Legend Claims That King George III of Britain Turned His Back On The American Revolutionaries, Thomas Jefferson And John Adams, During A Reception In 1786

(Left to Right: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George III. All paintings are licensed as public Domain)


John Adams (the future second president of the United States) was appointed as the main ambassador and diplomat to England in 1785, two years after the success of the American Revolution. His difficult job was to attempt to bring the kin nations of the United States and Great Britain back into a working relationship—or, at least, to get the countries in speaking terms.

Upon John Adams’ arrival in London, King George III welcomed the revolutionary with a tense, but cordial, meeting. Aside from vocally praying that the United States would not suffer too much from their lack of monarchy, King George III held back his understandable bitterness. He even applauded John Adams for his lack of interest in all things French—an interest that was otherwise commonplace in revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson.

While John Adams was politicking in London, Thomas Jefferson was doing the same in Paris. In 1786, however, Jefferson crossed the English Channel and met with John Adams in London. Together, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson received an audience with King George III. Unlike the first meeting between Adams and King George, this time the king let his distaste for the Americans show. Perhaps, the king specifically detested Thomas Jefferson for the man’s authorship of works like the U. S. Declaration of Independence, which labeled George III as a tyrant. Maybe, the king loathed Thomas Jefferson’s doting on French ideas and culture. Whatever the reason, George III acted rudely to the U. S. statesmen when they visited in 1786. Some accounts even claim that the king turned his back on Jefferson and Adams—though there is debate as to whether that was literal, or just a figurative description of King George III’s manners. In the book American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, however, Joseph J. Ellis, an acclaimed historian of the U. S. founding fathers, seems to believe the event actually occurred.


  • American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, by Joseph J. Ellis. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

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