Guest essays

The Prehistory of ‘The Special Relationship’ – An American on Britain and its subjugation of the world (1864)


Pat Walsh

Introductory Note

This essay was first published in the July 2011 edition of the political journal, Irish Foreign Affairs, a quarterly review published by the Irish Political Review Group in Dublin. Pat Walsh is also the author of the book The Rise and Fall of Imperial Ireland – Redmondism in the context of Britain’s conquest of South Africa and its Great War on Germany and Ireland’s Great War on Turkey 1914 – 1924 both published by Athol Books, Belfast. It is republished here with the permission of Pat Walsh as it is an exploration of the theme behind the name of this blog – the Great Divergence.


After the United States had survived its civil war the Reverend Charles Brandon Boynton gave a Thanksgiving Sermon to the House of Representatives in which he pointed out that the enemy without was more dangerous than the enemy within:

“We should be thankful to God because He baffled the plot which was formed against us in Europe. With the evidence now before us, no candid man can doubt that the conspiracy against our Republic led to Europe, and that the foreign branch, then was more formidable than that on our own soil. The plot was prepared with as much care in France and England as in the Southern States. The European part of it was ready quite as soon as their accomplices here. When the moment arrived, France and England, by proclamation, and according to previous agreement, lifted the traitors to the position of lawful belligerents… England was on hand to aid in crippling a commercial and manufacturing rival, and gratify her jealousy of the United States, and get ready her Alabamas, and swift steamers to run the blockade. Nothing saved us at the outset from more active interference, but the perfect confidence of France and England that our ruin was sure through what had been done already. They watched and waited for our destruction in vain; but they thought it certain. They were ready to strike, but thought the blow not needed.” (National Thanksgiving Services held on December 7, 1865, in the House of Representatives of the United States of America by Reverend Charles Brandon Boynton, Chaplain of the House pp.10-11)

These were the days before the ‘Special Relationship’ when war between America and Britain was still a living memory (England had burned Washington in 1813) and perhaps a distinct possibility of the future.

Charles Brandon Boynton

Charles Boynton was not just Chaplain to the House of Representatives; he was also author of English and French Neutrality and the Anglo-French Alliance in their relation to the United States and Russia (1864). This book was republished as The Four Great Powers: England, France, Russia and America (1866).

These two publications lay out a very interesting view of Britain from a time prior to the ‘Special Relationship.’ It is a view that is of interest not just in its description of the nature of the British State in the 1860s. It is also relevant to the time half a century on when Britain decided on war – but not against those whom Boynton imagined might be her enemies.

Boynton could not imagine that Germany might emerge as England’s perceived rival a half a century later because at that time Germany was the “land of poets and dreamers” and was not even a state. But in the description of England and what it was about in the world he gave a very good account of how it might perceive Germany and what it might attempt to do to her and why, in the future.

In the 1860s Boynton described why Britain had attempted to deal with two emerging rivals in the world – Russia and America. But there is nothing to suggest that the nature of the British State changed in any way that made it less likely that it should do the same thing again a few decades later. And there is much in Boynton’s account to explain why, if anything, the British State became increasingly likely to attempt to destroy a perceived commercial competitor as the reality dawned on it in relation to America and Russia.

Charles Boynton was not alone in America in the belief that Britain was engaged in everything short of formal alliance with the Southern rebels to break-up the United States. In English and French Neutrality and the Anglo-French Alliance in their relation to the United States and Russia Boynton argued that British ‘neutrality’ was not ‘neutrality’ at all since it gave equal recognition to the Southern rebels and to the legitimate government of the United States. Boynton saw this policy as designed by England to be “a war in disguise, war without risk” aimed at opportunistically destroying US commerce and development. By a formal Proclamation of the Crown the Southern insurgents were given legitimacy and a national standing in recognising their Navy – which hardly existed in 1861. By this move England, according to Boynton, wanted to establish the South as a new entity on the American continent and free herself of a potential rival in the form of the United States.

The Royal Proclamation opened a great market for Britain for munitions in the US.  England helped build a Navy for the South, arming and manning Confederate ships in British ports in order to reduce US commerce and transfer it to the British flag. When the South seceded in 1861 it possessed only 10% of the industrial base of the United States but Britain helped it to sustain its war for four years through the use of its naval shipyards, factories and mills and its help in running the Union blockade.

