Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

What do William and Kate have in common with George Washington?

April 29, 2011 by Sayeh Hormozi


Ladies, put on your most elaborate hats! Gentlemen, dust off your morning coats and pull out your lounge suits* because today's the big day. William and Kate are finally tying the knot!

Women from all over the world have been waiting with bated breath to see what Kate will be wearing. Will she follow in her late mother-in-law's footsteps and don a 25 foot train? Or will she astound everyone with a simple sheath dress? (Gasp!)

There is no shortage of speculation to be sure. A cadre of journalists from all over the globe are in London reporting the royal affair minute by minute. Will Kanye West really be in attendance? If so, will he jump onto the altar during the vows? Will Victoria Beckham quit pursing her lips long enough to congratulate the royal newlyweds? Today is the day when all of our burning questions will be answered.

For some, one of those questions is: Why do we care? Why is the marriage of a British royal--especially one belonging to a constitutional monarchy--so fascinating?

For any young girl who's ever dreamed of Prince Charming, the answer is simple. Kate Middleton's reality is so many girls' fantasy. She's going to become an actual princess. The multi-billion dollar wedding industry basically owes its existence to the premise that a woman's wedding is the one day of her life where she can feel like royalty. It's no surprise then that the real deal is so fascinating.

The history of the United States suggests, however, that our obsession with the British monarchy has roots even deeper than that of fairy tale weddings.

After declaring our independence and fighting a war with Britain in order to protect it, the signers of the Constitution wanted to ensure that the nation, for which they had fought so hard, wouldn't itself fall into the hands of a despot or monarch. Hence, they created the three branches of government including an executive office with limited powers.

Despite their efforts, old habits die hard. When George Washington was elected the first President of the United States, his peers couldn't help but revere him as they would a monarch. They even called him Excellency! Many didn't feel that the title of President, although specifically delineated as the title for the executive in Article II Section i of the Constitution, was honorific enough. They felt that His Royal Highness the President was more suitable or His Highness the Elective President.

The concept of Royalty was still so powerful that some of the very men who fought to be relinquished from the control of a King were loath to let go of the authority and reverence that comes with the title.

In an attempt to separate himself from the royal treatment, George Washington wore a modest double breasted suit on his inauguration day. No general's uniform or pageantry. Just a citizen, adorned with patriotic symbols. With this gesture, he ushered in a new concept of reverence and leadership.

Unlike Washington, it's certain that His Royal Highness William the Prince of Wales--embracing his title--will be dressed in his full military regalia for his wedding day. And although the marriage will air at 6am stateside, the ratings will no doubt be high. And yes, the wannabe princesses will be tuning in, but perhaps the allure is more than that. Perhaps while watching the pomp and circumstance, what Americans recognize is a little piece of what our nation could of have been.

*The royal invitation says suitable attire for gentlemen attending the wedding is a military uniform, morning coat or lounge suit. After much research the crack scientists at the NCC have discovered that a lounge suit is in fact...a regular business suit.

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