Saturday, May 30, 2009

John Adams and George III


I am no student of history. Rather, I am a lousy student of history, allowing the neat HBO John Adams series to drive me to the David McCullough book itself. And it might just have been Paul Giamatti's swell performance that made it so compelling, but I found particularly moving the moment when Adams goes to England after England has capitulated and surrendered and signed a treaty with the new United States. Adams must face the King in proper form and with due respect, and declare the United States' intention to become, if not at once, eventual fast friends with England.

Again, my poor historicism shows: I can't tell from the book whether Adams' remarks to the King are written down in the first place, and then recited to the King, or whether he just wings it in his audience, then later reconstructs the text in peace. Ditto with the King's words. But it's moving -- on both ends -- the words these two countries seemed to share in order to heal wounds and begin a reconciliation, the kind of moment that often must go forgotten in the forward rush of progress and time and rapid change.

First, John Adams to the King:
"The United States have appointed me their minister plenipotentiary to Your Majesty. 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 honor to be the first to stand in your Majesty's royal presence in a diplomatic character; and I shall esteem my self the happiest of men if I can be instrumental in recommending my country more an dmore 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 humor between people who, though separated by an ocean and under different governments, have the same language, a similiar religion, and kindred blood. I beg your Majesty's permission to add hat although I have some time before been intrusted by my country, it was never in my whole life in a manner so agreeable to myself."
Then Adams, who had been closely watching the King as he spoke, noticed the King "was much affected, and answered me with more tremor than I had spoken with":
The circumstances of this audience are so extraordinary, the language you have now held is so extremely proper, and the feeling you have discovered so justly adapted to the occasion, that I must say that I not only receive with pleasure the assurance of the friendly dispositions of the United States, but that I am very glad that the choice has fallen upon you to be their minister. I wish you, sir, to believe, and that it be understood in America, that I have done nothing in the late contest but what I thought I owed to my people. I will be very frank with you, I was the last to consent to 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.

1 comment:

Michael Drayne said...

Very affecting words indeed. Particularly the King's, I think. And Adams view of those circumstances was right -- he and Hamilton were right, over the next decade, to be focused on restoring relations with England, while Jefferson's fawning over revolutionary France was almost insanely off-base.