Cita Stelzer on the Anglo-American Special Relationship

Cita Stelzer on the Anglo-American Special Relationship

Excerpt­ed from “Cita Stelz­er Exam­ines Churchill’s Hold on Americans—and Theirs on Him,” writ­ten for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the orig­i­nal arti­cle, click here. To sub­scribe to week­ly arti­cles from Hills­dale-Churchill, click here, scroll to bot­tom, and enter your email in the box “Stay in touch with us.” We nev­er spam you and your iden­ti­ty remains a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery inside an enigma.


StelzerCita Stelz­er. Churchill’s Amer­i­can Net­work: Win­ston Churchill and the Forg­ing of the Spe­cial Rela­tion­shipNew York: Pega­sus Books, 2024. 236 pages, $29.95, Ama­zon $26, Kin­dle $19.99.

Cita Stelzer…

…offers a live­ly and read­able account of Win­ston Churchill’s hold on impor­tant Americans—and theirs on him. Her book nice­ly com­ple­ments Sir Mar­tin Gilbert’s Churchill and Amer­i­ca (2005). Add Brad Tolppanen’s Churchill in North Amer­i­ca 1929 (2014), and you have an excel­lent trip­tych on the Anglo-Amer­i­can Spe­cial Relationship.

Gilbert’s book was chrono­log­i­cal and com­plete; Tol­pan­nen con­cen­trat­ed on a sin­gle year. Stelz­er splits the dif­fer­ence. She begins with Churchill’s first U.S. vis­it in 1895 and ends with the out­break of the Sec­ond World War. Churchill’s long skein of Amer­i­can con­tacts served him well, and she could eas­i­ly write a sequel cov­er­ing the war years and beyond.

Near­ly two-thirds of Churchill’s Amer­i­can Net­work is devot­ed to his nation­wide tours of 1929 and 1931. Churchill’s Amer­i­can Net­work shows how WSC honed his U.S. con­tacts, begun in the First World War, that proved so indis­pens­able in the Second.

Early on

On his first U.S. lec­ture tour in 1900-01, Stelz­er observes, young Win­ston was viewed with some dif­fi­dence. Amer­i­cans tend­ed to sym­pa­thize with the Boers, Britain’s ene­my in South Africa. Churchill dis­armed them by pay­ing trib­ute to Boer valor—and, in places like Boston, that of his Irish com­pa­tri­ots. Stelz­er quotes Man­fred Wei­d­horn on how Churchill, like U.S. Grant, suc­cess­ful­ly relied on “per­son­al obser­va­tion” in his war report­ing (71).

As First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty in 1915, Churchill met steel mag­nate Charles M. Schwab, whose Beth­le­hem Steel was sup­ply­ing guns to the Allies and “c.k.d.” (crat­ed knocked down) sub­marines to the Roy­al Navy. Thus, the First Lord became aware of the “awe­some pro­duc­tive capac­i­ty” of Amer­i­can indus­try. They remained close, and Schwab would sup­ply the “Churchill Troupe’s” pri­vate rail­car for their North Amer­i­can tour in 1929.

Return to “dry” America

Churchill’s atti­tude toward Pro­hi­bi­tion is sum­ma­rized by this 1919 sheet music fold­er. (Uni­ver­si­ty of Maine Library, pub­lic domain)

By the late Twen­ties, Churchill’s chief Amer­i­can con­tact was Bernard Baruch, like Schwab anoth­er Great War acquain­tance. Stelz­er is our guide as the tow­er­ing financier eas­es into the heart of the sto­ry, 1929-32. From Baruch, WSC learns “the rela­tion­ship of finance and gov­ern­ment and how pri­vate sec­tor deter­mined deploy­ment of the nation’s resources” (119).

