David Cannadine on the True Republic and the Disguised Monarchy

Closet Politician

Indeed, better-informed Americans fully understood this. “We elect a king for four years”, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State once observed, “and give him absolute power within certain limits, which after all he can interpret for himself”. Some commentators went even further, insisting that although America claimed to be a republic, because it had no hereditary sovereign, it was in reality a disguised monarchy – whereas Britain might claim to be a monarchy, because it had a royal head of state, but it was in fact a concealed republic, because the politicians rather than the sovereign were actually in charge. In the words of one late 19th Century American newspaper: “Great Britain is a republic, with a hereditary president, while the United States is a monarchy with an elective king.” That may not have been the whole truth of things then, and it is not the whole truth of things now…

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