President Barack Obama's European visit this week marks the second time he will meet with Queen Elizabeth of England. Although the British monarch's constitutional power is not equal to that of the American president's, they meet equally as heads of state, powerful symbols that affect the cultural and political climate of their respective nations.
Despite the revolution by the American colonies in breaking from England over two centuries ago, the meeting of Obama and Elizabeth represents a strong continuity in Anglo-American relations, an alliance all the more strengthened by their personal contact, whether at state occasions or, as was true in a few situations, the development of personal relationships.
While the characters that compose a British Royal Family at any given point in time usually have a familiarity to the British people that can stretch for decades, from birth to marriage to death, by comparison American Presidents and First Ladies change frequently. Having just surpassed on May 13 the nearly 59 years and 96 day reign of George III and perhaps surpassing in 2016 the record length of almost 64 years set by Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth is the second-longest reigning monarch. It has led to the remarkable fact that the current monarch, as both a Princess and a Queen has met every American President since Harry Truman and every First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.
Although the Adamses, Monroes and Jefferson met England's King George III and Queen Charlotte during their various diplomatic services, it was not until October 3, 1860 that an incumbent U.S. President met a member of the British Royal Family. That occurred when James Buchanan welcomed Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales as a guest at the White House for three nights. The unusual circumstance of the visit to Buchanan and his niece Harriet Lane, who served as his First Lady, was due to their being on especially close terms with Queen Victoria and her family, the President having served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Although no photographs were taken of Edward and Buchanan, a painting was done to commemorate the Prince's visit to the tomb of George Washington at Mount Vernon.
Nine years later, in October of 1869, during a trans-Atlantic visit that was mostly spent throughout Canada, his younger teenage brother, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, made a brief White House visit to call on President Grant.
The first incumbent President and First Lady to stay at Buckingham Palace took place on December 29, 1918 when Woodrow Wilson and Edith Wilson were guests there of King George V and Queen Mary. Although World War I and its devastation were fresh in everyone's memory, the holiday season lent something of a festive nature to the visit.
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