United Kingdom–United States relations

United Kingdom–United States relations

Anglo-American relations are used to describe the relations of the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Country comparison



The British established a dozen colonies in the New World. The Thirteen Colonies had limited self government. Prefaced by the French and Indian War, tensions escalated from 1765 to 1775 over issues of taxation and control, leading to the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence of 1776 was an internally controversial decisive break. British military efforts to defeat the Americans, French and Spanish failed, and independence was recognized in 1783. When Great Britain and France went to war again in 1793, relations verged on war. The two countries signed the Jay Treaty in 1794 which established a decade of peace and prosperous trade relations. That broke down in 1805. [Perkins (1955)]

War of 1812

After 1805 relations were on the verge of war, with the United States imposing trade embargoes such as the Embargo Act of 1807, and the Royal Navy boarding American ships to impress (force into service) British-born sailors. The War of 1812 was initiated by the United States under President James Madison as a means to protect American trading rights and freedom of the seas for neutral countries. Other motivations included anger at alleged British military support for American Indians defending their tribal lands from encroaching American settlers; and a desire for territorial expansion of the Republic. The initial American winter action, an attack on the British colony of Canada, including the burning of York, was repulsed, and in 1814 the British raided Washington and in retribution burned the "Presidential Mansion", which later became famously known for its singe-mark cover all paint job as the White House. After the United States gained naval control of the Great Lakes, which prevented British attack from Canada, negotiations led to the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war by restoring the "status quo ante bellum".

Disputes 1815-1860

The international slave trade was gradually suppressed after the United Kingdom passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, and the United States passed a similar law in 1808. All slaves in the British Empire were emancipated in 1833, with compensation to the slave owners. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823, a unilateral response to a British suggestion of a joint declaration, expressed American hostility to further European encroachment in the Western hemisphere, but enjoyed British approval and was made effective by the Royal Navy.

After the Panic of 1837 numerous U.S. States defaulted on their bonds owned by British investors. During the Caroline Affair in 1837, Canadian rebels fled to New York and used a small American ship the "Caroline" to smuggle supplies into Canada after a failed rebellion there. In late 1837 Canadian militia burned the ship leading to diplomatic protests, popular Anglophobia and additional incidents. Additional conflicts on the Maine-New Brunswick border involved rival teams of lumberjacks in the "Aroostook War." The Webster-Ashburton treaty of 1842 resolved these issues and finalized the New Brunswick/Maine border. [Allen (1954)]

American Civil War

In the American Civil War, the Confederate States of America assumed that the British would prove sympathetic despite their opposition to slavery. Though their first attempt to provoke British intervention by using an embargo of cotton exports was a failure, the Trent Affair, when a U.S. ship stopped a British civilian vessel and took off two Confederate diplomats, almost provoked a third war between the United States and the United Kingdom but Abraham Lincoln was against fighting on two fronts and U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward was able to smooth matters over. Despite intense American protests, the British allowed the CSS Alabama to leave port as a commerce raider. After the war, the United Kingdom abided by the arbitration of an international tribunal and paid compensation to the United States for the activities of the Alabama as part of the Treaty of Washington. [Adams (1925)]

Venezuelan and Canadian border disputes

In 1895, President Cleveland intervened in a dispute over the border between British Guiana and Venezuela by demanding arbitration, which was agreed to and resolved by arbitration in Britain's favour. Disputes over the Alaska-Canada border were resolved by arbitration in 1903, as the British judge sided with the Americans against the Canadians. The Canadians were outraged to be sacrificed for the benefit of U.S.-U.K. harmony. [Campbell, "Anglo-American Understanding 1898-1903" (1957), p. 340.]

