How Did America & Britain Become Allies within a Century?

By: Rayomand Bhacka

It is often shocking for people to hear how Britain and the USA evolved from enemies during the war of 1812 to the best of allies in the First World War. That is to say that close to the independence of the USA IN 1771, it had economic ties with Britain but that does not imply trustworthy relations between them.

In the years after the war of 1812, there were many conflicts raising mistrust between the United States and Britain, one such conflict was the – Monroe Doctrine.

The Monroe Doctrine caricature depicting the Anglo-American Relations by F. Victor Gillam in 1896.
The Monroe Doctrine by F. Victor Gillam, 1896
Source: Google Images

The Monroe Doctrine, drafted by the US Parliament in 1823, threatened American military interventions to any European colonial ambitions in and near the Americas. This was seen by Britain as a potential threat as it had vast interests in South America. However, in reality, the United States did not actually mean it. Thus, in 1833, when Britain sent its troops to the Falklands, America did not intervene. But in 1842, America warned Britain against any military intervention in the Hawaii Islands and Britain did pay heed to this warning. Thus, Britain had by then acknowledged America as a growing world power as it had experienced vast growth in its Industrial Capabilities. Thus, it generated a feeling of America as a potential Great Power which would dominate Anglo American relations for years to come.

The next cause for conflict was the – American Civil War (1861).

Now, regarding the fact that by the 1860s, Britain had abolished slavery, it would favor the Union over the Confederates. That is incorrect as Britain supported the Confederates although they had an upper hand in terms of Slavery in the United States. Regardless of the Confederates’ policy towards Slavery and its lay voting practices, Britain sided with them in order to fulfil its Economic Ambitions for Cotton Imports. Thus, the British recognition of the Confederates further strained Anglo-American Relations to the point that led the two countries to the Trent Affair.

This affair began when the United States sunk a ship carrying Confederate Diplomats to Britain. Britain took this as a direct attack by America on its foreign communications which, to them, implied that America would decide who Britain could talk to. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and Britain backed off from the American Civil War. Despite this, Britain had built a ship for the Confederates named the CSS Alabama. However, after the civil war ended, Britain had to pay monetary compensations to The USA. Thus, about fifty years before World War I, Britain and America didn’t actually care for each other. So what changed this mentality?

The Answer is – The Venezuelan Border Dispute (1895).

The Venezuelan Border dispute, for Britain by then had developed into a major crisis event. In the end, The US intervened and arbitrated mostly on the side of Britain. For Britain, America had conducted itself in an orderly fashion in Venezuela. This had granted Britain a lot more than what it wanted. For America, Britain had recognized its hegemony in the Americas and yielded its claim over South America. This was the first look of Anglo-American Friendship.

The next cause of Anglo-American friendship was – Converging Interests.

During the 1890s, America had transformed itself into a growing Industrial power as it centralized itself. Especially, after the defeat of Spain in 1898, America had a Global Empire of its own too. Back in Europe, two troublesome powers had emerged which were threatening Britain’s interests, these were – Tsarist Russia and Germany. Britain had for long practised Isolationism with respect to the European powers. But their rapid Industrial advancement was a threat to Britain. Thus, Britain confidently found America as a vital and powerful ally. It was half a world away and had its own sphere of influence. Plus, both shared the same language and values which made conditions easier for a long-lasting friendship.
It was at the dawn of the 20th Century under President Theodore Roosevelt that America made a long-lasting Friendship deal with Britain. The central belief of this alliance was a common hatred for Germany. This agreement allowed Britain to withdraw its fleet from the Caribbean Islands and bring it back to defend Britain from the Germans. The responsibility of security in the Caribbean was left to the USA.

During World War I, German U-Boat tactics against American ships and the Zimmerman Telegram combined with loss in debt payments if Britain and France lost the war forced America to intervene in the First World War in 1917.

From then on, both Britain and America were in the same camps, leaving aside certain mishaps along this journey. They, therefore, formed the now unspoken Anglo-American Alliance.

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