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THE ANGLO-AMERICAN FRIENDSHIP.


One of the weightiest passages in Washington's Farewell Address is that in which he warns the American people as to “permanent inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others.” The loss of an unreasoning prejudice is always a distinct gain, especially to a nation whose politics are governed by public opinion. We may therefore count the disappearance of the old blind Anglophobia, and the vanishing of the trade of the demagogue who would demonstrate his superior patriotism by merely “twisting the British lion's tail,” as one of the decidedly good results of our Spanish war. The American people are now getting into a state of mind which will enable them to consider their relations with Great Britain with candid discernment, without doing injustice to the feelings they formerly entertained.

There have always been many Americans, indeed, who cherished a very warm sympathy for the mother country, partly owing to family sentiment, partly to the belief that England is among the nations of the Old World the most consistent representative of those principles of civil liberty of which this republic claims to be the completest embodiment; that, whatever criticism her conduct may in many respects have deserved, no nation has done more to carry light into the dark places of the world, and to supplant barbarism with order and progress; and that if, in doing this, she served her own interests, — sometimes with rough disregard of the feelings and claims of others, — on the whole, she served also the general interest of mankind. But the traditional education of the masses in America still kept most prominently before the popular mind the memories of the Revolutionary war and of the war of 1812, in which Great Britain appeared mainly as the oppressor of the colonies and the ruthless tyrant of the seas, and as the only really malevolent and dangerous enemy the Americans had ever had to fight. These memories were aggravated by the impression produced upon the American mind by the attitude of Great Britain during our civil conflict; and this impression was so strong that some of the men who until then had been among the warmest admirers and friends of England were much shaken in their attachment.

It is not unnatural, therefore, that a large number of Americans should have continued to think of Great Britain as “the hereditary enemy,” who would still be capable of any mischief if opportunity offered, and that the politician in quest of cheap popularity should have found in vociferous denunciation of that enemy a device sure to draw applause. But this was no excuse for the persons in important public position who, having ample facilities for information at their disposal, knew better, or at least should have known better, but who pretended to see perfidious Albion lurking behind every bush, dagger in hand, watching for a propitious moment to strike us to the heart, or to rob us of our valuables, — Senators who would insist that if we lost a moment in taking the Hawaiian Islands, Great Britain would surely snatch them from us; or that it was altogether owing to diabolical British intrigues if we did not get on with the Nicaragua canal; or that we must punish Great Britain with tariff discriminations for maliciously maintaining the single gold standard, and thus preventing the establishment of universal bimetallism which we needed so much; or that we must not have an arbitration treaty with Great Britain that amounted to anything, because Great Britain would surely derive the only advantage from it at our expense. Indeed, we may congratulate ourselves that the jingoes of that extreme school did not succeed in making a serious quarrel out of some slight matter of difference, which they sometimes seemed morbidly anxious to do. Not to believe in British hostility constantly at work against us was to them a proof of a lack of American patriotism, and there was real danger that this sinister influence — was it infatuation or demagogy? — would sometime get this republic into grave trouble with a power which, whatever its disposition may have been at other periods, certainly did not now wish to quarrel with us.

Then came the Spanish war and the demonstrative display of British sympathy with the United States. Even the most inveterate Anglophobist was bound to admit that if Great Britain had been watching for an opportunity to hurt this republic, her time to take advantage of its embarrassment had come, and that if, under such circumstances, she proved herself not only not hostile, but positively friendly, the old cries could not be sustained. The employment of the old-style anti-British jingo is evidently gone; and the American people will do well to remember the untrustworthiness of those public men whose unsound judgment or lack of good faith so long insisted upon it that an offensive attitude toward Great Britain was a test of American statesmanship. Such statesmen should henceforth command no more confidence than in so important a matter they have shown themselves to deserve.