World War I

After the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States acquired overseas territories and had begun to build a fleet to go with it. At the beginning of World War I, both the United Kingdom and Germany engaged in propaganda campaigns designed to win over the United States. The British were able to guarantee a price for American cotton producers, who were the most affected by the loss of trade with Germany and Central Europe. The Anglophile President Wilson then opted to allow the munitions trade to continue, despite disputes over freedom of the seas because of the U.K. blockade of Germany and complaints of a 'navalism' like German 'militarism'. This policy meant that the United States would supply only the Entente powers. However, at the start of the war, the unrestricted activities of German agents against British interests, as well as the U.S. Government's refusal to check the Indian sedetionist movement was a major concern for the U.K. Government that triggered an intense neutrality dispute through 1916. The U.K. Far-Eastern fleet's activities, especially the SS "China" and SS "Henry S" incidents drew strong responses from the U.S. government, prompting the U.S. Atlantic fleet to dispatch Destroyers to the Pacific to protect the sovereignty of American vessels. However, this dispute did not calm down before November 1916. [Harvnb|Dignan|1971|p=] As evidence of German complicity in public incidents (including the Black Tom explosion) and conspiracies in and against the United States (such as the Zimmerman Telegram) became more obvious, American public opinion was strongly influenced. When Germany responded in 1916 with a submarine blockade of the United Kingdom, the sinking of the "RMS Lusitania" by a German U-boat led to a protest by the United States and a strong swing in public opinion against Germany.Germany returned to unrestricted submarine warfare in January 1917 in the belief that the United Kingdom would be decisively weakened before the United States could mobilize, but the United States declared war on Germany. The United States joined the Allies, and sent hundreds of thousands of troops (though initially slowly) to the Western front and were instrumental in hastening the end of the war.

Though Wilson had wanted to wage war for cause of humanity the negotiations over the Treaty of Versailles made plain that his diplomatic position had weakened with victory. The borders of Europe were redrawn on the basis of national self-determination, with the exception of Germany. Financial reparations were imposed on Germany, despite British reservations and American protests, largely because of the French desire for a punitive peace. [Allen (1954)]

Inter-war years

The Great War was the end of the Royal Navy's superiority, an eclipse acknowledged in the Washington Naval Treaty, when the United States and the United Kingdom were allocated equal tonnage quotas. U.S. policies on immigration and trade fostered a Pacific rivalry with Japan rather than an Atlantic rivalry. During the Great Depression, the United States was preoccupied with its own economic recovery and, espousing an isolationist policy, was only sporadically active in foreign affairs. After the Americans imposed a high Smoot-Hawley tariff in 1930, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Empire built up imperial trade preferences, thereby diverting trade internally and away from the United States. The United Kingdom engaged in appeasement of Nazi Germany whilst pursuing limited rearmament. The Abdication Crisis, while absorbing popular interest in both countries, did not become a foreign relations issue, with Mrs. Simpson seen as being rejected as unsuitable for religious reasons rather than as an American. Tensions over the Irish question declined with the independence of Éire, and with the successful ambassadorship of Joseph P. Kennedy in the late 1930s. [Allen (1954); Hollowell; "Twentieth-Century Anglo-American Relations" (2001)]

World War II

Though the American public was strongly sympathetic to the United Kingdom and France, there was also popular demand there for neutrality. Roosevelt's cash-and-carry policy allowed the United Kingdom and France to order munitions from the United States. Churchill, whose mother was American, had become prime minister after the Allies' failure to prevent the German invasion of Norway, and after the fall of France, Roosevelt gave the United Kingdom and later the Soviet Union all aid short of war, including the 1940 Destroyers for Bases Agreement and Lend-lease. Before Pearl Harbor and the German declaration of war, two US Navy destroyers had already been torpedoed on convoy duties in the North Atlantic. The United States then became heavily involved in the war in Europe. It was during this period of extremely close co-operation that the special relationship was created. [Charmley. "Churchill's Grand Alliance: The Anglo-American Special Relationship 1940-57" (1996); Hollowell; "Twentieth-Century Anglo-American Relations" (2001)] The large numbers of American servicemen based in Britain led to some friction and to this relationship being explored in art and film (most particularly "A Matter of Life and Death" and "A Canterbury Tale"). The United States put heavy pressure on the United Kingdom to dissolve its Empire, and this dissolution took place (due to post-war economic exhaustion, British public opinion and other factors, rather than U.S. pressure) in the 1947-1960 period.

