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Apprehensions Unallayed - Lance Banning, Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle 
Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle, ed. and with a Preface by Lance Banning (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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Much of the resistance to Madison’s insistence on amendments came from Federalists who sharply disapproved of any action that would tend to reopen the debate about the Constitution. Anti-Federalists in Congress did attempt, without success, to add substantive amendments to the ones the Virginian introduced. Federalist resentment was well expressed in an essay signed by “Pacificus,” who was, in fact, Noah Webster. On the other side, Virginia’s anti-Federalist senators complained that none of the amendments actually approved truly addressed the substantive concerns of the opponents of the Constitution. One further episode from the congressional debates about amendments, the argument about popular instruction of representatives, helps us grasp the depth of feeling on both sides; and few incidents during the first session of the First Congress were more suggestive of the members’ consciousness that they were making precedents for ages to come—or of the sharpness of persistent fears about the new regime—than the debate on titles for executive officials.
On the Constitutional Amendments
“Pacificus” to James Madison
New York Daily Advertiser
14 August 1789
In a debate upon the Impost Bill, you declared yourself an enemy to local attachments and said you considered yourself not merely the representative of Virginia, but of the United States. This declaration was liberal, and the sentiment just. But Sir, does this accord with the interest you take in amending the Constitution? You now hold out in justification of the part you take in forwarding amendments that you have pledged yourself in some measure to your constituents. But, Sir, who are your constituents? Are they the electors of a small district in Virginia? These indeed gave you a place in the federal legislature; but the moment you were declared to be elected, you became the representative of three millions of people, and you are bound, by the principles of representation and by your own declaration, to promote the general good of the United States. You had no right to declare that you would act upon the sentiments and wishes of your immediate constituents, unless you should be convinced that the measures you advocate coincide with the wishes and interest of the whole Union. If I have any just ideas of legislation, this doctrine is incontrovertible; and if I know your opinions, you believe it to be so.
Permit me, then, with great respect to ask, Sir, how you can justify yourself in the eyes of the world for espousing the cause of amendments with so much earnestness? Do you, Sir, believe, that the people you represent generally wish for amendments? If you do Sir, you are more egregiously mistaken than you ever were before. I know from the unanimous declaration of men in several states, through which I have lately traveled, that amendments are not generally wished for; on the other hand, amendments are not mentioned but with the most pointed disapprobation.
The people, Sir, admit what the advocates of amendments in Congress generally allow, that the alterations proposed can do very little good or hurt as to the merits of the Constitution; but for this very reason they reprobate any attempt to introduce them. They say, and with great justice, that, at the moment when an excellent government is going into operation; when the hopes of millions are revived, and their minds disposed to acquiesce peaceably in the federal laws; when the demagogues of faction have ceased to clamor and their adherents are reconciled to the Constitution—Congress are taking a step which will revive the spirit of party, spread the causes of contention through all the states, call up jealousies which have no real foundation, and weaken the operations of government, when the people themselves are wishing to give it energy. We see, in the debates, it is frequently asserted that some amendments will satisfy the opposition and give stability to the government.
The people, Sir, in the northern and middle states do not believe a word of this—they do not see any opposition—they find information and experience everywhere operating to remove objections, and they believe that these causes will, though slowly, produce a change of conduct in North Carolina and Rhode Island. Is it not better to wait for this event than risk the tumults that must grow out of another debate upon the Constitution in every one of the United States.
It seems to be agreed on all hands that paper declarations of rights are trifling things and no real security to liberty. In general they are a subject of ridicule. In England, it has been necessary for parliament to ascertain and declare what rights the nation possesses in order to limit the powers and claims of the crown; but for a sovereign free people, whose power is always equal, to declare, with the solemnity of a constitutional act, We are all born free, and have a few particular rights which are dear to us, and of which we will not deprive ourselves, altho’ we leave ourselves at full liberty to abridge any of our other rights, is a farce in government as novel as it is ludicrous.
