Saturday, August 11, 2012

John Adams ... "His Rotundity"

After George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States, Congress – especially the Senate – witnessed heated debate on how he should be addressed.  Vice President John Adams, with a reputation for at least a bit of vanity in his personal view of life, argued fervently for a grand title befitting his view of the great dignity of the office and the respect that it should receive.  He and a few others suggested titles including the terms “His Majesty” and “His Excellency” in one form or another.  And a committee appointed to resolve the issue seemed to agree, recommending “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of Rights of the Same.”

But others in Congress, such as Virginia Representative and future president James Madison, thought a less pretentious title would be better for the country. And soon, Adams’ unyielding support for an imposing, majestic title soon made him something of a joke on the issue, even among his friends.  One senator, Ralph Izard of South Carolina, suggested that the rather short, heavy-set Adams be himself called “His Rotundity,” and the joke spread throughout the chamber.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives also had fun at Adams’ expense. In his 2001 biography entitled John Adams, author David McCullough wrote that Representatives John Page of Virginia and Thomas Tucker of South Carolina amused themselves with humorous notes to each other during the too-long debates on the issue.  Speaking of Adams, Tucker wrote to Page, “In gravity clad, He has nought in his head, But visions of Nobels and Kings.” Responded Page: “I’ll tell in a trice –, ‘Tis old Daddy Vice, Who carries of pride as ass-load; Who turns up his nose, Wherever he goes, With vanity swelled like a toad.”

Despite his considerable prominence even among those who laughed at his personality quirks, Adams lost this battle. Both the House and the Senate voted to address Washington and future presidents as "The President of the United States."  

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