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The Special Relationship: Anglo-U.S. Relations since 1776

Summary and Keywords

The Special Relationship is a term used to describe the close relations between the United States and the United Kingdom. It applies particularly to the governmental realms of foreign, defense, security, and intelligence policy, but it also captures a broader sense that both public and private relations between the United States and Britain are particularly deep and close. The Special Relationship is thus a term for a reality that came into being over time as the result of political leadership as well as ideas and events outside the formal arena of politics.

After the political break of the American Revolution and in spite of sporadic cooperation in the 19th century, it was not until the Great Rapprochement of the 1890s that the idea that Britain and the United States had a special kind of relationship took hold. This decade, in turn, created the basis for the Special Relationship, a term first used by Winston Churchill in 1944. Churchill did the most to build the relationship, convinced as he was that close friendship between Britain and the United States was the cornerstone of world peace and prosperity. During and after the Second World War, many others on both sides of the Atlantic came to agree with Churchill.

The post-1945 era witnessed a flowering of the relationship, which was cemented—not without many controversies and crises—by the emerging Cold War against the Soviet Union. After the end of the Cold War in 1989, the relationship remained close, though it was severely tested by further security crises, Britain’s declining defense spending, the evolving implications of Britain’s membership in the European Union, the relative decline of Europe, and an increasing U.S. interest in Asia. Yet on many public and private levels, relations between the United States and Britain continue to be particularly deep, and thus the Special Relationship endures.

Keywords: special relationship, Anglo-American relations, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Second World War, decolonization, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Suez crisis (1956), Iraq War (2003)

An Overview of the Conditions for the Special Relationship

The cultural and political potential for an enduringly close relationship between the United States and Britain existed at the time of the American War for Independence. Equally, the American victory in that war created a powerful impetus in American thought and life to defend the nation’s new independence, especially against the extremely powerful Great Britain and its empire. The Revolutionary War also built a powerful American nationalism, which defined the United States in part against European monarchical systems, including Britain’s. In short, while the basis for the Special Relationship existed from the time the thirteen colonies were settled, the barriers to the development of that relationship were high. Three things had to happen before those barriers could be surmounted.

First, the United Kingdom had to become a democracy. The United States has often had productive relationships with countries that are not democracies, but these relationships are usually limited to the official and high governmental levels. It is unthinkable that the United States would develop a close and enduring social, cultural, economic, and political relationship with a country that is not a democracy. Thus, while the United States was a democracy (or, more accurately, a democratic republic) after the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, Britain was not a democracy until at least the Second Reform Act of 1867 and, more likely, the Third Reform Act of 1884–1885, which gave most adult men the vote. Throughout much of the 19th century, many in the United Kingdom viewed the concept of democracy with considerable distrust and were skeptical of the United States precisely because they considered it a protectionist, corrupt nation poorly governed by the mob. It was not until the United Kingdom accepted that it, too, was going to be ruled by the vote of the majority that it became possible for both Britain and the United States to accept each other as equals. The importance of the rise of the British democracy is often neglected in the study of the Special Relationship (which focuses on British views of U.S. democracy), but it is fundamental nonetheless.

Second, the United States had to abandon the hard-edged cultural nationalism and Anglophobia that helped to define its outlook on the world throughout much of the 19th century. In the era between 1776 and 1941, the United States was—for historical reasons that had steadily fading contact with reality—the awkward partner in the Anglo-American relationship. There was, of course, anti-Americanism in the United Kingdom, more often on the right than the left, but American Anglophobia was a far more powerful reality. Nor did it disappear in 1941. When the American people were surveyed in 1944, of the one-third dissatisfied with the extent of cooperation among the Big Three, 54 percent blamed the United Kingdom while only 18 percent blamed the USSR.1 Not until the late 1950s did Anglophobia cease to be a major factor in U.S. political life. In 2015, when U.S. views of Britain are reliably positive, this fact is difficult to remember, but the fundamental barrier to the creation of a close partnership between the United States and the United Kingdom for decades was American suspicion of Britain. The dissolution of these suspicions required time, political leadership, and the growth of American power, which offered a guarantee that closer relations with friendly democracies—including the United Kingdom—would not undermine the independence that Americans continued to treasure.

Third, and finally, the United Kingdom had to accept that its power was in relative decline—but equally it had to continue to believe that it had a worldwide role and worldwide interests to defend and that the best partner to help it defend those interests was the United States. This development took place over the course of decades. The United Kingdom’s relative power began to decline against the United States in the mid-19th century—the rapid industrialization and expansion of the North’s rail network during the U.S. Civil War was a watershed—but this mattered less, because the United States was engaged primarily in expansion in the West. Much more significant was Prussia’s victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Meiji Restoration in Japan in 1868, which created two large, cohesive, modernizing states that were ideally placed geographically to challenge British interests. The hesitant modernization and rapid expansion of Russia over the 19th century posed a challenge that turned out to be less immediately troubling, but which contemporary observers watched with considerable alarm.

None of these particular events were a given, but it was inevitable that Britain, as the first nation to undergo the Industrial Revolution and one of the first to have a modern, centralized, tax-raising state, would sooner or later begin to be overtaken by other industrializing and modernizing nations. In the 1890s, these trends became obvious to perceptive observers in Britain, and the result was an effort to improve relations with several traditional enemies, including France (the Entente Cordiale in 1904), Russia (the Anglo-Russian Alliance in 1907), and the United States, with which the improvement happened piecemeal. Not coincidentally, Britain was by this point a democracy. Finally, it was in the 1890s that the United States itself burst onto the world scene, which increased the potential for conflict with the United Kingdom but also made the United States a more plausible British partner.

In short, while specific crises and acts of leadership in both the United States and the United Kingdom were vital, the Special Relationship grew in part because of historical trends that were effectively outside the control of any individual or even of generations of political leadership. It is difficult to conceive of a world in which Britain did not move toward democracy and decline relative to larger industrializing powers, and it is difficult to believe that American Anglophobia would endure indefinitely in a world where so much else was changing. Those trends did not create the Special Relationship, but they did create the space in which it could be brought into existence through acts of political leadership and in response to specific crises.

The American Founding and the 19th Century

The American Revolution’s legacy for Anglo-American relations was profoundly ambiguous. On one hand, most of the country that is now the United States spoke English, was peopled by families deriving from the British Isles, and worshipped in churches with Protestant faiths practiced in Britain. Nor was the American Revolution socially or culturally radical: unlike the later French and Russian revolutions, the leading men in American society before 1776, by and large, were also its leading figures after 1783. The American Revolution was radical primarily in its understanding of politics and of how government should be organized to protect universal rights. Finally, the American theory of revolution derived its justifications in important part from English thinkers—including the country ideology of the 18th-century Tories, the thought of John Locke, and the legal scholarship of William Blackstone—and, though it later moved away from an emphasis on the rights the colonists believed they enjoyed as Englishmen to a more universal conception, the influence of British thought and culture remained strong.

