Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

A Little Bit of Royalty

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Having been born in the Antipodes, I was raised a subject of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. As Australia was so poor, we had to share her with quite a few other countries (which, apparently, couldn't afford their own queen either, given the manner in which she was accustomed to living!): Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and last, and certainly least (says the irreverent Aussie), the United Kingdom. Apparently, a little bit of queen goes a long way.

From my early school days I remember learning the following:

William the first was the first of our kings
Not counting the Ethelreds Egberts and things
He had himself crowned and anointed and blessed
In ten-sixty - I needn't tell you the rest.

An alternate—and seemingly more correct—fourth line is, "At Westminster Abbey in 1066". Twenty eight more lines follow, and you can find them all (including variations and related rhymes) by searching the internet for the first line.

In 2009, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Normandy, France. While touring Caen, my first stop was Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men's Abbey) and the adjoining abbey church Saint-Etienne, which William the Conqueror started building in 1064. He was buried there in 1087 and at his graveside I paid my respects telling him that he wouldn't believe how the Brits had let things go since his day. And except for the Channel Islands, they didn't even own Normandy anymore! And as for their international cricket team, what can I say!

For the purposes of this essay, I consider royalty to be the monarchs, their spouses, and their issue (direct descendants). [A well-known saying goes something like this, "The primary duty of the wife of a king/prince/lord/etc. is to bear him an heir and a spare!] Of course, not all monarchs inherited their position; some simply took it, which in many cases is what they thought God had really intended!

Now if you want to know about all those second- and third-tier courtiers, see Burke's Peerage, "founded by John Burke in London in 1826, records the genealogy and heraldry of the Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Landed Gentry of the United Kingdom, the historical families of Ireland and the Commonwealth of Nations, the Imperial, Royal and Mediatised families of Europe and Latin America, the Presidential and distinguished families of the United States, the ruling families of Africa and the Middle East and other prominent families worldwide."

Royalty Today

According to Wikipedia, "As of July 2013, there are 26 active sovereign monarchies in the world – kings, queens, sultans, emperors, emirs and others – who rule or reign over 43 countries in all."

Although I am most familiar with the British royal family, after 35 years of international travel I've experienced a bit of life under, read about, talked to subjects of, and gotten more than a little interested in, a number of other families. These include: Danish Royal Family (complete with an Aussie Crown Princess, Mary), Dutch Royal Family, Japanese Imperial Family, Jordanian Royal Family, and Thai Royal Family.

A few monarchies are absolute, in which case, a statement from the king of "Off with his head!" may well result in that happening, really! Most are constitutional. According to Wikipedia, "The most recent[update] country to transition from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy was Bhutan, in 2007-8."

Royalty's Function in Today's Society

There's no denying that despite the typically high cost of supporting a royal family — all the way down to the under-butlers, assistants to the assistant cooks, gardeners' apprentices, and the man whose puts the paste on Prince Charles' toothbrush — in many cases, there is a huge payback from related tourism. For example, required sites during one's first trip to London include the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the Horse Guards on the Mall, Westminster Abbey, and The Tower of London, and if you go a little bit out of the city, Windsor Castle and, my favorite by far, Hampton Court Palace.

The head of a royal family is the country's Head of State, which in constitutional monarchies, is a non-political role. In times of crisis, this role can be most important. For example, it is impossible to think how Thailand might be today after all those military coups, if it hadn't been for the presence of the extremely popular and long-serving King Bhumibol. The Emperor of Japan has also played key roles over time especially in the ending of WWII in the Pacific. And during the bombing of London in WWII, the appearance in the streets of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth gave the people hope.

Many countries, including democracies, do not have what we Americans call—in fact demand—Separation of Church and State. The Head of State in a monarchy is often the head of that country's National Church. For example, in the UK it's the Church of England; in Denmark, the monarch is the supreme authority of the Church of Denmark, but not the head; in Norway, the monarch is High Protector of the Church of Norway; in Japan, the Emperor is the highest authority of the Shinto religion. Some constitutions prohibit a monarch or Crown Prince or Princess from marrying "outside the faith". (Count the number of Catholic Queens of England of late!)

A Head of State might also be the commander-in-chief of a country's military; Norway is one example. [For a tale of how a king should not design a naval ship, read about the King of Sweden's Vasa, a must-see if you get to Stockholm.]

If you've watched enough British TV series, you'll have seen examples of businesses that provide services to certain members of the royal family and their official residences. As such, they are entitled to announce things like, "Moat builders" or "Beheading axe makers", "By appointment to His Majesty …" Such approval requires a Royal warrants of appointment; click here to read about such for various royal families. Clearly, qualifying for such a right lends huge prestige to the supplier.

Who's the King of the Castle?

The title of a ruler varies; for example:

  • Kingdom: King and Queen. The king of Persia (and Iran) was a Shah, his wife a Shahbanu. Egypt had its Pharaoh and Great Royal Wife. However, Cleopatra, who ruled in her own right, is generally called Queen.
  • Empire: Emperor and Empress, although the head of the British Empire did not carry that title, per se. That said, Queen Victoria was the Empress of India. Russia has its Tsar (Czar) and Tsarina. Even though Japan is no longer an empire, it still has an emperor (sometimes referred to as a Mikado).
  • Duchy: Duke and Duchess, as in Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall. Luxembourg is a Grand Duchy, so has a Grand Duke.
  • Principality: Liechtenstein has a Prince, as does Monaco. The co-principality of Andorra has two co-Princes, one a Roman Catholic Bishop from Spain; the other the President of France. Arab emirates have their emir and emira. And sultanates have their sultan and sultana.

