The historic circumstances of America’s birth might not have seemed especially propitious for the development of a close alliance with Great Britain. Our origins in an anti-colonial war of national liberation and our founding President’s injunction against “entangling alliances” kept us at loggerheads with Britain for more than a century. As historian Edward Crapol has argued, anti-British nationalism runs like a
red skein through American history. . . . A clearly discernible pattern of Anglophobia . . . extends from the Revolutionary patriot cursing English tyranny with its suppression of personal and economic liberties, to the aroused farmer of the 1890s berating British plutocrats and denouncing the shackles imposed by British financial power.
One of America’s more colorful turn-of-the-century political figures, Pitchfork Ben Tillman, summarized this view as follows: “America for Americans, and to hell with Britain and her Tories.”1
Today such rhetoric is limited to right-wing isolationists like Pat Buchanan and left-wing extremists like Lyndon LaRouche, but in the 19th century Britain-baiting—or “twisting the lion’s tail”—was a hardy perennial of the American political scene. Indeed, as late as 1895–96 the two countries almost went to war over conflicting claims in Venezuela and American fears that the Monroe Doctrine and the benefits of U.S. hegemony in the Western Hemisphere were at stake. An act of statesmanship by Lord Salisbury, the British Foreign and Prime Minister, helped quell the crisis, but it is instructive that he did not do so out of any idealistic desire to avoid conflict between fraternal English-speaking peoples. As his biographer Andrew Roberts notes, Salisbury had “no sympathy with the increasingly popular concept that there was some form of romantic, special relationship between the two English-speaking peoples. He treated America in the same way as he did France, Germany or Russia, strictly according to the exigencies of Realpolitik.” Salisbury continued to believe that a war with the Americans was “something more than a possibility”, but nonetheless his calm contribution to the resolution of the Venezuelan crisis helped set the relationship between the two countries onto a totally new trajectory, one in which sympathy and romance played no small role.2
Even as Salisbury bestrode the British Empire, the ground was now being laid for a closer Anglo-American relationship–what Bradford Perkins called “the Great Rapprochement.” There were two key elements to this: the interpenetration of national elites, and the emergence of leaders who believed in the importance of the relationship. As Charles S. Campbell noted, “it was the age of transatlantic marriages in high places. More than seventy Americans had married titled Britons by 1903; more than a hundred and thirty by 1914.”3 The 1895 marriage of the Duke of Marlborough to Consuelo...