Patrick Henry Fears an American King
Patrick Henry opposed the adoption of the Constitution as he feared the consolidating purpose of it. He foretold that the growing power of the federal agent would oppress the States and “use a standing army to execute the execrable commands of tyranny”; he warned of leaving the agricultural States of the South at the mercy of the trading and manufacturing States of the North through treaty and protective tariff bills, as well as “an army of Federal officers” sent forth to harass the people and interfering in their elections.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
Patrick Henry Fears an American King:
“The great danger to the country lies in the temptation to the political party controlling Congress to so manipulate the elections as to perpetuate its powers. Another danger in Federal elections, foreseen by Mr. Henry, was the improper use of money. He predicted that rich men would carry the elections and constitute an aristocracy of wealth. Bribery in elections has become open and shameless, and the most conspicuous corruptors of the people, instead of being relegated to infamy, are too often rewarded by high official positions.
The conduct of the Northern members of the Congress, especially in the matter of the Mississippi, induced Mr. Henry to predict, that under a government that subjected the South to the will of a Northern majority, that majority having different interests, would never consent to Southern aggrandizement. The history of the country may be appealed to for the fulfillment of this prophesy, and the justifications of the fears he expressed.
Mr. Henry’s declaration that the Federal Government “squints toward monarchy,” is now, after a century of trial, admitted to be true by writers on the subject. Professor Hare . . . after stating that in England the prime minister is the responsible executive officer, and that he is controlled by the House of Commons, adds:
“Our system, on the contrary, intrusts the executive department of the government to a chief magistrate, who, during his term of office, and so far as his power extends, is virtually a king . . . When President Polk precipitated hostilities with Mexico by marching an army into the disputed territory, Congress had no choice but to declare war which he had provoked, and which they had no power to terminate . . . A chief magistrate who wields the whole military, and no inconsiderable share of the civil power, of the State, who can incline the scale to war and forbid the return of peace, whose veto will stay the course of legislation, who is the source of enormous patronage which is the main lever in the politics of the United States, exercise functions more truly regal than those of an English monarch . . . every inch a king.”
(Patrick Henry, Life, Correspondence and Speeches, William Wirt Henry, Volume I, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891, pp. 404-406)