Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Rocky Record of Anglo-American Relations (Part I)

The United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have a history of being best friends when not being bitter enemies. Neither has often been able to view the other dispassionately, as ‘just another country’ among many in the world. For a long time the British tended to view the United States dismissively, and, when that was no longer possible, with a mixture of pride at what their former colonies had become and resentment at being surpassed. For the United States, there has existed from the very start of the country both Anglophile and Anglophobe factions. At times these were political, more conservative Americans looking admiringly on the British constitutional monarchy and more liberal Americans looking admiringly on revolutionary France. At other times, these were regional, based on local economic self-interest and, increasingly as America became home to an ever larger immigrant population, based on historic ethnic rivalries.

American loyalists
The two countries started out as enemies with the American War for Independence, yet, even then, there was a sizable portion of the American population that were staunchly loyal to the King and mother country while in Britain, the American rebels were not without many friends in high places. When the war concluded, two factions emerged in the fledgling United States. There were those such as George Washington who wanted peace and friendship with the British and those such as Thomas Jefferson who still regarded Britain as an enemy and the emerging French revolutionaries as their ideological allies. In 1793, when Britain declared war on the French Republic, there was a clamor on the left to renew the war with Britain alongside the French but President Washington refused, even deporting French nationals from the country who tried to spread revolutionary sentiment. Washington was criticized for this but, nonetheless, declared neutrality, stating that America would be, “friendly and impartial” to both sides.

The emergence of the two-party system in America grew out of the two factions led by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, each of whom had very different views of the British. Hamilton wanted peace with Britain and, perhaps, to expand American power by making war on France and Spain which were also fighting Britain. Jefferson, on the other hand, sympathized with the French Revolution and wanted American solidarity with France. Anti-British sentiment also grew in the west out of conflicts between American Indians and American settlers who pointed to the British providing arms and assistance to the Indians. Meanwhile, at sea, both Britain and France attracted criticism for their efforts to interfere with American trade with the other power. In 1794 these disputes seemed to be reaching the point of crisis and John Jay was sent to England to settle matters. The resulting treaty was so unpopular in America that effigies of Hamilton were stoned in public demonstrations after Hamilton assured a British official that the U.S. would not go to war with Britain over these difficulties.

The Franco-American "Quasi-War"
In 1796 when John Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson to become the second President of the United States, it was seen as a victory for the Anglophile faction. The French minister to the USA, in fact, had resigned his post in order to campaign for Jefferson. When Adams became president, the French refused to receive his envoy and when it leaked out that the French foreign minister, Talleyrand, had demanded a bribe to maintain good relations, the American public was outraged. In the nick of time though, another scheme emerged that Senator William Blount had proposed secession from the Union and the seizure of Florida and Louisiana from Spain to create a new territory that would then join the British Empire. The British rejected the proposal and Blount was impeached in 1797. Anglo-American peace was maintained and, instead, the U.S. embarked on an “Undeclared War” with republican France in 1798 which lasted until 1800 when Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in Paris. French agents were expelled from the country and the whole affair was responsible for the passage of the now notorious Naturalization, Alien and Sedition Acts. However, the tide shifted again when Thomas Jefferson was elected President of the United States in 1801. Not for the first time, Jefferson and in particular Aaron Burr, stirred up anti-British sentiment in the public as a means of obtaining an electoral victory over their opponents.

Jefferson, however, became less pro-French after Napoleon came to rule that country and was nervous about the possibility of France renewing their presence in North America. He had backed the French effort to regain Haiti after the slave uprising there but did not want the French back on the North American mainland. He was then happily surprised when Napoleon determined the Louisiana Territory could not be held and sold the entire land mass to the United States for fear the British might take it by force. As it happened, Jefferson had opposed the French presence also out of his fear of the British, saying that if Napoleon’s legions occupied the Mississippi valley, America would have to “marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation”. The huge acquisition of territory benefited Jefferson politically and he was reelected to a second term afterwards. Tensions remained high though due to French and British efforts to stop America trading with the other. In 1807, HMS Leopard fired on an American ship and forced its surrender. Many demanded war and Jefferson ordered all British warships to leave American territorial waters. The British retaliated by increasing their patrols and tensions rose ever higher.

