Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 85,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World through the end of the twentieth century.

Adams, John (1735-1826) to John Jay

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also order a pdf of the image from us here.

A high-resolution version of this object is available for registered users. LOG IN

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC01538 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: London, England Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 2 June 1785 Pagination: 8 p. : address ; 23 x 19 cm. Order a Copy

Marked "Duplicate" by Adams, and possibly used for en-cyphering because of the marks and lines above letters, words and sentences. Describes in great detail Adams's reception by King George III as America's first ambassador to Great Britain. He quotes his speech to the king, and the king's response. He also describes an awkward moment when the king tactlessly remarked "There is an opinion, among some People, that you are not the most attracted of all your Countrymen, to the manners of France." Adams writes "I was a little embarassed, but determined not to deny the Truth on 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 said 'That opinion Sir, is not mistaken, ... I have no Attachment but to my own country.['] The King replied, as quick as lightening 'An honest Man will never have any other.'" Adams notes that his experience in the audience might prove useful to later diplomats.

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.

Bath Hotel Westminster June 2. 1785
Dear Sir

During my Interview with the Marquis of Carmarthen he told me, that it was customary, for every [struck: foreign] Minister, at his first Presentation to the King, to make his Majesty Some Compliments comformable to the Spirit of his Credentials': and when Sir Clement Cottrell Dormer, the Master of the Ceremonies, came to inform me, that he Should accompany me to the Secretary of State and to Court, he Said that every foreign Minister, whom he had attended to the Queen, had always made an Harrangue to his Majesty, and he understood, tho he had not been present that they always harrangued the King. on Tuesday Evening the Baron de Lynden, called upon me and Said he came from the Baron De Nolken, and had been conversing upon the Singular Situation I was in, and they agreed in Opinion that it was indisponsable that I Should make a Speech, and that it Should be as complimentary as possible. all this was parrallel to the Advice lately given by the Comte de Vergennes to Mr Jefferson. So that finding it was a Custom established at both these great Courts, and that this Court and the foreign [2] Ministers expected it, I thought I could not avoid it, although my first Thought and Inclination had been to deliver my Credentials Silently and retire.
At one on Wednesday the first of June, the Master of [struck: the] Ceremonies called at my House, and went with me to the Secre[text loss: tary] of States office in Cleveland Row, where the Marquis of Carmarthen received me and introduced to me, his Under Secretary Mr Frasier, who has been as his Lordship Said, uninterruptedly in that office, tho all the Changes in Administration, for thirty years, having first been appointed by the Earl of Hold[text loss: er]ness. After a Short Conversation upon the Subject of importing my Effects from Holland and France, free of Duty, which Mr Frasier himself introduced, Lord Carmarthen invited me to go with him in his Coach to Court. When We arrived in the Antichamber, the Oeil de Beur of St James', the Master of the Ceremonies met me and Attended me, while [text loss: the] Secretary of State went to take the Commands of the King. While I stood in this Place, where it Seems all Ministers St[text loss: and] upon Such occasions, always attended by the Master of [struck: the] Ceremonies, the Room very full of Ministers of State, Bishops and all other Sorts of Courtiers, as well as the next [3] Room, which is the Kings Bedchamber, you may well Suppose that I was the Focus of all Eyes. I was relieved however from from the Embarrassment of it, by the Swedish and Dutch Ministers, who came to me and entertain'd me, in a very agreable Conversation during the whole time. Some other Gentlemen whom I had Seen before came to make their Compliments too untill the Marquis of Carmarthen returned, and desired me, to go with him to his Majesty! I went with his Lordship, through the Levee Room into the Kings Closet, the Door was Shut, and I was left with his Majesty and the Secretary of State alone. I made the three Reverences, one at the Door, another about half Way and the third before the Presence, according to the Usage established at this and all the northern Courts of Europe, and then address'd myself to his Majesty in the following words.
The United States of America, have appointed me their Minister Plenipotentiary to your Majesty, and have directed me to deliver to you 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 Majestys Subjects [4] and their Citizens, and of their best Wishes for your Majestys Health and Happiness, and for that of your Royal Family.
The Appointment of a Minister from the United States to your Majestys Court, will form an Epocha, in the History of England and of America. I think myself more fortunate, than all my fellow Citizens, in having the distinquish'd Honour, to be the first to Stand in your Majistys Royal Presence, in a diplomatic Character: and I shall esteem myself the happiest of Men, if I can instrumental [struck: of] [inserted: in] recommending my Country, more and more to your Majestys 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 Seperated by an Ocean and under different Governments have the Same Language, a Similar Religion and kindred Blood. - - I beg your Majestys 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 touch'd him, I cannot Say, but he was much affected, and answered [5] me with more tremor, than I had Spoken with, and Said
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 Seperation: but the Seperation 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. [6] I dare not say, that these Were the Kings precise Words, and it is even possible that I may have in Some particular, mistaken his meaning for, although his Pronunciation is as distinct, as I ever heard, he hesitat[text loss: ed] Sometimes between his Periods, and between the Members of the Sam[text loss: e] Period. He was indeed much affected, and I was not less So, and theref[text loss: ore] I cannot be certain, that I was So attentive, heard So clearly and und[text loss: er] Stood So perfectly, as to be confident of all his Words or Sense and I think that all which he Said to me, Should [inserted: at present] be kept Secret in America, unless his Majesty or his Secretary of State, Should judge prope[text loss: r] to report it. - This I do Say, that the foregoing is, his Majestys mea[text loss: ning] as I then understood it, and his own Words, as nearly as I can recollect them.
The King then asked me, whether I came last from France, an[text loss: d] 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 attach[text loss: ed] of all your Countrymen, to the manners of France." I was Surprisid 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 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 assured an Air of Gaiety and a Tone of Decision, as far as was decent, and Said "That Opinion Sir, is not mistaken, I must [7] avow to your Majesty, I have no Attachments but to my own Country. The King replied, as quick as lightning "an honest Man will never have any other."
The King then Said a Word or two, to the Secretary of State, which being between them I did not hear, and then turn'd round and bow'd to me, as is customary with all Kings and Princes, when they give the Signal to retire. I retreated Stepping backwards, as is the Ettiquette, and making my last Reverence at the Door of the Chamber, I went my Way. The Master of the Ceremonies joined me, the moment of my coming out of the Kings Closet, and accompanied me, through all the Appartments, down to my Carriage, Several Stages of Servants Gentleman Porters and Under Porters, roaring out like Thunder as I went along "Mr Adams's Servants, Mr Adams's Carriage &c
I have been thus minute in these details, because they may be usefull to others hereafter to know. The Conversation with the King I Should not dare to withhold from Congress, who will form their own Judgment of it. - I may possibly expect from it a Residence here less pain full, than I once expected, because So marked an Attention from the King will Silence many Grumbles But We can infer nothing from all this concerning the Success of my Mission. [8]
There is a Train of other Ceremonies to go through, in Presentations to the Queen and Visits to and from Ministers and Ambassadors which will take up much time and interrupt me in my Endeavours to obtain, all that I have at Heart the objects of my Instructions. Thus it is that the Essences of Things is lost in Ceremony, in every Country of Europe. We must submit to what We cannot alter. Patience is the only Remedy.
With great Sincere Esteem I have the
Honour to be, dear Sir, your most obedient
and most humble Servant
John Adams

His Excellency John Jay Esqr
Secretary of the State for the
Department of foreign Affairs.

Citation Guidelines for Online Resources