On this day in 1785, King George III receives a minister from the newly independent American colonies. That minister was none other than John Adams, who would one day be President of the United States.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that room when an American minister met with the British King for the very first time after the American Revolution!
Can you imagine the scene? Not too long before, Adams had been a lowly subject of the British King—a mere colonist in a distant land. Then, he was a rebel, assisting a war that was treason in the eyes of that King. And now, he stood before the very same King as the representative of a new, independent nation. Surely it was a very surreal moment for Adams. And probably a surreal moment for King George.
“While I stood in this Place where it seems all Ministers stand upon such Occasions," Adams later described, "always attended by the Master of Ceremonies, the Room very full of Ministers of State, Bishops & all other sorts of Courtiers . . . , you may well suppose that I was the Focus of all Eyes.”
Of course he was the “Focus of all Eyes”! Surely all those other ministers thought that we Americans were basically upstarts! And yet they had to acknowledge Adams as an equal. Soon, Adams was called in to a private audience with the King.
What a surreal experience that must have been!
Adams observed to the King that their meeting was “an Epocha in the History of England & of America,” and he spoke of the American desire to restore good relations between the two nations. The British and American people, Adams noted, “tho’ separated by an Ocean and under different Governments, have the same Language, a similar religion & kindred Blood.” Adams hoped that his service as minister could “restor[e] an entire Esteem, Confidence & Affection, or in better Words, the old good Nature and the old good Humour” between the two.
Apparently, both Adams and King George felt the emotion of the moment. Adams described the King’s reaction to his speech: “The King list’ned to every Word I said with Dignity but with an apparent Emotion—whether it was the Nature of the Interview or whether it was my visible Agitation, for I felt more than I did or could express, that touched him I cannot say—but he was much affected and answered me with more Tremor than I had spoken with . . . .”
The King appreciated Adams’s message. “I was the last to consent to the Separation,” he stated, “but the Separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the Friendship of the United States as an independent Power.”
Well, maybe he didn’t totally mean it?! There was another war in 1812, after all. But eventually America and Britain would be able to become friends again, in the spirit of this meeting between Adams and George III.
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David McCullough, John Adams (2001)
John Adams—Audience with King George III, 1785 (Eyewitness Accounts from the National Archives)
Letter from John Adams to John Jay (June 2, 17 85)