On the other hand, even before 1776, many of the traits of modern American society—commercial, highly politicized, religiously plural, and diverse—were already in evidence. Britain shared these traits to a considerable extent, but they were more developed in the United States, which was a different social and political environment.2 The Revolution both allowed and encouraged Americans to further develop their own cultural and social identity: if Americans were Americans before 1776, there were still many ways in which they sought to “unbecome British.”3 And then there was the blunt fact that the Revolution, no matter how it was justified by English thought, was fought and won against British power, which remained potent on the high seas and in British North America, later known as Canada. No less potent was British financial power: it is hard to understand the intensity of American grievances against Britain without recognizing that, until the First World War, the United States was a debtor nation working within a financial system that was dominated by the City of London. While trade and financial ties certainly created incentives for cooperation—it was hard to ignore that 35 percent of U.S. exports in 1790 went to Britain, a figure that by 1890 had risen to over 50 percent—these ties also created the image in the United States that Americans were still captives of British money, if no longer of the British crown.4

Moreover, even after 1783, a host of grievances remained to vex Anglo-American relations, from the American treatment of British sympathizers to the continued British presence in the trans-Appalachian region. Finally, the start of Britain’s wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France offered yet further irritants to Anglo-American relations, as the United States was nominally bound by treaty to France. These grievances were not fully satisfied by the tremendously controversial Jay’s Treaty of 1794, which sparked the formation of the modern American party system and which ultimately produced the War of 1812, as it is still known in the United States—a profitless conflict that further embittered relations and confirmed the status quo ante of American independence. The basis for closer Anglo-American relations endured, but in the early to mid-19th century, though this relationship was enriched by much trade and cultural exchange (Charles Dickens was as popular in the United States as in Britain, for example), it was strongly marked by fear, suspicion, and mutual dislike. Not for nothing did John Adams grumble in 1816 that “Britain will never be our Friend, till We are his Master.”5

Over the course of the 19th century, these attitudes softened, though not at a steady or predictable pace. The post-1812 period witnessed a concerted official effort to resolve issues left over from the war, including an Anglo-American commercial treaty in 1815 and the Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817, which limited armaments on the Great Lakes. American leaders had begun to appreciate that the United States and Britain shared other common interests, including a desire for the end of the Spanish and Portuguese empires in the New World. For Britain, this was a matter of European power politics and commercial interest; for the United States, it was a matter of geopolitical security. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823, issued by President James Monroe, was thus, in practice, an American edict that was both originally proposed by Britain and enforced by the British Royal Navy. The United States also became a destination for British travelers, who were interested to see what the fuss was about, and for British and European investment: the American West was in a sense the world’s first emerging market.

These positive trends were counterbalanced by others. The United States in this period defined itself as an avatar of revolution against monarchical orders: even John Quincy Adams’s famous speech on July 4, 1821, which claimed that the United States did not go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy,” was notable to European diplomats not because it promised nonintervention, but because of its hostility to nonrepublican forms of governments. The spread-eagle patriotism of the Democratic Party, which dominated the pre–Civil War era, found its match in the protectionism of the Whigs, whose leader, Henry Clay, promoted an “American system” of tariffs that was aimed primarily at British imports. In practice, the Democrats were willing to accommodate Britain (as over the Oregon border dispute, concluded in 1846), and the “American system” never came fully into being. Yet the tensions were real nonetheless.

The survival and spread of slavery in the United States also profoundly troubled rising liberal opinion in Britain. Although the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and the outcome of the Civil War ended these concerns, Britain and the North came close to war themselves in 1861 in the Trent affair, when a Union vessel intercepted a British mail ship, the RMS Trent, that was carrying two Confederate envoys—an act toasted by much of the North but viewed by Britain as an insult to their honor and an assault on their rights on the high seas as a neutral power. Cooler heads prevailed, and President Lincoln backed down, but even after 1865 the North remained convinced, and correctly so, that most British leaders would have preferred a southern victory—conservatives on the ground that it would have destroyed a rising democratic competitor, liberals on the now-curious ground that the South, like Italy, was a small nation struggling to be free from foreign (i.e., northern) domination.

The Special Relationship: Anglo-U.S. Relations since 1776Click to view larger

Figure 1. “Policeman Wilkes, noticing that the well-known rouges, Mason and Slidell, were about to pawn some of their late Employer’s property at Messrs. Bull, Crapaud, & Co.’s shop, kept . . . look-out . . . and nabbed them in the nick of time.” Harper’s Weekly, November 30, 1861.

Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-49050.

The northern victory ended that argument, but it raised other problems. It meant that the protectionist Republican Party would dominate U.S. politics for the remainder of the 19th century, and in 19th-century Britain protectionism was a byword for corruption. Moreover, the Republicans soon proved that they were at least as corrupt in the conventional sense as the Democrats, which gave civic-minded Britons of all parties another reason to condemn the United States. Finally, the wave of Irish immigration in the 1840s created a U.S. voting bloc with little love for Britain and marked a new phase in the explosion of American diversity that would slowly move it further away from cultural and social control by Anglo elites.

The Civil War and its aftermath were not all bad for the relationship. The Anglo-American agreement in 1871 to arbitrate the U.S. CSS Alabama claims against Britain—stemming from the construction of Confederate commerce raiders in British ports during the Civil War—was a landmark in the peaceful resolution of disputes and aroused widespread interest in the political and legal communities of both nations. In Britain, the idea that the United States was part of the English-speaking world, and thus in a sense still British, began to germinate: Sir Charles Dilke’s landmark Greater Britain, published in 1869, claimed that “in America, the peoples of the world are being fused together, but they are run into an English mould: Alfred’s laws and Chaucer’s tongue are theirs whether they would or no.”6 Lord Randolph Churchill, Sir Winston’s father, agreed: he married Jennie Jerome of New York in 1874, one of the series of high-profile Anglo-American marriages in the era.

The social and cultural ties between the United States and Britain had never been broken: their shared, if differently accented, language was a guarantee of that. But in this era, they grew deeper and stronger. By the end of the 19th century, it was widely accepted that an educated man would have knowledge of British constitutional and political history and that educated men and women alike would read and appreciate British literature, above all Shakespeare. The founding of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, in 1932—the library sits next to the Library of Congress and across the street from the Supreme Court—testifies to the way the American elite that rose to prominence and wealth in the late 19th century admired Britain and later in life endowed monuments to its influence. So does the enormous popularity of lighter English fare, such as the late-19th-century comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, who suffered from widespread piracy in United States as the result of lax U.S. copyright laws.

