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Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Written by Alternate Historian

'Lifeterm Presidency' by Guest Historian Eric Lipps
Guest Historian Guest Historian Eric Lipps says, in this scenario, we explore the consequences of a 1787 agreement at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, in which a President-for-life clause is inserted into the text. If you're interested in viewing samples of my other work why not visit My AOL site.

July 11

In 1804, the escalating feud between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr culminates in a duel, held just outside the still-unfinished new capital of Washington, D.C., in which President Hamilton is fatally wounded. He will die the next day. Burr will be charged with murder, and although he is ultimately acquitted, his political career will be irretrievably damaged. Engaged in a contest for the governorship of New York at the time of the duel, Burr, tarred as the 'assassin of the President' and even as a 'regicide,' will lose that election so decisively that it will be clear he has no hope of ever again attaining any position of influence in the United States.


July 30

In 1803, President Alexander Hamilton learns that the 'Cicero letters' which have been appearing occasionally in various newspapers since April of the previous year are the work of his long-time rival Aaron Burr.

In an angry letter of his own, mailed to the editors of several of these papers, the President reveals the identity of 'Cicero' and demands that any future letters from him be refused publication as 'injurious to the dignity of the office which I now hold.'

Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton - 3rd President
3rd President

When Burr learns of Hamilton's response, he lashes back: Not Cicero, he, but Caesar, whose dignity must not be affronted by criticism emanating from common mortals. Have the Congress chosen for us not a president but an emperor? He insists that he will continue to write, under his own name now that his disguise has been penetrated, and says he is confident that his charges against the President will stand on their own merits.

September 9
US President

In 1804, newly installed Acting President Thomas Jefferson succeeds in persuading fellow Southerners in Congress to end their blocking of funds for transforming Columbia College into a national university. In doing so, he plays heavily on sympathy for the slain President Hamilton, choosing to gloss over his own differences with his predecessor.

US President - Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson

November 7

In 1826, with Thomas Jefferson dead after more than twenty years in the White House, Congress meets to appoint a new President, and, as anticipated, chooses to retain Acting President James Madison in that position. However, he faces unexpectedly strong competition from Governor Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. Jackson, who has cultivated friends in the federal government in order to nurture policies beneficial to his home state, comes in second in the voting and is therefore made vice-president, despite the cultivated Madison`s personal distaste for 'that backwoodsman.'


October 1
Alexander Hamilton

In 1801, Congress finally elects a new President: Alexander Hamilton, who narrowly defeats Thomas Jefferson. Under the terms of the Constitution, Jefferson will become Hamilton's vice-president. It is an awkward arrangement. Hamilton is the leader of the dominant faction of the ruling Federalist Party, while Jefferson had actually co-founded the anti-Federalist Republican Party in opposition to the Constitution in the 1790s before reluctantly accepting the new charter. In addition, Hamilton is a Northerner and an outspoken advocate of the abolition of slavery, while Jefferson is a slaveholding Southerner.

Alexander Hamilton - 3rd President
3rd President

May 12

In 1800, an exasperated John Adams declares he does not wish to be considered as a candidate for permanent elevation to the presidency. Repeating words he had uttered at the Continental Congress in 1776, he declares, "One useless man is called a shame, two are called a law firm, and three or more are called a Congress". He goes on: "Why should I wish to serve for the rest of my natural life dealing with a body which cannot even agree upon so basic a matter as when to hold an election for the office of supreme magistrate?".

John Adams
John Adams - 2nd President
2nd President

May 25

In 1787, delegates from the thirteen United States of America meet in Philadelphia to hammer out reforms to the country's governing charter, the Articles of Confederation.

The convention quickly decides that the Articles cannot, in fact, be reformed, and begin work on an entirely new constitution. They conduct their debates in absolute secrecy, fearing the reaction if the public learns prematurely of how they have departed from the mission for which they were appointed.

Founder - Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton

One of the most contentious issues they consider is the role of the President. Under the Articles, the presidency is a minor office, first among equals in Congress, in which no person can serve more than one year in three. Under the influence of Alexander Hamilton, the presidency is greatly strengthened, becoming the chief officer of an entire separate executive branch of the government, among the powers of which is appointment of federal judges. There is fierce debate over the length of time a president should remain in office, though there is general agreement that the one-year-in-three rule in the Articles is far too restrictive.

