When George Washington took the oath of office, the presidency was a uniquely American institution. Back then, kings ruled most of the world. They believed they were divinely chosen.
Of course, the first presidential inauguration changed all that. But what if the popular general had decided to become king?
Legend has it that, after his victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington was so popular that a group of citizens wanted to make him monarch of the new nation. He turned the suggestion down, or so the story goes.
Of course, there are many legends about our first president, and historians suspect that the story of Washington’s spurning the throne is as apocryphal as the one about his chopping down that cherry tree. But just suppose he had been a royalist at heart. Who would be our king today?
George and his wife, Martha, had no children. After he died, the succession would have passed to the descendants of his two brothers, Augustine and Samuel. Sam married five times. Today he and his brother have more than 8,000 descendants. Fewer than 200 still bear Washington's name.
During the U.S. Monarchy’s first century, two guys named Bush would have been king. Bushrod Washington the First would have reigned during the War of 1812; Bushrod the Second between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the start of World War I in 1918.
There also would have been two King Spots, no doubt causing their White House dogs endless confusion. When the son of King Spotswood the Second died in 1994, the crown would have passed to our current king, Paul the First, a retired manager of a building-supply company based — where else? — in Valley Forge.
“I doubt if I'd be a very good king,” Paul admits. “We've done so well as a country without a king. I think George made the right decision.”
Prince of a fellow
Around Leon, Texas, Paul's son Bill is affectionately known as “Prince William.”
“Somewhere along the line we lost the height,” Bill chuckles. “George Washington was 6 feet 3 inches, and I guess from the love of little women over 200 years, we gradually got smaller.”
Video: If George Washington were king William’s older brother Richard would be next in line. Dick could care less about his hypothetical birthright, but Bill’s house looks like Mount Vernon's gift shop. His family has known for years how closely it is related to the man who could have been king.
“The French Revolution started right after ours,” Bill reminds us. “They were beheading noblemen left and right. It probably wouldn't have taken very long for something like that to bring us down.”
At least one Washington actually achieved royalty. Katherine Daingerfield Willis, great-grandniece of George, married the Prince of Naples, who was the son of Napoleon’s sister. The rest of us, more than 100 million Americans, have family ties to at least one of the 42 U.S. presidents.
Before George Washington, greatness was measured by the authority vested in one man. But this man who could have been king insisted that people should pick their own government.
And that changed the world.
Keep those ideas coming. Know someone who would make a great American Story with Bob Dotson? Drop a note in my mailbox . And if you you’d like to contact the subjects of this American Story, drop me a note here and I’ll see that they get it.
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