Boynton recognised that by the mid-nineteenth century war had become a question of capital and machinery as much as military forces and it had been England’s objective to prevent these being developed by potential rivals to prevent those becoming first-class powers. Armies and navies were being used by Britain to extend these interests as sources of wealth and power. Britain wanted to see the United States divided and dissolved so as to destroy an industrial rival and be left with the agricultural South to deal with instead – which would be virtually an agricultural colony of Britain supplying her looms with material and being a market for her textiles.

The English Navigation Acts of 1651, 1660, 1663, 1696 and 1712 were a series of laws that restricted the use of foreign shipping for trade between Great Britain and its colonies. The objective of these laws was to force colonial development into lines favourable to the interests of England and stop any direct trade from the colonies with the Dutch, French or any other European countries.

Boynton argued that the Navigation Acts destroyed Dutch competition and repressed American development by retarding the use of its natural resources by the colonists – excepting those which the British interest demanded. The Navigation Acts required all of the colonies imports to be either bought from England or resold by English merchants in England no matter what price could be obtained elsewhere. In this way the American colonies were prevented from developing indigenous manufacturing and were supplied by English mills and ships, being unable to build ships of their own and with all their trade in British hands.

Boynton described Britain in the 18th Century as the “slaveholder of the world” – treating the globe as a resource to enrich and empower the British ruling class. This made the British aristocracy akin to the Southern slave-owners writ large:

“It was the serf or slaveholding principle applied to nations so far as was possible, and England grew haughty with the increase of her power, nursed her ambition and her pride until she thought to become the great slaveholder of the nations; she aimed to hold in subjection the territory, the resources, the labor of the world.

When her colonists were spirited and intelligent, like those of America, she hedged them round, and fettered them with oppressive enactments; and where they were weak and ignorant, she reduced them, as in India, very nearly to the condition of serfs upon the soil, laboring to supply cargoes for her ships, and material for her mills.

So far as lay in her power, she made of the earth one vast plantation, owned in England, and worked for the benefit of British capital. It is not surprising that with such a spirit and aims, the English aristocracy should sympathize with our slaveholding rebels.” (pp.53-4)

Boynton argued that the true nature of Britain, the one hidden behind the liberal façade that it began presenting to Americans, was revealed in its conquest and subjugation of India and the treatment it meted out to its native population:

“In no other quarter of the globe has Great Britain had an opportunity of exhibiting her real character on a large scale as she has done in India. In dealing with her American colonies, she was restrained by intelligence and power, on the part of those whom she attempted to tread down; but the feeble Hindoo could offer no effectual resistance, and on that vast field where there was no let nor hindrance, we have a right to infer that the real national spirit of England was revealed.

There, she had none to judge and none to restrain; she was not forced to any act which her judgment or her heart rejected, and she was not compelled to refrain from anything which she desired to do, and if any one asks what is the real temper and conduct of England in dealing with others, it is a perfectly legitimate answer to point him to her course in India, from the landing of Clive in 1751, down to the close of the Sepoy mutiny.” (pp.65-6)

The brutal English treatment of the Indian led Boynton to suggest that the American should always maintain the following position with regard to Britain: “In dealing with England, our ironclads and Parrott rifles, and fifteen-inch guns, will be found more convincing arguments than the most good natured and eloquent words.” (p.87)

England’s Strategy of Domination

Boynton argued that there were three major elements to England’s policy in the world:

  1. To manufacture everything for the rest of the world.
  2. To capture and confine all commerce to her ships.
  3. To make herself the banker and capitalist to the world.

These were the objectives by which Britain sought to dominate and subjugate the world to its interests:

“The one central idea of this policy is, to make Great Britain the manufacturing, the commercial, the money centre of the world. For this purpose she has seized upon every available spot of earth and made it tributary to herself, taking the Lion’s share of all that could be produced, stripping her American colonies by oppressive enactments, and leaving the people of India just enough to enable them to continue their toil for her.

… she struggled hard to render manufactures, commerce, and a navy, impossible in America, for the same reasons that she would gladly destroy them now; and she ruined the domestic manufactures of India, in order to compel the Hindoos to raise the raw material for her own mills, and then to purchase from her the manufactured articles, the Indian consumer paying thus not only the profit of manufacture to England, but the freight to her ships for carrying it twice across the ocean.

The position of England… was the natural result of the policy which she had been pursuing for more than a hundred years, to compel the nations to be tributary to her capital, skill, machinery, and ships, to make them virtually mere colonial appendages of her own central power.

Her aim was, to control, and bring to her own mills, as far as possible, the raw material of the world, and having manufactured it, resell it in all markets, levying upon the people the tribute of her profits, and the freight of her ships.

