8/29/11 - americans hate the british

In today's excerpt - in the 1890s, Americans still had an active hate for the British. The crushing hardship of the Depression of 1893, which lasted most of the decade, only added to that hate since the British were the leading bankers of the era and were thus assumed to be culprits of these economic difficulties. This provided the politicians of Washington, especially President Grover Cleveland, a convenient scapegoat—and since a president has more latitude on foreign affairs, it also provided a reason for wanting a confrontation with Britain—over a Venezuelan border dispute:

[Editor's note: the long-standing American ill-will toward Britain was part of what made America's entry into World War I on the British side a mere twenty years later surprising.]

"Personally, the President had never been a warmonger, a jingo, or an expansionist. Consistent with his belief in minimal government, he had long adhered to America's traditionally modest foreign policy. ... The President, however, was a desperate man. ... Cleveland's power in the [his own Democratic] party had become virtually nil. ... In the aftermath of the 1894 elections, [the midterm elections in which his party had suffered major losses], Cleveland was prepared to sacrifice the scruples of a lifetime and foment a war crisis with England. ...

"Cleveland took the first public step toward crisis with England on December 3, 1894, in his annual message to Congress. In the message the President pledged himself to resolve by diplomacy an ongoing dispute between Venezuela and Britain, a dispute over the boundary of British Guiana that had sputtered on and off for half a century. ...

"Cleveland's decision to intervene in the Venezuela dispute was a sharp reversal of policy. A year before Cleveland had felt no obligation to help settle Venezuela's quarrel with Britain. The United States had no stake whatever in the dispute, no treaty obligations to fulfill, no national interest to serve, no threatened honor to uphold. Moreover the Venezuelan government, a corrupt dictatorship, had ulterior motives of its own for stirring up the dispute, which was as tawdry as it was tangled. ...

"Since Cleveland had never been a warmonger, the press at first took little notice of his pledge to 'induce' a major power to do what it had adamantly refused to do. The lame-duck Democratic Congress, however, took the President's cue with alacrity. On January 10, 1895, a Georgia Democrat introduced into the House a joint resolution urging the President to secure arbitration of the Anglo-Venezuelan boundary dispute. By February 22 it had passed both houses of Congress unanimously, an encouraging response to the President's message. Trouble with Britain was the one species of international wrangling that was certain at any time to win the electorate's approval.

"By the end of 1894 Britain had become a target particularly well suited to Cleveland's purpose. ... Among rural voters, hatred of the British had grown singularly intense. To the nation's angry farmers, it was British gold, British capital, and British influence which seemed to block every effort at reform. Time and again they were warned that some agrarian reform or other would frighten British investors, compelling them to withdraw their capital from America and bringing our economy to a halt.

"That anger the Democrats had been exploiting for some time. 'Shall we bow the knee to England?' Democratic Senator Francis Cockrell of Missouri had declaimed. ... Other Democrats took up the cry. 'It is time we act for ourselves and not be consulting England,' asserted Representative William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, a rising young politician who made it one of his leading themes on the stump. 'War with England,' declared William 'Coin' Harvey, would be the most 'just war ever waged by man.' War with England, said Nevada's Republican Senator William Stewart ... would 'rid the country of the English bank rule.' Blaming British influence for the nation's economic ills, millions of rural voters were ready to regard war with England as an economic panacea in itself. This was the sentiment that Cleveland hoped to exploit. His diplomacy now proceeded steadily down the path toward war.

"[After rebukes, ultimatums, and counter-rebukes led America and Britain to the brink of war, Britain unexpectedly faced a new menace from Imperial Germany regarding South Africa. Because of this], Lord Salisbury was persuaded by his cabinet on January 11 to make himself agreeable to America and drop the dispute over Venezuela's boundary. A completely unpredictable occurrence had put an end to the crisis."


Walter Karp


The Politics of War


Franklin Square Press


Copyright 1979 by Walter Karp


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