The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

A Yankee in King George’s Court

This year Great Britain celebrates Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee year, and here at the Adams Papers our forthcoming volumes, Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 11 and Papers of John Adams, Volume 17, provide a glimpse at America’s earliest diplomatic meetings with the monarchy.

On June 1, 1785, John Adams entered the Court of St. James for a private audience with King George III. He made three bows and presented himself as the first minister of the newly independent United States. After a moving exchange of formalities, the king mentioned the rumor that Adams was not particularly fond of France. Adams found the perfect reply that neither praised nor insulted France or England. “I must avow to your Majesty, I have no Attachments but to my own Country.” To which the King replied “An honest Man will never have any other.” After the encounter, Adams confidently reported to Congress, that he had been treated precisely as all other foreign ministers were.

Ten years later John Quincy Adams, sent by Congress on a special errand over from The Hague, was led through the same procedures of etiquette for his audience. He recorded his experience in his diary. When asked by King George if it was his father who was currently governor of Massachusetts (that was Samuel Adams), Adams, no doubt with a bit of pride, replied, “No Sir, he is Vice-President of the United States.”

These events, full of pomp and circumstance, are illustrative of the complicated view Americans have of the monarchy, which they find both absurd and fascinating. The difficulty of embracing this unique opportunity without getting caught up in the extravagance is evident in the Adamses’ writings. Abigail Adams, for example, though fatigued by the occasion, nevertheless paid close attention to the details, as she described the ceremony of her own presentation at Court to her sister. Such sentiment seems to have become a staple in American life. The mixture of excitement and cynicism with which Americans met last year’s wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (better known as William and Kate) reveals the likelihood that our conflicted sensibilities regarding monarchy are also not going away soon.

permalink | Published: Wednesday, 16 May, 2012, 8:00 AM


May 16, 2012, 11:44 am


Great story! Like father like son, right?

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