To the full extent of her ability she prevented every other nation from manufacturing for itself, or building up a commerce or a navy of its own. While her own manufactures were in their infancy, she excluded every rival from the markets that she could control, as she did from the American colonies; but so soon as her accumulated capital, her skill and experience, and her perfected machinery, gave her the necessary superiority, then she proclaimed the doctrine of free trade to all the nations, knowing well that if she could thus gain access to the markets of the world, her capital and skill would thus enable her to crush the growth of manufactures elsewhere.” (pp.65-7)

As Boynton noted, England was a restrictor of trade up until the 1840s, using its Navigation Acts and other policies to exclude potential competitors from its markets. However, the repeal of the Corn Laws proclaimed a general doctrine of free trade in order that the world could supply the growing English proletariat with cheap food. And from that moment the Royal Navy began to act more in the role of policeman than war-machine (signified in the Declaration of Paris that gave up some aggressive rights to disable any that might think to acquire them and interfere with England’s food supply).

This was just one of the great voltes face the British State conducted in the last couple of centuries. One of the most significant was its change from being the greatest operator of the global slave trade, which the Royal Navy operated and which led to a vast accumulation of wealth in Britain. From the 1830s the British State declared itself the champion of anti-slavery when the trade had outlived its usefulness for England.

Despite the championing of anti-slavery the Southern Independence Association, which supported the Confederate slave-owners, established branches across Britain, all dedicated to the cause of the Confederacy and the break-up of the United States. Their members included prominent members of the British aristocracy, driven partly by a desire to secure a continued supply of cotton and partly by a fear that the United States was becoming a rival to Britain. Efforts to push a Bill through Parliament to officially intervene on the side of the Confederates stalled over the question of slavery, since England had become a champion of anti-slavery, but this did not stop supporters from raising vast amounts of cash through the sale of the Confederate Cotton Bond. In London, Bristol and Liverpool it was a huge success from the very beginning and the list of people who subscribed to it was enormous. In the first year of the Cotton Bond being quoted on the London Stock Exchange, it raised over 3 million pounds (the equivalent of 140 million pounds today). Among the subscribers to the Bond that was used to buy munitions and ships were two future Prime Ministers.

The Problem of Russia (and America)

Boynton put the Crimean War down to England’s attempt to cut an emerging Russia down to size by making an alliance with her long-standing enemy France. He also noticed that there had been a change in the character of the British Empire from a mainly military one backed by commerce to a commercial one backed by military force:

“Her supremacy had become a commercial rather than a military one, notwithstanding the immense strength of her navy, and it was necessary for her if she would rule the world, to retain her markets, to prevent, if possible, the growth of commercial rivals, and to secure the colonial possessions which she had wrested from others. As she surveyed the world, an eastern and a western vision troubled her.

Hitherto Russia had been regarded as a mere military, barbarian Colossus, whose joints were not well compacted, composed of heterogeneous materials, that could not be united in one true, organic, political structure, with a common life, which would insure a regular and healthy growth.

But Russia, under Nicholas, began to give signs that she was more than a mere barbarian camp, more than a nation of serfs and wandering Tartars. She gave evidence of a true national life, of enlargement, which was growth from a national life centre. Under many disadvantages the Russian Emperor was striving to give his country the means of independent self-development, and was laboring to establish manufactures and internal commerce, and to make profitable use of the great resources of his empire. He was establishing schools for his people, literary, and agricultural, as well as military, opening roads, projecting railways and canals, and putting steamboats upon his numerous rivers.

He was improving his navy and his mercantile marine, and in all his operations he seemed to prefer American mechanics, and American machinery, a fact which, of course, did not escape the watchful eye of England.

He had constructed a large fleet upon the Black Sea, and its fortified rendezvous, Sebastopol, was only a few hours sail from Constantinople; Turkey, unless defended by other powers, was apparently within reach of the Czar, and once in possession of Constantinople, Russia would have the means not only of becoming a great military power, but she would certainly be a first class manufacturing and commercial nation.

Russia, moreover, had already extended the outposts of dominion far on eastward, from the Black Sea along the Caucasus, and the northern frontier of Persia, and England saw, that if Turkey were overgrown, even the peaceful march of Russia eastward, would bring her at no distant date to the borders of her Indian possessions. The English Press at this time was complaining, as if it were ill-treatment of Great Britain and Europe, that Russia was planting vineyards in the Crimea with the intention of making her own wine, and that she was multiplying her flocks of sheep for the purpose of manufacturing her own woollens, and that in general, she was disposed to cherish and protect her own workmen, and develop her own resources, instead of following those free-trade doctrines, which England was then proclaiming to the world.