Cold War

At the end of World War II, the United States and the United Kingdom became two of the founding members of the United Nations, as well as two of the five permanent members of the Security Council. They were suspicious of the motives of their former ally, the Soviet Union, under Joseph Stalin. Rising tensions between the capitalist and communist powers led to the Cold War and an era of close cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom which included the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a mutual-defense alliance. As the British Empire dissolved throughout the world, the United States became one of two world superpowers along with the Soviet Union, while the United Kingdom became the most important partner with the United States on the Western side of the Cold War. Through the 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement the United States assists the United Kingdom in nuclear weapon development.

Forces from both countries were involved in the Korean War, fighting under United Nations command. The United States had become the leading Western power and pursued a mixed anti-colonial anti-communist policy, resulting in the demand that the United Kingdom and France end their invasion of Egypt in 1956 during the Suez Crisis. As the Americans concentrated on their technological rivalry with the Soviets and waged an unpopular proxy war in Vietnam, Anti-Americanism became a factor in Europe, which partially reached the United Kingdom due to Suez and Vietnam. However, Harold Wilson refused to send U.K. troops to Vietnam. Protests against the introduction of medium-range weapons which might allow a nuclear war to be confined to Europe became a feature of British politics in the eighties, but the U.K. government supported Washington and the missiles were sent. [Hollowell, "Twentieth-Century Anglo-American Relations" (2001)]

In the 1982 Falklands War, Washington initially tried to mediate between the United Kingdom and Argentina, but ultimately supported the United Kingdom's counter-invasion. The U.S. Defense Department under Casper Weinberger supplied the U.K. military with equipment. [Simon Jenkins, "American Involvement In The Falklands" "The Economist," 3rd March 1984]

In October 1983 the United States and a coalition of Caribbean nations undertook Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of the Commonwealth island nation of Grenada. Grenada had seen a bloody Marxist coup and neighboring countries asked the United States to intervene militarily, which it did despite earlier having made assurances to the contrary to the British government.

Throughout the 1980s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was strongly supportive of President Ronald Reagan's stance towards the Soviet Union. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, both the Americans and the British provided arms to the anti-Soviet Mujahadeen rebels in Afghanistan. Both Reagan and Thatcher met with S.U. President Mikhail Gorbachev on separate occasions.

Post Cold War

In 1991 the United States and the United Kingdom provided the largest forces for the coalition army which liberated Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War.

In 1997 the British Labour party were elected to office for the first time in eighteen years. The new prime minister Blair and U.S. president Bill Clinton both used the expression 'Third Way' to describe their centre-left ideologies.

Forces from both countries were again used to impose a peace during the Kosovo War. [Hollowell, "Twentieth-Century Anglo-American Relations" (2001)]

War on Terror

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, in which a number of U.K. citizens were also killed, there was an enormous outpouring of sympathy from the United Kingdom for the United States, and Blair became U.S. President George W. Bush's strongest international supporter. The United States declared a War on Terror following the attacks. British forces participated in the 2001 war in Afghanistan and unlike France, Germany, China and Russia, the United Kingdom, as well as Commonwealth nations such as Canada and Australia, supported the United States in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After the United States, the United Kingdom contributed the most troops to the coalition that entered Iraq. [Shawcross (2004)]

The 7 July 2005 London bombings emphasised the difference in the nature of the terrorist threat to both nations. The United States concentrated primarily on external enemies, like the al-Qaeda network and other Islamic extremists from the Middle East. The London bombings were carried out by homegrown extremist Muslims, and it emphasised the United Kingdom's threat from the radicalization of its own people. By 2007, U.K. support for the Iraq war had radically declined. [cite web |url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2004/11/13/ftyank12.xml |title=Sometimes, I pretend I am Canadian |accessdate=2007-07-13 |format=HTML |work=Helen Kirwan-Taylor]