As to the sincerity of the British friendship for us, Mr. James Bryce, whose wide knowledge of men and affairs, whose high character, and whose well-known friendly feeling for this country and its people are entitled to the highest respect, told us, in a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly, that even during our civil war, when the attitude of Great Britain was so much complained of, “the masses of the people [in England] hoped for the victory of the North, because they felt that the North stood for human rights and freedom;” that, indeed, “the bulk of the wealthier classes of England, and the newspapers written for those classes, did in those days say many offensive things regarding the United States, and sometimes conveyed the impression — erroneous though that impression was — that England as a whole had ranged herself on the side” of the Southern Confederacy; that those wealthier classes erred so grievously “partly from ignorance, partly from their own political proclivities, which were not generally for freedom;” that “since 1863 Britain has passed through great political changes;” that “parliamentary suffrage has been so extended as now to include the immense majority of the working classes;” that now “the masses” which during our civil war were friendly to the Union, while “their sentiment told very little on the wealthy and the newspapers which the wealthy read,” have “become politically predominant, and public opinion has adapted itself to the new conditions;” in other words, that Britain at large has become friendly to the United States because it has become more democratic.

All this is undoubtedly true; but more is to be said. Before the period of our civil war this republic was looked upon by many of the ruling class in England as an experiment of uncertain result. They had no confidence in the self-sustaining power of democratic government, and they expected that some time, most likely owing to the troubles bred by the slavery question, the Union would be broken to pieces. They were not quite sure whether the interests of Great Britain might not on the whole be best served by a disruption of the Union, for the reason that if the union remained unbroken it might in various ways become a dangerous rival and competitor of the mother country. In this state of mind, they were rather disposed to welcome the Southern Confederacy as the means for dividing the United States into several comparatively harmless fragments. But when the Union issued from that crisis stronger than ever, they promptly recognized the fact that this republic was bound to be a permanent institution and a very great power, apt to become exceedingly useful as a friend, and exceedingly uncomfortable as an enemy. From that time it came to be the first precept of British statesmanship — even with most of those who would have shed no tears had the Union been disrupted — to remain on good terms with the United States at almost any cost. Witness the sacrifice of British pride in the Alabama arbitration as well as in the Venezuela case. Mr. Bryce himself approaches a recognition of this fact in the article above mentioned, when, after having spoken of the political isolation of Great Britain, he says: “In this state of facts, England has been forced to look round and consider with which of the four other world powers she has most natural affinity, and with which of them there is the least likelihood of any clash of interests. That one is unquestionably the United States.”

It does not detract from the claim to sincerity of the British friendship, or from its value, that there is this consideration of interest in it. On the contrary, if the interest is a mutual and a well-understood one, so much the better. It will make the friendship all the more natural and durable. Neither do I think that the exchange of complimentary phrases which has become customary, about kinship, common origin, common love of liberty, common language, common literature, about blood being thicker than water and so on, is mere worthless stage claptrap and flummery. There is enough truth and sincerity in it to create and keep alive a real sentiment; and while those are mistaken who think international relations may be wholly governed by mere sentiment, those are equally mistaken who think that sentiment is no force at all in international relations. As is everything that promotes peace and good will among nations, so this sentiment of kinship between the American nation and the British is well worth cultivating. It may do very good service in facilitating the coöperation of the two nations where their interests or objects are in accord, as well as in preventing serious quarrels between them about differences which are not vital.

The question is how the friendly relations which came about in so natural a way can be made to endure, and to yield the best possible fruit to the parties concerned and to mankind at large. An English statesman of high standing, who may be regarded as a sincere friend of this republic, is credited with saying in effect that if the Anglo-American friendship were to result substantially in a coöperation of the American jingoes with the British jingoes, it would be a curse rather than a blessing. I accept this without reserve, and add that such a friendship would not endure. If the United States and Great Britain, believing their combined strength to be superior to that of any probable combination against them, were to set out to conquer and divide the earth, or at least the largest possible part thereof, they would inevitably soon fall out among themselves about the distribution of the spoil. No league of two such powers, formed in that spirit and for such purposes, could possibly last long. Nor would the common origin, and the common language and literature, and the common principles of civil liberty, and all the other elements of kinship serve to hold it together. It is a well-known fact that a family feud about property is apt to be more bitter and relentless than any other kind of quarrel, and that a friendship formed after long dissension, and then broken again, is among the most difficult to mend. I should say, therefore, that if the United States and Great Britain are to remain friends, they must carefully avoid common enterprises in which their ambitions are likely to clash. If they do not, they will be in danger of drifting into enmities far more virulent and far more calamitous than any that have existed between them hitherto.