One early proposal is for a lifetime presidency, whose occupant will be chosen by Congress. It is highly controversial; some delegates warn that it would establish an American monarchy. Proponents counter that Congress will retain primacy through its power to appoint the chief executive, especially since the legislative branch is also to have the power of the purse, enabling it to rein in the executive by controlling that branch's funding. Alternatives are suggested, including a single six-year term and a four-year term with the opportunity for reelection.

June 26

In 1836, U.S. President James Madison dies after a decade in the White House. Andrew Jackson becomes acting President. He is the first man from a state outside the original thirteen to hold the office.

 - Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson

September 16

In 1788, New Hampshire becomes the ninth state to ratify the new U.S. Constitution, placing it into effect. Congress schedules the presidential election for the first Tuesday in November. President of the Congress Cyrus Griffin will serve as acting president until the first Constitutional president is sworn in, which is expected to be sometime in the first week in March (Congress has not specified an exact date) to allow time for the new administration to be assembled and for its members to travel to New York, which is serving as a temporary capital.

 - US Congress
US Congress

It is generally expected that George Washington will be chosen president. That expectation proves true, as Washington receives a unanimous vote in the electoral college. Under the lifetime tenure provision of the Constitution, he will remain in office until his deaath in 1799.

November 6

In 1804, Congress meets to elect the President. The two main candidates are Vice-President Thomas Jefferson, who has been serving as acting President since Hamilton?s demise in July, and James Madison. Jefferson prevails, and Madison becomes vice-president. Jefferson will serve for more than twenty years, until his death on July 4, 1826.

 - US Congress
US Congress

November 8
Pres. Candidate

In 1836, elections for Congress and state legislatures are held. Under the Constitution, however, the new Congress will convene in December of the following year, meaning that a lame-duck House and Senate will decide the fiercely disputed presidential contest. Reformers have urged for years that Congress establish a more reasonable date for convening, as the Constitution grants it the authority to do by legislation. Members, however, have refused to yield what amounts to a free extra year in power for incumbents defeated at the polls.

Pres. Candidate - Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster

March 7

In 1837, Daniel Webster announces he is withdrawing from the presidential race, and asks his followers to support Acting President Andrew Jackson instead.

His stated reason is the need for Americans to 'stand united in this time of foreign invasion,' but political insiders believe that another, more potent reason is that the collapse of his political support among Southerners in Congress following his intemperate remarks of eight days earlier: he can now function only as a spoiler, whose continued presence in the contest will hand victory to the strongly pro-slavery Calhoun, whom he dislikes both politically and personally.

 - Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson

With Webster out of the running, a House vote is scheduled for the following day. It is now expected that Jackson will be confirmed as president for life.

Southern supporters of John Calhoun are furious, and accuse Webster of 'conspiring' with Jackson to defeat Calhoun. They vow to prevent the House from confirming Jackson as lifetime President.

March 11
US President

In 1837, the Battle of Bangor: 10,000 British troops seize the strategically located Maine town, overwhelming 2,000 defenders.

The British have seized the opportunity presented by the presidential succession crisis in the United States following the death of President James Madison to launch a military expedition across the disputed U.S.-Canadian border.

US President - James Madison
James Madison

In Washington, no one yet knows what has happened. Instead, everyone is preoccupied with the ongoing impasse in the House of Representatives over choosing a lifetime successor to Madison. The withdrawal of Daniel Webster from the race has failed to break the deadlock between the remaining candidate, Tennessee's Andrew Jackson and South Carolina's John Calhoun. Calhoun's supporters in the House of Representatives launch parliamentary maneuvers aimed at forestalling a Senate vote for the presidency. Although they have been successful in blocking the election of anyone else in the House, they fear that in the Senate their man's defeat is inevitable.

But although the actual capture of Bangor is not yet known to the U.S. government, reports that British troops have crossed the border and are constructing fortifications on the American side have arrived in the U.S. capital, prompting Acting President Jackson to summon the British ambassador to the presidential residence, where Jackson delivers an ultimatum: if the British do not remove their troops "immediately upon the responsible authorities' receipt of this notice," a state of war between the United States and Great Britain will be considered to be in effect.

Ambassador Henry Fox's response borders on the contemptuous. "I shall convey your words, " he tells Jackson. "However, the government and armed forces of Great Britain shall respond as they think best".

