Adams Papers

From John Adams to John Jay, 2 June 1785

To John Jay


Bath Hotel Westminster June 2. 17852

Dear Sir

During my Interview with the Marquis of Carmarthen he told me, that it was customary, for every foreign Minister, at his first Presentation to the King, to make his Majesty Some Compliments conformable to the Spirit of his Credentials:3 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 her Majesty,4 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 indispensable that I Should make a Speech, and that it Should be as complimentary as possible. all this was parrallel5 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 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.6

At one on Wednesday the first of June, the Master of Ceremonies called at my House, and went with me to the Secretary 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 Holderness.7 After a Short8 Conversation upon the Subject of importing my Effects from Holland and France, free of Duty,9 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 Œil de Beuf10 of St James’s, the Master of the Ceremonies met me and Attended me, while the Secretary of State went to take the Commands of the King. While I Stood in this Place, where it Seems all Ministers Stand upon Such occasions, always attended by the Master of Ceremonies, the Room very full of Ministers of State,11 Bishops and all other Sorts of Courtiers, as well as the next Room which is the Kings Bedchamber, you may well Suppose that I was the Focus of all Eyes. I was relieved however from the Embarrassment of it, by the Sweedish 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,12 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.13


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 Majestys Subjects 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 Minister14 from the United States15 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 distinguish’d Honour, to be the first to Stand in your Majestys 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 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 Permission16 to add, that although I have Sometimes before, been entrusted by my Country it was never in my whole Life in a manner So agreable to myself.—

The King listened to every Word I Said: with dignity, it is true, but with an apparent Emotion.17 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 me with more tremor, than I had Spoken with, and Said18


The Circumstances of this Audience are so extraordinary, the language you have now held is So extreamly 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 glad19 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:20 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.21 The moment I See Such Sentiments and Language as yours prevail, and a disposition to give to this Country the Preference, that moment I Shall22 Say let the Circumstances of Language, Religion and blood, have their natural and full Effect.

I dare not Say, that these Were the Kings precise Words, and it is even possible that I may have23 in Some Particular, mistaken his meaning for, although his Pronunciation24 is as distinct,25 as I ever heard, he hesitated Sometimes26 between his Periods, and between the Members of the Same Period. He was indeed much affected, and27 I was not less so, and therefore I cannot be certain, that I was So28 attentive, heard So clearly and understood So perfectly, as to be confident of all29 his Words or sense and I think that all which he30 Said to me, Should31 at present be kept Secret32 in America, unless his Majesty or33 his Secretary of State, Should judge proper to report it.—34 This I do say, that the foregoing is, his Majestys Meaning 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, 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 attached of all Your Countrymen, to the manners of France.”35 I was Surpris’d 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 assumed an Air of Gaiety and a Tone of Decision, as far as was decent, and said “That Opinion sir, is not mistaken, I must 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 Gentlemen 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 painfull,36 than I once expected, because so marked an Attention from the King will Silence37 many Grumblers But We can infer nothing from all this concerning the Success of my Mission.

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 Essence of Things is lost in Ceremony, in every Country of Europe. We must submit to what We cannot alter. Patience is the only Remedy.38

With great and Sincere Esteem I have the / Honour to be, dear sir, your most obedient / and most humble servant

John Adams

Dupl (NHi:Gilder Lehrman Coll., on deposit); internal address: “His Excellency John Jay Esqr / Secretary of State for the / Department of foreign Affairs.” RC, encoded and decoded text (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 469–484). LbC’s in the hands of JA and WSS, respectively (Adams Papers); APM Reels 107, 111. For JA’s drafting and dispatch of this letter to America, see note 2.

1In WSS’s hand; for his insertion of this word, see note 2.

2On 1 June JA presented his letter of credence to George III and thereby formally began his mission as the first U.S. minister to the Court of St. James. The following day the London Morning Post and Daily Advertiser and other papers reported matter-of-factly that “yesterday J. Adams, Esq. (from America) was presented to his Majesty at the Levee, by the Marquis of Carmarthen.” But the London Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser of 8 June probably better captured the popular view when it observed in amazement “an Ambassador from America!—Good Heavens, what a sound.”