I am not disposed to treat you, Sir, with disrespect; many years acquaintance has taught me to esteem your virtues and respect your abilities. No man stands higher in my opinion, and people are everywhere willing to place you among the most able, active and useful representatives of the United States. But they regret that Congress should spend their time in throwing out an empty tub to catch people, either factious or uninformed, who might be taken more honorably by reason and equitable laws. They regret particularly that Mr. Madison’s talents should be employed to bring forward amendments which, at best can have little effect upon the merits of the Constitution, and may sow the seeds of discord from New Hampshire to Georgia.
Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson to the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates 28 September 1789
We have now the honor of enclosing the propositions of Amendments to the Constitution of the United States that has been finally agreed upon by Congress. We can assure you Sir that nothing on our part has been omitted to procure the success of those radical amendments proposed by the convention and approved by the legislature of our country, which as our constituent, we shall always deem it our duty with respect and reverence to obey. The Journal of the Senate herewith transmitted will at once show how exact and how unfortunate we have been in this business. It is impossible for us not to see the necessary tendency to consolidate empire in the natural operation of the Constitution if no further amended than now proposed. And it is equally impossible for us not to be apprehensive for civil liberty when we know no instance in the records of history that show a people ruled in freedom when subject to an undivided government and inhabiting a territory so extensive as that of the United States, and when, as it seems to us, the nature of man and things join to prevent it. The impracticability in such case of carrying representation sufficiently near to the people for procuring their confidence and consequent obedience compels a resort to fear resulting from great force and excessive power in government. Confederated republics, when the federal hand is not possessed of absorbing power, may permit the existence of freedom, whilst it preserves union, strength, and safety. Such amendments therefore as may secure against the annihilation of the state government we devoutly wish to see adopted.
If a persevering application to Congress from the states that have desired such amendments should fail of its object, we are disposed to think, reasoning from causes to effects, that unless a dangerous apathy should invade the public mind it will not be many years before a constitutional number of legislatures will be found to demand a Convention for the purpose.
William Grayson to Patrick Henry 29 September 1789
With respect to amendments matters have turned out exactly as I apprehended from the extraordinary doctrine of playing the after game: the lower house sent up amendments which held out a safeguard to personal liberty in a great many instances, but this disgusted the Senate, and though we made every exertion to save them, they are so mutilated & gutted that in fact they are good for nothing, & I believe as many others do, that they will do more harm than benefit: The Virginia amendments were all brought into view, and regularly rejected. Perhaps they may think differently on the subject the next session, as Rhode Island has refused for the present acceding to the Constitution… .
Popular Instruction of Representatives 15 August 1789
During the House discussion of the first amendments, Thomas Tudor Tucker, a South Carolina anti-Federalist, moved to insert a declaration of the people’s right “to instruct their representatives.” This led to a longer discussion than the House devoted to freedom of the press or freedom of religious conscience. Only snippets are presented here, but they include a sharp exchange between Madison and Aedanus Burke over whether Madison’s amendments would allay the public’s fears.
Thomas Hartley (Pa.)
… Representation is the principle of our government; the people ought to have confidence in the honor and integrity of those they send forward to transact their business; their right to instruct them is a problematical subject. We have seen it attended with bad consequences both in England and America. When the passions of the people were excited, instructions have been resorted to and obtained to answer party purposes; and although the public opinion is generally respectable, yet at such moments it has been known to be often wrong; and happy is that government composed of men of firmness and wisdom to discover and resist the popular error… .
John Page (Va.)
… The people have a right to consult for the common good; but to what end will this be done if they have not the power of instructing their representatives? Instruction and representation in a republic appear to me to be inseparably connected. … Every friend of mankind, every well-wisher of his country will be desirous of obtaining the sense of the people on every occasion of magnitude; but how can this be so well expressed as in instructions to their representatives?…
George Clymer (Pa.)
… If they have a constitutional right to instruct us, it infers that we are bound by those instructions… ; this is a most dangerous principle, utterly destructive of all ideas of an independent and deliberative body… .
