George Washington made it clear he didn’t want to be treated, addressed or in any other way thought of as a King. He was the President of a democracy. And although regal in his public demeanor, he took no actions that smacked of monarchy or usurping the constitutional boundaries of the executive branch.
His immediate successor John Adams, many suggested, was a bit more inclined to think of himself as a King; after all he’d been duly impressed when, during his stint as the first U.S. ambassador to the court of St. James, he observed the respect and honors paid to England’s King George III.
During the War of 1812, when the United States again faced off against Great Britain, President James Madison was contextualized in political cartoons as the enemy of the crown, even shown in a fistfight with the King.
Ironically, it was Andrew Jackson, the crude and hot-tempered seventh President and the first of humble origin who was not from the cultivated eastern seaboard but a representative of the poor and working-class white men of the western frontier who found himself being sarcastically crowned king after waging war against a national bank.
Ever since Jackson, any number of Presidents – ranging from those considered the “greatest” to “worst” have been turned into American monarchs, accused by the rival political party of so much arrogance as to warrant their depiction in crown, sometimes ermine cape and wielding a scepter.
In the 21st century, every President thus far has been depicted as King – one with the gentle humor suggesting a royal inheritance, another with the biting wit of relishing the exercise of power.
Judging by the proliferation of caricatures and cartoons of the current man occupying the presidency, it may easily seem he has provoked the greatest number of such depictions. Even more than did his immediate predecessors. Certainly the number of topics justifying the caricature has been far wider in range.
It may be that Presidents are getting more kingly – or simply that the bile of partisanship has become more bitter.