Deciding if and how all of this mattered is difficult. At best, it led to the creation of Anglo-American families, like the Churchills. At the least, it substantially softened the edge of American Anglophobia. Above all, it created a basis for a sympathetic understanding of Britain in the United States, which amounted not to an American desire to automatically fight on Britain’s side, but instead to the rise of a belief that Britain’s side of a conflict was likely to be the right one. When Edward R. Murrow broadcast from a bomb-battered London in 1940, his report had an enormous impact in part because American sympathies had in many quarters been tuned to a British frequency over the past fifty years. But the ultimate fact of pre–World War One era was not the rise of deeper social and cultural connections between the United States and Britain. It was the explosive growth of the American population and economy: this much- remarked-upon fact created economic and geopolitical anxiety in Britain but also a rising sense that the United States was a potentially valuable ally as well as, in the United States, confidence that it now had the ability to meet Britain on more equal terms.

From the Great Rapprochement to the Great Depression

The “Great Rapprochement” was used at the time, and, to an extent, is still used now, to describe the closer relations between Britain and the United States that emerged in the mid-1890s. It implies that the political hostilities centered on the American Revolution were fading and that the two nations were in some sense natural friends and allies. As with “Special Relationship,” which has now largely eclipsed “Great Rapprochement” as an umbrella description of Anglo-American relations, “Great Rapprochement” describes reality but was also invented and used for political purposes.

Though it was the result of many trends, the Great Rapprochement is commonly said to have begun in 1895, when a dangerous dispute between the United States and Britain over Venezuela’s border was resolved through peaceful arbitration. This marked the start of a series of major geopolitical events that found Britain and the United States on the same side, from the construction of the Panama Canal (which required the U.S. negotiation with Britain of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901) to the victory of Admiral George Dewey over the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, when the U.S. fleet was watched over by a British one. The burst of enthusiasm for the idea of an American empire created a further basis for cooperation with Britain and its world-spanning empire, and in keeping with that spirit, the United States was surprisingly sympathetic to the British cause during the Boer War (1899–1902), in which the British won a hard-fought victory over the rebellious Boers. In an earlier era, the Boers would have been likened to the American rebels, but during the Boer War the United States remained neutral.

The Special Relationship: Anglo-U.S. Relations since 1776Click to view larger

Figure 2. “Give it another twist, Grover—we’re all with you!” Print shows President Grover Cleveland, wearing military uniform, giving a twist to the British Lion’s tail as it stands on a small island labeled “Great Britain” just off the coast of the “United States” where Cleveland and his backers are standing, among them are Thomas B. Reed, Charles A. Dana doing a headstand on the “N.Y. Sun,” George F. Hoar holding a rifle, William E. Chandler wearing a grenadier’s bearskin hat and holding a sword, Henry C. Lodge with a sword, John T. Morgan, and Charles A. Boutelle also wearing a bearskin hat. J.S. Pughe in Puck, 1895.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-28975.

On the British side, the causes of the Great Rapprochement were complex. First, there was the overriding fact that Britain had little to win and much to lose in a war with the United States and that it had a positive need to avoid unnecessary entanglements over minor issues like the Canadian border when it was being pressed in South Africa, by Russia in India, and by France (and later, Germany) in Africa and Europe. In this sense, British policy toward the United States was an example of the wise kind of appeasement, a word that now has powerfully negative connotations.7

For Britons who admired U.S. modernity the United States offered hopeful lessons in national renewal: the American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, the architect of the U.S. Treasury, enjoyed a resulting burst of popularity. More important still was the recovery of the reputation of the United States among Britain’s conservative elite. Sympathy with the United States had long rested primarily with British liberals, whose admiration for the U.S. democratic spirit was tempered by their hatred of its urban corruption and protectionism. Conservatives, meanwhile, tended to dislike the United States, precisely because it was democratic. By the 1890s, however, opinion was shifting. The United States was starting to improve its governance and, in 1894, to lower its tariffs, which pleased liberals. For their part, conservatives had begun to realize that the U.S. Constitution was in many ways a conservative document and, because of the rights it guaranteed, a barrier to the rise of socialism. Conservative political leaders like Lord Salisbury thus moved toward a degree of grudging admiration of the American system.

British policy, however, was not motivated solely by geopolitical and political considerations. It helped that the United States by the 1890s was rich enough to provide eligible wives of sufficient social standing for impoverished British aristocrats: the phenomenon of the Anglo-American marriage, which began in the post–Civil War years, peaked in this era and undoubtedly improved relations in ways that are hard to analyze. The desire for greater unity among the English-speaking peoples was equally real and reached its peak in this era: in the 1892 Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor,” the fictional detective proclaims his hope that “the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister . . . will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes.”8 The rise of Anglo-American literary figures such as Henry James meant that the United States was now a contributor to English letters, not merely a consumer. And, vitally for the future, Anglo-American finance, centered in Wall Street and the City of London, began to rival the already vibrant transatlantic trade as a linchpin of the relationship.

The Great Rapprochement laid the foundations for the modern Special Relationship. But the Great Rapprochement rested on regular cooperation and a mutual recognition of a harmony of interests, not a formal alliance, and it had no institutional basis. Thus, during the First World War, the United States gave Britain powerful financial and material assistance, without which the Allies would almost certainly have lost the war. But when the United States finally entered the fight in 1917, it joined only as an Associated Power, not a formal ally. The war thus played a double-edged role in the development of Anglo-American relations. On the positive side, the arrival of American manpower in the European theater in 1918 played a vital part in disheartening Germany, and the ideological appeal of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points lifted Allied morale and helped pull the enemy coalition apart. Coupled with the impact of U.S. financial power, the commitment of the United States to defending the freedom of the seas against German U-boats, and the development of links between the U.S. intelligence community and its more advanced British counterpart, these were tremendous advantages, and British statesmen were aware that if they could not have an American alliance, they could not live without American friendship.

Even so, the stresses of the war and its aftermath were serious. For the first time in its modern history, Britain was fighting in harness with another democracy, and one that remained skeptical of Britain’s empire and its war aims. British statesmen were challenged by the need to manage American and British opinion simultaneously, a difficult task when many in the United States still believed that Britain was a kind of master puppeteer (in the same inaccurate way that many people now think of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency). Moreover, the U.S. desire to remain neutral before 1917 and associated only after it entered the war pointed to the broader problem that the United States was unwilling to institutionalize the relationship with Britain (or any other power, for that matter), particularly if what Britain wanted was a military alliance.

