From the halls of Congress to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and the center court of the US Open – and many less important scenes – Americans were immersed in mourning a British monarch whose family rule they ignored with some consequence 246 years ago.
The reaction to the death of 96-year-old Queen Elizabeth II was powerful enough to spark a rare outbreak of bipartisanship in Washington, where Republican Senator Mitch McConnell led lawmakers from both parties in prayer.
It brought an unusual silence to Wall Street, where traders on the New York Stock Exchange bowed their heads for a moment of silence just after 3 p.m. So did the spectators ahead of the US Open women’s tennis semi-final that night.
By order of President Joe Biden, flags at all US government facilities will be flown at half-mast until the Queen is buried. On the heels of Biden’s proclamation, his predecessor, Donald Trump, released his own statement expressing his and his wife’s grief. “What a great and beautiful lady she was – there was no one like her!” the Trumps wrote.
Tributes also poured in from former Presidents Obama, Bush and Carter – as well as city mayors, state legislators, British expats and ordinary Americans. Big and small, prominent and obscure, they all testified to America’s enduring affection for Britain and the matriarch of her Hanoverian monarchy.
“She has done service all her life,” said Dan O’Brien, who was visiting Washington, D.C., from his home in Portland, Oregon, explaining why he joined a steady stream of visitors paying their respects outside the embassy. British, where groups of flowers were piling up. “Americans just don’t understand this concept.”
Also present was Tess Anderson, a student at Georgetown University, who recalled her mother waking her up at 4 a.m. to watch Prince William marry Kate Middleton. “I really like that sense of tradition,” said Anderson, who grew up in Miami but whose grandparents are British.
For a nation created in opposition to the monarchy – whose founding credo is that all men are created equal – Americans have proven time and time again that they are enamored with the royal family. Consider the huge viewership figures for televised royal weddings, from Charles and Diana to Harry and Meghan, as well as the popularity of the Netflix drama The crown and Downton Abbey.
Roy Forey, a retired British diplomat, said he was surprised by the strength of feelings for the royal family when he first arrived in Washington in 1982. “I was here in 1997 when the Princess Diana has passed away,” he said. “At that time, you couldn’t even walk down that street, it was so flowery.”
In 2015, President Obama expressed a similar sentiment to his guest, Prince Charles, as the Washington press swarmed. “I think it’s fair to say that the American people love the royal family very much,” Obama whispered. “They love them much more than they love their own politicians.”
There is a periodic explosion of experts seeking to explain why. In 2013, Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff speculated in a New York Times forum that America’s obsession with the royal family “may indicate lingering insecurity about some of the things we’ve lost” – sacred traditions that bind a nation together and confer legitimacy. Others argue in less lofty terms that the Royal Family is the ultimate millennial soap opera and reality TV show.
Either way, this particular queen was inextricably linked to America. She might never have assumed the crown had not the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, abdicated her uncle, King Edward VIII, in 1936 to marry her.
She has visited America several times, as a princess and then as a queen, meeting presidents from Eisenhower to Biden. She rode a horse with Ronald Reagan in 1982, during the Falklands War, when Britain was determined to solidify its alliance with America.
She charmed the Trumps in 2018, as Britain once again felt unsettled about its place in the world – this time over Brexit – even as thousands of protesters thronged central London to heckle the US President (Trump returned the courtesy by walking in front of her – a breach of protocol).
When she and Philip came to Philadelphia aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia in July 1976 to celebrate America’s bicentenary, she won over locals by suggesting in a speech that Britain should feel “sincere gratitude” for the lessons that America’s founding fathers had taught them.
Later, she went to Trinity Church in Manhattan for a solemn settlement of Revolutionary-era debts (America’s unpaid rent was 279 peppercorns).
She also appeared in dark times, paying tribute to Ground Zero, where 67 Britons were killed.
“A tear came to my eyes when I first heard the news,” said Scott Robertson, owner of The Churchill, a British-themed pub in Manhattan, where the phones started ringing shortly after the incident. announcement of the news of the Queen’s death. .
People wanted to talk and share their experiences, said Robertson, a Briton who has lived in America for 25 years, of the crowd. Around the Churchill, television screens were tuned to media coverage of the event. At one point a large table of Brits silenced the pub with a rendition of the anthem Jerusalemuntil at the mention of Prince Charles they burst into the classroom anthem He has the whole world in his hands.
For Americans like Charlotte Clymer, a writer in Washington, DC, loving the royal family and the late queen is less complicated.
“I would feel differently if I were one of the tens of millions of people around the world who fell victim to violent colonialism,” Clymer said. “But the queen is different.”
“Besides,” Clymer added. “It’s really just a great show for Americans. We can watch all the drama without any payment.
Additional reporting by Mark Vandevelde in New York