It didn’t start off too well. Two wars and a number of near misses in the first hundred years of the Republics formation spoke of a kinship more antagonistic than amicable. But following the Civil War, there was an almost imperceptible change in the way both Britain and the USA viewed their relationship. Overcoming a good deal of residual resentment and distrust, both nations eventually came to realise that more united than divided them.
Poster art. The Anglo American “Special Relationship” Part 1 1865 – 1939
In 1862 Britain and America came as close to war as they ever would. The Government of Lord Palmerston toyed with the idea of recognising a fledgeling Confederacy. That war wasn’t declared was in a large part down to pressure from British industrialists and manufacturers who depended heavily on the USA for a large proportion of their raw materials and exports.
By 1880 the USA had developed into one of the most economically powerful nations on earth. Victorian Britain positively fell over itself to fashion beneficial political and economic ties with her. Commercial posters celebrated this burgeoning economic alliance. It was these interdependent economic and commercial interests that overcame the many political spats that tarnished Anglo American relationships during the later part of the 19th century
Anglo American Colonialism
The new century brought with it an explosion of confidence in America. As a nation, the USA now saw itself as the western equivalent of the British Empire. She was an equal partner in an “English speaking alliance” both felt sure furthered the whole of mankind. Song sheet and poster art of the period uncritically reflected this new self-assurance on both sides of the Atlantic.
Poster propaganda published by both nations openly celebrated this aggressive “colonial” style of politics. Yet Incredibly it wasn’t until the Boxer rebellion in 1900 that British and American troops actually fought alongside each other. “Expansionism” was promoted both in the USA and Britain as a “Union in the interests of humanity”. This was to be a persistent motif in both popular art and diplomacy until the outbreak of World War I.
Critics of the Anglo American worldview
Such “Expansionist ” propaganda did not convince everyone. One of the earliest historians of American Empire, William Appleman Williams, wrote, “The routine lust for land, markets or security became justifications for noble rhetoric about prosperity, liberty and security”
Others argued that American Expansionism and British Imperialism were not two distinct and isolated processes, but interdependent. One feeding the other. Britain’s global position of power was at its zenith during the Victorian era. USA Expansionism both at home and abroad merely aped this Imperialism
Astonishingly the first formal alliance, between the US and Great Britain, only lasted from mid-1917 to the end of 1918. By studying poster Art, however, we can observe that in the public imagination at least, the “Special Relationship” was a robust one long before such diplomatic formalities.