INTRODUCTION

Public interest is, if anything, more preoccupied than ever with the current state of the Anglo-American association. This has been a critical relationship in the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first, with an enormous breadth of influence worldwide. It was undoubtedly a vitally important relationship in the nineteenth century, not least in terms of trading, family and religious connections. The political understanding shared by the two nations has been profound; and yet political assumptions have also been distinctly different on many different levels, and the United States continues to be perceived as a rival by the United Kingdom despite the enormous disparity in their sizes. As a result, if one listens to many current British discussions about the United States of America – for instance in the British coverage of the presidential election of 2012 – sooner or later one hears a cocktail of widely varying views, ranging from curiosity and mystification, admiration and adulation, through envy and resentment, to contempt and fear.1 These mixed and contradictory reactions are partly the products of recent events, but they are also rooted in the separation between Britain and America in 1776, and the creation of the new American republic in the decades which followed. This book examines the formation of British attitudes to America in the crucible of the early relationship between the two independent states, from the declaration of the War of Independence in 1775 until the years after the War of 1812–15 and the end of Britain’s conflict against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Many British visions and projections of America originated in the colonial period, but those which endured into the early years of the republic and circulated in British public opinion at the start of the relationship between the two independent nations may help to explain why the United States is regarded as it is in twenty-first century Britain. This study does not attempt to unpick modern British attitudes towards America, but simply to trace British perceptions of it in the early decades of its independent statehood. During these decades America was seen variously from Britain as a set of colonies, a market, an experiment, a utopia and a competitor. Peter Marshall has argued that the War of Independence gave British people a clear perception of American difference and identity.2 British government policy towards America

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thereafter, at least for the two decades before the outbreak of the Napoleonic War in 1803, was marked by neglect until it became necessary to pay attention or suffer the consequences. The United States nevertheless fascinated Britons of all political persuasions from its formation onwards, as a worked example of a republic of extensive territory, as well as the result of a uniquely victorious colonial rebellion against British imperial might. And, as the Monthly Review put it in 1796, ‘America is so rapidly advancing into consequence among the nations of the earth, that every thing respecting the rise, population, and growing wealth of this extensive region, is highly interesting to the European reader’.3 This study investigates developing British attitudes towards America over this period of political, cultural and intellectual upheaval and alteration, through the speeches and publications of a spectrum of major political commentators which helped to create the foundations for these varying conceptions. It attempts to uncover the ideological framework within which America was discussed and understood in Britain during the period after the declaration of independence. Wider British opinion was, of course, highly significant, not least in sometimes determining events, and deserves its own study. Nevertheless the framework of ideas in which it operated is likely to have been set by a relatively small group of influential politicians and writers. Different political groups in Britain had different expectations of how an American republic might transpire, and so they had different questions to answer about its eventual reality. Conservatives, having argued that a republic in America could not thrive, then had to decide whether an increasingly prosperous American republic was an unmitigated disaster. Liberals, who had urged a policy of American conciliation on the British government, sympathized with the new republic, but they had to consider whether its constitutional example should be followed elsewhere. Radicals, who had supported colonial arguments against British government policy in the decade before the war, and who had applied these arguments to the British situation, arguing for reform at home as well as independence for America, had to assess whether the new United States of America really constituted the model, inspiration and, in some cases, asylum from the increasingly politically repressive Britain of the 1790s, that they had hoped.

While existing scholarship has much to say on the British–American relationship during the twentieth century, now reaching back to the period of the American Civil War in the mid-nineteenth century, and while there is a substantial volume of excellent literature on Britain and the American Revolution, far less has been written from the British point of view about the years between the Revolutionary period and the Civil War era.4 The period of the early years of the independent American republic is likely to have been crucial for the formation of the relation-