All of these downsides came powerfully into play after the war and in the interwar years, which marked the modern nadir of the Anglo-American relationship, poisoned by the U.S. demand for repayment of war debts (which helped to destabilize the European financial order), U.S. tariffs (which were raised at precisely the moment when the world needed to sell more to the United States), and the self-righteousness of President Wilson, who failed to bring the United States into the League of Nations, and his successors, who refused to give the security guarantee to their wartime allies that they desperately wanted. Coupled with American pressure for naval disarmament, which bore particularly hard on Britain, a tendentious campaign against the industrial “Merchants of Death” who had supposedly tricked the United States into entering the war, and American dislike of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, U.S. policy in this era was often neither constructive nor attuned to developing better relations with Britain.

It would be a mistake to describe U.S. policy in the 1920s as either isolationist or uninterested in the wider world, which is how it was characterized in the post-1945 era, when policy makers and scholars were eager to avoid the mistakes of the era. In practice, the United States and Britain did work to stabilize Europe in the aftermath of the war and to replace the Versailles peace settlement: it was simply that the United States focused on financial involvement (largely in the form of loans), not on contributing directly to addressing the Franco-German rivalry, the core security problem in Europe.9 The crash of 1929 and the Great Depression showed the limits of this policy and made it clear that the world financial and trading order could not survive if the United States was not prepared to play Britain’s role—a role it no longer had the strength to play—as the importer and lender of last resort. When the new Democratic president Franklin Roosevelt torpedoed the London Economic Conference, called in 1933 in a desperate effort to fight the Depression, the United States really did enter a period of isolationism that eschewed even financial leadership.

From the Great Depression to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The Special Relationship came into being in the fifteen years from 1933 to 1949, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded. If it had not been for the earlier Great Rapprochement, these crucial years would have gone very differently: the key British and American leaders in this era, including in particular Roosevelt and especially Churchill, had lived through the pre-1914 and interwar years, and their approach to the challenges of the approaching Second World War and the emerging Cold War after it was shaped by that experience. There is something to be said for the argument that the basis of the Special Relationship is the simple fact that the United States and Britain tend to have the same enemies—from the Kaiser’s Germany, to the Nazis and Imperial Japan, to Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union.10 But enemies are defined by interests, and interests in turn are defined by ideology and identity. The fact that Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union were common Anglo-American enemies was not inevitable: it was because the British, in general, and Churchill, in particular, worked very hard to persuade the United States to side with Britain.

Anglo-American relations remained poor in the 1930s, with the United States adopting a series of Neutrality Acts intended to prevent it from being drawn into another war, while both the United States and Britain remained unwilling to make a clear commitment to the security of France. In both nations, the policy of appeasement, embarked upon by the conservative-led national governments of the 1930s, raised serious qualms, but neither nation enjoyed a political consensus that allowed it to take a different course, especially against the ongoing backdrop of the continuing Depression and Britain’s abandonment of its traditional policy of free trade in 1932. Britain and the United States did take small measures to improve relations, such as the Anglo-American Trade Agreement of 1938, but the range of disagreements remained wide, with British leaders such as Neville Chamberlain viewing the United States—not unreasonably—as more interested in talking than actually assisting Britain in coping with its insurmountable strategic challenges.

What was lacking in the United States and especially in Britain was leadership: Britain’s entry into war in September 1939 was made with conviction but not with any great will to act. In the United States, Roosevelt was convinced by the late 1930s that war was coming, that the United States would have to be involved, and that Adolf Hitler had to be defeated. He was powerfully constrained by American public opinion, but as the consummate juggler in American political history, he moved forward as he could. In Britain, Churchill’s rise in May 1940 brought to power the one man with a clear strategic vision and the will to see it through. Churchill was utterly convinced that the war could be won only with American support, and he weighed every decision he made and every word of his superb speeches in light of that conclusion. Churchill also believed deeply in the United States and had already nearly completely his monumental, four-volume history of the English-speaking peoples, which was published after the war.

Many in Britain were profoundly skeptical of the United States and doubted the Americans would ever enter the war or would be of much use if they did: the American contribution on the battlefield in the First World War had not been particularly impressive. Churchill himself could offer no convincing explanation of how Britain could win, but he gambled, at the highest possible stakes, that he was right and that the United States would side openly with Britain. Slowly, the United States moved toward hostilities—the Neutrality Acts were revised, the U.S. Navy advanced further into the Atlantic, staff conversations with Britain were launched and a war plan agreed, and in March 1941 the Lend-Lease Act arrived just in time to allow a nearly bankrupt Britain to keep on fighting. In the end, however, it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, along with Hitler’s gratuitous declaration of war on the United States three days later, that brought the United States into the fight. Churchill’s monumental six volumes on the war—which are less a history of the conflict than a statement of his case and role in it—make it clear that for him, the American entry was, as he put, “the greatest joy.”11 He was immediately sure that the war would end in victory: his passages on his reaction to Pearl Harbor are a shout of exultation that he, his nation, and the world had won his gamble.

The Special Relationship: Anglo-U.S. Relations since 1776Click to view larger

Figure 3. “Conference leaders during Church services on the after deck of the HMS Prince of Wales, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, during the Atlantic Charter Conference. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and Prime Minister Winton Churchill are seated in the foreground, August 10–12, 1941.

Courtesy U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, Photo # NH 67209.

And so it proved. The U.S. entry was indeed decisive in the defeat of Hitler and, even more, in the preservation of freedom in Western Europe after 1945. The Anglo-American alliance was hardly free from friction: there were regular, and on occasion bitter, controversies over virtually every aspect of the war, from whether the United States would indeed stick to the “Europe First” strategy, to where the Allied forces should land and when, to who would command which operation, to the appropriate approach to strategic bombing, to the structure and future of the British Empire, to planning the postwar order, and much else. Indeed, discovering and revealing the varieties of Anglo-American discord has become a major historical industry.12 Still, all relationships must be judged by comparison with others, and when placed in that framework, the Anglo-American conduct of the Second World War was a model of effective cooperation. At root, both sides realized they needed each other, and neither side was willing to lose the war to win an argument. Moreover, the war brought Labour’s leaders—men of great quality, such as future Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin—into the heart of British politics and introduced them to the United States, just as it brought future U.S. leaders like Dwight Eisenhower into the closest possible contact with Britain. The same was true of the Anglo-American scientific establishments, the financial community, and many others. So while the stresses of the war were real, underneath them the war was building up the sense that Americans and Britons could talk to each other in ways that no one else could. That was hardly a guarantee that they would agree, but it meant that the relationship could be conducted as much through conversation as through negotiation. That hard-to-define sense that both sides shared an approach to the world, a vocabulary, and habits of thought is fundamental to the Special Relationship.