If the concept of a U.S. minister resident in London was difficult for the British public to accept, it was no less unsettling for JA and George III. In his account of the 1 June audience JA notes that both men were “much affected.” Indeed, later newspaper reports indicated, perhaps apocryphally, that “Mr. Adams, the American Ambassador, was so embarrassed at his first audience, as not to pronounce the compliment prescribed by etiquette. The great person before whom he stood, very good-naturedly passed by the omission, and told him, that though it could not be a pleasing circumstance to receive an embassy from those who were once his subjects, yet as the right was insured to them by treaty, he, Mr. Adams, might depend upon being treated with every mark of regard and protection” (London Chronicle, 9–11 June). These and other reports concerning JA’s audience with George III were reprinted in America in, for example, the 18 Aug. Boston Independent Chronicle; see also AA’s comments on newspaper coverage of JA’s arrival in Britain in her 6 June letter to Thomas Jefferson (AFC description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 6:171–172).

Clearly the audience was an intense en counter. Two years earlier George III wrote to Charles James Fox that an accredited minister from the United States would never “be agreeable to Me” (vol. 15:214). The king’s opinion likely had not changed drastically by 1785, and to have before him a former subject and rebel leader who had signed the Declaration of Independence and the Anglo-American peace treaty must have been disconcerting, an unwelcome reminder of his failed effort to retain the American colonies. But however taxing the encounter with JA was for George III, he was performing a routine task, that of receiving a new minister, and one that he had undertaken countless times during his reign. For JA the stakes were much higher.

The significance of JA’s audience with George III on 1 June and that with Queen Charlotte on 9 June is self-evident, as is also the case with his letters to Jay of 2 and 10 June describing the events. The way in which JA drafted those accounts and his decisions regarding their dispatch to America indicate his state of mind as he began his mission to Great Britain, but they also have influenced the editors’ decisions regarding the text of those letters to be printed in this volume.

As he often did with very important letters, JA drafted both of his dispatches to Jay in his Letterbook (APM Reel 107). From the emendations he made in the course of drafting the letters JA was clearly concerned over how the report of his exchanges with George III and Charlotte would be taken when read by members of Congress (see, for example, note 18, below). His apprehensions likely resulted from Elbridge Gerry’s and Samuel Osgood’s warnings that he should be less candid in letters that might be read in Congress, as well as from the criticism leveled at him during Congress’ deliberations over the choice of a minister to Great Britain.

Upon completing each of his drafts, JA wrote out a fair copy and signed it. Those copies, despite their designation as duplicates, are the source of the text for the 2 and 10 June letters to Jay. The editors believe that these are the copies that JA intended to send to Jay, probably as soon as the second letter was completed. At some point, however, probably on or about 10 June, he reconsidered and decided that both letters should be encoded because “of the Delicacy of the Subject” (to Gerry, 6 July, below). Using the nomenclator code that Jay sent JA with his 13 April letter, above, WSS then undertook the laborious task. This resulted in the dispatch of the letters to America being considerably delayed. The encoded account of the audience with George III was not sent off until 20 June, and then it was as an enclosure in WSS’s letter to Jay of that date (to Carmarthen, 20 June, note 1, below). The description of the audience with Charlotte was enclosed with JA’s letter to Jay of 26 June (note 1, below). Marks on both of the fair, signed copies indicate that WSS used them when he prepared the encoded copies. WSS also made LbC’s from the two fair, signed copies that appear between letters dated 20 and 26 June, indicating that they were done at or near the time that the encoded copies were sent off (LbC’s, APM Reel 111). For Jay’s comment on JA’s conduct, upon receiving this letter in late Aug., see note 38, below. For more on the encoded letter, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, Nos. 4 and 5, above.

By early July, JA’s apprehensions over the effect on members of Congress or others of his exchanges with the king and queen had dissipated. He wrote to Gerry on 6 July, below, that his exchanges with George III and Charlotte had “become generally known” so that the caution that led him to encode the accounts sent to Jay was no longer warranted. He, therefore, enclosed the fair, signed copies of his letters to Jay, and it was presumably then that WSS inserted the word “Duplicate” in the upper left corner of each letter’s first page.

