem downright inconceivable when viewed in the context of today's world, where governments composed of elected representatives have almost completely supplanted the ages old style of governments headed by divinely appointed Monarchs. However, in 1789, this was not the case, and Dr. Bartoloni-Tuazon uses impressive and entertaining examples to capture the heady early days of the new republic when the debate raged over whether or not the presidency required additional adornments to give it the necessary gravitas to be taken seriously on the world stage.
Nowadays, it's hard to imagine addressing the President of the United States as “His Majesty, The President of the United States”, or “His Serene Highness, The President of the United States”, but this was completely new territory to folks in the late eighteenth century. Ultimately, as we all know, restraint won out and the relatively modest title of President of the United States was chosen. This incredibly readable and genuinely fun book is full of well chosen examples that illustrate both sides of the debate and allows the reader to experience the excitement, humor and acrimony of the debate. The writing style of Dr. Bartoloni-Tuazon is engaging, clear and well-paced. I highly recommend this book to anyone remotely interested in American History or just a fascinating story.