The aftermath of the war brought new strains and new and institutionalized forms of cooperation. The guiding assumption on both sides after victory in Europe was that U.S. forces would not stay on the continent for long. Britain, now governed by Labour, badly needed to boost exports and to restore stability and growth in Western Europe. For the first two years after the war, it sought to do this in collaboration with the Empire/Commonwealth, but it soon became obvious that this was not a viable political, economic, or military bloc and that the answer had to involve further American assistance on the widest scale. That was also Churchill’s answer: now leading the conservatives in opposition, he called—most famously in his great “Sinews of Peace” speech at Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946, when he popularized the term iron curtain—for a continuation of close Anglo-American cooperation in the emerging Cold War. At the time, the Fulton speech was intensely controversial, but its wisdom was soon apparent.

Thus, in the late 1940s, Britain and the United States led the way in creating three closely linked organizations to deal with the pressing economic and security problems of the postwar world. In the 1920s, they had conspicuously failed to act, but in the 1940s they led. The first institution, the Marshall Plan, channeled billions of dollars from the United States to Europe to allow Europe to buy the goods it needed to restart its shattered economies: in time, the Marshall Plan led to the creation of what is today the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The second, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), came into force in 1948 and, led by the United States, created an institutional process for promoting freer trade. Though GATT was intensely controversial in Britain at the time—because it limited Britain’s freedom to build up imperial tariffs walls—Britain soon recognized that it had been on the wrong side of the argument. The third, NATO, sprang from the seed of the 1948 Brussels Treaty, which created a Western European collective defense alliance. Here, British leadership was crucial in bringing the wider NATO, including the United States, into being in 1949. Supplementing these multilateral agreements were a series of bilateral ones, including the 1946 agreement on intelligence sharing that laid the formal foundations for the “Five Eyes” community of Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and the 1958 U.S.-U.K. Mutual Defence Agreement, which laid the foundations for Anglo-American nuclear cooperation. Thus, by the start of the Korean War in 1950, the United States and Britain were the leading players in the core institutions of the West and cooperating closely on a bilateral basis. The Special Relationship had been launched.

The Cold War

The patterns of the Cold War were unlike those of any previous era in Anglo-American relations. For a start, the relationship was institutionalized, preeminently through NATO. They also had a regular, back-and-forth, quality: eras of closer cooperation in the face of a particular Soviet or Communist threat were interrupted by crises in the relationship or by periods when the two sides seemed to be drifting away from each other, such as the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were also defined by the fact that in this era, for the first time, the United States was definitely the lead partner, with Britain’s concerns slowly coming to focus primarily on the security of Western Europe. And finally—and not coincidentally—this was the era in which American Anglophobia at last disappeared as a meaningful political force. British anti-Americanism did not vanish so completely, and it migrated from the political right to the left, but the era was defined on both sides of the Atlantic by an alliance of the center of politics against the extremes, with the center being firmly committed to the Special Relationship, both as a means for fighting the Cold War and as the best way to advance the values they had in common.

This process was not without its stresses. The deepest rift in the relationship came during the Suez crisis of 1956, when a complete British failure to understand U.S. priorities clashed with an American administration that valued the influence it hoped to have with the Arab world more than its relations with Britain and France. There were other problems, too, from the British desire for commercial reasons to sell advanced technology behind the Iron Curtain, to its lack of enthusiasm for America’s desire to fight in Vietnam, to U.S. pressure on Britain to enter a politically and economically integrating Europe. There was also U.S. concern about Britain’s regular economic crises and its seeming economic decline as well as its concurrent inability to maintain its defense effort, which in turn thrust more of the burden onto the United States. Crises in the rapidly dissolving British Empire were also a reliable source of controversy. Even between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the closest partnership of the era, there were difficulties, including the American failure to fully back the British during the Falklands War of 1982 and the U.S. invasion of the Commonwealth nation of Grenada in 1983.

The Special Relationship: Anglo-U.S. Relations since 1776Click to view larger

Figure 4. “A flak damaged Sea Venom of 893 Squadron after landing on HMS EAGLE with no undercarriage. Members of the Flight Deck crew (wearing protective clothing) approach the aircraft after it has been brought to a standstill by the arrester wires,” November 4, 1956.

Courtesy Imperial War Museums, photo # A33609.

All of these controversies raise a basic issue of interpretation. The degree of harmony in the Anglo-American relationship—the extent to which the Special Relationship is a reality—depends considerably on the altitude from which it is seen. The higher the altitude, the less the irregularities in the relationship are seen at all or seen to matter. Historians who focus on the broader narrative sweep are thus more likely to conclude that it was a basically constructive and close partnership, interrupted by moments of crises but also by peaks of particularly meaningful cooperation: for every Falklands War, there was an episode such as the 1979 NATO decision to deploy U.S. Pershing II and cruise missiles to bases in Britain and Europe. Those who study particular episodes, on the other hand, end up emphasizing the extent to which the Anglo-American relationship was always contested, always troubled, and never harmonious.13 In reality, of course, both views are right: fractious, politicized democracies like the United States and Britain are never likely to arrive at exactly the same view on anything (they argue with themselves relentlessly as well), but, ironically, that fact merely emphasizes their similarities as well as their ability to listen to each other.

The Special Relationship: Anglo-U.S. Relations since 1776Click to view larger

Figure 5. President Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the South Lawn of the White House, February 26, 1981.

Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library, photo # C872-9.

Indeed, much of the strength of the Special Relationship rests on the openness of the Anglo-American political orders. This is not, of course, a factor in their relations alone: it is a fundamental characteristic of their systems. But one of the remarkable things about the Anglo-American relationship is how often the two nations have, in effect, switched sides. Each has been, at different times, a free trader or a protectionist. Each has been eager for better relations with the Arab nations or allied with Israel. Each pressed for a time for détente with the Soviet Union. None of this involved the United States or Britain abandoning its fundamental pursuit of a liberal political and economic order, but both sides have frequently redefined—often in part by listening to the other—how they pursued that order. In effect, the United States and Britain have been committed to similar ends but have been surprisingly flexible about their means. The ends create the basis for the relationship; the flexibility on means creates the ability to adjust when things go wrong, as in the world of international relations they invariably do.

The question of ends is a complicated one. In spite of overheated rhetoric to the contrary, neither the United Kingdom nor the United States was ever the world’s policeman or even, except in the free world during the Cold War, its hegemon. But both believed in an international order based on liberal nation-states, with a relatively free and open international economic order and cooperation on the basis of national sovereignty. Without wanting or being able to address every problem, they were both last-resort providers of security against systemic threats, such as Russian expansionism in the 19th century and Nazi or Soviet empire building in the 20th. Neither nation acts on the basis of altruism, though equally neither can endure for long a foreign policy based on coldly calculated national interest.