3In his LbC, JA wrote, “Letter of Credence.” The references here and below are to the Letterbook (APM Reel 107) in which JA drafted his letter to Jay.

4For JA’s “Harrangue” at his presentation to Charlotte, see his 10 June letter to Jay, below.

5In his LbC, JA wrote, “conformable.”

6JA received advice from the Baron Lynden van Blitterswyck and the Baron von Nolcken, Dutch minister and Swedish envoy to Great Britain, respectively, and, as JA indicates in the following paragraph, they were present while JA waited to be shown into the “King’s Closet.” For earlier references to the Comte de Vergennes’ advice to Jefferson as well as the etiquette of the British and French courts, see the second of JA’s 27 May letters to Jefferson, above.

7For William Fraser, see JA’s letter 18 July letter to Fraser, below. He was appointed by Robert D’Arcy, 4th Earl of Holdernesse, who left office in 1761 (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1901; repr. Oxford, 1959–1960; 21 vols. plus supplements; rev. edn., description ends ).

8In his LbC, JA wrote, “perhaps half an Hours.”

9The previous three words do not appear in JA’s LbC.

10A reception room at Versailles lighted by circular windows, or oeils-de-boeuf.

11In his LbC, JA wrote, “Lords” rather than “Ministers of State.”

12In his LbC, JA wrote, “three profound Bows.”

13In the Adams Papers at [1 June 1785] is a FC of JA’s address to George III and the king’s response that likely were copied from JA’s LbC. There are, however, differences from the versions in both the Letterbook and this letter which are indicated in notes 14, 16. For JA’s probable use of this FC, and another recounting his exchange with Charlotte, see Jefferson’s first letter of 24 Sept., and note 1, below.

14In his FC, JA wrote, “public” before “Minister.”

15In his LbC, JA wrote, “America” rather than “United States.”

16In his FC, JA wrote, “Let me beg your Majestys Permission.”

17In JA’s LbC, this sentence reads, “The King listened to every Word I Said, with Dignity however but with a most apparent Emotion.”

18JA’s account of his address to George III in his Letterbook and in the letter itself are virtually identical, and there are no insertions or deletions in the LbC. The same is not true of his account of George III’s response. In the Letterbook there is evidence of substantial editing, with numerous deletions and interlineations of text. This may be due to JA’s determination to report George III’s words accurately, but it may also reflect a concern over the reception of the king’s comments in the United States. It seems useful therefore to include the text of George III’s response as JA originally drafted it, without the changes that he later made and which are indicated in notes 19–22.


“The Circumstances of this Audience are so extraordinary, and the Language you have now held, is so extreamly proper, and the Feelings you have discovered so justly adapted that I must Say, that I not only receive with Pleasure the assurances of the Friendly Dispositions of the United States, but that I rejoice that 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 my self indispensibly 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 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 operation.”

But there is a third version of George III’s response to JA derived from the account given by Carmarthen to John Temple on the day following JA’s audience. Temple apparently related Carmarthen’s version to his wife, Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple, who included it in a letter to her father, James Bowdoin, or her mother, Elizabeth Erving Bowdoin. At least that was Royall Tyler’s report in his letter to AA of [post 7 Oct.] in which he indicated that he had been at a dinner where James Bowdoin communicated the extract from his daughter’s letter (AFC description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 6:418).

The extract formed the basis for the accounts of JA’s audience published in the 26 Sept. issues of the Boston Gazette and the Boston Independent Ledger, and it is from the former that the account printed here is taken. It was apparently the first account of JA’s audience published in America, for Tyler informed AA that “Mr. Adams’s private Audience is a matter of much speculation. Congress have not Published an official Account, and the Members are not very Communicative as to this Event. I do not mean that they are peculiarly reserved in this Instance. But it is held Indelicate to Inquire of a member of Congress concerning any official Communications which they do not Chuse to Insert in the Publick Papers.” For an additional comment on this published account, see James Sullivan’s letter of 10 Oct., below.

