England and America

A YEAR has passed since I delivered a public lecture advocating the institution of a common citizenship for the whole English people. The proposal fell flat. It was inopportune. It excited no attention in England, though it brought me a few friendly letters from the United States. But the tone of my correspondents was not encouraging. An eminent professor sent me a pamphlet in which he asked the question, “ Why do not Americans love England ? ” and answered the inquiry truthfully enough, I dare say, but in a way not calculated to flatter the self-love or win the affection of Englishmen.

To-day everything is changed. All the world is talking of the close ties which bind together all divisions of the English people. Our Queen’s birthday, I am told, has been kept in many parts of the United States. English and American officers meet to exchange courtesies. A short time ago I was present at a banquet where English and American guests drank first the health of the Queen, and then the health of the President; where they sang God Save the Queen, and tried to sing The Star-Spangled Banner. All these things are trifles, but they are the straws which show the way the wind blows. They are merely signs of an entente cordiale between the United Kingdom and the United States which already exists, and has already produced its effect in the world of politics. England stands neutral in the war between Spain and America, but as regards the United States, her neutrality is of the most friendly character. It has made any coalition of the Continental powers in behalf of Spain an impossibility ; and what is more, no one can doubt that the action of the British government commands the full support of the British people. The opposition has brought many charges, true or false, against Lord Salisbury’s government, but there is not a single leading member of Parliament who has blamed his lordship for friendliness to the United States. The wish comes to me occasionally that I had deferred my proposal for a common citizenship till this year. It is still, in my judgment, a perfectly sound and reasonable suggestion, and in 1898 it would have commanded an attention, and possibly an applause, which did not fall to it in 1897. Meanwhile, the changed state of public opinion naturally sets one a-thinking. It raises at least two inquiries which are worth making and answering.

What are the meaning and the worth of the friendship between England and the United States ?

The reply lies ready to hand that it is nothing more than a phase of popular caprice, and is as unmeaning, and therefore as worthless, as the hostility and indifference of yesterday. As regards England at any rate, and for England alone do I venture to speak, this suggestion has much more plausibility than truth. There is nothing surprising or sudden in the current of popular feeling. For nearly thirty years every English statesman worthy of that name — Gladstone, Bright, Disraeli, Salisbury, Chamberlain, not to mention many others — has been studious to promote good will between Englishmen and Americans, and has been fully supported in this matter by the nation. In England, we long ago perceived that friendship between us and the United States would be a benefit to our own country, and, as we believe, an equal gain to America. The plain truth is that harmony between the two countries doubles the force of each, and the history of this generation has made two things apparent to any one who looks in the face the most obvious facts of the day. The first fact is that community of race, of language, and of institutions has produced in England and America a community of ideals. We have infinitely more in common with each other than either of us has with any other nation. We are both devoted to industrial progress. We are both naval rather than military powers. We have both reason to look with hopefulness toward the future. We perceive that the English-speaking peoples are destined in a century or two to become the dominant power throughout the civilized world. Their future supremacy is as nearly certain as any future event can be. The only risk to which it is exposed is the possibility of a quarrel between the two great branches of the Anglo-Saxon people. We are aware that at this moment England and America, if allied, or even if on terms of equal friendship, without actual alliance, can control the course of the world’s history. Together we may be masters of the sea ; and to have control of the sea means absolute security against foreign attack.

It is the vision of this splendid future which has at last fired the imagination of Englishmen, and led them to resolve to maintain at all costs friendship between the different branches of the Anglo-Saxon race, and thus safeguard the inheritance of the whole English people. This is a fact patent to every observer.

The second fact, of equal importance, is the difficulty of maintaining a permanent alliance between England and any Continental power.

Things have changed greatly since the beginning of the century. England is now little interested in Continental politics. Unless one of the great military governments should threaten invasion, it is hardly conceivable that, as things now stand, England should equip an army to take part in a European war. But the very circumstances which withdraw England from Continental alliances may conceivably suggest combinations of Continental powers for the destruction of England. Her empire excites their envy ; they believe (erroneously enough) that her commercial success is the result of a Machiavelian policy of selfish isolation, and they see that parts of the British Empire are open to attack. Englishmen, on their side, know that a great empire can be guarded only at the price of maintaining large forces for its protection. It is not for nothing that England every year increases the strength of her fleet. It is perfectly natural, therefore, that friendship with America should be suggested by the most obvious considerations of statesmanlike foresight. The point which needs to be pressed home upon American readers is that the attitude of England toward the United States is not the result of any sudden ebullition of sentiment. It represents a set purpose pursued by English statesmen of all parties for the whole of a generation.

