Thursday, January 5, 2012

Kings of the United States of America

Americans take pride in their republican government.  Thus if you want to learn about a "King of the United States of America", you will have to look toward alternate history.  Online examples include American King by AH.com's Napoleon53.

Some Americans, however, consider monarchy to be a superior form of government.  The following list contains, in my opinion, the most realistic candidates for "King of the United States" or a region of the country.  Some I have fabricated, but most of candidates presented below received offers, which if accepted, could have changed the course of American politics forever.

House of Stuart, Kings of Virginia

The House of Stuart (previously spelled Stewart), founded by Robert II of Scotland, first became monarchs of the Kingdom of Scotland during the late 14th century, and subsequently held the position of the Kings of Great Britain and Ireland. They eventually lost their position as monarchs of Great Britain and with Franz, Duke of Bavaria being the current Jacobite claimant.

During the English Civil War, most Virginia colonists remained loyal to the crown (Charles I), but in 1652, Oliver Cromwell sent a force to remove and replace the government with one loyal to the Commonwealth of England. The local legislature, however, exercised the most controlling authority.  Meanwhile, many royalists fled to Virginia after their defeat in the English Civil War.

One wonders what would have happened if the Stuarts had also fled to Virginia following their defeat in the English Civil War and later in the Glorious Revolution.  Would we have seen them take the title of King of Virginia?  Could they, using Virginia as a base, expand their control over the other British colonies along the coast?  What would have been the OTL United States could have gained independence from Britain a century early.  Orson Scott Card envisioned such a situation in The Tales of Alvin Maker.

George Washington (1782)

George Washington's has quite an impressive resume: commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, presided over the drafting of the Constitution and first President of the United States.  While Washington firmly believer in the virtues of republicanism, not everyone agreed with him.

On May 22, 1782, disgruntled army officers, upset over inadequate payment, sent the Newburgh letter to George Washington, while he camped at Newburgh, New York with the rest of the Continental Army.  It offered Washington the chance to become the King of the United States, establishing a constitutional monarchy.  A similar proposal would be made later to Napoleon by Emmanuel Joseph Siey├Ęs.  Nevertheless, Washington never accepted the offer to become King of the United States.

The Newburgh letter symbolizes a turning point in American history.  Perhaps if things had been worse or more incompetent men ran the Continental Congress, Washington may have lost faith in republicanism and took up the offer to establish a constitutional monarchy in the United States.  The creators of Assassin's Creed III envisioned such a scenario in their recent DLC: The Tyranny of King Washington. If Washington had been a successful monarch, this man could have been King of the United States.

Horatio Gates (1783)
The threat to American democracy did not end with the Newburgh letter. The Newburgh conspiracy, a period of unrest in 1783 among officers of the Continental Army due to not receiving any pay for many years, still threatened the young republic. With Washington uninterested in using the army to overthrow the civil government, a group of officers decided to replace Washington as Commander-in-Chief with Major General Horatio Gates.

Horatio Lloyd Gates, a retired British soldier who served as an American general during the Revolutionary War, took credit for the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga (Benedict Arnold, who led the attack, left the field after being shot in the leg) and took the blame for the defeat at the Battle of Camden.  Nevertheless, Gates might have been able to rally enough support to overthrow Washington at a meeting of the officers on March 15, 1783, until Washington himself arrived at the meeting.  After an impassioned speech, Washington reaffirmed the officer's loyalty to himself and to Congress. 

George Washington's intervention prevented any serious attempts at a coup, but what if he failed?  If Gates had successfully assumed command of the Continental Army he could have taken control of the country.  Members of Congress who sympathized with the officer's original demands and desired a stronger central government (these men included Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris, and Alexander Hamilton) would have probably thrown their support behind the "Hero of Saratoga".  The original proposal of establishing Washington as King of the United States might have been offered to Gates instead.

Prince Henry of Prussia (1786)

Frederick Henry Louis (a.k.a. Prince Henry of Prussia) served as a general and statesman, and, in 1786, someone suggested him as a candidate for King of the United States.

In 1786 either President of the Continental Congress Nathaniel Gorham or Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the Prussian general who served in the Continental Army, suggested to Alexander Hamilton the possibility of Prince Henry becoming President or King of the United States. Before Henry could respond, however, the conspirators had a change of heart and revoked their offer.

