When George Washington voluntarily returned to civilian life after leading the United States in a successful revolution, he became a modern-day Cincinnatus. His steadfast refusal to accept monarchical power set the model for subsequent leaders, establishing the United States as a representative democracy rather than a monarchy.
It could have been quite different. At several pivotal moments (such as this one), Washington could have acceded to the calls of the crowds and made himself King George I of America. If that had happened, who would be on the throne of the nation today?
Matt Baker of Useful Charts explores this question by looking at George Washington’s extended family tree. The answer is not entirely cut-and-dry. Since Washington did not have any direct blood descendants, there are several possible outcomes.
One possibility is that the throne would pass upon Washington’s death the senior-most heir of Washington’s father, Augustine Washington. This would have resulted in the coronation of George’s cousin’s son, William Washington, presumably as King William I, in 1799. From there, depending on whether the throne descends only through male heirs or to the eldest heir regardless of sex, the throne would have passed on to the point where the USA would currently have either a Queen Brynda, ruling since 2000, or a King Richard, on the throne since 2014.
Another possibility is that the crown would have passed upon Washington’s death to the primary heirs of his estate. In other words, this would disinherit the children from Martha’s previous marriage who were adopted by George. In this scenario, the crown would have passed on George’s death to his nephew Bushrod Washington, giving the country King Bushrod I. This would have resulted in King John V, who upon his death in 2009, would have passed the throne on to Queen Mary or King Larry II, depending on whether women could inherit the crown.
The most curious — and potentially most influential in terms of historical outcome — line of succession would have been by passing the throne through George Washington’s adopted children.
George’s wife, Martha, had been married to Daniel Parke Custis. They had children who survived Daniel’s death in 1757. George adopted the children, treating them as his own. The eldest male, John Parke Custis, preceded George in death in 1781. The next in line was John’s son, George W. Parke Custis. He would have become King George II, ruling from 1799 to his death in 1857.
The would-be King George II’s heir was his daughter, Mary Custis. She would have become Queen Mary. Her husband, who presumably would have been the Prince Consort, was none other than Robert E. Lee, the man who history remembers as the commanding general of the Confederate States of America. Had this succession to the throne occurred, the current monarch of the United States of America would be Robert E. Lee IV, on the throne since 1924. The heir apparent would be his son, Robert E. Lee V.