Royal Consorts

A King's wife is usually called a Queen, although the full title is sometimes Queen Consort.

A Queen who rules in her own right is a Queen Regnant. Her husband is typically called Prince Consort, although King Consort has existed. (Examples are Victoria and Elizabeth II, and their respective husbands, Albert and Phillip.)

If for whatever reason, the wife of a King isn't called Queen, she might be Princess Consort. (Since Prince Charles' marriage to Camilla, there has been lots of discussion about whether or not she could become Queen on his ascent to the British throne. As such, she might be a candidate for this title.)

Lines of Succession

Historically, and still the case in some royal families, when the head of the royal family dies or abdicates, the next in line is the oldest living son, and (typically) then down the line of daughters. This is called primogeniture. According to Wikipedia, "The United Kingdom passed legislation to establish gender-blind succession in 2013 but delayed implementation until the 15 other countries which share the same monarch effect similar changes in their succession laws."

Japan uses strict agnatic primogeniture. As the Japanese Crown Prince and Princess have only one child, a daughter, there are debates as to whether she will ever become Head of State.

Giving it All Up

Apparently, life at the top isn't all it's cracked up to be, and some rulers abdicate, either by choice or by force. In the past couple of years, a number of long-term monarchs have stepped down:

  • In the Netherlands, Queen Beatrix abdicated in favor of her son, Willem-Alexander, the first Dutch king in more than 120 years. Her mother, Juliana, did likewise for her, and her grandmother, Wilhelmina, abdicated in favor of Juliana. After her abdication, Beatrix reverted to being a mere Princess.
  • In Spain, King Juan Carlos abdicated in favor of his son, Felipe VI. It seems that the former king retains the title of King.
  • In Belgium, King Albert II stepped down in favor of his son Philippe. He too retains the title of King. (Albert's father, Leopold III, also abdicated.)

In the English-speaking world, probably the best known and talked about is the abdication of Edward VIII (whose names were Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David). According to Wikipedia, "In 1936, a constitutional crisis in the British Empire was caused by King-Emperor Edward VIII's proposal to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite who was divorced from her first husband and was pursuing a divorce of her second." The crisis had much to do with Edward's being head of the Church of England, which, at that time, did not permit divorced people to remarry if their former spouses were still alive. On abdication, the once-King became His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor.

Norodom Sihanouk, the King of Cambodia, abdicated twice. He finally became His Majesty, The King Father.


When the head of the royal household dies or abdicates, what title does their spouse have? If the departed ruler is a woman, their spouse would not have had the title King or Emperor, for example, so they retain their existing title. In the case of departing men, their spouses need to be distinguished from the wife of any in-coming male ruler.

The best-known case in the English-speaking world is Queen Elizabeth II's mother, the former Queen Elizabeth. She simply became known as "Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother." Strictly speaking, she was a dowager Queen. The title empress dowager is equivalent. A living queen dowager is Noor, widow of Jordan's King Hussein, and an American born in Washington DC.

Lasting Legacies

More than a few royals are remembered—some fondly and others not so—long after their passing. In some cases, thousands of years after. Here's a list of those that immediately came to my mind, in no particular order (a few of them might be considered rulers who were not royals, in some sense):

And last, but certain not least, there's THE King, Elvis Presley.

These rulers are joined by some equally famous ones from fiction:

More on fictional monarchs can be found here.

Odds and Ends

For a very funny take on Queen Elizabeth I, see Black Adder II. Likewise for Black Adder the Third, which revolves around the butler to the Prince of Wales, the Crown Prince of England.

If you are interested in reading about a couple of "royal" oddities, take a look at the following:

  • The Channel Islands, and how the loyal toast there is to, "The Queen, our Duke"; and
  • Hutt River Province, where Prince Leonard claims to rule an independent sovereign state in Australia. For more about micro nations, click here.


Having dual citizenship, I carry two passports when I travel abroad. Being born into the British Commonwealth, I am still a subject of Her Majesty. However, I never did swear any oaths to her (at least none that I can repeat here). However, when I became a US Citizen (see my essay from April 2010), I swore the following: I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen. Furthermore, should She ever grant me my well-deserved knighthood, I won't be able to use the title Sir within the US.

A few humorous notes: My son once told me that Marie Antoinette was misunderstood when she spoke of the starving peasants. Apparently, what she meant to say was, "Let them eat cake, with ice cream!" And from various sources, when told that "The peasants are revolting!" the reply was, "They certainly are!"

And in my usual, irreverent Aussie style, I recall how we kids sang a variation on our national anthem, which started like this: "God save our gracious cat, feed it on bread and fat, God save our cat." (Interestingly, the US has a popular song, "My Country 'Tis of Thee", which uses the same tune.

By the way, William the Conqueror's name was actually Guillaume. But you know how those immigration officials are! No sooner had he landed at Hastings, and they asked him his name, they said, "Thank you very much for sharing that with us, but we'll call you Bill; OK?"

Whenever I visit my dear friend Günter in his native Germany, and we sit outside in nice weather, eating and drinking, he often says, "Oh it's good to be king!" Of course, since my name, Rex, is Latin for King, I know just what he means.