It was apparent that by this course, Russia in time would not only manufacture to supply the wants of her own people, and to this extent curtail the foreign markets for English goods, but with her boundless mineral wealth, her great facilities for internal trade by her navigable rivers, with the control of the Black Sea, with Constantinople, and access to the Mediterranean, she might become in all respects a very formidable rival of both England and France…

Her crime was, in the opinion of France and England, that she was growing too fast. As Englishmen have lately expressed themselves in regard to our own nation, Russia was growing so strong that measures had to be taken to cripple her, ‘to take her down.’ She had done no wrong at that time to provoke or justify an attack, but she was too prosperous to suit the interest of England, and hence the Alliance and the Crimean war.” (pp.88-90)

Confronted in the East by a power that needed taking down, Britain was simultaneously confronted in the West by another potential rival:

“At the same time, England saw in the West a rising Empire, whose marvellous growth gave her more anxiety than even the progress of Russia. The population of the United States was almost equal to her own. The Americans had just obtained California and the Pacific coast, Texas had been annexed, Mexico seemed ready to fall into their hands, and their commercial marine was even then second to none in the world. In spite of inadequate protection, and the combined influence of the slave States and England, American manufactures were making rapid progress in many departments, American mechanics were already ahead of the world — and in all the markets of the United States, British fabrics were being rapidly displaced by the products of American skill.

English statesmen knew well, that a people that could create for themselves an unmatched fleet for commercial purposes, that had covered their rivers and lakes with swift steamboats, could also produce a navy with equal ease whenever it should be needed, and with resources of all kinds to which man could assign no limit, fronting on two great oceans, what could prevent the United States from overshadowing even England with her greatness, unless indeed… she could ‘be taken down.’” (pp.90-1)

Boynton believed that the Crimean War of 1854 and the American Civil War of 1861 represented an attempt and an opportunity on England’s part to take down emerging rivals to British world dominance – a thing that British statesmen did instinctively.

The Crimean War

Boynton argued that Russia had been attacked in the Crimea by the Anglo-French alliance because she was feared as a growing power which would soon become a great commercial force by the acquisition of Constantinople and the destruction of the Ottoman Empire.

In Chapter XII, England’s Course toward Russia in regard to the Eastern Question and the Crimean War, Boynton wrote:

“The course of England towards Russia in regard to the Eastern Question and in the invasion of the Crimea, was so similar to her treatment of us, that the one explains the other… in her course towards us she is governed by the same policy which guided her then; that this is her national policy, to be applied to Russia or America, as the case may demand; and whether she strikes eastward at monarchy or westward at a republic, her general purpose is precisely the same.

Particularly is it to be observed, that as France created a cause for war, and forced Russia into the conflict with her, so also England, on her part, sought an occasion for quarrel with Russia, and, notwithstanding all the denunciations of the British Press, it was England and not Russia who began the war.

England sought a war with Russia, and nearly the whole power of her Press was employed to cover this intention by the most violent accusations against Nicholas and his people, knowing all the while that the Czar desired more than all things else peace with England, in the same manner that the English Government stirred up the people to fury in the case of the Trent, with the charge that we desired to insult and declare war upon England, when at the same time they held in their hands official evidence that we were earnestly desirous of peace on any terms which would save our national honor.

Americans… should hesitate to give credence to the specious declarations that England was forced into that war, in defense of civilization and humanity, statements which have been made merely to render the war popular, and to excite the people against Russia, a work which has been so thoroughly done that the English people disgraced themselves by savage cheering at the Emperor’s death. England having possessed herself, by her maritime superiority, and by her conquest of India, of the commerce of the East, adopted the double public policy of securing to herself the advantages she had won, and of excluding if possible other nations from a participation in this lucrative trade.” (p. 138-140)

David Urquhart took a sceptical view of the British motives for the Crimean War. Unlike Boynton he did not see it as a serious attempt to take Russia down. Russia was too vast and too large in landmass for that. He viewed the war as a phoney war in which England and France pretended to come to the aid of the Turks – but instead had different intentions entirely in the region.

Urquhart believed that England and France combined to establish a foothold at Constantinople using the Russian threat as an excuse. This was because, both realised that this was a war of convenience and that either party might suddenly desert the other and ally with the Russians instead. This prompted Lord Hebbert to say “we were in accord with our enemy but not with our ally.”

