Transatlantic Victorians
December 21, 2012 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find information about US-British relations between the War of 1812 and WWI?

I heard in an NPR story about Hyde Park on Hudson that US and British relations were chilly in the 19th century. Where can I learn more about both official relations and about everyday attitudes each country had toward the other?
posted by jefficator to Human Relations (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Education of Henry Adams is not about this, but it does contain a lot of information on it. Adams was the son of the US ambassador to the UK during the Civil War, and accompanied his father there and served as his assistant.
posted by Flunkie at 12:45 AM on December 22, 2012

Start with reading about the Monroe Doctrine: US and UK interests were often closely aligned in this period.
posted by kithrater at 3:22 PM on December 22, 2012

A lot of this depends on what part of foreign policy you are talking about. In general, the US and Britain had a few conflicts over policies in the Americas:

Canada was largely an appendage of the British Empire in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Quite a number of the "historic" military forts along the Great Lakes in Canada were built in the 1930's and the British Empire generally supported the Confederated States in the US Civil War. This this caused some harsh feelings on the American side and scared British-Canadian leadership when the north won. Fear of a US invasion was one of the founding events of Canada in 1867.

At the same time, in 1859 American ships helped British ships that were being shelled in China (violating a treaty) because "blood is thicker than water"

Foreign policies weren't really aligned in World War 1, and not entirely aligned in World War 2 but the Cold War made foreign policies nearly identical.
posted by Intrepid at 3:34 PM on December 22, 2012

Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World by (the unapologetically conservative) Walter Russell Mead is about this topic a lot, and I assume his subsequent work God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World is about it even more, but I haven't read it. The first work illustrates Mead's version of the theory that the British "handed off" their apex of world power responsibilities to the US in a series of important moves over a period of up to a century, though you may not necessarily agree with that.

Anyway, in broad strokes, the settlement of the War of 1812 through the Treaty of Ghent, followed quickly by British embroilment in the Napoleonic wars, led to a realization of common interests that took a while -- most of the 19th century -- to gel. There were three key aspects to this: the dynamics of empire; the industrial revolution; and the link between them, free trade.

First, Britain had an Empire and thus found itself in constant conflict with European powers who also had Empires, or wanted them. By contrast, the US -- under the Monroe Doctrine -- sought no colonies of its own. This was a rather ideal situation from the standpoint of easing tensions between us. Cynically, you could say that our "Empire" was the westward expansion, and the Oregon Boundary Dispute did slow this overall realization. But once we expanded we federated our new territory rather than creating subsidiary governments (at least until the Spanish-American War....). There were also the odd guano island dispute and that sort of thing. But generally we found few reasons to argue with Britain. By the time of the Civil War they pledged neutrality, under the circumstances a great win for Washington -- an America split into Union and CSA would have been convenient from a power standpoint. (Yes, there was sympathy within Britain for the Confederates, but this was tempered by anti-slavery feeling, and while neutrality angered some Americans, it never tipped into outright military or diplomatic support.)

The second thing that was happening, and during all of the above, was the industrial revolution. As it happened, most of the first advances in steam power were in England, and the mills of England were supplied by the cotton fields of America. (These business relationships were one basis of sympathy for the Confederates.) Thus we developed a very tight and interdependent trade relationship that made having conflicts inconvenient.

Finally, those colonies abroad that everyone had meant that the US needed to have a level playing field for trade, and so we sought a doctrine of free trade everywhere we could. This both reinforced the trade relationship with Britain and gave us a basis for international relations as a British "cousin", which we cultivated. Thus throughout the 19th century our intimacy with our old oppressor grew beyond cooling passions and neutrality and into outright comity and partnership. This led straight into the 20th century's development of the so-called Special Relationship.
posted by dhartung at 12:05 AM on December 23, 2012

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