Perhaps if things had been more unstable in 1786 or else the Constitution (which would be created only a year later) never came into being, the offer might have been held open long enough for Henry to accept.  One can debate whether Americans would accept him as king, but it does create interesting speculations on how America's relations with Germany would have been different with a Prussian king in power...

Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1787)

Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, member of the British Royal Family and second son of King George III, could have been king of America.

As an inexperienced young military officer, he presided over the unsuccessful campaign against the forces of France in the Low Countries, during the war which followed the French Revolution. Later, as commander-in-chief of the British army, he reorganized the army's forces, putting in place administrative reforms. He also founded the United Kingdom's renowned military college, Sandhurst, which promoted the professional, merit-based training of future commissioned officers.

In the summer of 1787, American newspaper accounts claimed to have uncovered a government plot  to invite Prince Frederick to become King of the United States.  Although this plot could just be journalistic scare-mongering, you could bet Alexander Hamilton would have likely had a hand in it if it existed. He has appeared in most of the scenarios above and he easily could have been a king-maker in an alternate history.

If the Constitution failed to be ratified, pro-British supporters of a strong central government might have reached out to the young prince to bring stability to a nation on the verge of falling apart. Although I doubt most Americans would have supported a son of George III as king.

Emperor Norton I (1859)

Joshua Abraham Norton didn't just want to be king, he wanted to be emperor. Born in England, but spent most of his early life in South Africa. He emigrated to San Francisco in 1849 after receiving a bequest of $40,000 from his father's estate. Norton initially made a living as a businessman, but he lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice.  After losing a lawsuit in which he tried to void his rice contract, Norton left San Francisco. He returned a few years later claiming to be the Emperor of the United States in 1859 (later the Protector of Mexico).  Despite being obviously insane, San Franciscans treated him kindly and honored a currency issued in his name in the establishments he frequented.  He has since become a folk hero and has been immortalized by writers Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson who based characters on him.

Okay, I will level with you, this scenario probably has the least chance at being plausible.  Nevertheless, in a different timeline Norton might have had the opportunity to become king of some country. What if Norton never lost his fortune? What if America fractured into a dozen petty and bickering states? What could a wealthy, potentially mad, man do in this situation?

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a volunteer editor for Alt Hist magazine. His fiction can be found at Echelon PressJake's Monthly and The Were-Traveler. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

12 comments:

  1. Mee Meee I wanna be KING!

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  2. Don't forget James Strang, the mormon monarch of Beaver Island.

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    1. Yeah there are fair people like that who formed micro states like Strang. I tried to stick, however, to the grander proposals of a monarch for the entire nation.

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  3. Aaron Burr and James Wilkinson conspired to seize Mexico/Louisiana. Many of Alexander Hamilton's opponents accused him of being the American Napoleon Bonaparte.

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  4. And his conspiracy remains a popular POD among the alternate historians on the net. Perhaps if I ever write part 2 I will include some speculation on Burr.

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  5. I am glad my beautiful America does not have any kings/queens. Monarchies tend to be tyrannic

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  6. I think being a Sultan would be more fun, four wives, a thousand concubines. Obviously, I would let my Mum, the Sultana, run the country.

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    1. There was a map I saw on Deviantart of a timeline where Napoleon sold French land in North America to the Ottoman Empire rather than the United States. Hijinks ensue.

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    2. I've seen the same map, but for some reason can't seem to find it now. Does anyone know where we can find this?

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  7. Nice work remembering to give Alvin Maker a shout-out.

    One thought for continuing this train of though though - rather thank look for American Kings, who would have had to rise to power fairly early on, how about American Caesars? Figures who would have overthrown the American republic, claimed a crown in their place and nobody cares? You have a few like Andrew Jackson and the like.

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  8. The true Royal family of America would be our First Nations people. This was in fact their land before our ancestry came accross the Atlantic. They are the ones who's history is truly connected to the land. Kings are people of the land. Other forms of government are made up of people elected by other people. but true kings are connected to the land. No one is more connected to America's history than the Natives. Our First Nations people are the true kings.

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