British advance in the War of 1812
The following year, as the British blockaded Europe and France placed a continental embargo on Britain, Jefferson responded by stopping all foreign trade which ultimately only harmed American business while having little to no impact on the British at all. In 1809 Jefferson left office but was succeeded by the man he endorsed, little James Madison. During his administration, Anglo-American relations would grow worse and worse, not only because of British interference with American shipping but also because of “war hawks” from the American west and south who wanted territorial expansion and saw Canada as an vast territory that could be easily conquered. This ultimately resulted in the War of 1812 which, while America ultimately escaped unscathed, proved that the British would fight if they had to and that Canada was not so helpless as the “war hawks” had thought.

Despite many claiming victory, the U.S. had been badly stung during the war. The invasion of Canada had ended in ignominious failure, Washington DC had been occupied and the White House burned to the ground. The expansionists would, in future, look to the south and west rather than the north, having no desire to cross Britain again. Likewise, the war had also been very damaging to the New England states who depended on trade and, led by the Federalist Party, these states came close to seceding from the Union before the war ended. In the aftermath though, Anglo-American relations greatly improved. Both supported the independence movements from Spain in Latin America, they cooperated to block a Franco-Spanish expedition to suppress these movements and the British Royal Navy made America’s “Monroe Doctrine” an enforceable reality.

President James K. Polk
This lasted until the late 1830’s when tensions rose again over border disputes in the north. In 1837 a group of Americans aided some Canadian rebels sheltered on Navy Island. The British crossed the Niagara River and burned an American ship bringing supplies to the rebels, killing an American citizen in the process. Later, the unofficial “Aroostook War” broke out between American and Canadian lumberjacks over where the border between Canada and the state of Maine rested. Again, the threat of war loomed but President Martin Van Buren managed to arrange a peaceful end to the standoff. Disputes over the Canadian border were finally settled with the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. In 1846, under U.S. President Polk, an agreement was also reached over the disputed Oregon territory between Britain and America, the last significant border dispute between the two countries. However, it was also during this period that large numbers of immigrants began pouring into the United States, many of them from Ireland and the Irish community would provide a long-standing anti-British voting bloc in American politics. In 1850 both countries also agreed not to harass each other in the shared desire of building a canal across the isthmus of Panama.

The British focused on the business of empire while the Americans became increasingly bound up with internal strife over states’ rights and slavery. With the election of the first Republican Party President, Abraham Lincoln, southern states began to secede and formed their own government, the Confederate States of America, which Lincoln vowed to suppress with military force. The American Civil War erupted and the British Empire came exceedingly close to getting involved. The largely anti-slavery British public tended to favor the Union while British leaders tended to favor the Confederacy given that British industry depended heavily on southern cotton and the break up of the Union into two unfriendly countries would greatly weaken the United States which was becoming an industrial and trade rival to Great Britain. In 1861 a U.S. warship stopped the British vessel RMS Trent and forcibly removed two southern agents bound for Europe as diplomatic envoys. The British government of Lord Palmerston protested furiously, the same way America had protested similar actions by the British leading up to the War of 1812. The Canadian militia was mobilized, British reinforcements were sent to Canada and the Royal Navy was put on the alert.

Prime Minister Lord Palmerston
Lord Palmerston was ready for war but many others in Britain were not and thought it unseemly to be on the same side as a slave-holding power. The Lincoln administration, opting for “one war at a time” moderated, releasing the envoys and a last-minute intervention on the British side by the Prince-consort Albert smoothed things over. Still, there was plenty of tension. Confederate agents operated out of Canada, British shipyards built commerce raiders for the Confederate Navy (many of whom had largely British crews) and British blockade runners in the West Indies profited handsomely by smuggling in desperately needed goods to the southern states. The British 1853 Enfield Rifle was the most purchased weapon of choice for the Confederate armies. However, ultimately, the British never ultimately took the side of the Confederacy, the bad “optics” making it impossible.