India and the Ottoman Empire

Boynton viewed England’s ‘protection’ of Constantinople and its alliance with the Ottoman Empire as nothing but a concern for the interests of Britain’s Indian Empire and the desire to control the gates to the east. This involved the forced exclusion of trade and the development of commerce in the region by any other agency except itself:

“It has been… one of her chief anxieties to establish, if possible, and hold for her own benefit, a monopoly of the East, and for this purpose her jealous care has been to prevent the re-opening of any of the old highways of that trade whereby it could be diverted from her own marts, or to gain possession of them herself. While the ocean route could remain the only or the main channel between India and Europe, by her ships and her possessions in Hindostan the monopoly of the trade would be hers, and she would rest content. But when the question of establishing other communications arose, England was almost omnipresent to secure herself against a rival. Hence her intrigues in Central America, and her establishment on the Mosquito shore, and her projects on the Isthmus of Panama, for ship canals, in order that she might gain possession of the American key to the Indies; hence, also, her fleet at the mouth of the Nile when Bonaparte was in Egypt threatening to re-open and hold for France the old Red Sea route to the East; which scheme, had it been successful, might have restored to the cities of the Mediterranean their ancient wealth and power; and hence, too, be it remembered, her anxieties for the fate of Constantinople.

Not sympathy for the Turk has ever moved the heart of England, but every movement in connection with Turkey has been made with anxious reference to her Eastern trade.

It is because she has not been contented to share this commerce with the rest of the world. She has coveted a monopoly of its profits, and has been ready with her fleets and her armies to prevent any other Power of earth from building for itself a highway to India. She has endeavoured to frustrate the United States in Central America; she succeeded in forcing the French army from Egypt — and she has also determined not only to prevent Russia from establishing herself at Constantinople, but to wrest from her the control of the Black Sea, and prevent her from occupying the old northern road to the East.

Let it not be forgotten here that it is not the conquest of British India at which Russia is aiming, or which she has ever proposed, but to open for herself a commerce with northern Asia by a route of her own; that she proposes not war on England, but an honorable competition for the trade of Asia; and this England opposed with a war whose object was to destroy forever all hope of maritime or commercial prosperity for Russia, which done, she would hold a complete monopoly of the richest commerce of the world, while at the same time the manufactures of Russia would be ruined, and she would again become dependent on Great Britain.

It is now easy to perceive the real policy of England in regard to the proposition made to the British Government while Nicholas was in London. He frankly informed England that the time was near when the Turkish Government must inevitably fall, without any external force, that it had no vitality, was in fact already seized by death, and that he desired some friendly understanding with England as to the course to be pursued when that event should come, that all of Europe might not then be embroiled, because other nations would be constrained to abide by the joint decision of England and Russia. It is understood that he proposed that England should occupy Egypt, while the control of Constantinople should be given to Russia.” (141-4)

The Ottoman Empire was known in British propaganda as the “sick man of Europe.” The origin of this phrase dates back to the time of the Crimean War. In January 1853, Czar Nicholas I met Sir Hamilton Seymour, the British Ambassador in St Petersburg and their conversations turned to the Czar’s main preoccupation – Constantinople. Nicholas attempted to convince Sir Hamilton that the Ottoman Empire was on the point of collapse. He told the British Ambassador, “we have a sick man on our hands, a man who is seriously ill; it will . . . be a great misfortune if he escapes us one of these days, especially before all the arrangements are made.” (Alan Palmer, The Banner of Battle; the Story of the Crimean War, p.56)

The “arrangements” the Czar had in mind involved the sharing out of the Ottoman Empire by Russia, France and England. But at this time (despite the notable exception of Richard Cobden, the Manchester Capitalist) England was most unwilling to see the Russians down at Constantinople and instead of a sharing of Ottoman spoils they went to war, along with their traditional enemy in Europe, France, against Russia in the following year to ‘defend’ the sick man of Europe.”

Boynton saw the offer of Czar Nicholas as reasonable and generous to Britain and its subsequent policy of war on Russia, in conjunction with the French, as reprehensible on Britain’s part. He believed that if the Ottoman Empire was about to collapse it should have been left to Russia to supervise its dissolution and for it to ‘civilize’ the area in the interests of Christianity. He believed that Britain was merely playing its Balance of Power game again to prop up the Sultan in order to organise a future partition of the Ottoman Empire in the interests of itself and its French ally.

