Royal Pain

[ Posted Monday, July 22nd, 2013 – 17:36 UTC ]

[The Scene: A warm Philadelphia evening, 226 years ago. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention -- after a long and miserably-hot day of respectful debate (and quite a lot of just plain bickering) over the text of Article I, Section 10 of the proposed draft of the new United States Constitution -- take up the final item on the agenda. We join the Founding Fathers as they (somewhat-wearily) begin discussion of the final subject of the day. Since the debate was conducted behind closed doors, this re-creation uses no names for the participants, to protect their anonymity.]

Founding Father Number One: And so, fellow delegates, we come to the final item of the day -- should our new United States government confer titles of royalty?

Founding Father Number Two: This is an easy issue to dispose of, so that we may all adjourn to [gestures towards elderly member of the Convention] our beds for a well-deserved rest... or possibly to [gestures towards a crowd of younger, more-boisterous delegates in the back of the room] the local tavern to slake the thirst this long, hot day has raised. [laughter and huzzahs from back of room]. I move that we sweep all the trappings of monarchy aside, and utterly forbid all titles and any other hint of royalty from these newly United States.

FF1: While we can all appreciate adjourning for the day quickly, let us not make haste. Are there any other voices which should be heard?

FF3: [from back of room] Let us all just vote and repair to the ale-house! Enough delay! Nobody wants titles in a nation where all will be equal!

FF4: I rise to differ on this point. [groans from back of room] Please, gentlemen, allow me to speak! [groans subside] I thank you. While every sane man can see quite plainly that royalty and titles and rank are counter to our intentions that all men be treated as equals, I direct your attention to how I just addressed my (ahem) distinguished colleagues just now -- should the term "gentlemen" continue to be used to describe those of a certain standing in society? [room falls silent, as many are taken aback by the concept]

If we were to peer centuries into the future and consider Americans of some far-removed era, it should be obvious that the very notion of royalty will be looked down upon by all, with nothing but the scornful disdain it deserves. Will these unborn countrymen of the future care that some king or queen still reigns in a foreign land? Will the birth of an heir to the British throne even be reported by the newsmongers of the day? The very idea is preposterous, I submit. Americans of such an advanced age will simply not care about such things, since members of royalty will be seen as holdovers from unenlightened times of the past. I simply cannot see any future town crier even bestirring himself to shout such news to the town. I cannot see any American newspaper printing a special edition to harken such news, because Americans will not be interested.

FF5: Prognosticating the future may not be so easy.

FF3: [loudly, from the back of the room] For the love of all that's holy, sit down, Franklin -- nobody wants royal titles, let's vote now and just all go quaff a hearty ale in ten minutes' time! I will buy your first ale myself if you'll just allow us to vote!

FF2: [addressing rowdies in back of room] You sir, are out of order! Dr. Franklin has the floor!

FF5: Thank you for your patience. I am quite sure the taverns will not run out of ale in the short time it takes me to talk, fear not. [laughter from back, and one cry of: "They had better not!"]

I rise merely to point out the vagaries of human nature. We here in America lived under a royal system for centuries before we threw off this yoke of oppression. But since we achieved our freedom from royalty, it seems among some there is still an aching void which must somehow be filled. My friends from New England have largely dropped the term "gentleman," for instance, to show the absolute equality of our new society. Further south, however, the term is still used by all.

Some of us here are not immune to such yearnings. I note that one of the subjects on our agenda is what to call our new executive officer. While some have proposed "Chief Magistrate" as a proper way to address our new executive, and while some favor the shorter "Mister President," there is also a faction which has proposed [consults his notes] "His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties" as the only proper address. What is such a title, if not one of the trappings of royalty?

I remind this body of my own professional origins in a newspaper printing office. I fully remember 1762, when Americans were indeed interested in the news of the birth of the current Prince of Wales. When the man who is first in line to become the British king was born, there was much interest in this babe who will eventually be replacing the hated George III. Given our country's history with Britain, even hundreds of years hence, I could see American citizens still hungering for such news.