… When the people have chosen a representative, it is his duty to meet others from the different parts of the union, and consult, and agree with them to such acts as are for the general benefit of the whole community; if they were to be guided by instructions, there would be no use in deliberation. … From hence I think it may be fairly inferred that the right of the people to consult for the common good can go no further than to petition to legislature or apply for a redress of grievances.
… Let the people consult and give their opinion, let the representative judge of it, and if it is just, let him govern himself by it as a good member ought to do; but if it is otherwise, let him have it in his power to reject their advice.
… I think the representative, notwithstanding the insertion of these words, would be at liberty to act as he pleased; … yet I think the people have a right both to instruct and bind them. … The sovereignty resides in the people, and … they do not part with it on any occasion. … But much good may result from a declaration in the Constitution that they possess this privilege; the people will be encouraged to come forward with their instructions, which will form a fund of useful information for the legislature. … I hope we shall never shut our ears against that information which is to be derived from the petitions and instructions of our constituents… .
… If we confine ourselves to an enumeration of simple acknowledged principles, the ratification will meet with but little difficulty. Amendments of a doubtful nature will have a tendency to prejudice the whole system; the proposition now suggested partakes highly of this nature. … In one sense this declaration is true, in many others it is certainly not true; … if we mean nothing more than this, that the people have a right to express and communicate their sentiments and wishes, we have provided for it already. … If gentlemen mean to go further and to say that the people have a right to instruct their representatives in such a sense as that the delegates were obliged to conform to those instructions, the declaration is not true. Suppose they instruct a representative by his vote to violate the Constitution, is he at liberty to obey such instructions? Suppose he is instructed to patronize certain measures, and from circumstances known to him but not to his constituents, he is convinced that they will endanger the public good, is he obliged to sacrifice his own judgment to them? Suppose he refuses, will his vote be the less valid. … What sort of a right is this in the Constitution to instruct a representative who has a right to disregard the order if he pleases? …
Michael Jenifer Stone (Md.)
I think the clause would change the government entirely; instead of being a government founded upon representation, it would be a democracy of singular properties.
I differ from the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Madison) if he thinks this clause would not bind the representative; in my opinion it would bind him effectually, and I venture to assert without diffidence that any law passed by the legislature would be of no force if a majority of the members of this house were instructed to the contrary, provided the amendment become part of the Constitution …
Aedanus Burke (S.C.)
I am not positive with respect to the particular expression in the declaration of rights of the people of Maryland, but the constitutions of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina all of them recognize, in express terms, the right of the people to give instructions to their representatives. I do not mean to insist particularly upon this amendment, but I am very well satisfied that those that are reported and likely to be adopted by this house are very far from giving satisfaction to our constituents; they are not those solid and substantial amendments which the people expect; they are little better than whip-syllabub, frothy and full of wind, formed only to please the palate, or they are like a tub thrown out to a whale to secure the freight of the ship and its peaceable voyage. … I think it will be found that we have done nothing but lose our time, and that it will be better to drop the subject now and proceed to the organization of the government.
was unwilling to take up any more of the time of the committee, but on the other hand, he was not willing to be silent after the charges that had been brought against the committee and the gentleman who introduced the amendments by the honorable members on each side of him (Mr. Sumter and Mr. Burke). Those gentlemen say that we are precipitating the business and insinuate that we are not acting with candor; I appeal to the gentlemen who have heard the voice of their country, to those who have attended the debates of the state conventions, whether the amendments now proposed are not those most strenuously required by the opponents to the constitution? It was wished that some security should be given for those great and essential rights which they had been taught to believe were in danger. I concurred, in the convention of Virginia, with those gentlemen, so far as to agree to a declaration of those rights which corresponded with my own judgment, and [to] the other alterations which I had the honor to bring forward before the present Congress. I appeal to the gentlemen on this floor who are desirous of amending the Constitution whether these proposed are not compatible with what are required by our constituents. Have not the people been told that the rights of conscience, the freedom of speech, the liberty of the press, and trial by jury were in jeopardy; that they ought not to adopt the Constitution until those important rights were secured to them?
