Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Heath of Great Britain
Mr. Prime Minister and our very distinguished guests this evening:
George Bernard Shaw once wrote that Great Britain and the United States were two countries separated by a common language. On this particular occasion, it is always customary to speak of the special relationship which exists between Great Britain and the United States, a relationship which--we referred to this morning--grows out not of simply the fact that we share a common language, although we may speak it a bit differently, but that we also have the traditions of the common law and other institutions that we have adhered to together.
But in this particular instance, I should point out that we are very fortunate that the special relationship is one that goes beyond simply semantics. It is based on something more than language and law and history and tradition. It's based on the fact that our two countries have interests in the world, interests in progress and peace and justice, all of those very simple words but which have such great meaning, which are similar and common and that we work together to achieve those interests.
Also, it is, for me, a very special privilege tonight to point out that apart from the special relationship which exists between our two countries for the reasons that I have mentioned, there is a special relationship which exists because of the personal relationship I have been fortunate to have had with the Prime Minister, our very distinguished honored guest tonight.
I have known him for almost 20 years, which is a long time in politics or in world affairs. I have known him when I've been out of office and he's been out of office. And as he pointed out this morning, now for the first time, we are both in office and together.
I should point out, too, that as we receive him tonight in this Christmas season at this dinner, that over the past 2 years, almost e years, that we have had dinners here in this State Dining Room, we have had many distinguished guests, but the Prime Minister is the first guest that I have received in the White House who was here as a guest almost a year ago, or over a year ago, when he was out of office and is now being received as a guest when he is the head of government.
And I can only say, having recounted that, that at least he's moving in the right direction.
The only painting in this room is the very famous painting of Lincoln over the fireplace. And there are so many stories and anecdotes from the Lincoln period that could be appropriate tonight, but one in particular that I think should be recounted before proposing the toast of the evening.
During the War Between the States, when the Union had an embargo on the South, the textile mills in Britain suffered greatly. And the workers of Manchester sent a message to Lincoln indicating their support of what he was trying to do.
Lincoln wrote to them in his own hand a message in return in which he said, as I recall, that whatever happened in the future and whatever catastrophe might occur in either our country or theirs, that of one thing we could be sure, that the peace and friendship between our two nations would be perpetual.
He said that and wrote that 100 years ago. There is no question tonight that when we speak of peace and friendship between Great Britain and the United States that it will be perpetual as it has been throughout this century.
The only question is how that peace and that friendship, along with the peace and friendship that we enjoy with so many of our other friends in the world who share common interests, how that can be used to achieve a greater peace and a greater friendship for all the nations of the world, a goal far away it seems at times, but a goal which we all constantly strive to achieve.
And I can only say that because of the very great respect that I have and my colleagues in this Government have for the Prime Minister, his leadership, and for his colleagues in his Government, that I have great confidence that our two nations will work together, not only for peace and friendship between Great Britain and the United States but for what we have never had in this century, a generation of peace for the whole world.
And it is in that spirit that our meetings at Chequers earlier this year and our meeting here in Washington today took place and our meeting in Camp David tomorrow will take place. I believe it will contribute to that great goal that all of us feel particularly close to during this Christmas season.
And it is in that spirit that I know that all of you would like to rise and raise your glasses in a toast to the Queen.
Note: The President spoke at 9:52 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.
See also Item 468.
The Prime Minister responded as follows:
I, first of all, thank you for the great honor you have done me as Prime Minister of Great Britain to invite me here to your country on this official visit and to say how much my colleagues and I are enjoying it and to thank you for the very warm welcome which you've given us here and for the kind words which you've just spoken in your toast which you've proposed to the health of Her Majesty, the Queen.
If I may say so, coming here as leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition and being entertained by you and by Mrs. Nixon was extremely enjoyable. I find only one thing more pleasant, and that is to come here as Her Majesty's Prime Minister and to be entertained in this way.
And I'd like to thank you for bringing together here tonight, not only such a distinguished gathering but also so many friends, some of whom I've known now for a very long time, indeed.
And so it gives me particular pleasure to have been able to meet them here tonight and to find them here seated at your table. It gives. me very great pleasure, indeed.
And thank you, too, on this festive occasion for arranging for the Army Chorus to come here and sing carols. I suspect that this was done of intent knowing of my musical interests and my great delight in carols and that they should have chosen to have sung one of the oldest carols, the "Coventry Carol," one of the oldest carols in our language. I think it was a charming gesture and then to end with the "Boar's Head" from Oxford College was also very significant. What my Cambridge colleagues here will say, I shall have to settle with them afterwards. But this was a very touching gesture which I much appreciate.
