A Not Very Special Relationship: John Adams In London
With the “special relationship” under a new post-Brexit scrutiny and our cousins across the pond in election fever, Michael Duncan explores the London connection of maybe the most forgotten of the Founding Fathers.
John Adams, the Second President of the United States, is overshadowed by his fellow founding fathers. George Washington towered over him physically and continues to do so today in terms of reputation; Jefferson likewise despite the fact that he owned slaves, a practice John Adams found abhorrent.
And even the dashing and handsome Hamilton is set to eclipse the second President with a hip-hop musical of his life dominating the Tony awards this year (and set to hit the West End in late 2017).
Even his revolutionary cousin, Samuel Adams, who never achieved high office, is more of a household name today – perhaps because of the beer that bears his name!
But John Adams should not be overlooked.
He was Vice-President to George Washington for two terms before succeeding him as President in 1797. He helped Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence, was a leading revolutionary thinker and one of the leading lawyers of his day.
But he also spent time in Europe, representing the United States in France and the Netherlands before coming to London as his country’s first Ambassador to the Court of St James’s in 1785.
He set about stabilising relations between the two countries, during which time he met George III for a meeting described as “not a disaster”.
For such fantastic progress, on the bi-centenary of American independence he was praised by our current Queen for restoring “the old good nature and the old good humour between our peoples”.
But it wasn’t a barrel of laughs. Londoners did not take to having the embodiment of their nation’s failure walking the streets and he and his wife Abigail were subjected to stares and occasional abuse.
And where was his first residence and embassy? Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, the centre of what was to become American London and home future embassies until the big move to Battersea.
The strange thing is that the building that housed the first US Embassy in London became the headquarters to a more recent politician who dominated his era but who is currently subjected to stares and abuse on the streets on London, one Tony Blair.
How will he be remembered in 200 years time I wonder?
Hear more fascinating tales of Americans in London on Michael’s new walk “The Americans in Mayfair” on August 20th, booking details here.