But while I approve of these amendments, I should oppose the consideration at this time of such as are likely to change the principles of the government, or that are of a doubtful nature; because I apprehend there is little prospect of obtaining the consent of two-thirds of both houses of Congress, and three-fourths of the state legislatures, to ratify propositions of this kind; therefore, as a friend to what is attainable, I would limit it to the plain, simple, and important security that has been required. If I was inclined to make no alteration in the constitution I would bring forward such amendments as were of a dubious cast, in order to have the whole rejected.
never entertained an idea of charging gentlemen with the want of candor, but he would appeal to any man of sense and candor whether the amendments contained in the report were anything like the amendments required by the states of New York, Virginia, New Hampshire and Carolina, and having these amendments in his hand, he turned to them to show the difference, concluding that all the important amendments were omitted in the report… .
The question was now called for from several parts of the house, but a desultory conversation took place before the question was put; at length the call becoming very general, it was stated from the chair and determined in the negative, 10 rising in favor of it and 41 against it.
As Madison remarked in a letter to his father, the members of the First Federal Congress were “in a wilderness without a single footstep to guide us.” Everything was new, and every action likely to establish precedents for all the Congresses to come. Hardly had its serious business begun before the legislature had to pause to settle the first disagreement between its two houses. As Madison reported to Jefferson, the House of Representatives, in its reply to Washington’s inaugural address, had included no “degrading appendages of Excellency, Esquire,” or the like. But on 9 May, a committee of the Senate, where the matter had preoccupied the members for a week, recommended that the president should be addressed as His Highness the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties. The reaction in the House, together with letters by Madison and Massachusetts congressman Fisher Ames, are among the finest sources for an understanding of the temperament in which much of the session’s business was conducted.
Proceedings in the House of Representatives 11 May 1789
Josiah Parker (Va.) moved to disagree with the Senate and insist, as the House had already done implicitly in its reply to the inaugural address, “That it is not proper to annex any style or title” to the constitutional titles of federal officials.
John Page (Va.)
seconded the motion, observing that in his opinion the House had no right to interfere in the business; the Constitution expressly prescribed the power of Congress as to bestowing titles. He did not conceive the real honor or dignity of either of those situations to consist in high sounding titles. The House had, on a former occasion, expressed their disapprobation of any title being annexed to their own members, and very justly too. After having soulfully and explicitly declared their sentiments against such measures, he thought it behooved them to be explicit with the Senate. Indeed, he felt himself a good deal hurt that gentlemen on this floor, after having refused their permission to the clerk to enter any more than their plain names on the journal, should be standing up and addressing one another by the title of “the honorable gentleman.” He wished the practice could be got over, because it added neither to the honor nor dignity of the House.
Richard Bland Lee (Va.)
approved of the appointment of a committee to confer with a committee of the Senate, as the mode due to the occasion, but he was against adding any title.
Thomas Tudor Tucker (S.C.)