A Little Bit More American Civics

© 2012 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In the first part, I covered the Constitution and the Executive Branch (Presidency, Vice Presidency, and Cabinet). In this second part, I'll cover the Legislative Branch (Senate and House), Presidential Succession, the Judicial Branch (primarily the Supreme Court), the flag, and Third Parties and Independents.

The Legislative Branch – Congress

The US Congress is the legislative branch of government, and it consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. [Although these are occasionally referred to as the upper and lower house, respectively, that is rare, and can give a misleading impression as to the roles of each when compared with a parliamentary system in which the upper house is often a house of review.]

Members are now chosen by direct election (initially, senators were elected by their state legislature).

For the most part, the Senate and House have equal powers. However, only the Senate can ratify a treaty or approve presidential appointments (such as ambassadors, cabinet members, and Federal judges). [As one not-quite-so-well-written high school student wrote, "The President of the United States, in having foreign affairs, has to have the consent of the Senate". It's not clear that President Clinton had such consent, but then again his affairs might have been entirely domestic!] Only the House can initiate a revenue-raising bill. When a President is impeached, charges are brought by the House, whose members act as the prosecution, while the members of the Senate act as the jury. (The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial.)

Although only Congress has the power to declare war or to sustain a military action, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the President can commit the military for up to 90 days without congressional approval. Unless such commitment seems flawed in a major way, most Senators and Representatives will support the President's action, as they don't want to be seen to be "letting the troops down" once they have been committed, even if privately they disagree with the decision. [Note that the Korean and Vietnam "wars" were not declared wars.]

As I suggested earlier, not all Federal employees come under the Executive Branch. For example, the following organizations support the Legislative Branch: Library of Congress (the library with the world's largest collection, and perhaps surprisingly, from which one cannot borrow a book [they can, however, be read on-site by the public, but otherwise are resources available to Congress]), the Congressional Research Service, and the Congressional Budget Office.

A term of Congress runs two years, starting on January 3 of odd-numbered years, and is divided into two 1-year sessions. (Other or special sessions are called from time to time.)

The Senate

Members of the Senate are called—TA DA—senators.

According to the Constitution, each state—regardless of population—has two senators, making 100 senators in all. The Federal Capital, Washington DC, is not represented (and neither are other US territories, such as Puerto Rico). Each senator is elected to a 6-year term, with one third of the 100 senators' terms expiring every congressional term. The 6-year terms of any state's two senators are never the same. There are no Senate Districts; both senators in a state represent that whole state. The idea behind a 6-year term is to allow senators to weather the storm over a longer period, especially if they make unpopular decisions. (Public furor based on their votes can well and truly die down before they are next up for election.)

The VP is the ex officio President of the Senate, and can only vote to break a tie. (For a list of such votes, press here.) However, to run the Senate on a day-to-day basis, the Senate elects a President pro tempore, who is third in line to the President.

The Constitution requires that a senator be at least 30 years old, have been a citizen of the US for at least the past nine years, and be an inhabitant of the state in which they run at the time of their election. (Hilary Clinton moved to New York State, so she could run for senator there.)

Obama (#44), Nixon (#37), LBJ (#36), Kennedy (#35), and Truman (#33) were recent Presidents who served in the Senate.

The House of Representatives

Members of the House of Representatives are called representatives, congressmen, or congresswomen.

The Constitution does not speak to the size of the House, but it clearly was intended that states with larger populations have more Representatives. Also, each state must have at least one Representative. Currently, due to their small populations, seven states have only one, in which case, the whole state is their district; they are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. California, the most populous state currently has 53 Representatives.

As the population grew, the House was expanded until around 1913 when it was frozen at 435 members. In years divisible by 10, a national census is taken and the allocation of seats by state is adjusted as a result of population migration. In 1959, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as the 49th and 50th states, respectively, and each got one new Representative, making the total 437, temporarily. However, the next year's census reduced that back to 435, resulting in two seats being taken away from other states.

While the Federal Capital, Washington DC, has a Delegate in the House, unlike Representatives she cannot vote on the main floor. Each Representative is elected to a 2-year term, with all 435 Representatives' terms expiring every congressional term. As such, they have to spend a lot more time in their home Districts appeasing their constituents. In fact, soon after they get elected, they start working on getting reelected! [Unfortunately, due a number of factors, most incumbents get reelected.]

The House is led by the Speaker, who is second in line to the President. [It is most interesting to note that the Constitution does not require the Speaker actually to be an elected member of the House he or she will lead! However, all Speakers thus far have been elected representatives. Nor does the Speaker have to be of the majority party in the House.]

The boundaries of Districts in each state are controlled by that state and are purely based on political power. In my humble opinion, that mechanism has been, and continues to be, widely abused, with redistricting often being based on ethnic, income, and partisan political factors. (The process of deciding boundaries is called Gerrymandering, named for Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry who had his 15 minutes of fame back in 1812.)

The Constitution requires that a Representative be at least 25 years old, have been a citizen of the US for the past seven years, and be an inhabitant of the state (but not necessarily the District) they represent.

Bush Sr. (#41), Ford (#40), Nixon (#37), and LBJ (#36) were recent Presidents who served in the House.