For the same reason they should keep clear of any arrangements calculated to make them dependent upon each other as to the maintenance, respectively, of their interests or their position in the family of nations. A consciousness of such dependence would be apt to engender just that kind of suspicion, of misgiving, which is most dangerous to international friendship. I can best illustrate my meaning by inviting attention to something that is now going on. Many Englishmen are assiduously encouraging the American people to launch out on what is currently called an “imperial policy,” and to this end to keep in their possession the territories conquered from Spain, especially the Philippine Islands. It is quite evident that if this republic undertakes to hold such possessions, it becomes at once entangled in the jealousies and quarrels of European powers, of which colonial acquisition in that part of the world is the principal object. It is equally evident that while, with our vast resources, we are capable of creating and maintaining military and naval armaments strong enough to enable this republic to hold its own in these complications, single-handed and alone, our present armaments are not at all sufficient for that purpose. Nor is it certain that a majority of the American people, upon sober consideration of the matter, would wish to set and keep on foot armaments so extensive and costly. Now some of our British friends substantially tell us: “Never mind that. You just start in the imperial business, and take and keep the Philippines and whatever else. We have plenty of ships, and if you get into trouble we will see you through.”

This sounds well. But Englishmen who sincerely desire a lasting friendship between the United States and Great Britain will not give us such seductive advice, if they are wise; and it should be observed that Mr. Bryce, who knows the American people, does not join in it. Neither should the American people obey such advice, if aside from other reasons against the imperial policy they have only the preservation of the friendship with Great Britain in view. While duly thankful for the kind offer, they should remember that, under any circumstances, they should be careful not to put themselves into situations the requirements of which would oblige them to depend upon foreign aid, especially when such dependence involves obligations in return the extent of which it would be difficult to measure in advance. True, the dependence and the obligations might be made mutual. An agreement between the two nations, binding Great Britain to protect the United States in the possession of the Philippines, and the United States to aid Great Britain in carrying certain points in Asia, might seem fair in the abstract, but prove otherwise in reality. Any occasion for comparing the value of the services due and the services rendered, respectively, is dangerous to the cordiality of international relations, especially when one of the nations concerned is a democracy, which will always be disposed to measure much more closely services which are asked for as due, than services which it voluntarily renders.

On the whole, if we wish to keep our friendship with Great Britain on a proper and durable basis, we should constantly remember that it is a very good thing to have, but that we ought not to be in a situation to need it. The more spontaneous and unconstrained our relations are, the more will the friendship be likely to last.

It is equally desirable that those who have at heart the cultivation of the friendship between the two nations should be careful to abstain from exciting expectations as to its practical results which are not likely to be realized, and might therefore produce chilling disappointments. There are some things about which we are apt to delude ourselves, when in a state of sentimental emotion; and without the slightest desire to depreciate or discourage the feelings entertained here as well as in England at the present moment, it may be said that we are in such a state of sentimental emotion now.

An example of the outcome of that state of mind is furnished by the resolutions adopted by the Anglo-American League recently formed in London. The recital in those resolutions that the peoples of the United States and of England are akin in language, literature, and principles of government is very proper; but when the resolutions go on to say that the two nations are drawn together “by common interests in many parts of the world,” and ought therefore constantly to “coöperate,” they touch doubtful ground. What are those “common interests in many parts of the world,” to protect and promote which the two nations should constantly “coöperate”? Any attempt to specify will meet with difficulty. It might be said in a general way that we have a common interest in furthering the progress of civilization wherever there is an opportunity for such furtherance. But this is so vague a proposition — a proposition open to so great a variety of interpretations and including so many different subjects — that no definite plan of coöperation can be based upon it. Its active application would have to depend upon special agreement in each separate emergency.