Of American sentiment I have said nothing. The true condition of opinion in the United States must be much better known to Americans than it can be to any Englishman. At the present moment, however, it is reasonable to assume that friendliness toward England prevails throughout the United States. This sentiment, though its expression may appear to Englishmen a little sudden, is clearly the result of definitely assignable causes, some of which have long been in operation. There is every sign that the United States are entering on a policy which, whether for good or for bad, will involve a much closer connection than has hitherto existed between their fortunes and the complications of European politics. If this be so, the United States will need allies for the first time since they became an independent nation, and no ally will be at once so valuable and so little dangerous as England. The hour is opportune for promoting friendliness between two countries, neither of which can have any adequate ground for hostility, and each of which may need the other’s aid.

How can this opportunity be best turned to account ?

Whoever wishes to answer this question must be on his guard against one or two popular delusions. Let no one, for instance, suppose that far-reaching policies can be grounded upon the sentimental emotion of the moment. Gratitude, affection, and love are feelings proper to individuals. They have nothing to do with the relations between states. This assertion has in it no touch of cynicism. It is the simple statement of the plain fact that personal feelings belong to persons, not to nations. Half, at least, of the errors of popular politics arise from the fallacy of personification. We talk of England and America as if they were two women, each of whom could love or hate the other ; and we forget that England and America, when not used as the names of geographical divisions, are simply terms for designating millions of men and women living on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and personally unknown to one another. Such millions cannot, if they would, be actuated by gratitude or love. The suggestions of reason are amply confirmed by the experience of history. At the beginning of the century, English blood and English treasure were lavishly poured out to maintain the national independence of Spain; yet even during the Peninsular war Spaniards had no fervent love for England, and the name of Great Britain is now as much detested at Madrid as is the name of the United States. Not forty years have passed since France delivered Lombardy from the Austrians ; yet at this moment Italians dread, and therefore dislike, France far more than they fear or dislike Austria. Nations are not ruled by sentimentality, and no man of common sense will dream of making sentiment the basis of international policy.

Let us again be well on our guard against the delusion that the interests of England and America will always obviously coincide. It is indeed true that, on the whole and in the long run, the real interests of both nations are identical. To maintain peace at sea, to subject naval warfare to the rules which best promote the development of commerce, to foster trade, to avoid as far as possible the burden of standing armies, — these are objects which the two great industrial states of the modern world can pursue in common. These are matters in which no conflict of interests ought to arise. But to make this assertion is a very different thing from imagining that at no given moment can there be an apparent opposition between the wishes and the interests of the two nations. If, indeed, England and America are ever to be united by the bonds of what may be called a moral alliance, it is absolutely certain that when one ally requires the support of the other, there will need to be a certain immediate sacrifice made by whichever party is called upon for help. It is vain to suppose that the permanent relations of two states can be based on the untenable assumption of an unvarying coincidence of interests.

Let us also be watchful against the errors of hastiness. The idea prevails, for example, that it is possible at once to constitute some kind of formal alliance between Great Britain and the United States. It would be the greatest satisfaction to thousands of Englishmen to believe that this notion is well founded ; but to any one who reflects upon the state of the world, it must appear extremely doubtful whether, at this time, it would be possible for England and the United States to enter into a treaty for the purpose of mutual defense. What would be the precise terms of such an agreement ? Is it conceivable that the republic would guarantee England against attack, say, by France, Germany, or Russia on any part of the British Empire ? Would England undertake to make every dispute of the United States with any one of the great European powers her own quarrel ? No one who thinks the matter over dare answer these or similar inquiries in the affirmative. Every tie is a bond ; a contract limits the freedom of the contracting parties. We may gravely doubt if either England or America is prepared to curtail her own liberty of action. Then, again, there are technical difficulties which, however, in case of urgent necessity might be overcome, in the way of constructing a defensive alliance. The conventions of English political life do not absolutely forbid entering into elaborate and private compacts with a foreign state, but they certainly render it difficult. A writer in one of our reviews, who professes to be versed in the mysteries of diplomacy, hints that Great Britain and the United States have already established some sort of secret contract or understanding. It would be satisfactory to believe in the reality of such a transaction ; but a lawyer would find it somewhat difficult to explain by what steps such a treaty can have been made in conformity with the Constitution of the United States. The truth is, that neither the constitutional conventions of England nor the definite provisions of the American Constitution lend themselves easily to the exigencies of elaborate and private diplomatic arrangements. One may hope that lasting friendliness may ultimately produce an open and permanent alliance, and any statesman deserves applause who declares openly that the formation of such an alliance would be a blessing both to England and to America. But to believe that a treaty for mutual defense has been entered into, or can at this moment be entered into, by Great Britain and the United States, is to confound hopes with realities. There is, at any rate, some danger that the premature attempt to bring about a closer unity of action than is now possible may prevent our turning to account the advantages offered to us by the circumstances of the time.