Getting a Law Passed

For a law to pass, it must be approved by the Senate, the House, and not be vetoed by the President. (The President can sign or not sign a bill. A Presidential veto can be overridden, however. For an interesting complication, see pocket veto.) [When similar bills pass the Senate and House, a Conference Committee irons out their differences.] Even if a law gets past all that, it can still be overturned—possible many years later—by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. For example, even if the Senate, House, and President all agree to ban almost all personal ownership of handguns, the resulting law would almost certainly be struck down by the Supreme Court based on the Constitution's 2nd Amendment rights that "Protects an individual's right to bear arms". For such a law to survive, the Constitution would have to be changed, and—by design—that is a much harder job than just making a Federal law.

Presidential Succession

If a President, dies or resigns while in office, who takes over? Well, the obvious answer is, "The VP". But what if the VP cannot take over? The Presidential line of succession is addressed in the Constitution and in Amendments 20 and 25. The bottom line is that the VP comes first, followed by the Speaker of the House, then the President pro tempore of the Senate, and then the Cabinet heads in order of the creation of their Department (with State coming first). [Despite his extensive experience at playing President on a long-running TV show, rumors that Martin Sheen comes next cannot been verified.]

With 15 Cabinet Departments currently, that provides for 18 backup Presidents, which sounds like a lot. However, each January, the President makes his annual State of the Union address in which he reports on the current condition of the country, and outlines his legislative agenda and national priorities for the next year. This event takes place in the House of Representatives. Present are the President, the Vice President, the Cabinet, all 435 members of the House, all 100 members of the Senate, and all 9 Justices of the Supreme Court, unless, of course, they have a note from their Mom excusing them! Basically, the entire US Government leadership is under the same roof at the same time! So, what if a catastrophic event wiped out that whole group? [If you have never seen the movie King Ralph, I highly recommend it.] Fortunately, one Cabinet Secretary agrees to stay (hopefully far) away from that event, so there is someone left to take charge. That said if he/she becomes the new President he/she can't appoint a new VP, any Cabinet members or Supreme Court judges until the Senate and/or House gets repopulated. [The replacement of vacated House and Senate seats is handled by each State's Constitution.]

Note that the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate might not be from the same party as the President. And some Presidents appoint Cabinet Secretaries who are not from their party.

[During the weeks I wrote and revised this essay, I watched all 28 episodes of the 2nd season of the popular TV series 24, which starred Kiefer Sutherland. When the President calls off an attack on three middle-east nations, the VP calls a meeting of the Cabinet to try and get them to vote that the President is unfit and should be relieved. This possibility is in fact provided for by the 25th Amendment.]

The Judicial Branch

The Constitution requires that there be one court called the Supreme Court, which is atop a Federal Court system. Congress is empowered to create additional subordinate courts and structures as part of the federal court system. Like the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch has its own set of civil servants to administer its operations, separate from the Executive Branch. Most Federal judges are appointed for life and can only be removed by impeachment. [Some have been imprisoned, but continued to draw their salary!]

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the US is the highest court in the land and its decisions are final; there is no mechanism to appeal any of its decisions. Its job is to interpret the US Constitution when asked to do so. It currently consists of the Chief Justice—who heads the Judicial Branch—and eight Associate Justices (all of whom are naked under those flowing black robes).

Of course, the Founding Fathers had no inkling of the changes technology and evolved thinking has wrought since the Constitution was written, so determining how this document should be applied to such modern-day questions as animal and human cloning, genetic modification, and conducting business on the internet, for example, could be seen as a stretch. In that regard, there are two camps of Justices: the Big-Endians and the Little Endians. Just kidding, OK! After all, this is a pretty dry subject! Actually, there are the more conservative Strict Constructionists who argue one must apply the plain meaning of the actual words as written by the Founding Fathers, and the Judicial Activists who take into account political, historical, scientific, and personal issues when interpreting the present-day meaning of the words in the Constitution. This distinction becomes important when a vacancy occurs, and the sitting President gets to nominate a replacement supposedly "reasonably aligned with his thinking". However, the Senate has to approve. While only 12 nominees have been rejected, many more nominees have been withdrawn when it was clear they had no real chance of getting Senate approval.

[I remember well in 1987 when Reagan nominated Robert Bork. That created a firestorm. I went off to Europe for some weeks during which time I was out of contact with US news. On my return, I learned that not only had Bork's nomination been voted down, Reagan then picked Douglas Ginsburg, who very quickly admitted he'd smoked some marijuana while a professor at Harvard. Eventually, Anthony Kennedy was nominated and accepted.]

The Constitution sets no qualifications whatsoever for service as a Supreme Court Justice. Bush Jr. (whom I prefer to call, "Bush the very much lessor") nominated a lawyer who had also served as White House counsel, but who had never been a judge. Under much protest, he withdrew her name. Interestingly, Chief Justice Earl Warren, who some say was the most powerful jurist in U.S. history, was never a judge until he became Chief Justice.

The Chief Justice need not have been an Associate Justice prior. Indeed, the sitting Chief, John Roberts, came straight in to the top spot, at the grand old age of 50! So, barring any accidents, illness, or his running off with Associate Justice/Hot Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we can expect to have him occupy that seat for a long time.

The Flag

As it exists today, the US flag consists of 13 alternating red and white stripes and 50 5-pointed white stars on a blue background. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies that became the first states, and the 50 stars represent the 50 states.