March 28

In 1837, word of the fall of Bangor and of other British advances in Maine reaches Washington just as the Senate, after weeks of infighting, is preparing to cast its vote for President. At once, partisans of Acting President Jackson raise the cry not to change presidents in the middle of what is beginning to look like a mortal threat to the Union.

US President
US President - Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson

Upon receiving the news, Acting President Jackson once more summons Ambassador Fox. We now see, it appears, Jackson says to the diplomat, what course of action your government thinks best in dealing with our protests as to their military incursion upon United States soil.

Perhaps, sir, you believed that I was not in earnest when I warned that refusal to remove these troops would mean war between our nations. I assure you now, any such belief was mistaken. Or perhaps you imagined that, were it to come to war, Britain would inevitably be the victor. One need only direct one?s attention to the history of relations between us to make clear that this, too, is mistaken.

Your government has attempted to take advantage of the present political disputes of this nation to launch a military assault upon us, in violation of all treaties between our nations. Accordingly, I advise you now that I shall request of Congress, before another day has passed, a formal declaration that a state of war exists between the British Empire and the United States of America, and that I anticipate with confidence that whatever their other disagreements they shall speedily provide that declaration.

I therefore request and require that you remove yourself and your staff and dependents from the soil of the United States within the next twenty-four hours. You are to consider that you, and they, are personae non gratae in this nation as of this moment.

Ambassador Fox does not waste time on bluster. He merely replies, As you wish, sir, and turns to go. He and the rest of the personnel of the Washington embassy will depart by ship the following morning, after burning all embassy papers they will be unable to take with them. It is the beginning of the third, and the bloodiest, war between Britain and the United States.

April 4
US President

In 1837, with the U.S. formally at war with Great Britain for the third time following the British invasion of Maine, the Senate, for the first time in its history, meets to select a president.

There had been some hope that in the emergency the diehard supporters of Webster and Calhoun in the House would relent, allowing for a final conclusive vote in that body after all, but it has not happened.

US President - James Madison
James Madison

The protracted succession crisis following the death of President Madison in June 1836 has strengthened the hand of those who have argued for years in favor of a less cumbersome method of choosing the chief executive. Some propose allowing the state legislatures to select delegates to an 'electoral college,' their number reflecting the state's representation in the House and Senate, to choose the president, a proposal considered and rejected at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. A smaller number call for direct election of the president by popular vote; this idea is widely considered impractical, due to primitive transportation and communications and, as well, to a feeling among influential people that 'the masses' are unfit to choose the nation's highest official.

One idea barely mentioned is imposing periodic elections for the presidency in place of the life term. Fifty years after the drafting of the Constitution, the lifetime presidential tenure has acquired the authority of tradition.

May 15

In 1837, the U.S. Senate finally chooses a new President of the United States, and it is not any of the candidates who had contested the issue in the House.

Compromise Candidate by Eric LippsIn the weeks since the Senate convened for the first time in history to choose a president, acting under the provision of the U.S. Constitution that it perform this task if the House of Representatives proves unable to reach a majority decision on the issue, it has become clear that neither Acting President Andrew Jackson nor his remaining opponent, South Carolina's John Calhoun, can receive a majority vote, since too many supporters of former candidate Daniel Webster are unwilling to vote for either man.

"Only in these United States have we so refined democracy that the people's will as to who should occupy the Chief Magistracy may be divined by their elected representatives"Therefore, leaders of the Whigs, Federalists, and Democratic-Republican parties have worked out a compromise, agreeing on the famously nonpartisan Gen. Winfield Scott for president. Scott is deemed an expedient choice with the nation at war once more with Great Britain.

Jackson bows to this bargain and urges his supporters to accept it gracefully, stating, "Better that someone, even though not myself, be given the tenure, than that matters remain as they have been, with the highest office occupied on an ad hoc basis". Southerners, however, are furious when their favorite Calhoun is not awarded even the vice-presidency, which goes instead to the 64-year-old Gov. William Henry Harrison of Indiana. In a subsequent deal, therefore, Gen. Scott is persuaded to make Calhoun his Secretary of War upon assuming the presidency. Left unstated is that Scott's age opens the possibility that his lifetime tenure will be a short one, and that once the office of the president is again vacant Calhoun can seek it again.

