Despite royal buzz, Americans would still pass on a monarchy

The impending birth of a new royal heir in England has Americans abuzz about royalty again. But there are few signs than anyone in the former Colonies wants the monarchy back.

The Royal Family in June 2013
The Royal Family in June 2013

The Royal Family in June 2013. Source: Wikimedia user Carfax2

Recent polls show that Americans have mostly high opinions about Britain’s royal family, but they weren’t too keen on returning to a time before the Constitution (and we all know how that turned out).

In a CNN-ORC poll last summer, to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee, only 13 percent of Americans thought it would be good for the United States to have its own royal family again.

That number was up from 9 percent when the same question was asked in 2002 and 12 percent in 1999. (In the wake of World War II, only 3 percent of Americans wanted our own royal family in 1950.)

But the Queen and her family members shouldn’t take it personally. Queen Elizabeth, her grandson, Prince William, and his wife, Catherine, remain very popular with Americans.

In the CNN poll, 82 percent had a favorable opinion of Queen Elizabeth, 77 percent of Prince William and 75 percent of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Prince Harry had a 70 percent favorable rating.

Recent polls in Great Britain show that the Duchess of Cambridge is slightly more popular there, as of June, that the Queen, with fun-loving Prince Harry as the third most-popular royal.

But the same survey pointed out one problem with the monarchy that wasn’t lost on the Founding Fathers: the whole business of succession.

The Royal Central poll found that 83 percent of people in Great Britain said that the Queen should not abdicate due to old age and should continue reigning.

The British monarchy had more than a few succession issues in the era before the American Revolution, which the former Colonists grew up with. But more importantly, it was the power held by a monarch and the nobility that came along with it worried most Americans and the Founding Fathers.

Back in early post-Colonial America, the Founding Fathers flirted with the idea of bestowing a grand title on George Washington, but most were opposed to having a monarchy in any form in the United States, along with royal titles.

Instead, the U.S. Constitution allows for a chief executive who functions as a head of state, and also as the leader of one of the three branches of government.

Alexander Hamilton did propose the idea of an “elective monarch” at the 1787 Constitutional convention, but it was rejected.

“The monarch must have proportional strength. He ought to be hereditary, and to have so much power, that it will not be his interest to risk much to acquire more. The advantage of a monarch is this—he is above corruption—he must always intend, in respect to foreign nations, the true interest and glory of the people,” Hamilton said in a brief written before he spoke at the convention, where he toned down his argument for the monarchy.

The elective monarch would have served much like a Supreme Court justice, based on good behavior, but the convention decided that the president and Congress should be picked in elections.

But the original Constitution didn’t have any limit on the number of terms a president could serve (that came after President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four terms). George Washington considered, and then rejected, a run for a third term in 1796, setting a custom that was followed until 1940.

As an added measure, the Founding Fathers made sure that the federal and state governments in the United States couldn’t grant titles of nobility.

“No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state,” reads Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution. (Section 10 has a clause for states that also prevents them from taking similar actions.)

While there can be a debate if the British or American system for selecting a head of state is better, the succession systems themselves are considerably different and problematic.

For example, when President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, Vice President Gerald Ford took his place. However, Ford was not directly elected as vice president (he was appointed to replace the originally elected vice president, who resigned). President Ford was part of a very detailed succession system that guaranteed someone would serve as president, without dispute, until the next election.

That plan is outlined in the 20th Amendment and 25th Amendment, and a federal law, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. The law contains a list, starting with 17 people who can act as president under various conditions.

The British system has no term limits for a monarch. Queen Elizabeth II has ruled since 1952. Her son, Prince Charles, will assume the crown when the queen has passed away or voluntarily retires. Charles is 64 and could rule for several decades, unless his mother lives as long as her mother did.

The hugely popular “Queen Mum” lived to the age of 101 years before she passed away in 2002.

Charles’ son, Prince William, is the Prince of Wales’ heir, and assuming Prince William becomes king in his early 50s, he could easily rule for three decades.

If William serves as king until the age of 85, his offspring would assume the throne around the year 2066 or later. That heir could serve until the year 2100, depending on the longevity of their predecessors.

That guarantees a line of succession for the British throne for approximately the next 90 years.

So while Americans don’t know who the head of state will be in 2017, the British know their monarch for the next century—unless someone dies or resigns.

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