We are told that it is the common interest of the two nations to open the markets of the world to their commerce, and, by implication, to prevent, wherever possible, the entire or partial closing of any of them. This will be true as soon as both nations agree in regarding free trade as their common interest. But as things now stand, consistent “coöperation” between them would require, at the outset, that our own ports should be relieved of those high tariff duties which to a great extent have hurt the trade of Great Britain herself, and which, if we should get any colonial possessions while our protective policy lasts, would to the same extent shut in Great Britain's face our colonial ports, too; for, whatever arrangements we may make at present by way of exceptional war measures, there will hardly be a way in time of peace to get around the constitutional mandate that “all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;” nor would the influences which now uphold the protective system with us permit it. Thus it appears that in this respect identity of interests between the two nations depends upon identity of commercial policy. Without this identity of commercial policy the relations between Great Britain and the United States, in this regard, will not differ materially from the relations between Great Britain and any other country, inasmuch as it is the interest of every country, whatever it may do with its own ports, that every foreign port should be wide open to its goods, and therefore that Great Britain should hold open to the whole world all the ports which she controls.

The American people will indeed consider it in their interest, and be much gratified, if Great Britain holds all her ports open, and also if Great Britain, rather than any less liberal power, gets the largest possible number of ports to hold open. But so long as our high protective policy prevails, the United States will not be in a position to reciprocate in kind; and it is doubtful, to say the least, whether, if Great Britain were for some reason attacked in any of the vast and complicated territorial possessions in which some of those open ports are situated, or if she should consider it proper to extend the policy of the “open door” by further conquests, the United States would find it in their interest to join her with their own armed forces. (I do not mean to say that they should or that they should not. In any event, they should not be in a situation obliging them to do so.)

I mention these things to emphasize the point that, however ardently we may wish for a fruitful coöperation between this republic and Great Britain as to the furtherance of the open door policy, as well as in other directions, those who value the preservation and development of the cordial feeling at present existing between the two nations should abstain from encouraging presumptions and hopes that may not be justified, and the disappointment of which may have an effect all the more chilling, the more confidently they have been entertained. It is much wiser frankly to recognize the fact that while the Americans and the English are of kin in many important respects, and while they can and should do much in harmonious concurrence for the advancement of human civilization, their spheres of action are not the same.

We are in the habit of speaking of the Americans and the English as of two branches of the Anglo-Saxon stock. Considering the mixtures of popular elements that have occurred first in England, and then, on a much larger scale, in America, this view must be taken with a grain of allowance. However, for the sake of convenience, we may accept the term Anglo-Saxon as covering that mixed race in which the Germanic blood is the prevailing strain, and apply it to all that the English and American peoples may have in common. But however much they may have in common in origin, in temperament, in tradition, in language and literature, it does not follow that these two great branches of the Anglo-Saxon stock must, therefore, necessarily be engaged in the same pursuits; that they have exactly the same kind of work to do in and for the world; that in order to fulfill her duty, the American republic must imitate the example of England as to the means to be employed and the immediate objects to be reached; and that, for instance, as England is a great sea power and the founder of many colonies, the United States must also be a great sea power and found or acquire colonies. The difference in their territorial conditions naturally determined the difference in their respective methods of achieving greatness.

The English people, originally confined to a comparatively small island, had to be a great sea power in order to be a power at all. Even now, if they permitted any other power to command the waters around that island they would enable such a power to starve them in a short space of time. Their independence, their very existence, therefore, hangs upon the superiority of their fleets. To “rule the waves” is with them not a mere matter of policy or of pride, but of necessity.

As the population of their island increased it began to press against its narrow boundaries; and as those boundaries were formed by the sea, the English people had to cross the sea in order to find elbow room for their energies. It was not alone the Anglo-Saxon temperament, the spirit of adventurous enterprise, but also the exigencies of their situation that impelled them to wander across the waters and to spread over the globe. The founding of colonies and the establishment of governments over subject populations was with them a perfectly natural evolution.

The condition of the American people is essentially different. They are one of the resulting creations of that transplanting process. They were placed, not upon a small isle, but upon an immense wild continent, which they had to subjugate to civilized life. They had to explore the vast resources of the great country assigned to them, and to begin and continue their development. They had to receive among themselves large numbers of people of different nationalities, who came to share with them the new opportunities for the pursuit of happiness. They had to assimilate those elements of population, and to undertake with them the solution of the problem of democracy on the largest scale. In the development of those resources and in the solution of the great democratic experiment the American people are engaged to-day. Their population is still small in proportion to the vastness of their country. The resources of that country are still, to a very large extent, not only undeveloped, but even unexplored. They still offer, and for a long period of time will offer, ample and fruitful employment for the national energies. Neither is the great problem of democratic government, based upon equal rights and universal suffrage in the nation, in the states, and in the municipalities, so near a successful solution that the American people may consider themselves discharged of this their greatest responsibility, and seek other missions to fulfill without regard to it