When this business was first brought before the House, I objected to the appointment of a committee to confer with a committee of the Senate; because I thought it a subject which this House had no right to take into consideration. I then stood single and unsupported in my opinion, but have had the pleasure to find since that some gentlemen on this floor agree that I was right. If I was then right, I shall, from stronger reasoning, be right now in opposing the appointment of another committee on the same subject. The joint committee reported that no titles ought to be given; we agreed to the report, and I was in hopes we should have heard no more of the matter. The Senate rejected the report and have now sent us a resolution expressive of a determination to give a title, to which they desire our concurrence. I am still of opinion, that we were wrong in appointing the first committee and think that we shall be guilty of greater impropriety if we now appoint another. What, sir, is the intention of this business? will it not alarm our fellow-citizens? will it not give them just cause of alarm? will they not say that they have been deceived by the Convention that framed the Constitution? that it has been contrived with a view to lead them on by degrees to that kind of government which they have thrown off with abhorrence? Shall we not justify the fears of those who were opposed to the Constitution, because they considered it as insidious and hostile to the liberties of the people? One of its warmest advocates, one of the framers of it (Mr. Wilson of Pennsylvania), has recommended it by calling it a pure democracy. Does this look like a democracy, when one of the first acts of the two branches of the Legislature is to confer titles? surely not. To give dignity to our government we must give a lofty title to our chief magistrate. Does the dignity of a nation consist in the distance betwixt the first magistrate and his citizens? does it consist in the exaltation of one man and the humiliation of the rest? if so, the most despotic government is the most dignified; and to make our dignity complete we must give a high title, an embroidered robe, a princely equipage, and finally a crown and hereditary succession. Let us, Sir, establish tranquility and good order at home and wealth, strength, and national dignity will be the infallible result. The aggregate of dignity will be the same, whether it be divided amongst all or centered in one. And whom, Sir, do we mean to gratify? Is it our present President? Certainly, if we expect to please him we shall be greatly disappointed. He has a real dignity of character and is above such little vanities. We shall give him infinite pain; we shall do him an essential injury; we shall place him in a most delicate and disagreeable situation; we shall reduce him to the necessity of evincing to the world his disapprobation of our measures or of risking some diminution of that high reputation for disinterested patriotism which he has so justly acquired. If it is not for his gratification, for whose then are we to do this? Where is the man amongst us who has the presumption and vanity to expect it? Who is it that shall say: for my aggrandizement three millions of people have entered into a calamitous war, they have persevered in it for eight long years, they have sacrificed their property, they have spilt their blood, they have rendered thousands of families wretched by the loss of their only protectors and means of support? This spirit of imitation, Sir, this spirit of mimicry and apery will be the ruin of our country. Instead of giving us dignity in the eyes of foreigners, it will expose us to be laughed at as apes. They gave us credit for our exertions in effecting the Revolution, but they will say that we want independence of spirit to render it a blessing to us. I hope, sir, that we shall not appoint a committee. I thought it improper before, and I still think that we cannot be justified in doing it.
Jonathan Trumbell, Jr. (Conn.)
moved for the appointment of a committee of conference to consider on the difference which appeared in the votes of the two houses upon the report of the joint committee.
Aedanus Burke (S.C.)
hoped the House would express their decided disapprobation of bestowing titles in any shape whatever; it would be an indignity in the House to countenance any measures of this nature. Perhaps some gentlemen might think the subject was a matter of indifference, but it did not appear to him in that light; the introduction of two words which he could mention into the title of these officers would alter the Constitution itself; but he would forbear to say anything farther, as he had a well grounded expectation that the House would take no further notice of the business… .
I may be well disposed to concur in opinion with gentlemen that we ought not to recede from our former vote on this subject, yet at the same time I may wish to proceed with due respect to the Senate, and give dignity and weight to our own opinion so far as it contradicts theirs by the deliberate and decent manner in which we decide. For my part, Mr. Speaker, I do not conceive titles to be so pregnant with danger as some gentlemen apprehend. I believe a President of the United States clothed with all the powers given in the Constitution would not be a dangerous person to the liberties of America if you were to load him with all the titles of Europe or Asia. We have seen superb and august titles given without conferring power and influence or without even obtaining respect; one of the most impotent sovereigns in Europe has assumed a title as high as human invention can devise; for example, what words can imply a greater magnitude of power and strength than that of high mightiness; this title seems to border almost upon impiety; it is assuming the pre-eminence and omnipotency of the deity; yet this title and many others cast in the same mold have obtained a long time in Europe, but have they conferred power? Does experience sanctify such opinion? Look at the republic I have alluded to and say if their present state warrants the idea.