“Mr. [Temple] accompanied Mr. Adams to the King’s levee, after the levee was over, Mr. Adams according to etiquette, was introduced to the King’s closet, where, (as is usual for foreign ministers) he made a speech to his majesty, in performing which he was somewhat affected, and when he had finished the King said,


“‘The whole of this business is so extraordinary, that the feelings you discover upon the occasion, appear to me to be just and proper. I wish, sir, to be clearly understood, before I reply to the obliging sentiments you have expressed in behalf of the United States of America. I am, you may well suppose sir, the last person in England, that consented to the dismemberment of the Empire, by the Independance of the new States; and while the war was continued, I thought it due to my subjects to prosecute that war to the utmost; but sir, I have consented to their independence, and it is ratified by Treaty, and I now receive you as their Minister Plenipotentary; and every attention, respect and protection granted to other Plenipotentiaries, you shall receive at this court— And sir, as I was the last person that consented to the Independence of the said United States, so, I will be the last person to disturb, or in any manner infringe, upon their Sovereign Independant Rights— And I hope and trust, that from blood, religion, manners, habits of intercourse, and almost every other consideration, that the two nations will continue for ages in friendship and confidence with each other.’

“Lord Carmarthen, Secretary of State, (who was the only minister in the closet, when Mr. Adams made his speech, and received the foregoing answer) repeated it to Mr. [Temple] the day after; and which, to my opinion; for its manliness and propriety, deserves to be written in letters of gold—he was afterwards presented to the Queen, to whom he made a speech, (as is customary) She politely thanked him for his friendly expressions towards her and her family, and was very happy to see him in England. Thus far I have given you the speech as near as Mr. [Temple] could recollect, thinking it would be agreeable to you.”

19In the LbC, the preceding three words were interlined to replace “rejoice that.”

20In the LbC, the following passage from “but” through “Power” was interlined and marked for insertion at this point.

21In the LbC, JA wrote, “People.”

22In the LbC, JA interlined the passage, “be the first to meet the Frdship of U.S.” and marked it for insertion at this point. But essentially the same words are included in the interlineation mentioned in note 20, so it may be that this passage was written first and then discarded when the inclusion of the earlier insertion made it redundant.

23In the LbC, the following three words were interlined and marked for insertion at this point.

24At this point in the LbC, JA deleted, “of English Words.”

25At this point in the LbC, JA deleted, “and proper.”

26At this point in the LbC, JA deleted, “a good deal.”

27At this point in the LbC, JA wrote, “I confess.”

28At this point the LbC reads, “cool and attentive, that I.”

29In the LbC, this word was interlined for insertion at this point.

30In the LbC, “he” was interlined to replace “his Majesty.”

31In the LbC, the following two words do not appear.

32In the LbC, the following two words were interlined for insertion at this point.

33In the LbC, the following passage reads, “his Secretary of State Lord Carmarthen who alone was present.”

34In the LbC, the following sentence be gins with the word “But.”

35JA made substantial changes to the remainder of this paragraph both to his draft and to the text when he copied it from the Letterbook. From this point the remainder of this paragraph in the LbC reads as follows: “I was Surprized at this, because I thought it, not of a Peice with what he had Said before, that is to say I thought it an Indiscretion and a Descent from his Dignity. I was a little Embarrassed, but upon the whole I thought it indispensable upon that Occasion to be as frank as he was, and I assumed threw off as much of my Gravity as I could and assumed as gay an air as was decent and Said ‘That opinion, Sir, is not mistaken, for I must be permitted to own avow to your Majesty that I have no Attachments but to my own native Country.—[’] The King replied as quick as lightning, ‘An honest Man will never have any other.—’”

36To this point in the LbC, this sentence reads, “I may possibly have reason to expect from it, that my personal Ease Residence here may not be so disagreable painfull.”

37In the LbC, “Silence” was preceded by “probably.”

38Jay acknowledged this letter on 26 Aug. (Adams Papers), indicating that he had that day laid it and two others, dated 6 and 17 June, before Congress. Regarding JA’s first efforts as minister, Jay wrote that “you have been in a Situation that required much Circumspection— I think you have acquitted yourself in a Manner that does you Honor.” For more on the audiences with George III and Charlotte, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, Nos. 2 and 3, above.

Index Entries