The U.K. International Development Secretary has recently proposed a change in the current relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. He accentuated on the need for "new alliances, based on common values". He was verbal against "unilateralism" and called for an "international" and a "multilaterist" approach to global problems. Correspondents who were present while the speech was delivered reckoned it to be a "coded criticism" of the policies of President Bush. Incidentally, the speech came as the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress voted in favor of pulling most of the combat troops out of Iraq. [cite web |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/6896797.stm |title=UK hints at foreign policy shift |accessdate=2007-07-13 |format=HTML |work=BBC News ]

Present status

Present U.K. policy is that the relationship with the United States represents the United Kingdom's "most important bilateral relationship". [ [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/f845cfdc-3bd8-11dc-8002-0000779fd2ac.html FT.com / Home UK / UK - Ties that bind: Bush, Brown and a different relationship ] ]


The United States and the United Kingdom share the world's largest foreign direct investment partnership. American investment in the United Kingdom reached $255.4 billion in 2002, while British direct investment in the United States totaled $283.3 billion. [US Department of State, Background Note on the United Kingdom]



Because the 13 states that founded the United States began as colonies of Great Britain, the two nations retain significant shared threads of cultural heritage, many of which are common to all Anglosphere countries.


English is the de-facto language of both nations, and as such the United States and the United Kingdom share not only the language itself (albeit with some differences), but the entire heritage of English literature, philosophy, poetry, and theatre. Both peoples are historically Christian, although increasingly secular and diverse in the modern era. Both legal systems are based on the common law.


There is much crossover appeal in the modern entertainment culture of the United States and the United Kingdom. For example, Hollywood movies are popular in the United Kingdom, whilst the James Bond and Harry Potter series of films have attracted continued interest from the United States. Production of films has often been shared between the two countriesndash whether it be a concentrated use of British and American actors or use of film studios from both nations.


American singers such as Madonna and Britney Spears are popular in the United Kingdom, and British groups such as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Spice Girls, The Who, the Rolling Stones and recently Coldplay, are popular in the United States. More recently, British acts such as Natasha Bedingfield, KT Tunstall and Leona Lewis have experienced widespread success in the States. Undoubtedly, the popular music of both nations has had a strong influence on each other. Whilst Blues music (originating in the United States) had a clear influence on early rock and roll music in the United Kingdom (for example, the early music of Fleetwood Mac), the innovative music of The Beatles evidently changed the landscape of popular music of both countries.

The Celtic music of the United Kingdom has also had a dynamic effect upon American music. In particular, the traditional music of the Southern United States is descended from traditional Celtic music and English folk music of the colonial period, and the musical traditions of the South eventually gave rise to country music and, to a lesser extent, folk.


Much popular literature also crosses over between the oceans, as evidenced by, for example, the appeal of British authors J. R. R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling in the United States and American authors such as Stephen King and Michael Crichton in the United Kingdom.


Both countries' TV shows are similar, as many American and British television series are either carried by the other nations' networks, or are re-created for distribution in their own nations. Examples of popular British television shows that were re-created for the American market are "The Office", "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", "Whose Line is it Anyway?", "Pop Idol" ("American Idol"), "Queer as Folk", and "Til Death Us Do Part," known in the United States as "All in the Family." Some examples of American shows re-created in the United Kingdom are "The Apprentice" and "The Price Is Right". Popular American shows that are also popular in the United Kingdom include: "The Simpsons", "Friends", "The West Wing", "Will & Grace", "Scrubs", "Family Guy" and the "CSI:" series. Many British actors appear on American television and vice-versa, for example:
* Lost - Henry Ian Cusick, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dominic Monaghan, Marsha Thomason, Sonya Walger
* Boston Legal - Tara Summers, Saffron Burrows
* ER - Parminder Nagra, Alex Kingston
* Prison Break - Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller
* 24 - Sandrine Holt
* Desperate Housewives - Nicollette Sheridan, Dougray Scott
* CSI Franchise - Louise Lombard (), Claire Forlani (), Sonya Walger ()
* Law and Order - Linus Roache
* The Wire - Dominic West, Idris Elba.
* - Lena Headey
* Other - Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Without a Trace), David McCallum (NCIS), Santiago Cabrera (Heroes), Ashley Jensen (Ugly Betty), Hugh Laurie (House), John Oliver (The Daily Show), Damian Lewis (Life), Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies), Sophia Myles (Moonlight), Michelle Ryan (Bionic Woman), Zuleikha Robinson (New Amsterdam)

