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Toasts at the State Dinner for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

November 16, 1988

The President. Ladies and gentlemen, Nancy and I welcome you tonight to this dinner in honor of Prime Minister Thatcher of the United Kingdom.

In 1952, when Winston Churchill had become Prime Minister for the second time and all the troubles of the cold war—including the hardships of rearming the West-were keenly felt, he was having a meeting with a group of American journalists in New York. In Martin Gilbert's extraordinary biography we find recorded these words from Churchill by his doctor, Lord Moran: "What other nation in history, when it became supremely powerful, has had no thought of territorial aggrandizement, no ambition but to use its resources for the good of the world? I marvel at America's altruism, her sublime disinterestedness." "All at once I realized," Lord Moran went on, "Winston was in tears. His eyes were red, his voice faltered, he was deeply moved." Well, Prime Minister Thatcher, I think you can imagine how humbling it is for an American to read such an account. Such a tribute from Sir Winston, a man so unselfish himself in pursuit of the cause of freedom, a man who led Britain when Britain stood bravely and unselfishly alone, is only a reminder of how deeply runs the mutual admiration on both sides of the Atlantic.

When you were here 8 years ago, I first mentioned that despite all the troubles that beset us, we had every right to have hope in the future, to turn our gaze to the bright sunlit uplands of freedom. I suggested then that the totalitarian impulse had exhausted itself and that collectivism could well be at the terminal stage. Well, we've recently seen evidence that all of this may be coming about. Tonight we can hope this is so and that it will continue. We can hope that the altruism that has stood at the heart of the alliance of democratic nations in the postwar era will continue to bear fruit until the whole world is safe and free.

In this quest, those who love freedom have not had a better friend than our distinguished guest this evening. And so I hope, Prime Minister, it will not embarrass you if I take a moment now to record, for personal reasons and for the sake of history, our debt of gratitude to you.

Throughout my Presidency, Prime Minister Thatcher has shared with me the benefits of her experience and wisdom. The Prime Minister's untiring support for NATO has encouraged other allies to make the difficult decisions necessary to keep the alliance strong. Her successful fight to unshackle the British economy from government intervention and to provide greater economic freedom has been a powerful example around the world. She is a leader with vision and the courage to stay the course until the battles are won. And on occasion, she has borne the added burden of heavy criticism incurred on America's behalf.

I've been fortunate over these 8 years and for several years before that to enjoy such a close professional and personal rapport and a genuine friendship with Margaret Thatcher. Some of our predecessors were lucky enough to have had a similar partnership: Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. In each instance, both our nations have been enriched. At the same time, I believe we've added to the great stream of Anglo-American history and helped strengthen the tradition of a special relationship between the leaders of our two nations.

The impact of Mrs. Thatcher's leadership at home and abroad secures her place in history. When we look back to 1979, the year she led the Conservative Party into office, the United Kingdom, like the United States, was suffering through a period of intense economic and social stress. British unemployment was increasing; inflation was approaching 20 percent; productivity, which had been stagnant for years, showed no sign of improving. Britain's best minds were often seeking economic opportunity abroad and frequent labor unrest made economic policy decisions difficult to implement.

I will not recite the impressive evidence showing how brilliantly the Prime Minister has succeeded over the last 9 years in leading Great Britain to a renaissance of both economy and spirit. They need no elaboration. Through her force of character, her determination to wrest Britain from her doldrums, her personal example of hard work and standing up for what is right, Margaret Thatcher reminded us of the crucial role strong leadership plays in a democracy.

When the Prime Minister applied her formidable talents to foreign policy, the results were much the same. She approached Great Britain's role among nations with a clear vision of what she wished to accomplish and how she intended to go about it. Central to her view of the world and to mine is the NATO alliance, an alliance of mutual security and shared responsibilities. Together the nations of NATO have succeeded in doing what almost no one would have dreamed impossible—or possible. I don't need the "im" on there. We have preserved the peace and provided the foundation for the longest period of growth and prosperity in Europe's history.

Today we're faced with a Soviet leadership eager for a change and for better relations with the West. We stand ready to work with the Soviets to resolve our differences. But we must not lose sight of the policies and vision that have served us well in the past, and that the spirit and leadership of Prime Minister Thatcher have strengthened and sustained. And we must not lose hold of her patience in pursuit of our long-term objectives: vigilance in defense of our liberties and determination in advancing the cause of human rights. Beyond Europe's boundaries, Britain and America are working together to advance an ideal, the return to democracy for many nations that have lost it. We're encouraging a democratic tide around the world: in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and even the new stirrings in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

The Prime Minister was already well established in office when I began my first term almost 8 years ago. As I prepare to depart this office in January, I take considerable satisfaction in knowing that Margaret Thatcher will still reside at Number 10 Downing Street, and will be there to offer President Bush her friendship, cooperation, and advice.

She's a world leader in every meaning of the word. And Nancy and I are proud to claim the Thatchers as our friends, just as America is proud to claim the United Kingdom as a friend and ally. Ladies and gentlemen, will you please stand to join me in expressing admiration and appreciation for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and in raising a toast to Her Majesty the Queen.

