His Rotundity

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His Rotundity

To many Americans it often seems that Congress wastes an inordinate amount of time debating on trivialities.  It is at least an old tradition.  The Senate spent a month in 1789 debating what the title of the President should be.  Washington during the Revolution had often been known informally as His Excellency, but at that time that was the common title for governors of states.  Vice-President John Adams thought that the President needed a royal, or at least a  princely, title  to sustain the dignity of the office.  He suggested such titles as “His Highness” and “His Benign Highness” demonstrating once again how tone deaf to public opinion he tended to be, the American people post Revolution being decidedly anti-monarchical.  Eventually a Senate committee approved the title “His Highness, the President of the United States, and the Protector of Their Liberties”.

Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was aghast at the whole business and recalled Benjamin Franklin’s description of Adams as a man who means well for his country, is always an honest man, sometimes a wise one, and who,  some times, and in some things, is absolutely out of his senses.

Washington initially favored the unwieldy formulation of “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties,” but was aghast at the criticism that all of this smacked of monarchy, and eagerly agreed to the simple title of Mr. President that James Madison succeeded in having the House of Representatives approve.

Poor John Adams for his efforts received the unofficial title of “His Rotundity”, in a joke made by Senator Ralph Izard of South Carolina.

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  1. To me, “Protector of Their Liberties” has most unfortunate and far from royal overtones: it recalls “Lord Protector.”

  2. Adams was definitely a good man, but was certainly tone deaf to popular opinion. A fault exploited to his and the nation’s detriment by demagogues.

    Some things don’t change.

    As for titles for the President, “Mr. President” will suffice for the last 44 of them. George Washington, however, will always be “His Excellency” in my book.

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