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ship between the two countries, and yet we know much less about it. This era was also of vital importance in the political development of the British state, as the growing power of Parliament relative to the monarch was solidly established, as political parties crystallized, and as the second British Empire was developed. There has been much historical reflection upon the immediate, direct impact of the American Revolution on British attitudes towards British politics, particularly the expansion of British radical political ideas in the light of American demands for representation.5 Some Britons did spend time reflecting upon post-revolutionary America itself, but this has not attracted the same attention until recently. John Cannon’s essay, ‘The Loss of America’, was the starting point for this investigation, accompanied by several substantial and suggestive pieces of work published by H. T. Dickinson, Stephen Conway, Peter Marshall and Eliga H. Gould around the same time, though these all discussed the impact of the American Revolution on Britain’s self-perception, whether imperial or metropolitan, rather than on its visions of the new United States.6 The Cousins’ Wars (1999) by Kevin Phillips focused on the English Civil War, the War of American Independence and the American Civil War (but not the War of 1812–15), analysing the development of Anglo-American exceptionalism and the attributes of the victors of their successive struggles for political liberty.7 Kathleen Burk’s fine Old World, New World (2007) discusses the last 400 years and is a bilateral study which concentrates on the official relationship and popular perceptions, rather than on the ideological spectrum within Britain.8 Fred Leventhal and Roland Quinault’s collection, Anglo-American Attitudes: From Revolution to Partnership (2000) recognized that much previous scholarship on the relationship had concentrated on diplomatic interaction rather than social, economic and intellectual or cultural connections, and it discussed a range of angles on the two nations across the period between 1763 and 1992. In The Rediscovery of America (1998), Stuart Andrews explored individual American, French and British ‘transatlantic citizens’ and the connections they made between their states in their different fields of thought and work.9 A closer precedent for this study than these is David P. Crook’s excellent American Democracy in English Politics, 1815–1850 (1965).10 Not only did Crook examine British attitudes towards the United States, he was also interested in considering the liberal middle ground in the British debate on America as separate from that of radical enthusiasts and conservative critics, which is relatively unusual in the literature. Two of the older studies of the post-independence relationship, for example, George D. Lillibridge’s Beacon of Freedom: The Impact of American Democracy upon Great Britain (1954) and Frank Thistlethwait’s The Anglo-American Connection in the Early Nineteenth Century (1959), though clearly occupied with ideological issues, are only concerned with the radical picture.11 Crook, however, allowed the dust to settle after the War of Independence

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and even the War of 1812–15 before his examination of British comment on the American republic began. This book examines how British observers envisaged a republic in America, from the different points in the 1770s and 1780s at which they varyingly recognized that such a polity was likely to emerge, before going on to discuss what they made of it in practice up to 1820. What impact did ‘political Enlightenment’ in America have on political observers in the old country? How did British understandings of democracy and republicanism engage with the American political reality in this period? Most recently, Peter Marshall’s Remaking the British Atlantic (2012) examines the relationship between the United States and the British Empire in the first decade after the winning of American independence and the difficulty they experienced – and indeed the lack of interest on the part of many politicians on both sides of the Atlantic – in re-establishing a close association.12 Yet, after the rawness of the wounds caused by the amputation had healed somewhat, there was in fact substantial continuing British interest in America in the 1790s and beyond. William Winterbotham’s hefty four volumes offering his Historical, Geographical, Commercial, and Philosophical View of the American United States (1795) were re-issued in a second British edition just four years later, having gone through at least two printings in 1795.13 Travel writings of British tourists in the United States were multiplying by the first decade of the nineteenth century. The chapters which follow examine the debate between British writers and politicians, at different points along the political spectrum in Britain, who had a particular interest in America. Collectively they suggest the matrix of ideas about the United States being presented to the British public between 1775 and 1820. They investigate the range of opinion and the dialogue embedded in it, in this crucial period of the formation of independent Anglo-American relations. What were the major contours of the discussion of America in Britain at this time – the big ideas and assumptions?

The book is divided into two main sections, each containing chapters on conservative, liberal and radical spectators in Britain, and divided at 1791. The aim of the first three chapters is not to consider British responses to the American Revolution or the war, which are well-cultivated ground, but to explain how and when British observers came to terms with the reality of American independence, and what they expected to result from the Revolution. These chapters lay the groundwork for those in part 2, which compare the expectations found in part 1 with British writers’ views on the reality of the independent America from 1792 until 1820. The faultline of 1791–2 was chosen partly because of the ratification of the new constitution of the United States of America in 1790,

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and partly as a result of Mark Philp’s convincing argument that Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, Part Two (1792) was vital in drawing the example of America into the vast British debate on the Revolution of France.14 These two parts are followed by an epilogue chapter considering the views William Cobbett, as an exemplar in one person of the concoction of British adulation, resentment and fear of America, and also as an exemplar of the contention that British writing about America, at least during these decades, was nearly all preoccupied with British politics at bottom. He is also an extreme example of the fact that it is not always possible to categorize individuals into neatly distinct political boxes. Each of the six main chapters concentrates on the speeches and published writings of a small number of the most prominent British political commentators on America, with the aim not of comprehensiveness, but of providing a representative range of British opinion and of demonstrating the debate within it. Each individual was selected because he (and, with the exception of Catherine Macaulay, they are all men) contributed a significant volume of noise to the British debate on America in these years, though some lesser reference to other figures and publications supplements them. Often these individuals were sufficiently interested in American affairs to correspond with leading American politicians – Major John Cartwright with John Quincy Adams; Jeremy Bentham with James Madison, Aaron Burr and Andrew Jackson; and Arthur Young with George Washington, for example. Since, however, the objective is to delineate the parameters of the British debate on America as it was presented to the British public by these commentators, their published writings and parliamentary speeches have been favoured over their private correspondence. Given the length of the period as a whole, there are differences in the dramatis personae of each part because of the deaths of some of the writers examined in part 1, and the emergence of new writers and politicians interested in America in the later period. In part 2, some of the major periodicals which emerged in each part of the political spectrum in that period have also been included, as major opinion formers. The range of opinion is therefore reflected both within each chapter as well as by them collectively: these writers and politicians are collected into chapters for the sake of clarity, but conservatives, liberals and radicals, respectively, did not hold homogeneous views on America any more than they did on anything else in this period. Many of them were idiosyncratic individuals, moreover. There are very blurred edges along the spectrum from conservative to liberal to radical. Josiah Tucker, whose prescription for the American colonies may seem to align him with liberals rather than conservatives, is none the less considered among conservatives here because he came to this view from a general stance on America in common with that of most conservatives. By contrast, Samuel Taylor Coleridge is discussed with liberals because, although he travelled along the political spectrum from radical to conservative in general as his life progressed,