One can also see the significance of the Baghdad Railway for Britain, fifty years on, from what Boynton accurately described. The Baghdad Railway was feared in England because of its potential to link up mercantile interests on the European heartland with Asia and thereby develop the commercial potential of Germany Europe and Asia free from the seas.

By that time (1900) Germany, in entering the global path of development pioneered by England, had encountered the problem Britain had run into a half century before – how to feed itself. The Railway proposal came about because the increasing industrial production of Germany made the question of raw materials, new markets and security from outside interference an acute one in relation to the ability of the Royal Navy to starve it into submission.

The Railway to the east promised not only to meet the economic needs of Germany but would have also opened a much shorter and safer route for its trade than that through the Baltic and North Sea, through the English Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal – all controlled by the guns of the Royal Navy. Eastern Europe, the Near East, the East coast of Africa and the Far East all offered Germany raw materials and potential new markets free from blockade. And the railroad constructed through Austria, Bulgaria, Turkey, Mesopotamia to Baghdad and the Persian Gulf, along with the necessary conventions with the countries concerned, threatened to unleash the economic potential of the Eurasian heartland – a thing England had worked for nearly a century to prevent.

Whilst Boynton, the fundamentalist Protestant, welcomed the spread of Russia into the region and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire  with regard to the ending of its rule over Christians he saw British and French Imperialist expansion into the area as having catastrophic effects for the Moslems. And he was of the belief that if they were to be absorbed into another Empire it was better the ‘civilising’ Russian one than being made a giant plantation in the interests of Britain and France:

“From what has been presented two conclusions seem to be inevitable: first, that the Turkish Empire, as such, can not be maintained, and that its preservation forms no part of the policy of the Allied Powers, except as a mere dependency of their own; and, second, that whatever change may occur in the form of the government, the settled policy of France and England requires that the lands of Turkey should form merely a vast plantation, worked for the benefit of its masters…

England and France have chosen to terminate that arrangement by which the Porte might have tottered on yet longer in a state of merely nominal independence, and the only question now remaining is, by whom shall Turkey hereafter be exclusively controlled — by the East or the West?

Another inquiry may be added: will it be better for other nations, and for Turkey, that it should become virtually a colony of the Western Powers, or that it should be incorporated with Russia? Between these two alternatives there seems now no middle ground.” (pp.166-7)

Boynton noted that Britain’s developing relationship with the Ottoman Empire was not an ‘alliance’ of equals but what Americans called ‘a protection racket’. England‘protected’ the Ottoman Empire from Russia in order to make English power indispensable to the Sultan – so that a gradual Ottoman decline would lead to British gains in the region. This was accomplished through a combination of military and financial means.

At the root of this protection racket lay the financial dependency that England and France had engineered in Istanbul. The Ottoman financial problems began with the Crimean War when the Porte had to foot the large bill to pay for the expenses of the British and French armies stationed in Constantinople and the Black Sea coast. Britain and France lent the Turks the money to pay the debt – which came back to them with interest. They crippled the Ottoman Exchequer with the interest rates imposed on the loan and through an insistence that the Ottomans restrict their tariffs on British and French imports to below 5%. This forced the Turks to buy all manufactured goods abroad and discouraged the growth of any indigenous industry within the Empire. As a result, in 1874, over half of the Porte’s expenditure went on paying off the foreign debt and the Empire began to decay as it was bled dry by the Franco-British protection racket.

The Ottomans were also forced to cede to Western business interests special privileges called Capitulations that included freedom from taxes and the Ottoman courts (which amounted to Embassy rights outside the Embassy). The loans and Capitulations were found to be an effective way of both buttressing the Ottoman Empire against Russia and controlling the Porte by holding its purse strings.

In the light of what Boynton says about Britain’s method of subjugating the world to its interests its relationship with the Ottomans is not as particular as it might first seem. It was very much part of Britain’s world-wide strategy which Boynton described.

Prospects for the future

In the following passage Boynton describes how, despite its present world-wide power,Britain could never remain top-dog in the world, despite its persistent attempts at retarding the development of the rest of humanity:

“What, then, are the elements of her power and sources of her life, and what does her present condition indicate for the future? The first essential element of enduring national greatness is a home territory sufficient for the support of the population of a first-class power…

There may be… a greatness derived from separated colonial territories, a manufacturing and commercial greatness and power, enduring or temporary, according to circumstances; but the territory of a nation, its extent and quality, must, in the end, be the measure of its power.

Of course, territory alone can not insure national power; but, if one nation has a domain which will support a home population of twenty-five millions only, and another holds land enough to maintain one hundred millions, and is equal in all other advantages, the latter has elements of power four times greater than the former, nor would distant colonial possessions make up the deficiency of territory at home.

