Macintosh’s vision for the United States

Macintosh's "Plan of Government suggested for the United States of America" (20 August 1787). George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697–1799.

Macintosh’s “Plan of Government suggested for the United States of America” (20 August 1787). George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741–1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697–1799.

In August 1787, less than a month before the Constitutional Convention concluded its work drafting the United States Constitution, George Washington was sent an unsolicited, but passionately argued, letter from William Macintosh setting out a “Plan of Government…for the United States of America”.

Macintosh’s scheme, one of many Washington received that year, is uncommon in its detail and is also revealing of Macintosh’s political philosophy. In his view, the United States was an exceptional case and no existing model of government would suit its future requirements. As he informed Washington,

none of the forms heretofore known in civilized nations, appear adapted to answer the salutary ends of the people of America, the great point is, how to constitute a Government, which will embrace such a mixture in its composition, as to Legislate, administer, and Execute, without democracy, Aristocracy, or Monarchy.

Macintosh sought to do just that in setting out a scheme for a form of commonwealth, with a government “composed of a Supreme, or Executive-Chief,—Senators,—and Commoners“. There is much to be made of Macintosh’s proposal (and his motivations for developing it). For now, though, it is sufficient to note that his plans reached Washington too late—arriving just after the drafting of the Constitution had been completed.

Washington’s courteous and encouraging reply to Macintosh (sent in January 1788) enclosed with it a copy of the new Constitution. Macintosh later flattered himself by noting that his vision for the United States and its agreed-upon Constitution displayed “so striking a resemblance in their Outlines & features”.

As far as I have been able to determine, Macintosh’s scheme has only once been the subject of scholarly attention (and scathing attention at that). The legal historian Leon Fraser (1897–1945) addressed the plan briefly in his 1915 doctoral disseration, English opinion of the American Constitution and government (1783–1798). There, Fraser dismissed Macintosh as “Our English [Emanuel] Sieyès” and his scheme as nothing more than a “hot-house constitution”.

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