Rather, both came to recognize that their own interests and ideals could not prosper, or even survive, in a world dominated by forces other than the liberal nation-state. The interwar era was tragic because Britain lacked the strength to play that role in the realm of either economics or security, while the United States lacked the desire to do so. In the later years of the Second World War and the opening years of the Cold War, by contrast, the United States learned from its errors. With the Truman Doctrine of 1947, by which the United States assumed responsibility from Britain for the security of the eastern Mediterranean and acknowledged a broader, systemic responsibility, the United States stepped deliberately into Britain’s shoes.

This makes assessing the effect of Anglo-American leadership difficult, because since at least 1815 the world has had a liberal great power to turn to when times grew tough: in effect, having Britain or the United States in the lead has been the default way things have been for two hundred years. We cannot know what the world would be like if that order collapsed, but the example of the interwar years is not encouraging. That is why the dominance in British popular culture of the Second World War and the extent to which Churchill is revered in both nations (especially the United States) are revealing: both are ways of recalling the perils of that era and the value of leadership that brought the liberal world order to victory in it and in the Cold War that followed.

After the Cold War

The Special Relationship from 1989 to 2015 has been a study in contrasts. The cultural ties between the United States and Britain have remained strong, though they are less obviously Anglo-American than in the past. Precisely because much popular culture in the Western world has been Americanized, it is harder for such culture to be particularly British or American. Of course, this is not an entirely new development: the Beatles, for example, were profoundly influenced by American rock and roll. But whereas the Beatles led a “British invasion” in the 1960s, that term is not used today to describe the dominance of music executive and television star Simon Cowell (American Idol, The X Factor), celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, and televised fare such as Downtown Abbey, in spite of the fact that all three are British. Today, it is largely taken for granted that there is a regular exchange of talent and culture between Britain and the United States, and while each nation has many interests the other does not share (cricket and baseball, for example), the cultural gap between them is likely narrower than ever. Precisely as a result, therefore, the power of culture to close geopolitical or ideological gaps is weaker than it was in the era of the Great Rapprochement and the era leading up to the Second World War.

That is evidenced by the vicissitudes of the Special Relationship in the post–Cold War era. The administration of George H. W. Bush cooperated closely with Britain in the Gulf War (1990–1991), but otherwise cold-shouldered Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in an effort to differentiate itself from the Reagan administration. The United States became deeply, and generally constructively, involved in the Northern Ireland peace process under President Bill Clinton, but Clinton himself was not particularly interested in foreign policy, and it took decisive intervention from Prime Minister Tony Blair to rescue a floundering American-led NATO campaign in Kosovo in 1999. The British press and public poured unprecedented abuse on President George W. Bush, who made closer Anglo-American relations a priority, while expressing uncritical adoration for President Barack Obama, who placed little value on the relationship. Above all, after 9/11, Britain sided immediately and publicly with the United States and joined the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan and, in 2003, in Iraq, with results, actual and alleged, that now dominate the background of the Special Relationship.

The Special Relationship: Anglo-U.S. Relations since 1776Click to view larger

Figure 6. Prime Minister Tony Blair shaking hands with President George W. Bush after they conclude a joint news conference at Camp David. Paul Morse, March 2003.

Courtesy White House Archives.

It is commonly argued that the Iraq War—both its start and in particular its messy and inconclusive aftermath—marked a decisive moment in Anglo-American relations. Certainly the war placed enormous strains on the Special Relationship, to the extent that some influential Britons are now unwilling to use the term on the ground that it implies that Britain is likely to, or even bound to, follow the American lead abroad. With these strains emerged a series of new squabbles—including an extended row over extradition arrangements—that owed much to Britain’s new willingness to place blame on the United States. As in the past, the squabbles sit alongside moments of cooperation, but even these moments—such as the 2011 campaign to overthrow the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi—have not restored the Special Relationship to the health and political centrality that it enjoyed during and immediately after the Cold War. Moreover, the tightening up of British visa policy (American policy was already quite restrictive) has made it harder for Americans to work in the United Kingdom. Coupled with the effective absence of limits on European migration to Britain—a result of Britain’s membership in the European Union—this is likely to shift British focus away from the United States in the decades to come.

The influence of the Iraq War, though it is substantial, has been exaggerated.14 It is useful to recall that just two days after 9/11, a former U.S. ambassador, Philip Lader, was bitterly condemned during the course of a BBC program, when members of the audience blamed the terrorist attacks on U.S. foreign policy.15 This was long before the Iraq War or even the Anglo-American overthrow of the Taliban. In other words, while changes in Anglo-American relations in the post-9/11 period owe a great deal to U.S. and British policies, changes in British politics and society in the 1990s and after—changes mirrored, to an extent, in the United States—matter at least as much. The post–Cold War decade brought a perceptible lack of seriousness to Anglo-American foreign and security policy, as witnessed by their shared failure to take a timely lead in the Balkans or respond to the rise of radical Islamist terrorism as well as by NATO’s floundering efforts to define a new purpose after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moreover, unlike the United States, Britain did not respond to 9/11 by reversing its ongoing defense cuts. Harder to assess are the cultural changes that made Britain more sensitive and self-absorbed, traits that at times appeared to verge on solipsism.

By 2015, all three of the foundations on which the Special Relationship was built were in poor condition. Domestically, Britain certainly remains a democracy, but as a member of the European Union (EU), with large and increasing parts of its governance dictated from Brussels, it is no longer fully in charge of its own house. This is a problem both for the making of British policy and because it implies that the standing of the House of Commons—the center of British political loyalties—has been radically diminished. The fact that the American political establishment continues to push Britain deeper into the EU, and thus further imperil Anglo-American cooperation, makes the impact of the EU even more significant.

The Special Relationship is certainly not in trouble today because of American Anglophobia, which was the fundamental barrier to close Anglo-American relations until the Second World War. The problem now is exactly the reverse—not the U.S. distance from Britain, but British distance from the United States. Surveys of public opinion in the United States reliably show that, with the exception of Canada, Britain is the foreign nation that Americans like the best. Surveys of British opinion are harder to interpret, but the United States certainly does not enjoy a comparable level of esteem in Britain. In other words, for the first time in the Anglo-American relationship, it is Britain that is the awkward partner, not the United States.16 That is not to claim that American policy is blameless: it is to point out that the limits of the possible are set by the public, and in the context of the Special Relationship today, it is the British public that sets the limits.

