From Today in Alternate History with addenda.
7th January, 1789 - The Single Term Presidency takes Shape
On this day America's first presidential election was held under the newly formed United States Constitution (it was actually the ninth "presidential" election of the newly declared independent people of the Americas). Voters cast ballots to choose state electors; only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. As expected, George Washington won the election and was sworn into office on April 30, 1789.
The old Articles of Confederation had proven inadequate for the peacetime American states, which needed to be bound together by a stronger federal force. The old legislative body, built on ideals of independence wary of too much central power, had eight presidents primarily as signatories and no power to tax. One of the presidents, John Hancock, never even entered New York City (the nation's capital at the time) during his term of office. each president served a one-year term.
The Philadelphia Convention ushered in changes with Washington as Presiding Officer, much loved for his success in the Revolutionary War. "The Man who unites all hearts" had been called the "Father of his Country" long before the United States even existed.There were some who wished Washington to be crowned King; when Benjamin Franklin bequeathed his crab-tree walking stick he noted, "If it were a sceptre, he has merited it and would become it." Washington, however, had been doing his own thinking at Philadelphia and, not for the first time, came up with a unique solution that reflected his "lead from the front" style of unified strong-willed command. By agreeing to take an elected executive office, he knowingly created a precedent that would define the distant future of the Republic, and he wanted to ensure a balance of power by promoting a one-term limit of office into Article II of the Constitution.
Washington's term was largely transitory with only quiet problems until the end as the Whiskey Rebellion began fighting against tax on brews often used for extra cash for farmers. Washington wrote that he considered staying on as Vice-President, but feared that doing so would weaken the position of the next president, John Adams. Instead, Adams took advice from the increasing political strength of Alexander Hamilton, who encouraged a strong military response. The Rebellion was crushed, but the Federalist Party was soon seen as villains, prompting the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1796. Jefferson would turn away from Washington's warnings of giving wide berth to issues in Europe, granting loans to Republican France in what became known as the Francophile Affair, undoing many of the ideals from the Jay Treaty with Great Britain in 1792. The Democratic-Republicans maintained power with the election of Aaron Burr in 1800 at the expense of the Jeffersonian faction. The more moderate George Clinton was next in 1804. Jeffersonians came back in 1808 with James Madison, riding the wishes of warhawks and expansionists with eyes on Canada.
If Washington had prevented the rise of an Imperial Presidency, he had of course been mindful of the role of Commander-in-Chief. This matter became a pressing issue during the War of 1812 when there was some disagreement about whether President Madison should be permitted to seek a second term to maintain order in the military for a war that had turned against the US. In the event, he did not and the precedent remained firmly in place. The unifying DeWitt Clinton answered the challenge in 1816, bringing into the fold remains of the Federalist Party.
Wars in the nineteenth century remained thankfully short, but America's participation in the First World War nearly caused a collapse. During the 1940s, the country was effectively ruled by George Marshall as a Ludendorff-style Quartermaster General. His transition to General Eisenhower was seamless, but real problems began to emerge after the Fall of Havana in 1959. As the Cold War dragged on, the military-industrial complex came to run the country in all but name, with General Curtis Le May ruling as figurehead to a shadowy dictatorship for the United States with seemingly infinite money and influence to fix elections.
Washington was of course not to blame, he had after all, repeatedly spoken out against entanglement in overseas conflicts. Nor could he be reasonably expected to anticipate doomsday weapons being sighted just ninety miles off the coast of Florida. Conspiracy theorists and political analysts suggest the weapons were allowed to stay as an eternal threat from a foreign power the US really had no need to fear, but these are whispers rarely published in the US without the author disappearing.