Two years lat­er, back now for a lec­ture tour, Churchill assured audi­ences that “Amer­i­ca is not going to crash.” But he couldn’t get over Pro­hi­bi­tion, and denounced it in Collier’s. Cita Stelz­er fer­rets out a poignant quote from that arti­cle about the evils of exces­sive gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion. Pro­hi­bi­tion then, the dom­i­nant Admin­is­tra­tive State now—Churchill’s view is still worth our attention:

[It is] the most amaz­ing exhi­bi­tion alike of the arro­gance and of the impo­tence of a major­i­ty that the his­to­ry of rep­re­sen­ta­tive insti­tu­tions can show. The extreme self-asser­tion which leads an indi­vid­ual to impose his likes and dis­likes upon others…on a gigan­tic scale a spec­ta­cle at once com­ic and pathet­ic…. No fol­ly is more cost­ly than the fol­ly of intol­er­ant ide­al­ism (81).

Forging “special relationships”

If Churchill coined the term “Spe­cial Rela­tion­ship” for Anglo-Amer­i­can asso­ci­a­tion, he derived it from the con­tacts he him­self forged. Yet not even he, Stelz­er observes, “real­ized how impor­tant” the peo­ple he met would become.

There were, for exam­ple, future War Sec­re­tary Hen­ry Stim­son, Ambas­sador to Britain Andrew Mel­lon, and Navy Sec­re­tary Charles Fran­cis Adams III (110).  There were cer­tain key pub­lish­ers, who didn’t always agree with him, but liked him. From William Ran­dolph Hearst he learned “the vari­ety and pop­u­lar­i­ty of U.S. mag­a­zines access­ing pub­lic opin­ion” (101).

Anoth­er vital pub­lish­er was Chicago’s Robert McCormick, who agreed with him even less than Hearst, but liked him equal­ly. When the war began, Anglo­phobe Sen­a­tor Tom Con­nol­ly ques­tioned whether Churchill would keep his promise nev­er to sur­ren­der the Roy­al Navy. McCormick told him: “Sen­a­tor, I have known Win­ston Churchill for twen­ty-five years. A more thor­ough­ly hon­or­able man nev­er lived. He would not have made that promise if he had not intend­ed to keep it” (204).

Amer­i­can grandees were impressed by Churchill’s col­le­gial atti­tude toward polit­i­cal oppo­sites like McCormick. After his tri­umphant address to Con­gress fol­low­ing Pearl Har­bor, he warm­ly shook hands with Demo­c­rat iso­la­tion­ist Sen­a­tor Bur­ton K. Wheel­er. Lat­er Churchill said, “I liked him. He is a fight­ing man…. I respect and admire fight­ing men even if they are against me” (209).

“Volume diplomacy”

To nur­ture his U.S. con­tacts Churchill employed a kind of “vol­ume diplo­ma­cy.” He inscribed and sent suc­ces­sive vol­umes of his life of Marl­bor­ough to America’s haute noblesse. Baruch, Schwab, McCormick Hearst, Sen­a­tor Joe Robin­son, and B&O Rail­road head Daniel Willard all received copies. Anoth­er recip­i­ent was insur­ance tycoon Don­ald McLen­nan, who in 1942 extend­ed war dam­age insur­ance to endan­gered com­pa­nies oth­er insur­ers wouldn’t touch.

On Churchill’s gift list was Demo­c­rat pow­er­house and for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date William McAdoo. In 1929, Baruch had told McAdoo of WSC’s forth­com­ing vis­it. McAdoo wrote Churchill: “[G]ive me…some indi­ca­tion of what you would like to do while here….Do you care for any form of pub­lic enter­tain­ment?” WSC replied, “Do not desire pub­lic enter­tain­ment but hope to dine with you pri­vate­ly” (62).

Marl­bor­ough also went to banker William Hen­ry Crock­er, whose Burlingame, Cal­i­for­nia man­sion includ­ed “a splen­did swim­ming pool.” Crock­er had intro­duced Churchill to sev­er­al West Coast titans (83). Among these were Cal Tech Pres­i­dent and physi­cist Robert A. Mil­likan, USC Pres­i­dent Rufus B. von KleinS­mid, and actor Dou­glas Fair­banks Jr.  All of them, Stelz­er writes, would lat­er sup­port Amer­i­can entry into the Sec­ond World War (100). A dose of Win­ston Churchill hadn’t hurt.