When a thing is taken away from the populace, it is often missed in its absence. If we deny the American people titles of honor and rank in society -- as I agree we should and must -- then there may still be intense interest in such news from other lands, since we will have denied the populace the pleasure of speculating on such matters here at home. And I can certainly see town criers of the future, and newspapermen as well, vying to be the very first to spread such news. I can even see these future Americans placing friendly wagers as to what the new heir will be called. [hoots of derision from the rowdy section]

If we deny American citizens royalty, then they may just create their own stylings of royalty to set some above the masses. What direction this could take is open to much speculation. For instance, I could see political dynasties forming, where high political offices are passed from father to son. A common laborer with the Gaelic surname "Cinnéide" down at the Boston docks may one day sire a family which absolutely dominates Massachusetts politics for multiple generations, in such a far future time. [wild and angry protests (complete with anti-Catholic abuse) from the crowd in the back, who also begins tossing wads of paper and other small missiles at Founding Father Number Five]

FF1: Order! Order, I say! ORDER! We will have order, or WE WILL NOT ADJOURN ALL NIGHT!!! [rowdies finally settle down]

FF5: I will go further, if I may be allowed. While it may seem far-fetched that mere politicians will be treated as royalty or sire dynasties, the future could be even stranger -- where an exemplary opera singer and the son of the village blacksmith who performs ablest in the yearly contests of sport during the harvest festival are both given, by the general populace, the fawning attention and riches and respect of some Duke or Earl of our own times. [peals of laughter erupt from everyone]

I give you such ridiculous and unthinkable examples for a reason, dear colleagues. As my Poor Richard might say: "The thing most desired is the thing denied." It is true, Americans will likely be too intelligent and well-thinking to ever accord a sporting champion or a popular entertainer the status a member of royalty now commands -- it would be more proper, I think, if the humble librarian or schoolteacher were to be so lauded in the future. Or, perhaps, the federal treasury might benefit from renting titles of royalty on a yearly basis -- which would be a sort of taxation on people who had more money than common sense. [more laughter]

The twists and turns of the future are impossible to see. The consequences of our actions here today may give rise to unforeseen problems. It is not out of the question for Americans in the future to fill their lack of home-grown royalty by vicariously enjoying the birth of a future British monarch. But I submit to you that it will indeed be only vicarious -- and of no real import to any future American citizen's life or happiness. The newsmongers may be filled with joy at how many papers they can sell touting the news of the birth of such a child, but by the next day such a paper will only be good for wrapping fish.

I move for this debate to be ended immediately, and for the draft language to be voted on as a body. [boisterous cheers from the back benches] We have spent many a long and hot hour here today attempting to perfect Section 10 of Article I -- and we still have many a long and hot day ahead of us to complete our work. Let us all vote on simple language barring forever any American from being addressed as any sort of "Lord" and then quickly repair to the house that gives us cheer -- whether that cheer comes from getting early to bed... or from the tap of an ale keg!

[Explosive huzzahs from the back of the room, as the assembly moves to vote.]


United States Constitution, Article I, Section 10, final sentence

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.


[Note: This entire scenario is completely fictional, and was written because I am heartily glad that we will now no longer be getting daily "No news yet!" updates from that London hospital any more, on each and every edition of the nightly news. For historical accuracy: the Federalists in the early Congresses did indeed propose the title "His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties" for the president, but it was laughed down by James Madison and others and the simple "Mister President" was accepted instead. For many decades, however, the more-common title used in newspapers and during campaigns was indeed "Chief Magistrate." Oh, and according to some, "Cinnéide" was the Irish spelling of the Kennedy clan, in the dim and distant past. The use of "gentleman" did become regional, as well. What else? George IV was born in August of 1762. The text from the Constitution is real, too. Pretty much everything else, though, is nothing more than the warped product of my own summertime-daydreaming mind.]

-- Chris Weigant

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


2 Comments on “Royal Pain”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Since the debate was conducted behind closed doors, this re-creation uses no names for the participants, to protect their anonymity.


    Seriously, reading this reminded me of how much fun I had going through the your book project drafts. I hope that is going well, by the way.

    Based only on what I know about the first couple of chapters, that book could easily form the basis of a long-running and very successful television series ...

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM -

    Yeah, I have to admit that the book project drove this column, even down to knowing the sorts of language they used back then.

    I'll have some news on the project in a very short time...


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