From World War to Cold War: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the International History of the 1940s

By David Reynolds | Go to book overview

7
The President and the King

The Diplomacy of the British Royal Visit of 1939

Late on June 7, 1939, a reigning British sovereign set foot on American soil for the first time. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth crossed the border into the United States at Niagara after a three-week tour of Canada. Behind the scenes there were many misgivings. This was only the second state visit that the shy young monarch had made since he succeeded his brother, Edward VIII, in December 1936. Some isolationist senators denounced the trip as British propaganda for the impending European war, and there were disturbing reports of Irish Republican extremists in Detroit and New York. But official fears quickly evaporated as the royal party plunged into a hectic whirl of social engagements. The first two days were spent in the ninety-degree heat of Washington, with visits to the Capitol, Mount Vernon, and Arlington Cemetery, a formal state dinner at the White House, and a large garden party and another dinner at the British Embassy. Saturday, 10 June, saw the king and queen in New York, where they looked at the Battery and the World's Fair and lunched at Columbia University. Plans for a parade through Manhattan had been abandoned because it was felt that New Yorkers had 'cheapened' their famous tradition of hospitality. 'They used to throw down ticker tape, but now they drop telephone directories,' President Roosevelt observed drily.1 Finally a weary royal party journeyed up the Hudson River to the Roosevelt estate at Hyde Park. There they spent the rest of the weekend informally with the President's family before setting out for Canada on Sunday evening en route back to London.

The royal couple had received almost unqualified praise in America. Huge crowds had turned out to welcome them, their charm and sincerity had made an excellent impression, and press comment proved almost entirely favourable. Roosevelt, who had adopted an avuncular attitude towards the young King and Queen, found them not only 'delightful and understanding people' but also

This chapter was first published in The Historian, 45 (1983), 461–72.

1 Lindsay to Cadogan, despatch, 1 Nov. 1938, FO 371/21548, A8828/76737/45 (TNA).

-137-

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