Finally, there is the question of Britain’s world role and belief in it. Surveys suggest that Britons still believe in their nation’s global role.17 But the course of British politics over the past two decades suggests that they are increasingly unwilling to take actions or pay costs commensurate with that role: if they were, for example, British defense spending would be higher. The issue here is fundamental to all three foundations of the Special Relationship. British democracy, like its sense of its world role, was built on political foundations (unlike those of the United States, which are ideological), including in particular the belief in the quality of the British government centered on the House of Commons. This was a fundamentally liberal belief, in the 19th-century sense of belief in limited government and the individual, one that has increasingly come under threat by the EU and by broader collectivist trends in British society.

Britain has not lost this liberal sensibility, but as it has weakened Britain’s desire to play a world role, to stand apart from the EU, and to work in collaboration with the United States, which even more than Britain has historically embodied this kind of liberalism, it has diminished. The challenge to Anglo-American relations today, therefore, is not merely about the failings of particular political administrations on either side of the Atlantic, or any significant weakening to date of the many informal or lower-level official ties between Britain and the United States, or even the broader challenges posed by the relative rise of Asia and decline of Europe. It is about the waning of a political sense of self that built the foundations for the Special Relationship.

Discussion of the Literature

The literature on the Anglo-American Special Relationship is large and well developed, yet curiously unsatisfactory. While the Special Relationship centers on the governmental realms of foreign, security, and defense policy and intelligence collection, the term also implies a broader sense that both public and private relations between the United States and Britain are particularly deep and close and that these wider relations are the foundation for activities in the governmental realms. The fact that the literature focuses on the governments is, in part, a reasonable response to their centrality, but it is also because researching and writing about governments is simply easier, because governments and politicians create and fund the archives.

Thus, while the literature is strong on aspects of political theory and international relations, it is weak in the many areas that may, over the long run, matter just as much. The relationship between the City of London and Wall Street has been vital for over a century, but histories of Anglo-American relations rarely include it in more than a cursory way. Tourism, marriage, and cultural exchange between the United States and Britain are astonishingly vibrant, but the literature has little to say about them. We know a good deal about how Britons have perceived the United States at various points, but less about how Americans have perceived political change in Britain.18 We can track American and British opinions in polls during the second half of the 20th century, but even if they are accurate, polls show only that opinion is changing, not why it is changing. The weaknesses of the literature are in part a reflection of the fact that there is simply a lot to cover: Anglo-American relations are both deep and broad. Still, even allowing for the fact that top-down politics matter a lot to the Special Relationship, the literature is excessively dominated by these concerns, which, no matter how vital and easy to research, have tended to detract from the attention that is given to the broader basis of Anglo-American relations.

Even considering these deficiencies, though, the literature is vast. In broad strokes, it has passed through three eras. In the first era, until the Second World War, American authors emphasized the value of the American Revolution. This was an era of nationalist histories, with authors such as Frederick Jackson Turner and his “frontier thesis” (1893) of American political development, arguing for the extent to which the U.S. political experience was a departure from that of Britain and Europe. Even historians such as Charles Beard, who were skeptical of the prevailing praise for the Revolution, tended to emphasize its significance. By contrast, British authors tended to view the American Revolution as a product of poor British imperial management (and thus as offering lessons on what not to do in Canada and other settlement colonies) and as demonstrating the need for building cultural and political unity in the English-speaking world. Thus, for example, Sir John Seeley’s The Expansion of England (1883) argued that British control of India was not nearly as important as its role in peopling the settlement colonies and explicitly took the United States as an example of the successful development of an imperial federation.19 This school, though with an emphasis on the importance of Europe, survives in recent works, such as Brendan Simms’s Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire (2008).

In the second era, from the Second World War to the 1980s, the difference between the British and American interpretations largely disappeared. Works such as Bernard Bailyn’s Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967) emphasized the extent to which the Revolution showed clear evidence of inspiration by English thought: 1776 was not made entirely in America.20 In the same generation, publicists such as Clarence Streit and scholars such as Nicholas Spykman—drawing in part on works by earlier British and American historians, such as Halford Mackinder and Alfred Thayer Mahan—began to make the case that Britain and America were fundamentally on the same side and that their cooperation in and after the Second World War was a geopolitical necessity.21 Not surprisingly, this era was dominated by the experience of the war and its aftermath, with authors such as Winston Churchill producing works of history that were simultaneously arguments for the emerging Special Relationship.

In the third era, from the 1980s to today, the range of scholarship on the Special Relationship expanded beyond easy summary. While a critical school associated most closely with John Charmley emerged, arguing that the United States had exploited its relations with Britain, and historians of particular episodes emphasized the fractiousness of the relationship, most historians continued to accept that the Special Relationship was both real and politically created for mutual benefit.22 Current scholarship is too diverse to have any one emphasis, but in its academic context it is largely driven by the opening as the years pass of the records of more recent U.S. and British administrations and thus by the production of relatively specialized studies on particular aspects of the relationship. Outside academia, narrative and interpretive histories, and of course biographies—above all of Winston Churchill—dominate the market.

The future of this field of study is cloudy. There is no reason to believe that the popular appetite for readable works will diminish, but on the academic level, positions in British history are shrinking rapidly in the United States, and British academia is undergoing its own crises. The result will likely be fewer works that focus specifically on the Anglo-American relationship and more that fold it into other contexts, from NATO to the European Union. There are undoubtedly advantages to be gained from working within these contexts, which certainly affected and were affected by the Special Relationship. But, just as previous trends in the history of the Special Relationship have been shaped by the era in which they were written, these new contexts will induce their own biases and distortions into the study of the bilateral relations between Britain and the United States.

Primary Sources

Britain and the United States likely have more and better archives than any other nations in the world, and given the depth and breadth of Anglo-American relations, primary sources are almost limitless. In the United States, archives across the nation can be searched through the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMUC); in the U.K., the Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC) provides a similar service. In both the United States and Britain, there is a push to improve the electronic descriptions of records and even to make selected records available online, though it will be a long time before this work makes an appreciable dent in the dustier parts of the archives.

Many researchers will want to begin at the national level, either in the British National Archives or in the U.S. National Archives. Both archives are working diligently to make major collections available online: it is, for example, possible to read many of the British Cabinet papers from 1915 through 1986 online through the U.K. National Archives. The records of national leaders and prominent politicians are well preserved in both nations. In the United States, presidents from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush have presidential libraries. British prime ministerial papers are held in various locations, with the most significant collections in Modern Political Papers at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and the Churchill Archives Centre at Churchill College, Cambridge University, both of which also contain vast holdings of other relevant papers, including the papers of the Conservative Party at the Bodleian and the papers of Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher (also available online through the Thatcher Foundation), and the British Diplomatic Oral History Programme at the Churchill Archives Centre. The United States has a comparable collection of interviews conducted by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. The papers of the Labour Party are at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre in Manchester. Papers of other parties can usually be found through the HMC, while the record of debates in the Commons and the House of Lords (commonly known as “Hansard,” from the first printer of the debates) are available online.