Back at the beginning of the country, the flag had only 13 stars and 13 stripes. A few years later, two more states joined the union, so two more stars and two more stripes were added, and that was the flag that flew during the War of 1812 when the Brits made an unfriendly visit, and the national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner", was inspired. Later yet, five more states were added, but some smart person at the now-defunct Department of Forward Thinking suggested that adding a stripe for each new state then and later would give rise to some awfully thin stripes [especially if we took over all of Canada as well. Oops, I didn't mean to let that slip!], so they went back to 13, and just kept increasing the number of stars.

Now there are rules and protocols about proper flag usage and disposal, but, unfortunately, these are not widely promoted nor followed. I often see flags flying—even at official buildings and facilities—in inclement weather, in the dark, or in a torn state, all of which are prohibited. I especially remember the days immediately following 9/11 when people attached small flags to the roofs of their cars, so they could flutter freely in the wind at 70 miles per hour. Of course, many of them quickly became tattered although their owners kept flying them. "Yeah; let's wave the flag while disrespecting it!" As for my flag, it hangs loosely on the wall of the main entrance inside my house, in a well-lit, dry, calm place.

Third Parties and Independents

Unlike numerous other democracies, the US seems to have fewer third party and independent candidates. Certainly, we've had Senators and Representatives change parties or leave a party to become independent, and we've had them elected as independents. I am not aware of any Constitutional obstacles to third party and independent candidates running and being elected and even holding the balance of power in either or both the Senate and House. However, having them hold the Presidency is another matter altogether.

As it happens, the President is not elected directly by the people. Yes, the people vote, but once that voting has been counted, there is one final step needed before a result can be ratified, and that involves the Electoral College. There are 538 Electoral College delegate votes (435 [the number of Representatives] + 100 [the number of Senators] + 3 for Washington DC [per the 23rd Amendment]), and becoming President requires a simple majority, 270, to win. In all but two (less-populous) states, it's "winner-takes-all-delegates". For example, the most-populous state, California, currently has 55 delegates, and whoever wins the popular vote in that state gets all 55. (In the two other states, delegates are pro-rated based on the popular vote.) So for a third party or independent candidate to win the Presidency, he/she would have to get on the ballot in at least all the most populous states, and win many of those states. And to be sure, that has been tried, and it likely will be tried again. But even if such a candidate became President, he/she would still need the consent of the Senate and House to get any legislation passed.

To be clear, regardless of the number of candidates in the general Presidential election, the one with the most votes—even if that count is fewer than 50%—is the winner, so long as they get the most electoral votes. (For example, in 1992, Bill Clinton won with 43% of the popular vote and 370 electoral votes, Bush Sr. got 37.5% of the popular vote and 168 electoral votes, while third-party candidate Ross Perot got 18.9% of the popular vote, but no electoral votes, as he did not win any states.)

In other countries, third parties are often seen as partners in coalition governments, and when one or more such partners leave the coalition, the government can collapse with a general election being called. There is no such thing as a coalition government, per se, in the US system; however, the President and the majorities of the Senate and House could come from different parties.

[I have never tried to understand fully the Electoral College system, and I think it's a mystery to a lot of people. And every time we get close to a Presidential election, the debate about whether that mechanism is still relevant raises its head.]


I've implied several times that the National Capital did not have full representation in Congress, so let me explain that here. Prior to 1961, when the 23rd Amendment was ratified, citizens of voting age living in Washington, D.C. could not vote for President or Vice President, as DC is not a U.S. state. Now while that amendment did not make DC a state, it treats it like one for Presidential election purposes by giving it three electoral college delegates, two for the Senators it would have, and one for the single Representative. That said, DC still does not have any representation in the Senate at all, and its lone delegate in the House cannot vote except in subcommittees. To that end, DC auto license plates contain the phrase, "Taxation without representation", which harks back to one of the main complaints colonists had against the British, and that led to the Revolutionary War. So why doesn't DC become a state. That has been tried and it will, no doubt, be tried again. But one main obstacle is that DC is solidly aligned with the Democratic Party. And having two new Democratic members in the Senate could very easily allow the Democrats to control that in a tight election, whereas the winning margin in the House is usually not just by one or two seats. So from the Republican Party viewpoint, they don't want to admit three guaranteed new Democrats to Congress unless the party has a way of offsetting that. [In this regard, when Democratic Hawaii and Republican Alaska were admitted as new states in 1959, they countered each other.]

The number of terms a President may serve is limited as are those for Governors of many states, but that is not the case for Senators or Representatives. What do you think about term limits?

Among others, my birth country, Australia, makes voting compulsory, and fines citizens who do not vote. The claim there is that voting is one's civic duty. On most days, I'd just as soon ignore those who chose not to participate, but on others, well maybe I see the point.

For a humorous read about Microsoft's "reported" acquisition of the US Government as a wholly owned subsidiary, click here.

Recently, I was reading a book called Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults upon our Language, by Richard Lederer. One entry appropriate to this essay is, "Senators are chosen as committee chairmen on the basis of senility." Now while that might have been true in a few instances, the writer/speaker probably meant seniority instead.

A Little Bit of American Civics

© 2012 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[If you are an American, you might find this useful as a refresher course, especially with the up-coming Presidential election. If you are not "of the Stars and Stripes faith", perhaps this will help you understand some of that "awful American news that keeps on invading your TV set and newspapers!" For those of you living in countries where you get only 1–2 months' notice of a general election, be thankful.]