The difference in the conditions of the peoples of England and of America, or — to use the favorite phrase of the day — of the two great branches of the Anglo-Saxon stock, is evident. The Americans need not become a great conquering sea power in order to be a power at all, for they are a great power in the vast population and the immense resources of their continental country, — and they would be a great power even if they were not in any large measure a sea power. In fact, considering that in their continental situation they are essentially unassailable, the only weak points they have consist in such outlying possessions as the Hawaiian Islands, which demand that the republic should be a great sea power. To such weak points, which it ought not to have, it is under no necessity of adding. The Americans do not, like the English, crowd against narrow boundaries, nor need they go abroad to gratify their ambition of activity or of missionary work, for that ambition finds an almost unlimited field at home. Indeed, within a computable period of time the United States may expect to have within their great continental home a population as numerous as the British Empire has in England and all its colonial possessions together; a population, too, far more civilized and far happier than a majority of those that are ruled by the British sceptre, — an expectation the fulfillment of which will depend upon the fidelity of the American people in maintaining the character and developing the blessings of democratic government in the magnificent domain which has fallen to their care. It may well be asked whether any effort they may make to plant their power outside of its boundaries will not be so much energy reprehensibly withdrawn from their most imperative task, and an increase of the difficulties standing in the way of the performance of their true mission.

As to the furtherance of civilization and human happiness, therefore, the two branches of the Anglo-Saxon stock may very effectively work for the same object without working on the same field of action. There are even many reasons for thinking it best for themselves as well as for mankind that they should, as little as possible, meet as active agents where their coöperation might turn into rivalry and their ambitions might come into conflict. Those of our English friends who are at present so extremely impatient to see this republic become a colonizing power, and thus put itself under the necessity of building up and maintaining great armaments on land and sea, would do well soberly to consider whether they are really rendering a service to the cause of that international friendship from which so much good may be expected if it be kept on a proper footing. Aside from the fact that the excessive urgency of their advice might produce the effect of impugning its disinterestedness, — which would be regrettable, — they should most seriously ask themselves whether they are not trying to divert the minds of the American people from the problem the solution of which is most vital to them and, if successfully accomplished, will he most beneficial to mankind; and to lure this republic upon a ground which is foreign to its natural tendencies, and on which that very international friendship aimed at would be exposed to incalculable hazards.

One point of exceedingly great value is already gained. The old distrust between the United States and Great Britain has disappeared as a power of mischief. Whatever either of the nations may do, the other will readily believe it to be prompted by good faith and friendly intention as to the relations between them. And whenever either gets into trouble, the presumption will be that the other, if disposed actively to interfere at all, will interfere on its side, or, if by its own interests compelled to remain neutral, will maintain a thoroughly sympathetic neutrality. This may eventually open the way to further understandings; but it is in itself a result of such importance that, I repeat, the mutual confidence necessary for its maintenance should not be jeoparded by precipitate attempts at arrangements by which either of the two nations would lose the mastery of its own destinies.

As to the manner in which the friendly feeling now existing can be given a tangible expression, Mr. Bryce has made some valuable suggestions. The first thing to be accomplished is the conclusion of an arbitration treaty covering all kinds of differences, and thus recognizing that no quarrels can possibly arise between the two nations which would not be capable of amicable composition, and that under no circumstances will any less pacific method of settlement be desired on either side. In fact, the amendments disfiguring beyond recognition the arbitration treaty which two years ago was before the Senate, and its final defeat, were the last effective stroke of the old anti-British jingoism, for which amends should now be made by a prompt resumption of negotiations for the accomplishment of that great object. In this way the Anglo-American friendship will signalize itself to the world by an act that will not only benefit the two countries immediately concerned, but set an example to other nations which, if generally followed, will do more for the peace and happiness of mankind and the progress of civilization than anything that can be effected by armies and navies.


Carl Schurz


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).