These colonies, while they can be held simply as tributaries, may increase the wealth and power of the home government through its manufactures and commerce; but, in the end, prosperous colonies throw off the yoke of bondage, and new nations spring up to compete for the commerce of the world.

What, then, is the condition and prospect of England in regard to this point? What are the foundations of her national structure, and what are her prospects in rivalry with, or hostility to, Russia and America, for the next quarter of a century?

England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, together, have a territory of about one hundred and twelve thousand square miles. This constitutes the whole home territory of Great Britain. It is less than that occupied by our three States of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and less than half the size of Texas. England, alone, is not quite as large as the single State of Alabama.

The arable land of England is estimated at only twenty-eight millions of acres, which is less than the estimated arable land in the single State of Illinois. While the home territory of Great Britain is about one hundred and twelve thousand square miles, that of the United States is about three millions of square miles, all in one body, and which, by navigable rivers, lakes, railways, and coast-line navigation, can be controlled by one people and one central government.

These numbers form the proper basis of comparison between the United States and England which reach into the future, though they are by no means indications of their present relative strength. But such comparisons will be truthful guides in the future, because the time is not distant when Great Britain will lose the control of every one

of her principal colonies, and our present war is consolidating our people into one American nation, whose life is vigorous enough to extend over a continent. England, at no very distant period, must rest her power upon the resources of her home empire, competing as she may with the rest of the world for the trade of her present colonies.

England is almost a miracle of energy and power; she is the most wonderful product, thus far, of modern civilization, and no American should desire to diminish aught of her proper glory; but, when she proposes to interfere with our private affairs, when she seems to desire our ruin, and gives her sympathies to our bitterest enemies, and forms alliances to hinder our progress, and holds herself in a threatening attitude, it will do us no harm to remember that, ere this century closes, she will see here a hundred millions of people, who will be at least her equal in every thing pertaining either to peace or war, and outnumbering her nearly three to one…

It is evident, therefore, if we regard the land as a basis, the British Empire has reached the limit of growth, and, indeed, has passed that limit, unless her great estates are divided, for one-third of her population is, even now, fed from foreign countries. Her power to maintain her present rank among nations, and even her ability to keep her population from starving, depend upon her being able to supply the markets of the world with her fabrics, and retain her position as the chief factor of the world’s commerce. Should other nations succeed in competing with her on this, her chosen field, her political supremacy would at once be stricken down. Hence her extreme anxiety in regard to the progress of Russia and America, and her attempts to put them down by force, when , she fears that they will not only manufacture for themselves, instead of buying from her, but will become her rivals in the great markets of the world…

These things show at once the fears and perils of England. She knows that, if Russia and America become great manufacturing nations, with a commercial marine and navy proportioned to their power in other respects, her own supremacy will be gone. She will be tempted to make desperate efforts before she will yield her present place of pride, and hence our own continual danger. She will watch for our overthrow. She will ruin us if she can.”  (pp.390-5)

How England changes course under the reality of changing power relations and produces ideas to sustain its change of course is very well illustrated by its changing relationship with America.

A half century after Britain’s financial and material support for the Confederacy the Round Table/Chatham House group took inspiration from the United States war on its rebels and sought to emulate its example for the British Empire. F.S. Oliver’s famous book Alexander Hamilton – an Essay on American Union became the blueprint for Imperial unity. The movement for Imperial Union attempted to address all the disadvantages that the British State possessed in relation to its American and Russian rivals that Boynton pointed out.

The solution for Milner’s kindergarten was a unitary British Empire with a much larger population, territory and agricultural land consolidated into a federal state to counter the states that Britain could never hope to keep down as merely the United Kingdom. And a feature of this trend was that much of the propaganda directed against Irish Home Rule was of the kind that as the United States could never tolerate the dissolution of its territorial unity neither could the U.K. (Lloyd George continued to use this argument into the negotiations over the Treaty to concentrate Irish minds on what befell the Southern States might also befall Ireland if it persisted in its democratic demands.)

Why the Future was different

But England’s war to cut America and Russia down to size never came, as Boynton thought it would.

Part of the reason why is contained in Boynton’s book itself – in the United States defeat of its Southern rebels and its constituting itself into a developing force in the world as a consequence. And Russia continued its expansion until  England decided to come to terms with it (in 1907) in preparation to cutting a more immediate and more possibly destructible rival down to size.