Audience members. Hear! Hear!

The Prime Minister. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen. First, let me say a heartfelt thank you for the magnificent hospitality which you and Mrs. Reagan have extended us this evening and throughout the visit. I think we all realize this is a very special occasion and we're all delighted to be here with you. And thank you, too, for giving us the honor of being the first official guests in the beautifully transformed Blair House. It really is marvelous. And I would like to thank all of those who took part in doing it up. I hope Anthony Acland will forgive me for saying that it surpasses even that modest little log cabin up Massachusetts Avenue. [Laughter]

Now, Mr. President, I have a particular feel this evening. You were so very generous in your remarks about me, then very kindly said that I was still going to be around. And I think the important thing about this evening is that we all want to pay a very great tribute to you for your Presidency for which we're all so grateful. And I'm really rather proud that it falls to the 49th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to pay a great tribute to the 40th President of the United States.

Now that is quite historic. There haven't been many times when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has been Prime Minister throughout two consecutive Presidencies of the same person in the United States. Indeed there are only three of us so far. One was Pitt the Younger, who was in Number 10 Downing Street while George Washington was President. Lord Liverpool was also Prime Minister throughout the whole time of James Monroe as President. And the third one is me. [Laughter] And fortunately, I'm here to pay tribute to you, sir.

And as I look back over the past 8 years of our time in office together, what I remember best—I remember the dark days of the early part of this decade when both our countries were grappling with inflation and recession. You referred to it in your speech. And when you told me, at the British Embassy in 1981, that for all our economic difficulties we would be home safe and soon enough—it's a lovely phrase. Only you could have thought of it—home safe and soon enough. We could never be wholly without economic problems, but you can rightly take tremendous pride in the 71 continuous months of expansion of the American economy.

I remember, too, your brave words in the British Parliament a year later, words which have echoed round the world, when you asked a question, "What kind of people do we think we are?"—and answered it by proclaiming, "Free people, worthy of freedom, and determined not only to remain so, but to help others gain their freedom, too." I remember also your historic address in another ancient hall in London almost exactly 6 years later. Your report on your summit meeting in Moscow was an inspiration to all who heard it. But more than that, you gave us that day your own declaration of faith in the principles which have inspired your political life. And your words illumined the centuries of history residing in Guildhall's ancient stones.

And I remember vividly the feeling of sheer joy at your election 8 years ago-knowing that we thought so much alike, believed in so many of the same things, and convinced that together we could get our countries back on their feet, restore their values, and create a safer and yet a better world. Together we've been able to demonstrate the truth of Winston Churchill's words about our two peoples in the House of Commons in the last days of the war, when there in the House, he said this: "As long as our people act in absolute faith and honor to each other and to all other nations, they need fear none and they need fear nothing."

Mr. President, you've been more than a staunch ally and wise counselor; you've also been a wonderful friend to me and my country. A friend whose cheerful bravery in the face of personal danger and of illness overcome we have all admired, and whose optimism and kindness have never been worn down by the pressures and preoccupations of your high office. Mr. President, it's when you believe in something as strongly as you do that you are given strength to take you through difficult times. And your belief has taken you through those difficult times.

Ten years ago, Mr. President, in a letter to a young Republican, you explained what it meant to be an American, and in describing the personality of the people of this land, you cited Winston again, Winston Churchill's observation that Americans seem to be the only men who can laugh and fight at the same time. [Laughter] Mr. President, you are one of those men—a combination of true valor and gentle good humor.

In celebrating your qualities and achievements, I also pay tribute to that special person who stood by your side in all your endeavors. You don't need me to tell you, Mr. President, that in the First Lady of the United States you've had a companion and partner whose charm, dignity, and quiet but sure courage have won the hearts of millions. We all thank her for the lead she's given in the war against drugs. She's inspired not only the young people of America, but the whole world. Nancy, for that, and for so many other things, we salute you, too.

Looking back on it all, what do we see? I can do no better, Mr. President, than repeat your own favorite verdict on a film script. "That story," Sam Goldwyn once said, "is wonderful! It's magnificent! It's prolific!" [Laughter] So, too, Mr. President, have been the Reagan years. And we draw strength from the knowledge that your successor is someone who represents all that is best in America, whose loyalties to its values and its institutions is unswerving. We warmly congratulate you, Mr. Vice President and Barbara, on your victory. And we look forward to further great achievements under your Presidency and to working with you as a true and trusted friend.

Mr. President, the nature of mankind is such that the struggle for freedom can never be over. But it's a tribute and a testament to your Presidency that, as you leave office and make your way westward, back to California, we know that you have brought to fulfillment the famous prophesy of an English poet: "And not by eastern windows only, when daylight comes, comes in the light; in front the sun climbs slow, how slowly. But westward, look. The land is bright."

Ladies and gentlemen, the President-the President and Nancy.

Note: President Reagan spoke at 9:48 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Toasts at the State Dinner for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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