Analysis & Opinions - The Washington Post

'The Diplomat' Realistically Portrays Practices Dating Back Centuries

| May 24, 2023

The Netflix series showcases how American diplomats in London have used the same model since it was pioneered in the 18th century

"The Diplomat," Netflix's new series revolving around the life of Kate Wyler, a newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Britain, is a dramatic look into the daily life of a diplomat and her staff. Though the show is fictional and set in the present, it illustrates nicely the way American diplomats in Britain have formed a tightknit community dating back to the United States' earliest days.

In fact, the fictional portrayal in the series demonstrates how diplomacy built on familial and personal relationships dates to the first American diplomats in London. Those men and their families pioneered a model through trial-and-error that still shapes today's diplomatic practices.

Between 1785 and 1812, six successive ministers, among them two future presidents, were confronted with the duty to establish and negotiate the nature of what Winston Churchill would eventually describe as "the special relationship" between the United States and its former colonial master. That meant building trust, as well as ceremonial rituals that would govern the relationship.

John Adams became the first Minister Plenipotentiary to Britain in 1785 with the mission of demonstrating the United States' resolve to uphold the terms of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution. He faced the prospect with apprehension, noting in a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette that his presence at court would be "the focus of so many eyeballs." As the diplomatic representative of a revolutionary state, Adams was a marked man. British elite society watched his mission with interest.

Adams and his family relied heavily on the social norms that governed British aristocratic society to muddle through their introductions to the leaders in government, as well as the king and queen. Abigail Adams found Queen Charlotte "evidently embarrassed" at their meeting. The only daughter of John and Abigail Adams, "Nabby," told her brother John Quincy about how the family negotiated their awkward royal reception. She noted that Princess Augusta subsequently helped to ease later exchanges by treating the Americans with "much affability and the ease and freedom of old acquaintance."...

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ponti, Katrina .“'The Diplomat' Realistically Portrays Practices Dating Back Centuries.” The Washington Post, May 24, 2023.

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