I am not afraid of titles because I fear the danger of any power they could confer, but I am against them because they are not very reconcilable with the nature of our government or the genius of the people; even if they were proper in themselves, they are not so at this juncture of time. But my strongest objection is founded in principle; instead of increasing they diminish the true dignity and importance of a republic, and would in particular, on this occasion, diminish the true dignity of the first magistrate himself. If we give titles, we must either borrow or invent them—if we have recourse to the fertile fields of luxuriant fancy and deck out an airy being of our own creation, it is a great chance but its fantastic properties renders the empty fanthom ridiculous and absurd. If we borrow, the servile imitation will be odious, not to say ridiculous also—we must copy from the pompous sovereigns of the East or follow the inferior potentates of Europe; in either case, the splendid tinsel or gorgeous robe would disgrace the manly shoulders of our Chief. The more truly honorable shall we be, by showing a total neglect and disregard to things of this nature; the more simple, the more republican we are in our manners, the more rational dignity we acquire; therefore I am better pleased with the report adopted by the House, than I should have been with any other whatsoever.
The Senate, no doubt, entertain different sentiments on this subject. I would wish therefore to treat their opinion with respect and attention, I would desire to justify the reasonable and republican decision of this house to the other branch of Congress, in order to prevent a misunderstanding. But that the motion of my worthy colleague (Mr. Parker) has possession of the house, I would move a more temperate proposition, and I think it deserves some pains to bring about that good will and urbanity which, for the dispatch of public business, ought to be kept up between the two houses. I do not think it would be a sacrifice of dignity to appoint a committee of conference, but imagine it would tend to cement that harmony which has hitherto been preserved between the Senate and this House—therefore, while I concur with the gentlemen who express in such decided terms their disapprobation of bestowing titles, I concur also with those who are for the appointment of a committee of conference, not apprehending they will depart from the principles adopted and acted upon by the House… .
Josiah Parker (Va.)
wanted to know what was the object of gentlemen in the appointment of a committee of conference. The committee could only say that the House had refused their consent to annexing any titles whatever to the President and Vice President; for certainly the committee would not descend into the merits of a question already established by the House. For his part he could not see what purpose was to be answered by the appointment of such a committee. He wished to have done with the subject, because while it remained a question in the House, the people’s minds would be much agitated; it was impossible that a true republican spirit could remain unconcerned when a principle was under consideration so repugnant to the principles of equal liberty.
thought it was pretty plain that the House could not comply with the proposition of the Senate. The appointment of a committee on the part of the House to consider and determine what stile or titles will be proper to annex to the President and Vice-President would imply that the House meant that some stile or title should be given; now this, they never could intend, because they have decided that no stile or title ought to be given—it will be sufficient to adduce this reason for not complying with the request of the Senate.
wondered what title the Senate had in contemplation to add dignity or luster to the person that filled the presidential Chair. For his part he could conceive none. Would it add to his fame to be called after the petty and insignificant princes of Europe? Would styling him his Serene Highness, His Grace, or Mightiness add one tittle to the solid properties he possessed? He thought it would not; and therefore conceived the proposition to be trifling with the dignity of the government. As a difference had taken place between the two Houses, he had no objection to a conference taking place, he hoped it might be productive of good consequences and the Senate be induced to follow the laudable example of the House.
was of opinion that the House might appoint a committee of conference without being supposed to countenance the measure. The standing rule of the House declared that, in case of disagreeing votes, a committee of conference should be appointed; now, the case provided for in the rule had actually happened, he inferred that it was proper to proceed in the manner directed by the rules of the House; the subject was still open to discussion, but there was little probability that the House would rescind their adoption of the report. I presume gentlemen do not intend to compel the Senate into their measures; they should recollect that the Senate stand upon independent ground and will do nothing but what they are convinced of the propriety of; it would be better, therefore, to treat them with delicacy and offer some reasons to induce them to come into our measure. He expected this would be the result of a conference and therefore was in favor of such a motion… .
George Clymer (Pa.)
thought there was little occasion to add any title to either the President or Vice-President. He was very well convinced by experience that titles did not confer power; on the contrary, they frequently made their possessors ridiculous. The most impotent potentates, the most insignificant powers, generally assumed the highest and most lofty titles. That they do not indicate power and prerogative is very observable in the English history; for when the chief magistrate of that nation wore the simple stile of his Grace or Highness, his prerogatives were much more extensive than since he has become His Most Sacred Majesty.
