"Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death." - Harold Wilson
Question #91348 posted on 05/23/2018 8:18 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Imagine if America, in some alternate timeline, opted for kings instead of presidents.

How many kings would we have gone through since 1776, and who would they have most likely been?

-ALT+1

A:

Dear ALT+1,

First, let's make some assumptions.

  1. The monarchy will be hereditary.
  2. It will follow the English rule of primogeniture (although the parts about religion will all be thrown out).
  3. It will switch from male-preference primogeniture to gender-neutral primogeniture sometime between 1920 (passage of the 19th Amendment) and 2011 (when the English monarchy made the switch).
  4. George Washington will be the first king.
  5. Wikipedia will be used as far as it is available, after which FamilySearch will be the preferred source.
  6. Adopted children, illegitimate children, and children without both a recorded birth date and a recorded death date will be excluded.
  7. For simplicity's sake, we're ignoring the butterfly effect as far as is reasonably possible. Most likely, the life stories of all of these people would be extremely different if they were actual American royalty, but we're going to assume that nobody died sooner or later in this alternate world than in the real world, and that nobody had more or less children than they in fact had.
  8. For simplicity's sake, I'm assuming that every birth and death occurred on January 1 of the relevant year.

Sound good? Okay. Now, here are the rules of primogeniture.

  1. Under male-preference primogeniture, all male children are treated as being older than all female children. Under gender-neutral primogeniture, the actual birth order is respected.
  2. In theory, the monarch is succeeded by their first child, who is then succeeded by the child's first child, and so on for eternity.
  3. If the monarch's first child dies, the throne passes to the monarch's first child's first child. In other words, death of a child doesn't remove that child's children from the order of succession.
  4. If at any point someone dies leaving no living descendants, their oldest sibling is next in line.
  5. If at any point someone dies leaving no living descendants and no living siblings, their royal parent's oldest sibling is next in line.
  6. Spouses are meaningless. The throne only ever passes to blood family.

So with that, let's get started! Our first king is

King George I Washington

Born in 1732, acceded to the throne in 1776 at age 34, and died in 1799 at age 67 after a reign of 33 years.

George I had no children of his own - he was most likely left sterile after a bout of smallpox in 1751, although when he married the widowed Martha Custis he adopted her two children. Because of that, the throne would pass to a descendant of his father Augustine.

Augustine's oldest son died as an infant. His second son, Lawrence, died in 1752 and none of Lawrence's children lived to adulthood. His third son, Augustine Jr., died childless in 1762. George I was Augustine's fourth son (and first by his second wife); next in line would be Augustine's fifth son, Samuel.

Samuel died in 1781 (he was preceded in death by four wives and two children - be grateful for modern medicine, people). His oldest son Thornton died in 1787 in his late 20s, but not before having three or four children of his own, if FamilySearch is to be believed. Thornton's oldest son Thomas died in 1794 as a child, but his second son (George I's brother's grandson) would have been

King John I Washington

Born in 1783, acceded to the throne in 1799 at age 16, and died in 1841 at age 58 after a reign of 42 years.

John has 12 children listed on FamilySearch. His oldest son was

King Lawrence I Washington

Born in 1811, acceded to the throne in 1841 at age 30, and died in 1856 at age 45 after a reign of 15 years.

As far as FamilySearch knows, Lawrence never married or had children. John I's second son appears likely to have died young (no death date is listed), and his third and fourth children were daughters and therefore passed over by the rules of male-preference primogeniture, so the fourth king would have been Lawrence I's brother

King Benjamin I Washington

Born in 1820, acceded to the throne in 1856 at age 36, and died in 1872 at age 52 after a reign of 16 years.

Benjamin I had two sons and three daughters, in that order. His oldest son was

King John II Washington

Born in 1846, acceded to the throne in 1872 at age 26, and died in 1929 at age 83 after a reign of 57 years.

John II did not marry and had no children. His brother Franklin died in 1915 and had one son, Lawrence, whose death is not recorded. It's possible that Lawrence would have been the next king, but since Family Search has no record of his existence after 1910 we will skip over him and go to John II's sister

Queen Fannie I Washington

Born in 1853, acceded to the throne in 1929 at age 76, and died in 1930 at age 77 after a reign of one year.

She's the first queen in a line of six monarchs, but she doesn't last very long. She has numerous children attributed to her on FamilySearch, but the oldest of whom we have a meaningful record is

King John III Delehanty

Born in 1888, acceded to the throne in 1930 at age 42, and died in 1965 at age 77 after a reign of 35 years.

I'm guessing that if the monarchy actually existed, John III would keep the Washington family name rather than adopting his father's last name, but this is all a fictional interpretation so we can do whatever we want here. John has two children listed on FamilySearch, born in 1921 and 1922. It's possible that he had one or more children born before 1920 who are still alive today and therefore don't show up on FamilySearch, but that's unlikely enough that we will assume he did not. As it turns out, it doesn't matter whether male-preference primogeniture is replaced by gender-neutral primogeniture in 1920, because John III's son John (the younger of the two children) died in 1940 at the age of 18. This means that, as far as we know, with John III's death the throne passed to his only living child

Queen Margaret I Delehanty

Born in 1921, acceded to the throne in 1965 at age 44, and died in 1994 at age 73 after a reign of 29 years.

FamilySearch does not record a spouse or children for Margaret I, but it is entirely reasonable to believe that her husband and any children might still be alive today.

Assuming that she did die childless and had no additional siblings, though, the line would pass back to the next male sibling of John III (since the transition from male-preference primogeniture to gender-neutral primogeniture is not retroactive), Thornton Augustin Washington Delehanty. Thornton died in 1971 and his wife died in 1951, but it's entirely reasonable that they could have had at least one child who is alive today. So, regardless of whether the throne would pass to Margaret I's child or her cousin, we would almost certainly be living under the rule of the ninth king or queen in the Washingtonian line.

So, to recap, the nine monarchs of the Washingtonian line are:

  1. King George I (1776-1799)
  2. King John I (1799-1841)
  3. King Lawrence I (1841-1856)
  4. King Benjamin I (1856-1872)
  5. King John II (1872-1929)
  6. Queen Fannie I (1929-1930)
  7. King John III (1930-1965)
  8. Queen Margaret I (1965-1994)
  9. Unknown (1994-present)

In timeline form, it looks like this:

kings and queens of the united states 3.png

And as a family tree, it looks like this (with monarchs' names in all caps):

kings and queens of the united states 2.png

So there you have it: the royal lineage of the United States.

As flawed as the current system is, I think it's probably better than this.

-yayfulness

p.s. After finishing this answer, I did some digging and found a couple other sources that don't fit neatly into the answer above. In 1991, the Chicago Tribune published an article on an 85-year-old man who was the last living descendant of Augustine Washington on a strictly male line. Under the Salic Law system of inheritance, in which the throne passes exclusively through male descendants, he would have been the King of the United States. Since he had no sons and has presumably died sometime in the 27 years since the article was written, the entire Washingtonian line via Augustine would have ended with him. Either a search would have to be made for a living descendant on an all-male line of Augustine's brother John Washington III or his uncle John Washington II (likely a very difficult proposition), or a new royal line would have to be chosen, or a new law of succession would have to be adopted, or the practice of royalty in the United States would come to an end.

Meanwhile, this article names Ancestry's pick for the most likely Washington family member to be the current monarch of the United States, although it does not give any detailed methodology. Despite my best efforts, I haven't been able to figure out his lineage or how they decided that he was the most likely to be next in the royal line.

Should you trust the genealogy professional, or the random guy on the internet? I'll let you decide.