It might be said that the United States overawed Britain in two things it did in the nineteenth century. Firstly, it put down a serious rebellion to maintain the integrity of the U.S.  State. Secondly, it embarked on a colonialist policy of ruthless effectiveness that led to a vast territorial expansion. Both these events were the stuff the British Empire prided itself in and they gained great admiration on this side of the Atlantic. And that admiration had a debilitating effect on thoughts of cutting the U.S. down to size.

The relationship between England, the United States and Russia, had, in fact, a direct bearing on England’s relations with Germany.

Around the time that Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell wrote A Biological View of our Foreign Policy for The Saturday Review things were in transition in England with regard to America and Germany. Mitchell concluded that there was no hope of reunion with the Anglo-Saxon cousins to the West and war would be a Darwinian imperative – after matters were settled with the Anglo-Saxons to the East:

“The American type is now so distinct, and the American sentiment of nationality is so acute, that all hope of union is gone. The resemblances and identities that remain serve only to make the ultimate struggle more certain. America would be our enemy before Germany, but for the accident that America is not yet a nation expanding beyond her own territory… The rumours of war with England must be realized and will be realized when the population of the States has transcended the limits of the States.

The biological view of foreign policy is plain. First federate our colonies and prevent geographical isolation turning the Anglo-Saxon race against itself. Second, be ready to fight Germany, as Germania est delenda; third, be ready to fight America when the time comes. Lastly, engage in no wasting wars against peoples from whom we have nothing to fear.” (1 February, 1896)

Elie Halevy, a well-known historian at the turn of the twentieth century, was surprised that in all the articles produced in England during this period predicting war between Britain and other nations only one English writer entertained the thought that the next world conflict might be against the emerging United States of America.

This is a fact worth considering, particularly in relation to Boynton’s views. After all,Britain had a habit of cutting any emerging rival down to size, and in other countries – including America itself – there was a presumption that sooner or later there would be a conflict between the old master and the young upstart. The United States was obviously the major potential obstacle to Britain’s world wide domination and the biggest long-term threat to its Empire. The United States potentially represented a far stronger industrial and commercial competitor than Germany and had shown its ambitions in this area with the construction of the Panama Canal. Germany was the British Empire’s best customer in the world and was the only country in the world that bought from England to nearly the same degree as she sold to the Empire.

Whilst Admiral Mahan was conceiving America as a worldwide naval power and Imperial force, Germany did not even have a credible navy and was merely a federation of states with a few small scattered colonies. But whilst Britain had developed a very aggressive attitude to its other Imperialist rivals, it shirked a conflict with its strong young Anglo-Saxon cousin and neatly sidestepped the incidents and disputes which would have been made occasions for war with other nations.

Two serious territorial disputes arose between Britain and America during the Unionist Government’s term of office as the nineteenth century became the twentieth. In 1895 Venezuela occupied a piece of British Guiana and when Britain threatened action, President Cleveland invoked the Monroe Doctrine to warn off the Royal Navy. Although Lord Salisbury rejected Cleveland’s right to do this he backed away from conflict and accepted the referral of the dispute to arbitration. In 1903, the new Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, accepted arbitration again in the dispute over the frontier between Alaska and British Columbia. Amazingly, the British arbiter decided in favour of the United States and against Canada- a decision that was very badly received by the Canadians, and who, from then on, determined on getting more extensive Dominion powers so that they could look after their own interests in the future.

It was perhaps realised in British ruling circles that the Empire was destined ultimately to give way to its great Anglo-Saxon cousin as master of the world. That is the only explanation for the attitude of inferiority that British Statesmen began adopting towards the United States at the turn of the century. It is most probable that Joseph Chamberlain and Balfour did not believe that the Empire would give way to the United States without conflict, and so determined on an Anglo-Saxon Alliance to prevent it. If the British Empire and the United States did not combine to dominate the world, their divergent interests would surely bring them into conflict when America, following Admiral Mahan’s vision, could only expand at the expense of the British Empire.

It was ultimately decided to indirectly ‘capture’ the United States through ideas, rather than attempt to defeat it in war. And the building of an Anglo-American Establishment, so that the British Empire could live on within its great Anglo-Saxon cousin – the future master of the world – became a significant project for the most advanced Imperialists in England, centred around Lionel Curtis and the Round Table group.

It was determined to deal with America peacefully and to go to war with Germany. And if it were ever contemplated to destroy America after Germany had been dealt with, two exhausting wars with Germany- as a result of which the United States profited as a result of England’s difficulty – put paid to that notion for ever.



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