And you have referred not only to the happy relationship between our two countries but also to the relationship which has existed between us now for a very long time, indeed.
And there have been times when you were out of office and I was a Minister. There was a time when you were in office and I was in opposition. And now this is the first occasion on which we have both been in office together and I hope that this will continue within the bounds of the Constitution for as long as possible. We have a rather more flexible approach, if I may say so, in these matters. We are not quite so bound by law.
I may perhaps reveal the fact that there was one moment when it seemed to me that our relationship was endangered. Indeed, I thought that the relationship between our two countries might have broken down.
On the night of the British elections, I finally got to bed at 5 o'clock in the morning and left a note for my housekeeper saying, "In no circumstances to be woken up before noon, and then with breakfast," knowing that no more results would come through before lunchtime.
And at noon I was woken up and breakfast was brought. I was very sleepy. And I said to her, "Has anything happened?"
She said, "Yes, President Nixon has telephoned."
I said, "What?" And, "What did you say?"
She said, "I told him very firmly that you were in no circumstances to be disturbed before noon."
At that moment I thought the friendship between ourselves and our countries was endangered.
"Good heavens," I said, "I must do something about it."
She said, "You need do nothing. He said he would telephone at 3 p.m.," which the President very kindly did.
And so that happy relationship still remains.
And here tonight, Mr. President, I am very glad that you should have brought together the two Ambassadors of our countries. Mr. Annenberg and his wife are here, who have come over for this occasion, and John Freeman and his wife also.
And I feel that the relationship between our countries depends so much on the work of our Ambassadors that we are able to have meetings from time to time, but they, day by day, are in contact with the people of our countries, and we so much appreciate what they are able to do to maintain this close connection which we have.
Indeed, we are blessed, thrice blessed tonight, because Monsieur Alphand is here, formerly a very distinguished Ambassador of France in your own Capital. And so, we are, indeed, happy to have so many ambassadors and particularly in view of the risks which ambassadors run today in the lives which they lead.
Indeed, I recounted to our own Ambassador earlier this evening that when I was at the Foreign Office I remembered in the course of research which my private secretary was doing, he stumbled across a dispatch from an ambassador living in a rather remote part of the world, in 1882 I think it was, when the Foreign Secretary was in the Lords and there had been a revolution.
And his dispatch ended with a rather vivid description of what had happened and then said, I recall, "My Lord, as I write this dispatch, the revolutionary mob is outside the compound. They are now battering against the gates. Should they batter them down, they will then descend upon the residence in which I write this dispatch, and should they batter against the doors, I fear they will give in. And, then, My Lord, the mob will enter this residence, and then, My Lord, I shall no longer remain Your Lordship's humble and obedient servant."
Mr. President, as I said, this is a very festive occasion. And earlier this evening, enjoying your hospitality at the Blair House, I recalled that Mr. Churchill was here in the Christmas of 1941 at a very dark moment for my own country in the war.
And the Christmas tree was lit by the President, and Mr. Churchill made a short speech. And I reread it tonight, because the book of his speeches was not quite by my bed, but almost there.
And in it he had one rather remarkable phrase in which he said, "I cannot feel other than at home here where I am tonight at this Christmas time."
And, if I may, perhaps in a very simple way, sum up how it seems to me: With the relationship between our two countries, I cannot feel other than at home here tonight on this festive occasion. It is perfectly natural so to do. It doesn't require any effort. It doesn't require any policy.
We are of the same stock and origin and language and background, and I think the simplest thing is to say one cannot help but feel at home, and how thankful one is for it.
And so, Mr. President, I would like to thank you for all that you have done to make this possible. Our talks have been of the greatest value and I hope that you feel the same way about it and that they will be of continuing value to the relationship between our two countries, and we can continue them tomorrow knowing that we do so not only in the interests of the United States and Britain but also of our friends and allies, because this happy and natural relationship which we have is not an exclusive one.
It is one in which we join, but also one which we wish to share with others, our friends and allies, in a common cause.
And we have a common purpose which you have aptly described as to bring about a generation of peace and a growing prosperity, not only for we, the more fortunate ones, but those who are less fortunate in the world and who by their own efforts haven't yet been able to achieve those good things which we can enjoy together.
And so at this Christmastime, I would like to thank you and your wife very sincerely for this splendid gathering tonight, and for your admirable hospitality.
And I would ask everyone here to rise and drink to the health of the President of the United States.
Richard Nixon, Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Heath of Great Britain Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/240801