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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Long Live King Washington?

But the United States doesn't have a royal family, right? Well, we could have.

As the rumor goes, a group of frustrated American colonists, fed up with the lack of productivity in the Continental Congress, actually considered a coup d' etat of the national government and the establishment of a monarchy, with George Washington as its king. A 1782 letter to Washington from Colonel Lewis Nichola is a perfect illustration of just how frustrated some colonists were beginning to feel with the infant American government. Colonel Nichola writes:
This war must have shewn to all, but to military men in particular the weakness of republicks, and the exertions the army has been able to make by being under a proper head...Some people have so connected the ideas of tyranny and monarchy as to find it very difficult to seperate them, it may therefore be requisite to give the head of such a constitution as I propose, some title apparently more moderate, but if all other things are once adjusted I believe strong arguments might he produced for admitting the title of king, which I conceive would be attended with some material advantage. …Republican bigots will certainly consider my opinions as heterdox, and the maintainer thereof as meriting fire and fagots, I have therefore hitherto kept them within my own breast [my emphasis].
Washington, however, despised such suggestions, dismissing them as virtual heresies. In response to Colonel Nichola's letter, Washington wrote:
I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address which to me seems big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall my Country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable; at the same time in justice to my own feelings I must add, that no Man possesses a more sincere wish to see ample justice done to the Army than I do, and as far as my powers and influence, in a constitutional way extend, they shall be employed to the utmost of my abilities to effect it, should there be any occasion. Let me conjure you then, if you have any regard for your Country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your Mind, and never communicate, as from yourself, or any one else, a sentiment of the like Nature. [my emphasis].
In his typically stern, yet gentlemanly style, Washington made it abundantly clear that he stood opposed to an American monarchy.

But what if he had embraced the idea of being King?

In a recent Newsweek web article, Kurt Soller discusses how genealogy buffs, for the past century, have been toying over the notion of a Washington monarchy and what it would have meant for America today.
Genealogists have been pondering the possibilities had President Washington been a bit more power-hungry. As early as 1908, newspapers published accounts of history buffs who worked their way through the Washington family tree using rules of succession to determine the rightful heir to the theoretical American throne. But without the Internet, branches of the Washington tree would be lost in Ohio, say, or forgotten by lineage sleuths who couldn't quite decipher a family tree made complicated because Washington himself didn't have any children.

But while brainstorming ideas for their election-themed coverage, Ancestry.com turned to their Chief Family Historian, Megan Smolenyak, for an answer to the historical mystery. Smolenyak first turned to Google where she figured out that, because kinship rules vary by country and because Washington was childless, there were four possible kings (or queens) among the nearly 8,000 descendants of Washington who are alive today.
So, who would be "King" of America today had Washington accepted such a position?

Eighty-two-year-old Paul Emery Washington of San Antonio, Texas, a relatively average American who spent his life climbing the corporate ladder of a building supply company would be your king. And what does Mr. Washington think of such a distinction? Well, the offer is flattering but not all that appealing. He states:
"I doubt if I'd be a very good king. We've done so well as a country without a king, so I think George made the best decision. He fought for eight years to do away with the monarchy, and I think he made the right decision. The idea of one individual having supreme power over all others is an antiquated idea -- to say the least."

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