Among the populace, reaction to Scott's election is mixed. The General is an authentic military hero of the War of 1812, but his selection seemingly from nowhere rankles. An editorial in the New York Sun tabloid newspaper will state: "Only in these United States have we so refined democracy that the people's will as to who should occupy the Chief Magistracy may be divined by their elected representatives not merely without consulting the people but without regard to the existing list of candidates among whom those representatives had formerly been selecting. "In the South, the "disrespect" allegedly shown Calhoun fuels secessionist sentiment, never quite extinguished following the so-called "nullification crisis " of 1832, in which the then-Senator had played a prominent role.

July 12

In 1804, upon confirmation that President Alexander Hamilton has died of the wounds he sustained in his duel with Aaron Burr, Chief Justice John Marshall of the Supreme Court swears in Vice-President Thomas Jefferson as the acting President of the United States.Death of Hamilton
Partisans of the late President are offended by what they see as a 'perversion' of the succession process. They demand that in light of the manner of Hamilton's death, essentially by assassination, Jefferson, like John Adams before him, decline to be considered as a candidate for permanent elevation to the presidency. Jefferson, however, refuses. "If Congress decline to appoint me, so be it," he declares. "But I shall not remove myself from consideration before that consideration has even begun. The Constitution doers not require it; it places no stricture upon the vice-president seeking the higher office, even should his predecessor's demise be other than natural. Common decency does not require it; to say otherwise is to suggest that I somehow bear responsibility for the President's death. And the welfare of the country does not require it; there is no reason to believe myself less able to fulfill the duties of the office than some other upon whom Congress might settle".
Hamiltonians are not mollified, and there are calls for a new constitutional amendment to bar an acting President from seeking permanent election.

November 1

In 1836, Congress convenes to choose the new life-time President. The three-way contest reflects the country's growing regional divisions, with westerner Andrew Jackson (pictured) pitted against representatives of both New England and the Old South, South Carolina's John C. Calhoun and New Hampshire's Daniel Webster.

A crisis develops when Acting President Jackson, although garnering more votes than either of his opponents, fails to win a majority. In prior elections, there have always been two major candidates, and one of them has always managed to secure the support of a majority in the House.

Gridlock by Eric LippsThe Constitution provides that in the event of a House deadlock, the Senate will choose the President, with each state casting a single vote. Supporters of Andrew Jackson, however, demand that voting continue in the House until a clear winner is chosen there; they fear that backers of Calhoun and Webster, whose parties are stronger in the Senate than in the popularly-elected House, may cut some sort of deal to elect one or the other.

Under the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1802, it takes a two-thirds' majority vote in the House to certify that a deadlock has been reached in selecting a president. Jackson's supporters, however, are strong enough to prevent such a measure from passing. As a result, balloting drags on, as the three power blocs struggle for victory.
This article is a part of the Life Term thread. In this scenario, we explore the consequences of a 1787 agreement at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, in which a President-for-life clause is inserted into the text.

July 31

In 1787, agreement is finally reached at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on the issue of presidential terms.

Heavily influenced by the expectation that General George Washington will be the first to occupy the office under the new constitution, Congress agrees to make it a lifetime appointment, with a vice-president to serve as acting President until a new election is held following the death or retirement of the incumbent.

Lifetime Term by Eric LippsCongress will also have the power to remove the president from office for "high crimes and misdemeanors"; In a concession to those at the convention who fear a lifetime presidency will become an elective monarchy, Congress retains the power to elect the president through a vote of the House of Representatives, although with the stipulation that no one actively serving in that body or in the Senate can be chosen. Congress will also have the power to remove the president from office for "high crimes and misdemeanors"; upon the president's removal, again, the Vice-President will serve in his place until a permanent successor is chosen by Congress.

September 17

In 1806, Aaron Burr is accused of conspiring to steal Louisiana Purchase lands away from the United States and crown himself a king or emperor in a new country, or to declare an illegal war against Spanish possessions in Mexico for the same purpose.

Louisiana Theft by Guest Historian Eric Lipps

There is more than a little truth to the accusations. Politically ruined in the United States following his fatal duel with President Alexander Hamilton in 1804, Burr has grown increasingly alienated from the young republic.

