Tag Archives: England

What in the world does plenipotentiary mean?

Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States of America,
Greeting:      To
Reposing especial Trust and Confidence in Your Integrity, Prudence and Ability I have appointed Minister Plenipotentiary for the United States of America at the Court of His Britannic Majesty, authorizing you hereby to do and perform all such matters and things as to the said place or office do appertain … said office to Hold and exercise during the pleasure of the President of the United States for the time being, and until the end of the next Session of the Senate of the United States, and no longer.
Commission for Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain, 18 April 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A plenipotentiary possesses his leader’s full confidence.
To this blank form, President Jefferson added James Monroe’s name with full authority as ambassador to act on behalf of the United States. From an earlier post, we learned Monroe was dispatched to Europe to help negotiate American rights to free shipping down the Mississippi River and through New Orleans. In a time when round-trip communication between London or Paris and Washington, D.C. was at least two months, a trusted diplomat had to have the legal authority to act on his own.

That’s what plenipotentiary means, having full authority to act independently.

The President left no room for doubt about Monroe’s status. This blank form to the British Court was the first of six completed for him. Another was to the French Court, two to Napoleon, and one each to King George III and Queen Charlotte of Britain.

(While my 50 year old Webster’s Dictionary divides that 14 letter word into just five syllables, modern online versions give it seven!)

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Is he always crazy or just sometimes?

The English papers and English ministry say the king is well. He is better, but not well: no malady requires a longer time to ensure against it’s return, than insanity. Time alone can distinguish accidental insanity from habitual lunacy.
To David Humphreys, March 18, 1789

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Recovery from mental illness comes very slowly, if at all.
In a long letter to a confidante of George Washington, Jefferson described both the current unrest in France and his reactions to a draft of the new U.S. Constitution. He was far too optimistic about France, for which he predicted much more liberty in the coming year. He liked the new Constitution, except for two omissions, about which I’ve already written. Several sentences are devoted to conflicts between various European nations, England included.

Prior to this excerpt, he referred to “The palsied state of the executive in England.” George III was bedeviled for years by intermittent mental illness. His most serious affliction began just months before this letter.

Jefferson could be justified for having little regard for the king of England. What role England would play in the European conflicts of 1789 and beyond depended, in part, upon the king’s health. Official England maintained the king was well. Jefferson was not convinced.

George III did regain his sanity for a time but did not keep it. By 1810, his power was transferred to his son, the Prince of Wales. He served in his father’s place as Prince Regent until taking the throne himself upon his father’s death in 1820.

Time proved Jefferson correct. The king’s insanity was not occasional but habitual.

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