Titular distinctions are said to be unpopular in the United States, yet a person would be led to think otherwise from the vast number of honorable gentlemen we have in America. As soon as a man is selected for the public service, his fellow citizens with liberal hand shower down titles on him—either excellency or honorable. He would venture to affirm there were more honorable esquires in the United States than all the world beside. He wished to check a propensity so notoriously evidenced in favor of distinctions, and hoped the example of the House might prevail to extinguish what predilection that appeared in favor of titles.
… I must tell gentlemen I differ from them when they think titles can do no harm. Titles I say, Sir, may do harm and have done harm. If we contend now for a right to confer titles, I apprehend the time will come when we shall form a reservoir for honor and make our President the fountain of it; in such case, may not titles do an injury to the union? They have been the occasion of an eternal faction in the kingdom we were formerly connected with, and may beget like inquietude in America; for, I contend, if you give the title, you must follow it with the robe and the diadem, and then the principles of your government are subverted.
Richard Bland Lee (Va.)
moved the previous question, as the best mode of getting rid of the motion before the House. He was supported by a sufficient number. And on the question, Shall the main question be now put? it passed in the negative; and so the motion was lost.
On motion, it was resolved, that a committee be appointed to join with such committee as the Senate may appoint to confer on the disagreeing votes of the two Houses upon the report of their joint committee, appointed to consider what titles shall be given to the President and Vice President of the United States, if any other than those given in the Constitution. Messrs. Madison, Page, Benson, Trumbull, and Sherman were the committee elected.
Fisher Ames to George Richards Minot 14 May 1789
… It is not easy to write the transactions of the House, because I forget the topics which do not reach you by the newspaper. A committee of both Houses had reported that it is not proper to address the President by any other title than that in the Constitution. The House agreed to the report without debate. But the Senate rejected it and notified the House that they had nonconcurred. The House was soon in a ferment. The antispeakers edified all aristocratic hearts by their zeal against titles. They were not warranted by the Constitution; repugnant to republican principles; dangerous, vain, ridiculous, arrogant, and damnable. Not a soul said a word for titles. But the zeal of these folks could not have risen higher in case of contradiction. Whether the arguments were addressed to the galleries or intended to hurry the House to a resolve censuring the Senate, so as to set the two Houses at odds, and to nettle the Senate to bestow a title in their address, is not clear. The latter was supposed, and a great majority agreed to appoint a committee of conference. The business will end here. Prudence will restrain the Senate from doing anything at present, and they will call him President, etc., simply.
James Madison to Thomas Jefferson 23 May 1789
… My last enclosed copies of the President’s inauguration speech and the answer of the House of Representatives. I now add the answer of the Senate. It will not have escaped you that the former was addressed with a truly republican simplicity to G. W., President of the U.S. The latter follows the example, with the omission of the personal name but without any other than the constitutional title. The proceeding on this point was in the House of Representatives spontaneous. The imitation by the Senate was extorted. The question became a serious one between the two houses. J. Adams espoused the cause of titles with great earnestness. His friend R. H. Lee, altho elected as a republican enemy to an aristocratic constitution, was a most zealous second. The projected title was—His Highness the President of the U.S. and protector of their liberties. Had the project succeeded it would have subjected the President to a severe dilemma and given a deep wound to our infant government.
The Leadership Divides
In all of American history, no Congress has accomplished quite so much, so very well, as the first one did in 1789. It framed the Bill of Rights. It passed an impost act, assuring the new government a steady source of revenues from duties on imports of foreign goods. It filled the Constitution’s parchment outline of a working federal government with the Judiciary Act of 1789, establishing a system of federal courts, and legislation creating four executive departments. It confirmed the president’s superb appointments to the new executive positions: Thomas Jefferson at State, Alexander Hamilton at the Treasury, Henry Knox at the War Department, and Edmund Randolph as Attorney General.