It does not help, either, that Thomas Jefferson is now President: Burr is still bitter over the manner in which Hamilton kept his eventual slayer from gaining even the vice-presidency in 1800 by urging electors to vote for the Virginian over him if they could not support Hamilton himself. In the two years since the duel, he has persuaded himself that he deserves to rule, and he is tempted by the prospect of leading a second revolution.

May 29

In 1866, U.S. President Winfield Scott (pictured) dies, two weeks short of his eightieth birthday, having served in the White House longer than any of his predecessors. Scott's presidency has spanned a turbulent period in American history, beginning in the middle of the U.S.-British war of 1837-'39 and extending through the western expansion which in the 1830s and 1840s brought the USA into conflict with Mexico and the growing sectional strife over the issue of slavery.

President Winfield Scott makes way for an older man by Eric LippsIncredibly, the man who will take his place is even older. Vice-President William Henry Harrison, the compromise candidate selected by Congress as Scott's No. 2 in the brokered election of 1837, is now 93 years old, having been born just before the start of the American Revolution. Yet under the terms of the Constitution, Harrison will serve as acting President until Congress can choose a new lifetime successor to Scott.

And Harrison is not well. Confined to a wheelchair for the past two years, he has grown increasingly forgetful and erratic, prone to outbursts of temper and wild accusations that "enemies of the nation" are plotting against him.

Unfortunately, he is not altogether incorrect. President Scott had managed to hold the United States together despite the growing strife between North and South, but the nation is seething with political conspiracies, both pro-and anti-slavery. The Knights of the Golden Circle, a shadowy group organized in 1860, is rumored to be amassing arms for an attempt at establishing a breakaway Southern confederacy dedicated to slavery, while in the Southwest, Spanish-speaking militants are actively calling for the territories taken from Mexico in years past to rejoin that nation.

July 4

In 1826, President Thomas Jefferson dies at the age of 83. The 75-year-old Vice-President James Madison is sworn in as acting President. It is expected that he will be confirmed as President in his own right by Congress; however, the succession of one aged chief executive by another nearly as old sparks some calls for reform.

The Webster Proposal an article by Eric Lipps"Why should this nation risk passing its highest magistracy from one hand enfeebled by age, however venerated it might be, to another, and thence perhaps to another?" asks New Hampshire Senator Daniel Webster. "Should we not ensure energy in the executive by providing, insofar as is possible, that in the event of a president's death, his successor should enjoy the same vigor he himself displayed at the start of his term?".

Webster calls for a constitutional amendment abolishing lifetime presidential tenure in favor of regular elections at seven-year intervals. The "Webster proposal" will be rejected by Congress. However, variants of it will repeatedly be suggested in years to come.
This article is a part of the Life Term thread. In this scenario, we explore the consequences of a 1787 agreement at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, in which a President-for-life clause is inserted into the text.

January 6

In 1837, Congress returns from its Christmas recess with the presidency still undecided following the death of James Madison the previous June.

Union in Turmoil by Eric LippsTennessean Andrew Jackson (pictured) remains in place as acting President and is favored to win the office in his own right, but faces a strong continuing challenge from South Carolina's John Calhoun.

Regional hostilities are mounting: both Tennessee and South Carolina have each threatened secession if its favorite son is not elected, and are lobbying neighbor states for support. A number of newspapers have editorialized harshly against Congress's having chosen to go on vacation without finishing the job of choosing a new lifetime chief executive.

There is growing public dissatisfaction, as well, with the fact that the electorate which chooses the Congress which, in turn, picks the President is limited by laws in every state to a small minority of wealthy white male landowners. Acting President Jackson shrewdly exploits this resentment, telling newspapers that if elected he will work to broaden the suffrage to non-landholders. (He says nothing about extending it to women, and certainly nothing about granting it to nonwhites).

In England, there are suggestions that the United States' disarray offers an opportunity for some sort of military action, perhaps to seize territory along the U.S./Canadian border. Also discussed is the use of agents-provocateurs to deepen America's sectional divides, with the aim of promoting an actual breakup of the Union into two or three smaller, weaker nations. Even at this late date there are influential Britishers who dream of reabsorbing some or all of "the Colonies" into the British Empire, and such people see encouraging secession as a means toward that goal.
This article is a part of the Life Term thread. In this scenario, we explore the consequences of a 1787 agreement at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, in which a President-for-life clause is inserted into the text.

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© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.