Greetin’s, Cousin George


A number of congressmen had continued to voice their suspicions about the royal visit. Some thought that Roosevelt was trying to influence voting on the Bloom Bill, which would grant broader powers to the President and topple existing neutrality legislation by extending cash-and-carry provisions to arms and ammunition. The King’s speech at Banff, Hull’s frank talk with reporters at Niagara Falls, and Roosevelt’s statement that he would discuss foreign affairs with the King although the “conversations would not be significant” had not eased congressional doubts. The previous March, Roosevelt had confided to Senator Tom Connally of Texas that the King and Queen would be “coming over” and that he would “like to have the arms embargo repealed before their arrival.” Unfortunately, the Congress had not moved that fast. Perhaps, the more wary individuals speculated, meeting the King and Queen under the Capitol rotunda was a devious Roosevelt plan to sway congressional sentiment. But most of the skeptical forgot these notions when the King and Queen entered.

Tired of Garner’s antics in the rotunda, several senators shushed the Vice President into respectability when they glimpsed the monarchs. Senator William E. Borah of Idaho, a leading isolationist, stood at the head of the line to shake hands with a king whose country owed more than five billion dollars in war debts. This seemed unimportant to Borah now. He had even taken out of mothballs a morning suit which he had not worn in thirty-five years, to look his best for the King.

George VI and Elizabeth, as it happened, stood beneath a painting of Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown. When Key Pittman began to introduce his colleagues, senatorial whispers of “She’s lovely,” “She’s charming,” arose from those still waiting. The Queen heard these compliments and acknowledged them with a smile. Suspicions and tensions eased, and even the crustiest isolationists melted when the King greeted Senator Ellison D. Smith of South Carolina, whom he had met at the garden party, as “Cotton Ed.”

Next, New York’s Sol Bloom, acting chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, stepped up to present the members of the House. Nervous, he fumbled with his hat and mispronounced his colleagues’ names, bumbling the introductions. Following Garner’s lead, House members turned on their democratic charm. Robert Mouton, who represented a Creole district in Louisiana, hailed the King and Queen as “ votre majestés ”; then he astounded everyone by grabbing the Queen’s hand and kissing it. Nat Patton of Crockett, Texas, accosted the King, shouting: “Cousin George, I bring you greetin’s from the far-flung regions of the Empire State of Texas.” Turning to a colleague, he stated, “If America can keep Queen Elizabeth, Congress will regard Britain’s war debt as cancelled.”

Successfully enduring the hot lights and congressional ardor, the King and Queen rushed to the presidential yacht Potomac for lunch and a leisurely cruise to Mount Vernon. Here George VI placed a wreath on George Washington’s grave. Returning by automobile, the party stopped briefly at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp at nearby Fort Hunt, Virginia. The camp fascinated the King, who wanted to begin a similar operation in Great Britain. Exhausted after a formal dinner at the British Embassy, the King and Queen returned to their train for the trip to Red Bank, New Jersey, where next morning they would board a destroyer, the U.S.S. Warrington, and sail to New York City.

On Pier 1 at the Battery a large gray alley cat stretched drowsily on the red carpet intended only for royalty. Policemen shooed away the intruder. Flying the Stars and Stripes aft and the Royal Standard forward, the Warrington docked. A bosun piped the King and Queen ashore, where Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia and Governor Herbert H. Lehman welcomed them. A morning mist hid some skyscrapers from view, but more than three and a half million people turned out to witness the spectacle of royalty. In Central Park a million school children waved British and American flags. But the twenty-five-car motorcade could not linger long in Manhattan. A time schedule had to be kept and security precautions followed. The motorcycle escort sped up and quickly whisked the King and Queen to the World’s Fair in Flushing.