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he retained a sympathy for the United States which was more reflective of liberal opinion than conservative. Together, however, each group of individuals can be argued to have represented the main strands of thinking in what may broadly be described as conservative, liberal and radical responses to America in Britain at this time. Thomas Paine’s inclusion in this study should be explained, given his rejection of his own British nationality in favour of American citizenship. Yet he was, in origin, a Norfolk Quaker. Moreover, he was the most popular and the most prolific advocate of the American example for Europeans and, given that the aim of this study is to trace the main ideas about America circulating in Britain, it is impossible to ignore his writings, not least his bestselling Rights of Man, Part Two. His absence would constitute a classic case of an ‘elephant in the room’, since, arguably, most if not all other British commentators after him were responding to his views, whether explicitly or implicitly, and deliberately or not. My use of the terms ‘radical’, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ also needs explanation. These are modern terms which are imposed on the past for the sake of clarity in the present. There is some overlap in this study between the understanding of each term to define an individual’s attitude to American independence and republicanism – implying enthusiasm, sympathy and hostility, respectively – and the understanding of each term to define an individual’s general position on British politics. Indeed, it is argued here that British politics often determined commentators’ views on America. Figures such as Tucker and Coleridge, however, make it clear that such a synthesis should not be assumed, and, given that these terms can at best refer to political philosophies which were only beginning to crystallize, they should not be taken to define individuals’ general political principles too prescriptively. They are rather loosely used as shorthand in this volume, and in general their primary meaning should be read as ‘those who held radical (or liberal, or conservative) views on American independence and republicanism’, with, in most cases, some parallel tendency to radical, liberal or conservative politics in Britain. In this sense, ‘radicals’ refers to those who were supportive of the American colonists’ rebellion against the British government, who came to applaud their enterprise to create a modern republic governed by a representative constitution, and who campaigned for radical reform of the British constitution.15 ‘Liberals’ refers to those who expressed sympathy for the colonists during the Revolution and eventually acceptance of and friendship for the independent American republic. They did not match this with a radical critique of British politics, but they usually believed that the British system was corrupted and abused by the government, of which they were hardly ever members during these decades, and they tended to be suspicious of the power of the executive in government. Most ‘conservatives’ neither understood why the colonists wished to part from the British Empire nor believed that the American republic could succeed in the long term, if

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at all; they tended to be those who were most supportive of the political status quo in Britain. Using the term ‘conservative’ to define primarily the response rather than the individuals allows me to include both Court Whigs and Tories under the same umbrella, because they responded to the American issue in similar ways.16 Mark Philp points out that it took many liberals and radicals time to recognize the most far-reaching implications of the American Revolution for Europe, and therefore to see their differences, which were only really exposed by the French Revolution.17 It is all the more difficult, therefore, to categorize individuals more distinctly from the distance of the present. Indeed, many studies on Britain and the American Revolution tend to consider liberals and radicals together under the contemporary nomenclature, ‘Friends of America’. John Faulkner, for instance, can describe Richard Price as a Chathamite, because of his endorsement of Chatham’s protégé, the Earl of Shelburne; yet he acknowledges that Price’s enthusiasm for American independence was something that Chatham could hardly have supported.18 The primary point of reference for grouping individuals in this book, therefore, has been their response to the American republic, and Price is considered here as a radical. British views on the American Revolution, the constitution of the United States, the international role of the new republic, the War of 1812–15 and the American economy, society and religion were all of interest to British observers, and they are discussed in the chapters which follow. (Canada is not considered, except in conjunction with the War of 1812–15, since, as British North America, it raised none of the questions for Britain regarding independence, republicanism and rivalry that the United States did.) While the commentators who people these chapters were all among those British subjects most genuinely interested in American affairs, it is striking how often America appears simply to have been a lens, a prism, through which British politics were in fact being discussed. It should be noted that this book discusses their perceptions of America, which were often inaccurate. Beauty was often in the eye of the beholder. Yet the melange of reactions of curiosity, envy, admiration, competition, resentment, fear and contempt which are easily discerned in British discussions of the United States today are also palpable in these commentaries from the earliest days of the independent Anglo-American relationship. Chapter 1 opens this investigation by considering those Britons who became most enthusiastic about the American republican experiment.

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