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Remarks at the State Dinner Honoring Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom

February 05, 1998

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening, and welcome to the White House. To Prime Minister and Mrs. Blair, members of the British delegation, to all our distinguished guests, let me say that the bad news is you have to listen to two brief toasts; the good news is it comes at the beginning of the dinner. We are delighted to have all of you here.

Tonight, in honor of the Prime Minister's visit, I would like to go over some of the highlights of the so-called special relationship between the United States and Great Britain. It began rather early in our history, this special relationship. [Laughter] In 1785 Thomas Jefferson, soon to be our first Secretary of State, insisted that the United Kingdom was an evil empire whose time was running out. [Laughter] "The sun of her glory is fast descending to the horizon," he said, with uncharacteristic myopia.

In 1814 marauding English soldiers gave new meaning to the term "global warming" when they torched the White House where we sit tonight—[laughter]—along with much of the surrounding countryside. My predecessor James Madison was lucky to escape with very few belongings and a chastened view of our defense capabilities.

But Mr. Prime Minister, we are a forgiving people. And we learned a valuable lesson on that night in 1814: From now on, let's get these guys on our side. That's been the core of our foreign policy ever since. [Laughter]

When we think over the challenges of the 20th century, it's extraordinary what our two nations have been through together, decade after decade, staring down the darkest threats in the history of humankind. We would not have survived this turbulent century without the grand alliance joining our peoples. Through common values and a common language, we have forged an uncommon friendship.

Let me take this opportunity to announce that in honor of your visit, the place where you and Cherie are staying will now be forever known as Blair House. [Laughter]

Tonight we look forward to a new millennium and a 21st century alliance for peace, prosperity, and progress. We have a rare chance to bring fruition to a century's worth of partnership. We can define the new century before it begins, escaping the 20th century's darkest moments and seizing the new century's most brilliant possibilities. We can stand together against tyrants. We can help peace flourish from Bosnia to Northern Ireland to the Middle East. We can continue to open our minds, our hearts, our societies to new ideas and new possibilities.

Mr. Prime Minister, you are breathing new life into politics and restoring faith in ancient principles of liberty so dear to every citizen of your realm. Throughout our history, our peoples have reinforced each other in the living classroom of democracy. It is difficult to imagine Jefferson, for example, without John Locke before him, difficult to imagine Lincoln without knowing that he read Shakespeare and Bunyan on the frontier.

In the new century, we must continue together undaunted—in the words of the Anglo-American poet W.H. Auden, "never beleaguered by negation, always showing an affirming flame." One of our most stubbornly affirmative Presidents, Harry Truman, felt that way. It's a rather closely guarded secret that this hard-nosed Missourian was shamelessly devoted to 19th century English sentimental poetry. When he graduated from high school in 1901, at the dawn of the new century, Harry Truman copied his favorite poem onto a piece of paper. Throughout his life, he kept it with him, which required him to recopy it at least 20 times. Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" may seem an unusual choice, but the poem resonated with Truman's optimistic vision of the future, a future that then, as now, was limitless.

With a new century beginning, "Locksley Hall" still holds the promise of a better life for those of us glimpsing the new world just over the horizon: "For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see, saw the vision of the world and all the wonder that could be." We must realize the promise of that poem.

Our alliance is strong. Our personal friendship is strong. It is a pleasure and an honor for Hillary and for me to reciprocate the hospitality that you, Mr. Prime Minister and Cherie, showed to us last May. And so I ask you all, ladies and gentlemen, to join me in raising a glass to my good friend the Prime Minister of Great Britain, to Cherie, and all the people who are here with them, who represent the best promise of our tomorrows.

[At this point, the President toasted the Prime Minister.]

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:11 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. The transcript made available by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of Prime Minister Blair.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the State Dinner Honoring Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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