Newspapers are increasingly available in online databases, but a comprehensive collection is available in Britain at the British Library, and in the United States at the Library of Congress. Both of these great libraries also hold many other relevant collections and can easily be searched online. The BFI National Archive collects film and television in Britain; while in the United States movies are the responsibility of the Library of Congress: Britain and the United States have had an enormous impact on each other’s popular culture. The Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick collects papers from the trade union movement, business, and industrial relations as well as activist movements. The University of Maryland holds the records of the AFL-CIO, but, as in Britain, state and local archives hold related materials. The Hagley Museum and Library in Delaware focuses on the history of business and technology in the United States, but many private corporate archives may also be useful. Many further specialized collections, such as the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, the British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent, or the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading, may not seem relevant, but those interested in the impact of U.S. farming and food production on British life, for example, will want to visit Reading.

Commercial publishers have also done a remarkable job of reproducing collections from various archives and on various subjects, though accessing these collections usually requires a university library. Adam Matthew, for example, has reproduced the “Confidential Print” from the British Foreign Office on many subjects, including North America from 1824 to 1961 as well as the Colonial Office files on North America from 1606 to 1822. Primary Source Media has collections that include the Churchill Papers, Churchill’s wartime office papers, and the archives of the Conservative and Labour Parties. Accessing historical polling data can be done through newspapers or through collections such as Gallup’s that frequently require paid access. While scholars wishing to work deeply in a particular subject will still want to visit the archives in question, these collections will allow students and scholars to do original work in many areas.

The vastness of the Anglo-American archives can be intimidating, and there are few questions that cannot be usefully addressed through them. Still, major gaps remain. The connections between Wall Street and the City of London are vital, but archival resources in this area are scattered. The same is true of the links between the intelligence communities in Britain and the United States, where, in spite of recent leaks, much remains undocumented. Less dramatically, but perhaps more importantly, there is no easy way to study tourism or the consumption of popular culture through the archives. Finally, while many collections are available in the archives, some are not: papers have gone missing or have been withheld. If a scholar is working in a particular area and has reason to believe that a collection exists, inquiring of the successor business, organization, or the family may be fruitful: there are still private collections of considerable value in both nations that are not openly available to scholars.

Further Reading

Burke, Kathleen. Old World, New World: Great Britain and America from the Beginning. London: Little Brown, 2007.Find this resource:

    Charmley, John. Churchill’s Grand Alliance: The Anglo-American Special Relationship, 1940–57. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995.Find this resource:

      Churchill, Winston S. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, 4 vols. London: Cassell, 1956–1958.Find this resource:

        Gilbert, Martin, and Randolph Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, 8 vols., with 17 companion volumes to date. London and Hillsdale, MI: Heinemann, 1966–2015.Find this resource:

          Louis, William Roger, and Hedley Bull, eds. The “Special Relationship”: Anglo-American Relations since 1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.Find this resource:

            Mead, Walter Russell. God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World. New York: Knopf, 2007.Find this resource:

              Perkins, Bradford. The Great Rapprochement: England and the United States, 1895–1914. New York: Scribner, 1968.Find this resource:

                Phillips, Kevin. The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, and the Triumph of Anglo-America. New York: Basic Books 1999.Find this resource:

                  Reynolds, David. The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937–1941: A Study in Competitive Co-Operation. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1981.Find this resource:

                    Roberts, Andrew. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples since 1900. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2006.Find this resource:

                      Stoler, Mark A. Allies in War: Britain and America against the Axis Powers, 1940–1945. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2007.Find this resource:


                        (1.) John Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), 156.

                        (2.) Jon Butler, Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).

                        (3.) Kariann Yokota, Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

                        (4.) Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (New York: Knopf, 2001), 116.

                        (5.) Walter A. McDougall, Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since 1776 (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 53.

                        (6.) Charles Dilke, preface to Greater Britain: A Record of Travel in English-Speaking Countries during 1866–7 (London: Macmillan, 1869).

                        (7.) Paul Kennedy, “The Tradition of Appeasement in British Foreign Policy, 1865–1939,” in Strategy and Diplomacy, 1870–1945, ed. Paul Kennedy (London: Allen & Unwin, 1983).

                        (8.) Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor,” in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (London: George Newnes, 1892).

                        (9.) Patrick Cohrs, The Unfinished Peace after World War I: America, Britain, and the Stabilisation of Europe, 1919–1932 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

                        (10.) Jeffrey A. Engel, “No One Else to Trust,” The American Interest, June 4, 2015,

                        (11.) Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 3, The Grand Alliance (London: Cassell, 1950), 539.

                        (12.) Reflecting the fact that the primary grievance—whether or not this grievance is correctly entertained—of Britain against the United States is the charge that the United States undermined and destroyed the British Empire, much of the impetus for this work came initially from the political right, led by John Charmley, but included such important early works as Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1972). The political spectrum of criticism has now broadened out to works such as Peter Clarke, The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Birth of the Pax Americana (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009).

                        (13.) For example, contrast the understanding of the Anglo-American relationship as a study in “competitive co-operation,” offered by David Reynolds or Mark Stoler, with more specialized work by Charlie Whitham, Bitter Rehearsal: British and American Planning for a Post-War West Indies (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2002), or Jeffrey A. Engel, Cold War at 30,000 Feet: The Anglo-American Fight for Aviation Supremacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), which emphasize Anglo-American discord and distrust.

                        (14.) Ted R. Bromund, “A Just War: Prime Minister Tony Blair and the End of Saddam’s Iraq,” in The Blair Legacy: Politics, Policy, Governance, and Foreign Affairs, ed. Terrence Casey (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

                        (15.) “BBC Chief Apologises for Terror Debate,” BBC News, September 15, 2001,

                        (16.) Ted R. Bromund, “The US-UK-EU Triangle,” The American Interest, June 2, 2015,

                        (17.) Ibid.

                        (18.) For a recent illustration, see Frank Prochaska, Eminent Victorians on American Democracy: The View from Albion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

                        (19.) Sir John Seeley, The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures (London: Macmillan, 1883).

                        (20.) Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967).

                        (21.) Clarence Streit, Union Now: A Proposal for an Atlantic Federal Union of the Free (New York: Harper, 1938); and Nicholas J. Spkyman, America’s Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1942).

                        (22.) John Charmley, Churchill’s Grand Alliance: The Anglo-American Special Relationship, 1940–57 (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995).