I was born in and lived in Australia for 25 years, but I know very little about its political system. I've now lived in the US for 33 years, and I'm a US citizen. (See my April 2010 essay "The Road to US Citizenship".) Along the way, I've become very interested in the US Constitution, I've read quite a bit about US Presidents, and I've followed closely the deliberations of the US Supreme Court.

Over the years, I've researched many civics-related questions and picked up lots of trivia. In this 2-part essay, I'll share with you some of what I've learned. In this first part, I'll cover the Constitution and the best-known bits of the Executive Branch (Presidency, Vice Presidency, and Cabinet). In the second part, I'll cover the Legislative Branch (Senate and House), Presidential Succession, the Judicial Branch (primarily the Supreme Court), the flag, and Third Parties and Independents.

The Constitution

The US Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. It was drafted by a group of very able and interesting men (who happened to be white and generally more affluent and more educated than most Americans were), and was adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, late in 1787. Several years later, it became law when it was ratified by a sufficient number of states. [It is important to mention that not all state delegates appointed to the Constitutional Convention actually attended, and not all those who attended actually approved/signed the result. Rhode Island did not even send any delegates (probably because they were too busy taking care of their chickens!) It is also worth noting that the first governing document, the Articles of Confederation, which preceded the constitution, left a lot to be desired. Even the Americans don't always get it right the first time!]

To Americans, their Constitution is the bedrock of society. Imagine their surprise then when they learn that some countries do not have a written constitution. (Can you say The United Kingdom?) And they are also quite puzzled when they hear of some failed country setting about writing yet another new constitution. [Can you say Banana Republic?]

As for me, I don't find it all surprising that the US Constitution and Congressional model have been adopted or adapted by more than a few countries. For the most part, I much prefer it over the wide-spread Parliamentary system under which I grew up. [Yes, I'm grown up, but as some of you know firsthand, I don't always act like it.]

The basic thrust of the Constitution was to "establish the rules and separate powers of the three branches of the federal government: a legislature, the bicameral Congress; an executive branch led by the President; and a federal judiciary headed by the Supreme Court." Also, it assigns the powers not explicitly given to the Federal Government, to the individual states.

The Constitution can be amended, and, remarkably, in its 225-year history only 27 amendments have been approved (and one of those, the 18th, was negated by another, the 21st, the respective creation and subsequent repeal of Prohibition).

Although many good ideas were proposed for the Constitution, it was decided to adopt it in an incomplete form, and then add more things soon after through amendments, the first 10 of which are known as The Bill of Rights. Although these 10 amendments were soon ratified, the original package approved by Congress and submitted for ratification contained 12. Of the two that didn't "make the cut" way back when, one of them finally received support from enough states to become the 27th Amendment, adopted in 1992, a mere 203 years after it was submitted! So what was this monumental change? If Congress gives itself a pay raise, that raise cannot take effect until the next (2-year) Congressional term. [Three quarters of the states are required to ratify an amendment, and as time went on, more states joined the union, so it required more states to ratify the amendment.] The other amendment that didn't "make the cut" is still waiting to be ratified, although that is unlikely to ever happen. This one has to do with making rules regarding representation in the House of Representatives. (While the Constitution spells out representation for the Senate [each state gets two senators], it does not do so for the House [where the number of representatives is based on population].)

Most amendments were proposed without an expiration date, leading to the 203-year wait mentioned above. However, this changed starting in 1917 when an expiration date was first used. Since then, two amendments have expired without being ratified: The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), 1972, and The District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, 1978.

For my US Citizenship test, I had to remember the answers to about 100 questions, some 10 of which I'd be asked at my in-person interview. And while I was also given the answers in advance, one question and answer was far more complex than all the other others, namely:

Question: Name the amendments that guarantee or address voting rights.

Answer: 15th (non-white males get the vote), 19th (women get the vote), 24th (state laws allowing poll taxes cannot be applied to Federal elections), and 26th (lowering the voting age from 21 to 18).

[Even in my old age, I can easily remember the purpose of each, but I sure don't remember their numbers!]

Remember that the states get to keep all the rights not explicitly given to the Federal Government by the Constitution. And some states had laws to prevent certain categories of people from voting. However, the 24th amendment prohibits such laws from being applied to Federal elections; that is, for President, Vice President, Senator, and Representative. [Other amendments prohibit other restrictions to voting.]

The Executive Branch

Through his cabinet secretaries, the President oversees almost all so-called civil servants and military personnel. In general, it is accepted that the Vice President is part of the Executive Branch; however, he is also President of the Senate, which is part of the Legislative Branch.

The Presidency

The President of the United States heads the executive branch.

According to the Constitution, "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

[At this stage, we pause for a moment of silence during which we reflect on the shortsightedness of the Founding Fathers by their disallowing moi to become President because of a lack of natural bornedness! What were they thinking? It's probably just as well, as "President Rex" sounds a bit odd given that Rex is Latin for King!]

You may have read how back before the 2008 election (and even before this coming one) some people questioned whether Barack Obama was a natural born Citizen. This also happened, but to a lesser extent, to his opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone, and the question was whether or not that was formally part of the US to make him a citizen. Interestingly, McCain's predecessor as senator, Barry Goldwater, was born in the Arizona Territory, before it became a state. And that raised a similar question back when he ran for President.

