Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher & Ronald Reagan

Exchange of toasts at British Embassy Dinner

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: British Embassy, Washington DC
Source: Thatcher Archive: White House transcript
Editorial comments: 2233-55 Eastern Standard Time. The transcript was released by Office of the White House Press Secretary. The President’s speech follows MT’s.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2275
Themes: Foreign policy (USA), Leadership

Prime Minister Thatcher

Mr. Ronald ReaganMr. President, George BushVice President, ladies and gentlemen: Mr. President, an earlier visitor to the United States, Charles Dickens, described our American friends as by nature frank, brave, cordial, hospitable, and affectionate. That seems to me, Mr. President, to be a perfect description of the man who has been my host for the last 48 hours. (Applause.) And it's not surprising, therefore, that I've so much enjoyed all our talks together, whether the formal discussions in the Oval Office and how very much it suits you, sir, to be there, or in the Cabinet Room or those less formal at the dinner table.

Mr. President, Henry David Thoreau once said that it takes two to speak the truth, one to speak and another to hear. Well, sometimes one of us has spoken and sometimes the other. But together, Mr. President, I would like to think that we have spoken the truth. (Applause.) [end p1]

During the visit to which I've already referred, Charles Dickens, like me, also visited Capitol Hill. He described the congressmen he met there as “striking to look at, hard to deceive, prompt to act, lions in energy, Americans in strong and general impulse.” Having been there and agreeing with Dickens as I do, I'm delighted to see so many Members of Congress here this evening. And if Dickens was right, relations between the legislative and executive branches should be smooth indeed over the next four years. After all, “prompt to act and lions in energy” should mean, Mr. President, you'll get that expenditure cutting program through very easily indeed. (Laughter. Applause.)

In any event I hope, Mr. President, that in serving this evening wine from your own State of California, we British have done something to advance the cause of harmony. (Laughter.) And I hope also that you'll think we've chosen well. I must confess that the Californian berries I've never seen growing on any tree, but of course they are none the worse for that. (Laughter.) You see how much we try to attend to what has customarily become called “the supply side” in all aspects of life—(laughter)—not simply in economics.

California, of course, has always meant a great deal to my countrymen from the time, almost exactly 400 years ago, when one of our greatest national heroes, Sir Francis Drake, proclaimed it New Albion in keeping with the bravado of the Elizabethan Age. This feeling of community and curiosity that we have about California exists in the present age when another of our household names made his career there, one of the greatest careers in show business. I refer to Mr. Bob Hope, who is here this evening, and whom we like to claim is partly ours because he was born in the United Kingdom, though he decided to leave when he was only four years old. (Laughter.) Presumably because he thought the golf courses in the United States [end p2] were better than those in the United Kingdom. (Laughter. Applause.) I'm glad that my Denis Thatcherhusband Denis did not agree with him. (Applause.)

It's a great privilege, Mr. President, to welcome you this evening to this Embassy, and we're very sensible of the honor that you do us in coming here. I hope you didn't feel ill at ease as you came up the stairs and passed under the gaze of George III. (Laughter.) I can assure you that we British have long since come to see that George was wrong and that Thomas Jefferson was right when he wrote to James Madison that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” (Laughter.)

Leaving history aside, I hope we've succeeded in making you feel at home. The Embassy has been described as being like a Queen Anne country house. At any rate, it's our own version of El Rancho del Cielo. It is, as they say, in a good neighborhood. After all, the Vice President and Mrs. Bush live next door. (Laughter.) I'm told that they occasionally cast predatory glances on our excellent tennis court. But I feel there's little chance of persuading Sir Nicholas HendersonNico and Mary Henderson to give it up. Too much useful business gets done on it. Or so they claim. (Laughter.)

It's a singular honor for me, and no less important, a great pleasure for all the other guests this evening, that you should be here, Mr. President. Not just because you are the free world's leading statesman, but because you are a person who has got there by your own efforts and who retains that wonderful personality—natural, forthcoming and wise, whatever the pomp and circumstance in which you find yourself surrounded.

Emerson wrote that nothing astonishes men as much as common sense and plain dealing. In you, Mr. President, to find these qualities is only what one would expect. It's not the time, Mr. President, for me to talk at any length about the relations between our two countries except to say that they are profoundly and deeply right. And beyond that, we perhaps don't have to define them in detail. But after these two days of talks with you and meetings with many of the United States' ministerial and congressional leaders, I have realized what at any rate to me is exceptional about the dealings we two countries have with each other.

We honor the same values. We may not always have identical interests, but what we do have in common is the same way of looking at and doing things. We don't seek to score off the other. We don't seek to involve the other in some commitment against his will. We try rather, in discussing the whole range of world problems that affect us both, [end p3] to find common ground and to find the way which protects for humanity that liberty which is the only thing which gives life dignity and meaning.

There will, of course, be times, Mr. President, when yours perhaps is the loneliest job in the world, times when you need what one of my great friends in politics once called “two o'clock in the morning courage” . There will be times when you go through rough water. There will be times when the unexpected happens. There will be times when only you can make a certain decision. It is at that time when you need the two o'clock in the morning courage. By definition it means courage. It requires also conviction. Even that is not enough. It requires wisdom. It requires a capacity to evaluate the varying advice that comes your way, the advice from those who say, “Yes, go on, go on, this is your great opportunity to prove what you're made of,” the advice which says, “This is the time to make a dignified retreat,” and only you can weigh up that advice. Only you can exercise that judgement and there's no one else, and it is the most lonely job, and what it requires is the most wonderful, profound understanding of human nature and the heights to which it can rise. And what it requires is a knowledge on your part that whatever decision you make you have to stick with the consequences and see it through until it be well and truly finished.