A positive vice

To the con­sis­tent hor­ror of his wife, Churchill was an inces­sant (most­ly los­ing) gambler—casinos and the stock mar­ket. His habit, Cita Stelz­er writes, “did noth­ing to improve his rep­u­ta­tion among the straitlaced…including Schwab’s asso­ciate, “the puri­tan­i­cal Andrew Carnegie” (57). She quotes finan­cial his­to­ri­an David Lough: “I have nev­er encoun­tered risk-tak­ing on Churchill’s scale dur­ing my career of advis­ing peo­ple about their finances” (125).

But Stelz­er sees a sav­ing grace, in that WSC’s addic­tion was a net gain for him and his read­ers. “It forced him to rely on his pen, pro­duc­ing forty-three book-length works in sev­en­ty-two vol­umes” Actu­al­ly it was fifty-one books in eighty volumes—but as Stelz­er writes, this was “a gift to the world.” (126)

To that she adds some 400 peri­od­i­cal arti­cles between the World Wars, a dra­mat­ic out­put. Indeed Churchill nev­er stopped writing—and earn­ing. Con­fined to a New York hos­pi­tal after being knocked down and near­ly killed by a car in 1932, he dic­tat­ed the sto­ry of his acci­dent at a dol­lar a word.

At the same time, the author con­tin­ues, he was “in treaty” for twelve Collier’s arti­cles and six for The Strand. Mean­while, he was telegraph­ing pub­lish­er George Har­rap that he had “no seri­ous work between me and [Marl­bor­ough] at the present time.” (138)

With Amer­i­cans, Churchill seemed more cau­tious about risk-tak­ing. He met Averell Har­ri­man between casi­no vis­its in 1927, warn­ing him against invest­ing in Sovi­et man­ganese mines. Lat­er he claimed he had saved Har­ri­man mil­lions. Whether Har­ri­man took his advice is unclear, Stelz­er writes, but here was anoth­er link to “his Amer­i­can chain of rela­tion­ships that would stand him in good stead for decades” (64). In an adja­cent sidebar—one of many on peo­ple and events—the author details Harriman’s wartime diplo­ma­cy with Churchill and Stalin.

Churchill on Americans

On his very first vis­it to the U.S., Churchill had writ­ten his moth­er: “What an extra­or­di­nary peo­ple the Amer­i­cans are! Their hos­pi­tal­i­ty is a rev­e­la­tion to me and they make you feel at home and at ease in a way that I have nev­er before expe­ri­enced.” To his broth­er he sim­ply remarked: “This is a very great coun­try, my dear Jack.”

Cita Stelz­er shows that he nev­er found rea­son to alter that impres­sion. Thir­ty-five years lat­er he wrote of “gusts of friendliness…expansive gestures…hospitality and every form of kind­ness… [Amer­i­cans] are less indurat­ed by dis­ap­point­ment; they have more hopes and more illu­sions.” This, he observed, meshed well with British “tra­di­tion­al reserve and frigidity….chary of allow­ing the feel­ing of friend­li­ness to take root quick­ly…. It is in the com­bi­na­tion of these com­ple­men­tary virtues and resources that the bright­est promise of the future dwells” (119).

Again Man­fred Wei­d­horn, “a keen stu­dent of Churchill’s atti­tudes toward Amer­i­ca,” is quot­ed: The Unit­ed States in Churchill’s view was “a great exper­i­ment, a trail blaz­er, in so many ways the lead­ing nation of the world and the car­ri­er of the hopes of mankind” (193).

Americans on Churchill

A few minor errors of fact do not detract from a good read, full of insight tem­pered by hon­esty. For instance, Cita Stelz­er doesn’t hide Churchill’s will­ing­ness to take advan­tage of good-natured Amer­i­can hos­pi­tal­i­ty, some­times with unabashed pushi­ness. In 1929 she has him writ­ing Hearst to find out whether banker William Crock­er or air­craft and oil baron George Arms­by “would like to take care of me in San Fran­cis­co” (76).