The BBC airs two television networks in the US, BBC America and BBC World. Also, the BBC and PBS share many collaborations and rebroadcasts: eg: Monty Python's Flying Circus, Doctor Who, Nova and Masterpiece Theatre, etc. The BBC also frequently collabarates with US network HBO, examples include Rome, Band of Brothers and The Gathering Storm.

On some British digital television platforms, it is also possible to watch American channels direct from the United States such as Fox News, as well as American Channels setup for a British audience, such as CNBC Europe, CNN, NASN, ESPN Classic (UK), Paramount Comedy and FX (UK). The Super Bowl has been aired in the United Kingdom since 1983, and was aired on free television on Five in 2003. London was also the venue for the first competitive NFL game ever to be played outside North America in October 2007.


British Sunday broadsheet newspaper the "The Observer" includes a condensed copy of "The New York Times". [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/pressoffice/pressrelease/story/0,,2013032,00.html THE OBSERVER TO FEATURE NEW YORK TIMES WEEKLY SUPPLEMENT | Press office | guardian.co.uk ] ]


* Ephraim Douglass Adams; "Great Britain and the American Civil War" 2 vol 1925
* H. C. Allen; "Great Britain and the United States: A History of Anglo-American Relations, 1783-1952" (1954)
* Burt, Alfred L. "The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812". [http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=750041 (1940), detailed history by Canadian scholar; online]
* Charles S. Campbell, "Anglo-American Understanding 1898-1903" (1957)
* John Charmley. "Churchill's Grand Alliance: The Anglo-American Special Relationship 1940-57" (1996)
* Martin Crawford. "The Anglo-American Crisis of the Mid-Nineteenth Century: The Times and America, 1850-1862" (1987)
* Alan P Dobson. "Anglo-American Relations in the Twentieth Century" (1995)
* John Dumbrell. "A special relationship: Anglo-American relations form the cold war to Iraq" (2006)
* Jonathan Hollowell; "Twentieth-Century Anglo-American Relations" (2001)
* Christopher Hitchens. "Blood, Class and Empire: The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship" (2004)
* Roger Louis; "Imperialism at Bay: The United States and the Decolonization of the British Empire, 1941-1945" (1978)* William Roger Louis and Hedley Bull. "The "Special Relationship": Anglo-American Relations since 1945" (1987)
* Bradford Perkins; "The First Rapprochement: England and the United States, 1795-1805" (1955)
* Edwin J Perkins. "Financing Anglo-American trade: The House of Brown, 1800-1880" (1975)
* Shawcross, William. "Allies: The U.S., Britain, Europe and the War in Iraq" (2004)
* Woods, Randall Bennett. "Changing of the Guard: Anglo-American Relations, 1941-1946" (1990)



*Harvard reference
Surname1 = Dignan
Given1 = Don
title=The Hindu Conspiracy in Anglo-American Relations during World War I.The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 40, No. 1. (Feb., 1971), pp. 57-76.
publisher=University of California Press
id=ISSN 0030-8684

ee also

* Anglosphere
* Foreign relations of the United Kingdom
* Foreign relations of the United States
* Special relationship
* Transatlantic relations
* United States-Australia Relations
* Canada – United States relations
* Atlanticism
* American-British

External links

* [http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/british/ John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four centuries of British American relations (Library of Congress)]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4794164.stm An analysis of the Special Relationship from a British perspective. From the Second World War to the latest global problems facing the United States.]
* November 2003, University of Dundee, [http://www.dundee.ac.uk/iteas/lectures/2nd_ITEAS_lecture.doc Lecture: Anti-Americanism and American Exceptionalism]
* , by Goldwin Smith ("The North American review," Volume 150, Issue 402, May 1890.)

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