In the aftermath, Anglo-American relations remained extremely fragile. The U.S. demanded reparations from the British for the huge toll taken on their merchant fleet by British-built Confederate warships and the U.S. Army had a huge number of Irish immigrants who were spoiling for a fight with the hated British Empire. More had come over during the war and they formed their own American branches of the clandestine Irish republican groups operating in their homeland. After 1865, these men were combat veterans and they wanted to take action. These sentiments resulted in the famous “Fenian Raids” on Canada which lasted from 1866 to 1871, the most serious being the Niagara Raid of 1866 which resulted in quite a fierce struggle at the Battle of Ridgeway. The idea was for these Irish troops to seize control of some segment of Canada and hold it ransom for Irish independence from Britain. Officially, the United States opposed these actions but, because of anti-British sentiment in the north, they did not try too terribly hard to stop them. None were successful though and the U.S. was finally obliged to take action to stop any further attacks on Canada.

HM Queen Victoria
By 1871 most of the outstanding issues between Britain and America were settled with a new treaty. A lingering dispute over islands off the Canadian west coast was settled by the arbitration of the German Kaiser in America’s favor. American demands for reparations over losses to the Confederate Navy were also sent to arbitration by an international group of arbiters. In the end, Britain was obliged to pay $15,500,000 in damages to the United States. This was more than double than what the Russian Czar had asked for Alaska, to keep it out of British hands. The Civil War had seen Britain hold back from her last chance to weaken America and the 1870’s saw rapid American advancement in industrialization, population and finally surpassing Britain as the world’s largest economy. The coming years saw America’s “Gilded Age” and the Victorian heights of the British Empire. America focused on internal matters, the British on colonial issues. A potential problem almost arose in Samoa over competing German, American and British interests there but a storm wiped out everyone’s ships and an agreement was reached in 1889 for a ‘three-power protectorate’.

The two countries still found disagreements, in odd places. One was the Bering Sea, which the U.S. Congress declared American property and seized Canadian ships engaged in seal hunting. When reports came in of British warships moving to the area, the U.S. agreed to arbitration. This time the arbitrators, Italy, France and Sweden, found in favor of Britain in 1893 and ordered the U.S. to pay $473,151 in compensation for the Canadian ships. In 1898 the U.S. won a war against Spain, gaining Puerto Rico, Guam and The Philippines as well as annexing Hawaii later the same year. The British were generally favorable to America becoming at least a minor colonial power, seeing them as a potential counterweight to Germany which was quickly building up the third largest colonial empire in the world.

German shelling of Ft San Carlos, Venezuela
The only major problem to arise in this period came, again, in an unlikely place. It started with a border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana. Someone found gold in the disputed area and this ratcheted up the tensions in a big way. Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations and requested American arbitration. Britain refused arbitration twice which prompted the Anglophobe faction in America to denounce the British for defying the Monroe Doctrine and bullying an independent South American republic. In 1895 the U.S. government again demanded Britain submit to arbitration but, again, Britain refused. Finally, the Cleveland administration basically threatened war if Britain did not agree to settle the issue and British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain approved, saying that an Anglo-American war would be, “an absurdity and a crime”. The arbitrators found basically in Britain’s favor, Venezuela had to back down and the U.S. came out looking strong and fair. As the U.S. had also become a player on the world stage, British and American forces also fought alongside each other in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900. In 1902 Britain, Germany and eventually Italy joined in a blockade of Venezuela when that country defaulted on her debts. Venezuela again called on the United States to arbitrate. When the German navy attacked Venezuela there was considerable outrage with many in Britain objecting to being on the same side as Germany after such an incident and this isolated Germany which finally agreed to arbitration.

