Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon Q & A and media coverage

Find out more about For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789 by Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon by reading the Q&A below and her Boston Globe article, His Elective Highness, President Barack Obama: Some early Americans thought our leader deserved a splashier title.

For Fear of an Elective King was also mentioned in the “Hot Type” section of the October 2014 issue of Vanity Fair! Visit Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon’s website for more details about the book.

Q & A for the For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789
Q: What was the presidential title controversy of 1789?

A: The presidential title controversy of 1789 embroiled Congress in its first dispute—over how to address the new nation’s new executive. The Senate majority favored a lofty title while the House stood unanimously and adamantly opposed to anything more than the simple and unadorned “President.”

Q: What were some of the titles that were considered?

A: Suggestions for a title ranged from “President” to “His Majesty the President” to various forms of the frequently-used “Highness,” including the Senate-endorsed “His Highness the President of the United States of America, and Protector of their Liberties.” Other examples include “Excellency,” “Elected Majesty,” “Sacred Majesty,” “Serene Highness,” “His Highness the President General,” and “The Delight of Human Kind.” Congress, the press, and individuals throughout the country debated more than thirty titles, most with royal overtones.

Q: When did the controversy begin in Congress and what was the legislative outcome?
A: The presidential title controversy formally began in Congress on April 23, 1789, with Senator Richard Henry Lee’s motion for a titles committee. The question of an executive title occupied the Senate and House in acrimonious deliberations for the next three weeks. On May 14, the Senate agreed to the address of “President of the United States,” capitulating to the House and its stated wish for no title other than the designation of the “office expressed in the Constitution.”
Q: Was the legislative decision in favor of “President” the end of the title controversy?
A: No, it was just the beginning! The title controversy had two phases—a legislative phase and a public phase—and both burned bright with the fire of strongly held convictions. Intense, insular, and less than a month long, the legislative phase occurred largely within the confines of Congress. The expansive and compelling public phase of the controversy unfolded throughout the country over a longer period, especially over the summer and fall of 1789, as the people and the press examined questions of national character, federalism, and executive leadership and power.
Q: How did the title controversy affect the American public?
A: Public attitudes toward the presidency remained unresolved from the ratification era. In addition, honorifics remained entrenched in post-revolutionary America. The new presidency and the title controversy forced the people to consider and find an acceptable balance between elite power and the people’s sovereignty.

Q: How did the prestige of George Washington affect the presidency and the dispute over titles?
A: George Washington’s celebrity represented both a blessing and a curse for the presidency. He was the unanimous, most trusted choice for the controversial position. However, the enthusiasm and reverence shown him threatened the presidency with monarchical undertones, which included the dispute about how to address the president.

Q: How did George Washington’s leadership during the title controversy affect early notions of executive power?
A: Washington and the people developed the tenets of American executive leadership: a required modesty—established by the decision favoring the simple title of “President”—and an acknowledgement of the interdependence that must exist between the people and their leader—Washington’s stance against a grand title mirrored the bulk of popular opinion. Executive power was fledged by not flaunting it. Washington’s republican model of executive leadership set the stage for Thomas Jefferson and the further development of the democratic leadership model. The democratic leadership model finds no contradiction between democracy and strength.

Q: Who were some of the other political actors during the legislative battle?
A: Alarmed that a president would prove corruptible and a puppet of state elites or world leaders, John Adams and Senator Richard Henry Lee of Virginia advocated for a lofty title to boost executive authority. Even though a strong president also could prove unscrupulous and corrupt, they viewed all-powerful Senate dominance over an anemic national leader as the greater and more present danger. The other side of the controversy dreaded a despotic, all-powerful president. Abhorrence of monarchical rule and the resultant loss of representative governance fed a fierce resistance to an exalted honorific by Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania and Representative James Madison of Virginia, as well as the rest of the House.
Q: Beyond the legislative outcome of the modest title of “President,” what was the impact of title controversy?

A: The modest title of “President” quelled fears of monarchical rule and bolstered the people’s confidence in Congress, the new government, and office of the president.
However, the controversy formed the leading edge of increasingly partisan battles over the extent of executive power. The title controversy also continued the Revolution’s siege on designations of status in America.

Q: How did the title controversy affect the relationship between the presidency and the vice presidency?

A: Intriguingly, a legacy of the title controversy may have been the casualty of the professional relationship of the presidency to the vice-presidency. John Adams’s promotion of grand executive titles without Washington’s approval coupled with other aspects of his career may have damaged Washington’s trust in him to such a degree that Washington relegated Adams to a minimal role, which set a precedent for a diminished vice presidency. In addition, Adams (who favored a regal title for the president to boost presidential authority over the Senate and other potentially corrupting influences) devalued his role as vice president in favor of his perceived role as Senate watchdog. Ironically, Adams’s sacrifice of the vice-presidency empowered the president to dominate the executive branch and helped create the energetic leader that he had sought through grand titles.

Q: What is the ultimate legacy of the title controversy of 1789?