Those of us who are here realize what this two o'clock in the morning courage means, what a lonely job it is, and how in the end only one thing will sustain you, that you have total integrity and at the end of the day you have to live with the decision you have made.

I want to say this to you, Mr. President, that when those moments come, we here in this room, on both sides of the Atlantic, have in you total faith that you will make the decision which is right for protecting the liberty of common humanity in the future. You will make that decision that we as partners in the English-speaking world know that, as Wordsworth wrote, “We must be free or die who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake.”

I'd like to thank you, Mr. President, for the hospitality you and your government have given to me, to my family, and to my party on this memorable visit. It's very early days in your administration and you've very heavy preoccupations. But if these meetings have meant a tithe as much to you as they have meant to me and to my team, I shall leave with a pang of sorrow, but happy and contented, eager soon to see you on the shores of Britain. It's in this spirit, Mr. President, that I would ask all our guests this evening to rise and drink a toast with affection, respect, and admiration to the President of the United States and Mrs. Reagan. The President of the United States. (Toast.) (Applause.).

The President

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Vice President, Prime Minister Bob Hope will know what I mean when I speak in the language of my previous occupation and say you are a hard act to follow. (Laughter. Applause.) [end p4]

Nancy and I want to thank you for the warmth of those words that you spoke as well as your gracious hospitality. And may I say that I do know something about that “two o'clock courage,” but I also know that you have already shown that two o'clock courage on too many occasions to name. (Applause.)

It's been delightful for Nancy and me to be here and with the Thatcher family in these 48 hours and to know them better, to know Mr. Thatcher, to know your daughter Carol. I would also like to think Sir Nicholas and Lady Henderson who have made this house such a gracious center of hospitality in this city.

Winston Churchill is believed to have said that the three most difficult things a man can be asked to do is to climb a wall leaning toward him, kiss a woman leaning away from him, and give a good after dinner speech. (Laughter.) This evening marks the first steps I've taken as a President on foreign soil. (Laughter.) What an honor to visit Great Britain first and how symbolic of the close relationship between our two nations that I only had to go fifteen city blocks to do it. (Laughter.) I wonder if this is what is meant by the saying that the sun never sets on the British Empire. (Laughter.) I do hope you agree, Prime Minister, that this city is an excellent vantage point from which to see the brilliant sunlight that still falls upon the Empire. I don't mean the empire of territorial possessions. I mean the empire of civilized ideas, the rights of man under God, the rule of law, constitutional government, parliamentary democracy, all the great notions of human liberty still so ardently sought by so many and so much of mankind. [end p5]

These are the enduring grandeur of the British heritage and you know, Prime Minister, that we have a habit of quoting Winston Churchill. Tell me, is it possible to get through a public address today in Britain without making reference to him? It is increasingly difficult to do so here, not just because we Americans share some pride in his ancestry, but because there's so much to learn from him, his fearlessness, and I don't just mean physical courage. I mean he was, for instance, unafraid to laugh. I can remember words attributed to Churchill about one somber, straight-laced colleague in Parliament. Churchill said, “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” (Laughter.)

He once said of one of our best-known diplomats that he was the only case he knew of a bull who carries his own china closet with him. (Laughter.)

The gift of humor can make a people see what they might ordinarily overlook and it supplements that other gift of great leaders, vision. When he addressed Parliament in the darkest moments after Dunkirk, Churchill dared to promise the British their finest hour and even reminded them that they would someday enjoy, quote, “the bright, sunlit uplands,” unquote, from which the struggle against Hitler would be seen as only a bad memory. Well, Madam Prime Minister, you and I have heard our share of somber assessments and dire predictions in recent months. I do not refer here to the painful business of ending our economic difficulties. We know that with regard to the economies of both our countries we will be home safe and soon enough.

I do refer, however, to those adversaries who preach the supremacy of the state. We've all heard the slogans, the end of the class struggle, the vanguard of the proletariat, the wave of the future, the inevitable triumph of socialism. Indeed, if there's anything the Marxist-Leninists might not be forgiven for it is their willingness to bog the world down in tiresome cliches, cliches that rapidly are being recognized for what they are, a gaggle of bogus prophecies and petty superstitions. Prime Minister, everywhere [end p6] one looks these days the cult of the state is dying, and I wonder if you and I and other leaders of the West should not now be looking toward bright, sunlit uplands and begin planning for a world where our adversaries are remember-d only for their role in a sad and rather bizarre chapter in human history.

The British people, who nourish the great civilized ideas, know the forces of good ultimately rally and triumph over evil. That, after all, is the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the legend of the man who lived on Baker Street, the story of London in the Blitz, the meaning of the Union Jack snapping briskly in the wind. Madam Prime Minister, I'll make one further prediction, that the British people are once again about to pay homage to their beloved Sir Winston by doing him the honor of proving him wrong and showing the world that their finest hour is yet to come, and how he would have loved the irony of that. How proud it would have made him.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join me in a toast to the memory of that great leader of free people, to his vision of bright, sunlit uplands, a toast to his Britannia and all that she's been, all that she is, and all that she will be, and to her finest hour, yet to come. Ladies and gentlemen, to Her Majesty, the Queen. The Queen. (Toast).

10:55 P.M. EST