The President is elected to a 4-year term, and, originally, the Constitution placed no limits on the number of terms that could be served. The first President, George Washington, thought that two terms was enough and that set the precedent. However, Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) changed all that when he was elected to four successive terms starting in 1933. (He died early in his 4th term, and it has since been discovered that there was a long history of death in his family!) This "carrying on like a monarch" upset enough people that the 22nd Amendment was created and ratified to limit the presidency to two terms, where a term is defined as "more than two years". So, if a president dies in office and has less than two years left on his term, the vice president who serves that remaining time can also serve two full terms of his own. However, FDR died leaving more than two years, but the amendment exempted the then current president, Harry Truman, so he was not term-limited. (In any event, he ran and served for only one full term of his own.)

George Washington was President number 1 and Barack Obama is President number 44; however, there have only been 43 Presidents. That's because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and is number 22 and 24. [Senate President pro tempore David Rice Atchison's tombstone states that he was President for a day. President-elect Zachary Taylor (#12) refused to be inaugurated on a Sunday leaving the presidency technically vacant from noon on Saturday, March 3, 1849 when outgoing President Polk's (#11) term ended, until Monday, March 5 at noon when Taylor was sworn in.]

Sometime after the US was created, Congress determined that the election for President (and Vice President) takes place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of years that are an exact multiple of 4 (as in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and so on). After being elected, the President-elect has a transition period during which to "get organized" and to start nominating his cabinet members and many other appointees. George Washington (#1) took office on April 30, 1789 (having been elected on February 4 of that year). Presidents from John Adams (#2) on took office on March 4, until Dwight Eisenhower (#34), who took office on January 20. Currently, the transition period is about 10 weeks (3 in November, 4 in December, and 3 in January), which is not a lot to get ready to "hit the ground running" for the leader for the free world. [In many (most?) countries a new leader takes office within days or weeks of being elected giving them next to no time to get ready.] Nowadays, the Presidential Inauguration takes place on the steps of The Capitol in Washington at noon, Eastern Standard Time, January 20.

Four Presidents were assassinated while in office: Lincoln (#16), Garfield (#20), McKinley (#25), and Kennedy (#35). Four Presidents died of natural causes while in office: Wm. Harrison (#9), Taylor (#12), Harding (#29), and F.D. Roosevelt (#32). One President resigned: Nixon (#37). Five died in their first term with Harrison lasting only a month. Wilson (#28) suffered a stroke during his second term that paralyzed his left side and blinded him in his left eye. Historians generally agree that his wife Edith and his chief of staff conspired to keep the extent of his incapacity secret and ran the government on his behalf. This situation was one of the big reasons for the 25th Amendment's handling of Presidential incapacity.

The states in which the most Presidents were born are: Virginia (8), Ohio (7), and Massachusetts and New York (each 4). 25 Presidents were lawyers.

Andrew Johnson (#17) was the first president to be impeached. Clinton (#42) was the second. Both were found not guilty. Impeachment proceedings were begun against Nixon (#37); however, he resigned before they were completed. [According to Wikipedia, 'At the Philadelphia Convention, Benjamin Franklin noted that, historically, the removal of "obnoxious" chief executives had been accomplished by assassination. Franklin suggested that a proceduralized mechanism for removal—impeachment—would be preferable.']

Kennedy (#35) was the first Catholic president. Ford (#38) was the first non-elected Vice President and the first non-elected President. Bush Jr. (#43) was the winner of the first election resolved by the Supreme Court. Obama (#44) was the first non-white president.

Taft (#27) was the last to have a cow at the White House and the first to have automobiles there. Coolidge (#30) had nine hours of sleep a night plus 2–4-hour naps in the afternoons. Hoover (#31) was the first to donate his salary to charity. F.D. Roosevelt (#32) was the first to appear on TV, and the first to visit an overseas war zone. Eisenhower (#34) served in both World Wars and was the first with a pilot's license. Kennedy (#35) won a Pulitzer Prize. Ford (#38) survived two assassination attempts by women. Carter (#39) was the first to be born in a hospital, the first to be sworn in using his nickname, Jimmy, and the first to send his mother on a diplomatic mission. (After the start of the Iran Hostage Crisis, she [Ms. Lillian] proposed putting a bounty on Ayatollah Khomeini's head!) Reagan (#40) was the first to have headed a labor union, the first to have been divorced, and the oldest (nearly 70 at his inauguration).

Four presidents have received the Nobel Peace Prize: Teddy Roosevelt (#26) in 1906, Wilson (#28) in 1919, Carter (#39) in 2002, and Obama (#44) in 2009.

Most common-use US banknotes have pictures of Presidents: $1 [Washington (#1)], $2 [Jefferson (#3)], $5 [Lincoln (#16)], $20 [Jackson (#7)], and $50 [Grant (#18)]. [The non-President ones are $10 (Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasurer and the man who invented the National Debt, perhaps the most successful modern invention ever!) and $100 (Benjamin Franklin).]

Everyone knows that the President is protected by the Secret Service, but such protective duty didn't start until 1902 after President McKinley (#25) was the third one to be assassinated. [Until then, these agents' primary job was to catch counterfeiters of US currency.]

