The Magazine

Isn't That Special?

Anglo-American relations are more complicated than you think.

Jul 7, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 41 • By ANDREW ROBERTS
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The moment that the fear of a Wolf-versus-Whale conflict was greatest, however--during the Venezuelan Crisis of 1896--is written off by Campbell entirely: "Although it is sometimes cited as the last time Britain and the United States nearly went to war," the author opines, "there is not much substance to the claim. .  .  . It lasted about three days in the United States." In fact, it went on for over four months, and on December 17, 1895, President Cleveland told Congress that it was "the duty of the United States to resist by any means in its power .  .  . the appropriation by Great Britain of any lands .  .  . which after investigation we have determined of right belong to Venezuela." The Senate chamber rang with applause, and he won unanimous support for a purely American commission to investigate Venezuela's claims. He had sounded, as the British ambassador to Washington, Lord Pauncefote, reported to the prime minister, Lord Salisbury, "the note of war." It was a note supported by over 40 state governors.

The German and French press joined the American in paroxysms of excitement about Britain's international isolation and her inevitable humiliation. Canada looked to her military preparedness in the event of war with America. The excitable American yellow press called for war with Britain, as did ex-President Harrison. The Irish Nationalist MP John Redmond even wrote to the New York World to say that Irish sentiment would be supporting America in the coming conflict. "A war with America--not this year but in the not distant future--has become something more than a possibility," Salisbury wrote to the chancellor of the exchequer, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, on January 2, 1896, denouncing "Cleveland's electioneering dodge."

As a result of the Venezuelan war scare, but also British support for America in the Spanish American War (whereas most of Europe supported Spain), Theodore Roosevelt's Anglophilia (despite boasting he had not a drop of English blood), and the McKinley administration's support for Britain in the Boer War (in contrast with much of the American population), on November 18, 1901, Lord Pauncefote and Secretary of State John Hay signed the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, which was the founding document of the Special Relationship.

Covering the isthmian canal due to be excavated in Latin America, the Treaty inaugurated a number of vital Anglo-American agreements over the next decade, covering such issues as the Alaskan and British Columbian border, Newfoundland fisheries, and Jamaica. Although the United States was to keep its plans to invade Canada up to date until the 1920s, the Special Relationship was firmly in place. Yet the estimable Pauncefote is only mentioned once in this book, and then in a footnote, misspelled.

Campbell is far better at spotting the inherent suspicion that many Europeans have always felt about Anglo-American kinship and unity, and still do. The farseeing British journalist W.T. Stead reported, long before the Great War, that Kaiser Wilhelm II "foresees the necessity of forming a European Customs Union against the United States on similar lines to the Continental blockade devised by Napoleon against England, in order to safeguard the interests and assure the freedom of Continental commerce at the expense of America's development."

Stead saw how German, Austrian, Italian, and Belgian intellectuals' opposition to Anglo-American amity meant that in order to "defend themselves against the USA, these thinkers advocate the creation of what would be the United States of Europe." Considering that Stead predicted all this in a book entitled The Americanization of the World: Or the Trend of the Twentieth Century that was published as long ago as 1902, it is all the more tragic that he should have drowned on the Titanic 10 years later, before he was able to see his prophecies come true. For although Bismarck stated that the most important factor of the 19th century was that Great Britain and the United States both spoke the same tongue, how much more important was it for the survival of freedom in the 20th?