Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal: Alternate History: The Cincinnati: The Constitutional Convention essentially reproduced the late-eighteenth century division of power in the British government at the time: instead of King, Lords, and Commons we had President, Senate, and House of Representatives.
There were some tweaks: Individual Presidents were weakened by making them stand for four-year terms, while the Presidency was strengthened by giving it a mighty plebiscitary base. Congress was weakened by depriving it of the power to pass Bills of Attainder and Ex Post Facto laws. The Presidency was weakened by depriving it of the ability to bribe members of Congress by offering them posts of trust and profit. And the government as a whole was weakened in its authoritarian powers by the Bill of Rights.
But for the most part it was the late eighteenth-century British Constitution, dry-cleaned, brushed, and patched.
What if things had gone differently? What if the Founders had taken as their model not late eighteenth-century Britain, but that other great example of good government: the Antonine dynasty of the Roman Empire, in which each Emperor "adopted" the leading military politician of the next generation as his successor?
My brother sketches out what might then have happened:
OK. Each Imperator--chosen by the Cincinnati--serves for no more than two 10-year terms, with the mandate of the Cincinnati being to choose the most impressive available military politician as his successor.
Then we get:
1810-1820: "Light Horse" Harry Lee
1820-1830: Andrew Jackson
1830-1840: Andrew Jackson
1840-1850: James K. Polk (a stretch)
1850-1860: Zachary Taylor
1860-1870: Robert E. Lee (struggles to find a good general as successor)
1870-1880: U.S. Grant
1880-1890: Phil Sheridan
1890-1900: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
1900-1910: Teddy Roosevelt
1910-1920: Teddy Roosevelt
1920-1930: John Pershing
1930-1940: Douglas MacArthur (uh-oh)
1940-1950: George Marshall
1950-1960: Dwight Eisenhower
1960-1970: Maxwell Taylor
1970-1980: Matthew Ridgeway
1980-1990: Alexander Haig (uh-oh)
1990-2000: Colin Powell
2000-2010: Colin Powell
Well, I've seen worse lists of rulers, but I'm not sure we make it through the Great Depression with MacArthur.
Perhaps the Republic falls in 1935 to an insurrection led by Huey Long in the role of the Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus. Perhaps not. Certainly a very different United States. An inferior one? Again, perhaps.