Yet she notes that Churchill’s out­go­ing char­ac­ter, his fra­ter­nal love of his mother’s land, soon dis­abused his hosts of base impres­sions. The Anglophile jour­nal­ist Fred­er­ick Wile was not the first Amer­i­can to go out on a limb (albeit with a nick­name WSC detest­ed): “Dynam­ic, bril­liant, resource­ful and lion-heart­ed, ‘Winnie’s’ path, his admir­ers are per­suad­ed, one day will lead him to the pre­mier­ship” (110).

Cita Stelzer
“Just per­fect har­mo­ny”: WSC and FDR swap smokes. Tom Web­ster in the “Couri­er,” Win­ter 1943. (Wiki­me­dia Commons)

It would—but not quite in the way Wile expected.

In 1941, a few months after the whole world had seen what his indomitable char­ac­ter had made him, even Amer­i­cans who had been dis­mis­sive were giv­ing Churchill anoth­er look. That was when one of his U.S. acquain­tances, Hen­ry Luce, named him Time’s “Man of the Year.”

“Churchill can­not rea­son­ably claim to have recruit­ed Hen­ry Luce to his net­work,” Stelz­er writes. “But he can rea­son­ably claim to have attract­ed Luce to his side…. Luce need­ed Churchill to make the case for inter­ven­tion, Churchill need­ed Luce to make his argu­ments avail­able to mil­lions, Roo­sevelt need­ed both” (209). Mutu­al need fea­tured huge­ly in the “Spe­cial Rela­tion­ship.” It still should today.

On America and Americans 

From Sir Mar­tin Gilbert’s remarks on Churchill and Amer­i­caChartwell Book­sellers, New York, 11 Octo­ber 2005.

In the beginning….

He came here first in 1895, and he was quite amazed by New York, which was the one city he visited—he was on his way to Cuba to watch the Spaniards grap­pling with the Cuban insur­rec­tion­ists. He wrote to his young brother:

Pic­ture to your­self the Amer­i­can peo­ple as a great lusty youth who treads on all your sen­si­bil­i­ties, per­pe­trates every pos­si­ble hor­ror of ill man­ners, whom nei­ther age not just tra­di­tion inspire with rev­er­ence, but who moves about his affairs with a good-heart­ed fresh­ness which may well be the envy of old­er nations of the earth.

Toward the end….

One of the doc­u­ments which I’ve nev­er seen repro­duced in any his­to­ry book or col­lec­tion of doc­u­ments was the Dec­la­ra­tion of Prin­ci­ples which Churchill and Eisen­how­er signed in the White House on 27 June 1954. He sum­ma­rized it in a speech to Parliament:

Britain and the Unit­ed States assert their sym­pa­thy for and loy­al­ty to all those still in bondage, pro­claim their desire to reduce arma­ments, and to turn nuclear pow­er into peace­ful chan­nels, con­firm their sup­port of the Unit­ed Nations, and all orga­ni­za­tions designed to pro­mote peace in the world; and pro­claim their des­ti­na­tion, to devel­op and main­tain the spir­i­tu­al, eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary strength nec­es­sary to pur­sue their pur­pos­es effec­tive­ly based on their mutu­al comradeship.

In 1955 he sum­moned his cab­i­net togeth­er for a final chat. And he said to them, “there are two things which mat­ter. One is to remem­ber that man is spir­it. And the oth­er thing is: Nev­er be sep­a­rat­ed from the Americans.”

Related reading

“Ori­gins of Churchill Phras­es: ‘Spe­cial Rela­tion­ship’ and ‘Iron Cur­tain,'” 2019.

“Churchill Quo­ta­tions: The Best Telegram He Ever Sent,” 2023.

“Amer­i­cans Will Always Do the Right Thing, After All Oth­er Pos­si­bil­i­ties are Exhaust­ed,” 2021

“Dewey, Hoover, Churchill, and Grand Strat­e­gy, 1950-53,” 2018.

“Churchill’s Ersatz Meet­ing with Lincoln’s Ghost,” 2018.

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