What, then, if we avoid all delusions, are the steps by which it is possible to promote active good will between England and America ?

The first and most obvious step is to put an end to every existing grievance.

On this matter, the government of Lord Salisbury, as indeed any ministry which could hold office in England, may be trusted to do its best. We may reasonably hope that before many months are past every cause of misunderstanding will have been removed.

A second, and equally obvious measure, is to carry through an arbitration treaty.

Dissensions between nations cannot always be removed by arbitration, it is true ; but for all this, it is most expedient that England and the United States institute a method for determining disputes by reference to a court. The points of difference likely to arise are of the kind to which arbitration is applicable. Englishmen and Americans, moreover, are profoundly influenced by the spirit of legalism. They are better prepared than Frenchmen or Germans to acquiesce in the judgment of a properly constituted tribunal : this, indeed, is the main point on which the Anglo-Saxon race has reached a stage of civilization to which other nations have hardly attained. Add to all this that the very existence of an agreement to arbitrate fosters the conviction that an armed conflict between kindred people is in itself an enormity, which partakes of the horror and the moral criminality attaching to civil war.

But after all, thinkers who are firmly convinced that the prosperity not only of the whole English people, but also of the civilized world, depends on the maintenance of cordial friendship between the two great divisions of the Anglo-Saxon race, must feel on reflection that more is to be achieved by statesmanship than by direct treaties of any kind whatever. The object which ought to be pursued by the leading men of each country is to produce a permanent entente cordiale. If it were once understood that war between Great Britain and the United States had become a moral impossibility, the power for good of each country would be doubled. If it were seen that each nation habitually supported throughout the world the just claims of the other, few are the powers which would care to come into conflict with either state. If it were known that England would in no case abet or tolerate any coalition between the Continental powers for interference with the United States throughout the American continent ; if, in short, the Monroe Doctrine were extended and accepted by Englishmen and Americans alike as protecting from the interference of the great military states every part of the American continent and the islands belonging thereto, the Continental powers would never dream of any interference with countries protected by the two greatest maritime powers. If, lastly, it were certain that any coalition for the invasion of the United Kingdom would sooner or later arouse the active hostility of the United States, Englishmen and foreigners alike would feel that the difficulties, great as they already are, of striking a fatal blow at the prosperity of England, had become practically insuperable

Yet, be it added, there is no reason why thoughtful patriots, whether Frenchmen, Germans, or Russians, should look with jealousy on a moral alliance between the two branches of the English people. Its great merit is that it must in substance be a union for defense, not for defiance. Neither Englishmen nor Americans are tempted to support one another in a purely aggressive war. If they act together, they must in the long run act in favor of the maintenance of peace, and also in favor of that system of free trade which has tended to facilitate the expansion of the British Empire. In short, the power of America and of England for good would be indefinitely increased by maintaining a condition of mutual friendliness. The modes by which expression should be given to this good will must necessarily depend on the circumstances of the time. A formal alliance for purposes of defense cannot be hurried on. But it might well be the crowning result of a moral alliance.

It is unlikely that the present generation will ever witness the reunion of the whole English people, but it is impossible to forego the dream, or the hope, or, if we look to the distant future, the expectation that a growing sense of essential unity may ultimately give birth to some scheme of common citizenship.

A. V. Dicey .