A: The ultimate legacy of the title controversy is an expansion and consolidation of presidential power within the limits placed upon the president that governing within a popular sovereignty brings. Foremost of those limits are the people’s demand for restraint, essentially a command over the power of command, and for an acknowledgement of their will from the country’s leader.

Comments Off

Filed under Cornell Authors on the Web, Cornell Press Books in the News, Publicity Roundup

Recent Award Winners

Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of the New York City Water Supply by David Soll is the winner of the Abel Wolman Award given by the American Public Works Association (APWA) Public Works Historical Society

Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia by Madeleine Reeve has received Honorable Mention for the Heldt Prize in the category of Best Book in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian Studies given by the Association for Women in Slavic Studies

J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies: The FBI and the Origins of Hollywood’s Cold War by John Sbardellati is the winner of the 2013 Michael Nelson Prize given by the International Association for Media and History

Global Unions, Local Power: The New Spirit of Transnational Labor Organizing by Jamie K. McCallum is the winner of the Distinguished Scholarly Book Award given by the Labor and Labor Movements Section of the American Sociological Association

Cleaning Up: How Hospital Outsourcing Is Hurting Workers and Endangering Patients by Dan Zuberi was honored with the Gold Award in the category of Social Sciences for Foreword Reviews’ 2013 IndieFab Book of the Year Awards

The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz is one of 15 Kansas Notable Books for 2014

Comments Off

Filed under Award-Winning Books, Cornell Press Books in the News

Tara Zahra is a MacArthur Fellow!

Tara Zahra, author of Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900–1948, is one of the 2014 MacArthur Foundation Fellows. Watch a video interview with her here.

Comments Off

Filed under Cornell Press Books in the News

New releases

Recent arrivals in our warehouse include:

Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia: Conversion, Apostasy, and Literacy by Agnès Nilüfer Kefeli
Watch Your Back!: How the Back Pain Industry Is Costing Us More and Giving Us Less—and What You Can Do to Inform and Empower Yourself in Seeking Treatment by Richard A. Deyo, MD
The Great Wall of Money: Power and Politics in China’s International Monetary Relations, edited by Eric Helleiner and Jonathan Kirshner
American Power after the Financial Crisis by Jonathan Kirshner
Dictators at War and Peace by Jessica L. P. Weeks
For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789 by Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon
The Space That Remains: Reading Latin Poetry in Late Antiquity by Aaron Pelttari
Labor Guide to Labor Law, Fifth Edition by Bruce S. Feldacker and Michael J. Hayes
Cornell: A History, 1940–2015 by Glenn C. Altschuler and Isaac Kramnick
Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives and Revolutionary Communities during the War for Independence by Ken Miller
Shakespeare’s Medieval Craft: Remnants of the Mysteries on the London Stage by Kurt A. Schreyer
The Devil: A New Biography by Philip C. Almond
The American Way of Bombing: Changing Ethical and Legal Norms, from Flying Fortresses to Drones, edited by Matthew Evangelista and Henry Shue
Constructive Illusions: Misperceiving the Origins of International Cooperation by Eric Grynaviski
Brotherly Love: Freemasonry and Male Friendship in Enlightenment France by Kenneth Loiselle
The Government Next Door: Neighborhood Politics in Urban China by Luigi Tomba
Black Vienna: The Radical Right in the Red City, 1918–1938 by Janek Wasserman
Minor Aesthetics: The Photographic Work of Marcel Mariën by Mieke Bleyen
Composing under the Skin: The Music-making Body at the Composer’s Desk by Paul Craenen
Mass Theatre in Inter-War Europe: Flanders and the Netherlands in an International Perspective, edited by Thomas Crombez and Luk Van den Dries
Kinshasa: Tales of the Invisible City by Filip De Boeck, photographs by Marie-Françoise Plissart
The French Comics Theory Reader, edited by Ann Miller and Bart Beaty
Jan Dibbets, The Photographic Work by Erik Verhagen

Comments Off

Filed under Recently Released

Tom Wilber in the Media on Fracking Ruling by New York State Court of Appeals

Tom Wilber, author of Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale, has been busy speaking about the recent ruling by New York State’s highest court that towns can ban tracking within their borders.

The Brian Lehrer Show: In New York, All Fracking is Local

WXXI News: Home Rule Decision May Set Stage for Limited Fracking if Cuomo Approves

Comments Off

Filed under Publicity Roundup

James Graham Wilson on the late Eduard Shevardnadze

On Medium, James Graham Wilson, author of The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev’s Adaptability, Reagan’s Engagement, and the End of the Cold War, reflects on the importance of the late Eduard Shevardnadze to the end of the Cold War: Eduard Shevardnadze Meets the Reagan Administration

Comments Off

Filed under Cornell Authors on the Web, Publicity Roundup

Cornelia Woll on the Monkey Cage blog

Cornelia Woll, author of The Power of Inaction: Bank Bailouts in Comparison, was interviewed at the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage: Bailing out Banks Is Not a Lucrative Business

Comments Off

Filed under Cornell Authors on the Web, Publicity Roundup