America: Made in Britain by Tom Arms
The Special Relationship is one of those oft used and little understood sound bites of international affairs. Is there a special relationship? Did it ever exist? Who benefits most? Is it reciprocal? The problem is that the relationship between Britain and America is that it cannot be measured in dollars and cents (or pounds and pence), treaties, alliances or even bodies on a battlefield. It did not start with the Roosevelt-Churchill bromance and continue with NATO and the Cold War.
All of the above are not the special relationship. They are the fruits of a special relationship whose seeds were planted long before the Pilgrim fathers set forth on the Mayflower. Religion, law, philosophy, culture, music, sport, economics, politics—the building blocks of nationhood were laid in Britain going back to 1066 and beyond.
It is perhaps in the field of law that English history has had the greatest impact on the United States. Magna Carta is the recognised cornerstone for legal systems on both sides of the Atlantic. The principles of habeas corpus, trial by jury and innocence until proven guilty are enshrined in the Great Charter. English Common Law is the legal foundation for 49 of the 50 states (Louisiana pays legal homage to its French roots).
When people refer to the Bill of Rights they generally mean the ten first amendments to the US constitution. That was the second Bill of Rights. The first was written in 1689 in England to establish once and for all the constitutional supremacy of parliament over the monarch. Parliamentary sovereignty and the relationship.
Between the legislative and executive branches are at the heart of America’s revered system of checks and balances.
The oft-cited first amendment on free speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly also has its origins in England. The principles and values of a fee press were laid down by the poet John Milton at the height of the English Civil Wars. They were later reiterated by John Locke and fought for by English parliamentarians such as John Wilkes. The first American newspapers were modelled on their English equivalents and printed on presses imported from the Mother Country. Freedom of religion was not so much borrowed from the English as a reaction against its absence in England, where the Church of England was established in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church and quickly became as obstinate and politically powerful as its predecessor.
Fourteen percent of the American population are African-Americans, and most of them can trace their ancestry back to the slaves uprooted from their African homes and transported across the Atlantic to the New World in English ships. The highly profitable business of human flesh helped finance Britain’s industrial revolution. Slavery also provided cheap labour for the agrarian economy of the American South as well as leading to the American Civil War, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and the civil rights movement.
British involvement in the US did not end at Yorktown. The Louisiana Purchase was the consequence of Napoleon’s need to finance a war with Britain. Nineteenth century Britain provided the markets for American agricultural products. British banks provided the capital that built canals and railways. The British steam engine powered an American industrial revolution while Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations provided the philosophical manual.
The links are as much cultural as economic, legal, and political. American actors owe a huge debt to Britain’s rich theatrical tradition. The absence of copyright laws meant that British authors dominated the American literary scene until the beginning of the twentieth century and a common language ensures that British authors have remained a major force in the US market. Baseball—“America’s favourite pastime”—is a variation of rounders with a bit of cricket. An estimated 29 million American golfers play their game according to rules compiled by a club on the windswept Scottish east coast. The home of tennis is in a London suburb and American football started as a combination of British rugby and soccer.
The inescapable fact is that the relationship between Britain and America. It is indissoluble because America, quite simply, was made in Britain.
Tom Arms's book America: Made in Britain is available for purchase now.