1903 saw an agreement between America and Britain over the details of the Alaska-Canadian border with the British ultimately agreeing with the American position. The outbreak of war between Russia and Japan in 1904 saw Britain and America both cheering on the Japanese. However, while Britain had an alliance with Japan, the peace settlement, arbitrated by U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, marked a turning point. The war had been far less one-sided than the Japanese public had been led to believe and the lack of Russian reparations was blamed on the United States, prompting anti-American violence in Japan. This, naturally, caused American public opinion, which had been anti-Russian and pro-Japanese, to turn drastically anti-Japanese and this would be very significant in the future of Anglo-American relations as Japanese-American relations continued to deteriorate from that time on. Still, for the time being, relations were generally good as the Republican Party (which held uncontested power since the Civil War) felt they had a good working relationship with the British government. That, however, changed with the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson as President of the United States in 1912.

Anglo-American friendship, WW1
When World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, former Republican President Teddy Roosevelt almost immediately called for American intervention on the side of Britain and France. However, President Wilson declared neutrality and urged Americans to, “be neutral in fact as well as name…impartial in thought as well as action.” The U.S. and Britain came to separate agreements on issues involving Mexico and Panama but Wilson objected to the British blockade of the Central Powers and the large numbers of German and Irish immigrants in the country were vocal in demanding America stay out of the war which, they claimed, was nothing more than a war to maintain the British Empire. Wilson stuck to neutrality and won reelection on the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War”.

The U.S. did have other issues to deal with, such as a volatile situation in Mexico, but the British and Anglophile Americans were relentless in their urging for America to join the First World War, portraying it as a war between the “free countries” of Britain and France against the autocratic powers of Germany, Austria and Ottoman Turkey. However, the presence of the Russian Empire among the allies put Wilson off of this idea and he left little doubt that he would never take America into a war on the same side as Czarist Russia. The British press and their Anglophile supporters put out a great deal of anti-German propaganda and made full use of the sinking of the British liner Lusitania by a German submarine in 1915. This proved a major turning point in American public opinion, something the British were only too aware of with Winston Churchill saying (privately of course) that American shipping being lost to the Germans was all to the benefit of Britain as it would push the United States closer to war. Finally, at the height of a renewed, unrestricted, submarine campaign, Germany proposed an alliance with Mexico against the United States. This was intercepted by the British who turned it over to the Americans at just the right time. There was an immediate outcry and the United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917.

Those since who have deemed President Wilson an Anglophile because of his intervention in World War I against Germany and Austria could not be more mistaken. In the buildup to the Easter Uprising in Dublin, Ireland, in 1916 the Irish republicans had collected $100,000 in donations from America and in the aftermath the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and The World ran front-page stories, all very anti-British in sentiment, for more than a week. In German-American communities from the Midwest to Texas, large gatherings were held raising money for the German and Austrian Red Cross right up until the outbreak of war. No, the Anglophiles had wanted American intervention immediately and it was only because Wilson was so opposed that it took until 1917 and an extremely stupid diplomatic blunder by the Germans for this to finally happen. Wilson had objected numerous times to the British blockade and future President Herbert Hoover particularly denounced it as head of the American Relief Administration which fed millions of Germans and Austrians reduced to starvation by the Royal Navy.

Even Wilson had regrets
American participation in the war, despite public flirtations with the French, was rightly seen as being driven by the British and the Anglophile faction in American politics. After 1918, the British and Americans had fought together, died together and won victory together. Surely, there would be fast friendship between the two from then on? Not at all. Wilson annoyed his allies with his peace proposals, was ignored and eventually had to abandon all of his lofty, utopian principles in order to get the League of Nations he wanted most as his legacy. The problem was that America did not want it and never joined it. The U.S. had also fought alongside the British and French but never formed an alliance with them. After the war, the British also did not pay the huge debt owed to the United States. The fact that this was because the British had gone into debt loaning money to her allies which, after the war, refused to pay Britain, generally never reached the American public. The American people felt they had gained nothing from the war, had lost much, saw the British Empire reach its peak in size and determined that they had been swindled into making sacrifices on behalf of an ungrateful Britain which refused to pay its debts (the only country to pay its war debt on time was actually Finland).

To be concluded in Part II

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