Printable Version

Relations with Britain
Digital History ID 212

Author:   John Adams
Date:1785

Annotation:

Under the Treaty of Paris of 1783, Britain recognized the independence of the United States and national boundaries extending from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River and from the Great Lakes to Florida. Britain also agreed to evacuate military posts on American soil. Nevertheless, the nature of the United States' postwar relationship with Britain remained unclear.

The following two letters offer radically contrasting appraisals of American-British relations. In the following letter, John Adams describes his first audience with King George III. In the next letter, Jefferson offers a more skeptical perspective.


Document:

...[I] address'd myself to his Majesty [George III] in the following words. Sir

The United States of America, have appointed me their Minister Plenipotentiary to your Majesty, and have directed me to deliver to your Majesty, this Letter, which contains the Evidence of it. It is in obedience to their express Commands that I have the Honour to assure your Majesty of their Unanimous Disposition and desire, to cultivate the most friendly and liberal Intercourse between your Majesty's Subjects and their Citizens and of their best wishes for your Majesty's Health and Happiness and for that of your Royal Family.

The Appointment of a Minister from the United States to your Majesty's Court will form an Epoch in the History of England and of America. I think myself more fortunate than all my fellow Citizens, in having the distinguished Honour, to be the first to Stand in your Majesty's Royal Presence, in a diplomatic Character: and I shall esteem myself the happiest of Men, if I can be instrumental in recommending my Country, more and more to your Majesty's Royal Benevolence and of restoring an entire esteem, confidence and affection, or in better Words, "the old good Nature and the old good Humour" between People who, tho separated by an ocean and under different Governments have the same Language, a similar Religion and kindred Blood. --I beg your Majesty's Permission to add, that although I have sometimes before been entrusted by my country, it was never in my whole Life, in a manner so agreeable to myself.

The King listened to every word I said with dignity, it is true, 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, and said

Sir

The Circumstances of this Audience are so extraordinary, the language you have now held is so extremely proper and the Feelings you have discovered, so justly adapted to the occasion that I must say, that I not only receive with Pleasure, the Assurances of the friendly Dispositions of the United States, but that I am very glad the Choice has fallen upon you to be their Minister. I wish you, Sir, to believe, and that it may be understood in America, that I have done nothing in the late contest, but what I thought myself indispensably bound to do by the Duty which I owed to my people. I will be very frank with you. I was the last to consent to the separation; 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. The moment I see such sentiments and Language as yours prevail, and a disposition to give this country the Preference, that moment I shall say let the Circumstances of Language, Religion and blood, have their natural and full Effect....

The King then asked me, whether I came last from France, and, upon my answering in the affirmative, he put on an air of Familiarity, and smiling or rather laughing said "There is an opinion, among some People, that you are not the most attracted of all your Countrymen, to the manners of France." I was surprised at this, because I thought it, an Indiscretion and a descent from his Dignity. I was a little embarrassed, but determined not to deny the Truth on the one hand, nor leave him to infer from it, any attachment to England on the other, I threw off as much Gravity as I could and assumed an air of Gaiety and a Tone of Derision, as far as was decent, and said "That opinion Sir, is not mistaken, I must avow to your Majesty, I have no Attachment but to my own Country." The King replied, as quick as lightning "An honest Man will never have any other."

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: John Adams to Secretary of State John Jay

Copyright 2016 Digital History