A well-known fact is that the Presidential Retreat is called Camp David. This is located some 60 miles northwest of Washington DC, in the state of Maryland. It took on that role during FDR's time. It received its current name from Eisenhower, whose father and grandson were both named David. The President gets to this hideaway on a helicopter called Marine One. He uses Air Force One to fly longer distances (and to take his best friends golfing) and his limo is often referred to as The Beast. Of course, the President and his family live in the White House, which is right next door to the Federal Treasury building, making it very convenient when he needs to use his ATM card to get small amounts of cash to pay for a pizza delivery, or to withdraw a billion or two for petty cash!

The Vice Presidency

Like the President, the Vice President (VP) must be a natural-born U.S. citizen, be at least 35 years old, and have resided in the US at least 14 years. The 12th amendment to the Constitution requires that "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States".

The 20th amendment requires that the Vice President's term of office begin at noon, Eastern Standard Time, on January 20 of the year following the election. This date marks the beginning of a 4-year term. The President and Vice President run on the same ticket; that is, they run together as a package.

Throughout US history, the role of the Vice President has largely been small and ceremonial. Texan John Nance Garner (known affectionately by some as Cactus Jack), who served as FDR's Vice President from 1933 to 1941, claimed that the Vice Presidency "isn't worth a pitcher of warm piss."

As you may know Bush Sr., Reagan's VP and then President 41, served as a navy torpedo bomber pilot in WWII, during which he was shot down and had to use his parachute. While in office, he vowed he would make another parachute jump, but this time it would be voluntarily. And he did, several times. A variant of the story goes like this: George is being readied for his jump and his instructor is refreshing his memory. "Sir, this is the cord for your primary chute." "Yes, I remember that." "If that fails to open, you pull this cord, which opens your auxiliary chute." "Right, but what's this third cord for?" "Well sir, if your primary and auxiliary chutes fail to open, you pull this one and it sounds a bell in the Vice President's office telling him to get ready to attend a state funeral!" After all, attending such funerals was and still is one of the VP's main tasks.

Initially, on the death of the President there was doubt as to whether the VP would become the new President or merely an acting President. This was resolved in 1841 on the death of Wm. Harrison when his VP, John Tyler, "declared it so".

Listen up now all you US Civics Experts; it's Question Time: When President Kennedy was killed in Dallas in 1963, his VP, L.B. Johnson (#36) was sworn in by a federal judge on Air Force One. Who served the remainder of the 1961–1965 term as Johnson's VP? Now, I've posed this question to many Americans, and I have gotten a whole host of answers, but only two people have gotten it right thus far. It's a trick question! The answer is that he had no VP. Yep, that's right; the Constitution made no provision for filling a vacant VP slot. And this was the 8th time the sitting VP has stepped up to fill a vacant presidency, and therefore the 8th time he had no VP!

The 25th Amendment was drafted and ratified to clarify succession. Section 2 states, "Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress." The first Vice President selected by this method was Gerald Ford, who took office after VP Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973. Then when Nixon resigned as President, Ford became the first unelected President; and he nominated Nelson Rockefeller as his VP.

14 Vice Presidents went on to become President although not all inherited the mantle of their immediate predecessor. Richard Nixon is the only non-sitting Vice President to be elected President, as well as the only person to be elected President and Vice President twice each.

The VP is also President of the US Senate, where he has two jobs: to vote in the event of a deadlock and to preside over and certify the official vote count of the U.S. Electoral College.

Prior to 1974, the VP had to find his own place to live while in Washington DC. Finally, an official residence was provided at Number One Observatory Circle, but it was not occupied for another three years until VP Mondale moved in.

Bush Sr.'s VP, Dan Quayle, was so inept that someone started a website that was dedicated to his gaffes, of which there were many. He demonstrated on national TV that a VP need not know how to spell. And in advance of an up-coming trip to Latin America, he lamented not having paid more attention in his Latin classes at school! I can honestly say that the embarrassing spectacle of his term was what started me thinking about becoming a citizen, so I could vote.

The Cabinet

Unlike in a parliamentary system in which cabinet members are elected politicians, the members of the Cabinet of the United States are nominated by the President and approved by the Senate, and serve at the pleasure of the President. Each heads his/her corresponding government department. There are currently 15 cabinet members and all have the title "Secretary of xxx" except for Justice, which is headed by the Attorney General. [Defense is a cabinet department and under that, there exists subordinate military departments for the Army, Navy, and Air Force, along with a whole slew of defense-related agencies.]

There are a number of cabinet-level officers, which includes the VP, the White House Chief of Staff, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the ambassador to the UN. From time to time, departments are created, disbanded, or renamed. Homeland Security, the most recent—and likely the biggest–was created in the aftermath of 9/11. The first President, George Washington, had a Cabinet of four: State, Treasury, War, and Attorney General. [The War department later became Defense.]

The "Department of Dirty Tricks" (that is, the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]) is not a cabinet department. In fact, it really doesn't exist except in movies.

A detailed list of all the cabinet members of all the Presidents can be found here.

In general, it seems that being a Cabinet Secretary is not a good launching pad for higher office. Hoover (#31) was the most recent Cabinet member (Commerce) to have become President, way back in 1929. Taft (#27) did it all! He was Teddy Roosevelt's War Secretary; then he was President, and, finally, he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. [Grossly overweight, Taft got stuck in the White House bathtub the first time he used it.]

Stay tuned for Part 2, y'all!