Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions in twentieth-cent

Key questions in twentieth-century Anglo-American relations

A British cartoon published in 1869 suggesting that Britain (the stout man on the left) and the US would benefit from ‘pulling together’; in other words, cooperating in world affairs. (Photo by The Cartoon Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

In the eighteenth century much of North America was ruled by Britain. But in 1776 Thirteen Colonies on the eastern coast rebelled against British rule and declared their independence. These Thirteen Colonies developed and added new territories to become the United States of America. The relationship between the new USA (or ‘US’) and Britain was sometimes difficult, such as the war of 1812. However, for much of the time the two states were at peace and each was an important trading partner for the other. Britain and the US also cooperated frequently in political and military matters in the nineteenth century.

By the twentieth century it was becoming clear that the US was developing into the world’s leading economic power. By the end of the First World War the US was the world’s leading political power as well. While Britain was still powerful, the British recognised the rising US and opted to cooperate rather than to try to rival the US. This cooperation became known as 'the Special Relationship', although that term wasn't used until 1946 in a speech by Winston Churchill. 

Churchill was very positive about this relationship. He regarded the US as a force for good and he was fond of the country, not least because his mother was American. During the Second World War he built a close personal friendship with US President Roosevelt. On a more practical level he recognised the emerging power of the US and the importance of it in political and economic terms. There were strong economic ties between Britain and the US and after the Second World War American economic aid was vital in helping to rebuild Europe.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Churchill favoured even closer links with the US because he feared the USSR and its formidable leader Josef Stalin even though they’d been allies in the war. In Churchill’s mind, the future of Britain and the US lay together.

But did Churchill see the Special Relationship through rose-tinted glasses? Was the Special Relationship really that special? We’ve collected material from the archive which will allow you to tackle a range of investigations into this topic.

Click on the questions below to investigate this topic

➜ What does the Korean War reveal about the ‘special relationship’?

➜ Just how special was the ‘special relationship’ in the Second World War? (Part 1, 1939–41)

➜ Just how special was the ‘special relationship’ in the Second World War? (Part 2, 1942–44)

Churchill with Roosevelt, at the Atlantic Meeting in August 1941, during the Second World War. (Reproduced from the Broadwater Collection with the permission of Curtis Brown Group Ltd, London on behalf of the Broadwater Collection. Original held at the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge)