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For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789, Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon

Reviewed by Brian Steele



Historians have long understood that the “title controversy” in the early Republic—the debate over what to call the president in the new government established by the U.S. Constitution—was not as frivolous as it sounds to us now, but Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon, in For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789, offers such an impressive analysis of high politics and political theory and sets up so effectively the social and cultural landscape within which the conversation unfolded that everyone interested in the early Republic, broadly defined, should read it.

The Constitution declares that “no Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States” and offers no suggestions for what to call the powerful new chief executive it created. Americans—especially those identified with opposition to the Constitution—worried a great deal about the fate of liberty under a president who possessed what “Cato” described as the “powers of a monarch” and who would live in a kind of “court” whose “language and manners” would “distinguish” it “from the rest of the community.” But, as Bartoloni-Tuazon is at pains to note in her fascinating prehistory of the controversy, Americans were already quite u

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