Off to a bad start: John Adams’s tussle over titles


John Adams

How to Cite

Alexander, J. C. (2008). Off to a bad start: John Adams’s tussle over titles. Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Journal, 4.


From the first days, of the first session, of the first Congress of the United States, the Senate was consumed by an issue that would do immense and lasting political harm to the sitting vice president, John Adams. The issue was a seemingly unimportant one: titles. Adams had strong opinions on what constituted a proper title for important officers of government and, either because he was unconcerned or unaware of the damage it would cause, placed himself in the middle of the brewing dispute. Adams hoped the president would be referred to as, “His highness, the President of the United States of America, and Protector of the Rights of the Same.” The suggestion enraged many, amused some, and was supported by few. He lost the fight over titles and made fast enemies with several of the Senators he was constitutionally obligated to preside over. Adams was savaged in the press, derided in the Senate and denounced by one of his oldest and closest friends. Not simply an isolated incident of political tone-deafness, this event set the stage for the campaign against Adams as a monarchist and provided further proof of his being woefully out of touch.