04/06/06 - american titles

In today's excerpt - 1789's newly formed United States government debates what to call its elected officials:

"The Senate ... discussed at length British precedents in deciding issues such as how to receive the president on Inauguration Day or how to communicate with the House of Representatives.  After (Pennsylvania's William) McClay objected, the Senate removed from its official minutes a reference to Washington's 'most gracious speech', which as McClay observed were the words 'usually placed before the speech of his Britannic Majesty' and so would give offence to the American people who found 'odious' everything related to 'Kingly Authority.'  Some senators nonetheless advocated bestowing titles on high-ranking officials.  'All the world civilized and savage' had titles, argued Virginia's Richard Henry Lee, and without them officeholders would command no respect.  There Lee had the determined support of Vice-President Adams.

"Only the objections of the House of Representatives undercut a Senate committee's recommendation that the president be addressed as 'His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties.'  In the interest of congressional harmony, the Senate finally agreed that the proper address would be " 'the President of the United States' without addition of title."  In this matter, at least, the view prevailed that British practice was 'of no rule to us', as Maryland's Senator Charles Carroll of Carrollton put it.  Instead, the American Republic adopted as its stylistic model Roman simplicity—which conveyed the fact as McClay said that elected officials were 'the Servants not the Lords' of their constituents."


Pauline Maier, Merritt Roe Smith,


Inventing America


W.W. Norton & Company




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