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Does the U.S. Have the World's Oldest Living Government?

  1. Jan 2, 2006 #1
    The question is simple: with the exception of city-states (like the Vatican), does the United States possess the world's oldest living government?

    I ask because every nation I could think of has had at least one of the following since 1789 (the beginning of the current system of U.S. government):

    Transfer of power from a colonial empire
    Reorganization or reform
    Capitulation to a foreign power

    Such a government may be out there, I just can't think of what it may be if it does exist.

    The U.S. government has existed in the same form since 1789. It was challenged during the Civil War, but was maintained and restored. Amendments are changes to the U.S. government, but they are themselves a part of the system.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 2, 2006 #2
    Hmmmmm, possibly british?
  4. Jan 2, 2006 #3
    I have done some reading on the government of Great Britain/United Kingdom. It seems that it has been constantly evolving over the centuries, never formally changing.

    Even after the United States had been formed, however, King George III maintained considerable influence in the British government, a power modern British royalty does not enjoy. There have also been considerable reorganizations since 1789. So while there has been no formal change in the British government, the modern system only loosely resembles the government under King George III.
  5. Jan 2, 2006 #4


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    I have a feeling we're probably forgetting current monarchies/dictatorships that might have been from before the US government's establishment. The OP did not mention what type of government it had to be.
  6. Jan 3, 2006 #5
    It can be any kind of government, as long as it has remained unchanged from a time prior to 1789.

    I may be forgetting some monarchies and/or dictatorships; what might those be?
  7. Jan 3, 2006 #6
  8. Jan 3, 2006 #7


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    There's no real lines, its for you to decide.
  9. Jan 3, 2006 #8

    A better question would have been, has the US goverment gone the longest time without significant change?

    The answer is still No..
  10. Jan 3, 2006 #9
    The Althingi was suspended in 1799. Iceland was ruled by Denmark until Iceland gained its independence in 1918. Here
    'No' is not a country. People say I am forgetting countries or that the U.S. does not have the oldest government, but they fail to mention an older government.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 3, 2006
  11. Jan 3, 2006 #10
    No was the answer to you question.. If you want to be symantic then fine, Show me a goverment that is "living."

    The British system has not changed, it is still a consitional monarchy, the same as the Netherlands, and Denmark and a lot of other non republican countries in Europe. All of which have remained this for way longer than the US's current goverment. The last time this changed for only a few years in the UK was when Oliver Cromwell defeted Charles I in 1600's.

    The Queen is the head of State, whether or not she is there for show or not is irrelevent, the Law is that she has total power. However if she claimed this then the UK would become a republic very quickly...
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2006
  12. Jan 3, 2006 #11


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    As was already pointed out, most of those countries were more monarchy than constitutional when the US was established and now they are monarchies in name-only. Whether that happened slowly or all at once is immaterial: it happened and as a result, those governments bear little resemblance to their former governments.

    Regarding the US civil war, that's a matter of the wording of the question: if the question is about the structure of the government itself (ie, branches of government, division between state and federal), that was not affected by the Civil War, so that objection does not apply. No one is saying, arildno, that the changes made after the civil war (or in the 1960s, or in the '20s) weren't important - they just weren't structural. In fact, there is a good argument to be made that institutions such as slavery were incompatible with the rest of the Constitution in the first place.

    In addition, the mechanism for changing the Constitution - the built-in ability to evolve - is one of the things that is unique about the US government and has been in place since 1789.
  13. Jan 3, 2006 #12

    Ivan Seeking

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    Russ, I agree completely. In no way did the civil war or the civil rights movement represent a fundamental change to the US system of government. We are in fact under the same Constitution that we were two hundred years ago. And the definiton of the country is the Constitution.
  14. Jan 3, 2006 #13


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    haha yah i just realized.... what government can breathe?
  15. Jan 3, 2006 #14

    Ivan Seeking

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    ...and this was a really interesting question, btw. I have always thought of the US system as a relative newcomer in the world, but not so. That's really quite amazing.
  16. Jan 3, 2006 #15


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    Agreed, the UK democratic parliamentary system has remained fundamentally unchanged in substance since the reinstatement of the monarchy following the death of Cromwell. Since that time the power of the monarch has not altered, it is simply that the monarchy realise it is prudent not to exercise their power against the will of parliament as the last time they did, there was a civil war and the reigning monarch lost his head.
    As for the oldest still exisiting government, I believe the Isle of Man's Tynwald parliament, which dates from around 979 AD, lays claim to that title .
  17. Jan 3, 2006 #16


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    Can't say I'd restrict the longevity of the UK government to the post-Restoration; I'd go more with Elizabeth I as an ending date for churchy meddling, and the beginning of the secular give-and-take "power games" played by parliaments, ministers, and executives/monarchs. "Cromwell and Son, Inc." was a bit of a strain on a constitutional monarchy that was preserved in exile, and remained functional in situ as far its parliamentary roles. "Restoration" came from within, or am I mistaken in thinking Charles II sought permission from parliament to return?

    What one might regard as "balance of powers" and "checks and balances" in the UK has evolved over the past 400 years, as it has in the U.S. over the past 225.

    I'll bow to "Tynwald."

    Regarding the OP: is the U.S. among the world's older governments? Yes.
  18. Jan 3, 2006 #17
    & canada too! canada is older than both germany & italy (as we know them today).

    nobody has mentioned ethiopia yet, that country is one of the oldest independent countries in the world! (can't think of an older one actually) it has been independent (not a colony or anything else) for 2200yrs or so. by comparison canada has been independent for only 74 or 138yrs depending on who you ask.
  19. Jan 3, 2006 #18


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    I believe the title the US holds is oldest surviving republic. Also the US Senate claims to be the oldest continuing legislative body. The catch there is the word "continuing"; the Senate, because of its overlapping terms, never goes out of session.
  20. Jan 3, 2006 #19
    The United Kingdom does not even have a written constitution. There is no single, formal document which lays out the branches of government and their powers. This website is a good resource.

    The American constitution is codified and available to all citizens. Each citizen can read the law - to the letter. The British constitution, on the other hand, is not codified. Such a situation is comparable to the study of physics (stay with me please). The study of the universe is understood only by a relatively small group of experts. Science's perspective on the universe has changed many times in the past 100 years, reflecting the prevailing mentality of the experts of the time period. The British government has changed in a similar way. Because its constitution exists almost exclusively in the minds of legal experts, the United Kingdom bases its constitution on the prevailing academic mentality of the present time, meaning that individuals such as Walter Bagehot and A.V. Dicey can redefine the constitution and the distribution of powers.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2006
  21. Jan 3, 2006 #20


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    If you're going to insist on written social contract as a qualification of longevity, state such a constraint in the original post. Introduction in rebuttal of Art's, Anttech's and other points is a really good way to turn a damned interesting thread into another P&WA micturition contest.

    The UK can claim the Magna Carta as such a document, and it bears as much resemblance to the current government in London as does the U.S. Constitution to the bureaucratic monstrosity that currently exists. Be nicer if we can stay away from the pick-pick-pick type of stuff, though.

    Ethiopia comes up. Haile Selassie could trace his throne to Solomon. He came off second best to the Derg in the mid '70s; means a lot of us were learning our world history when Ethiopian government was the longevity title holder.
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