Friday, June 3, 2016

The Special Relationship: Churchill and Roosevelt

Roosevelt to Churchill, 20 July 1901The phrase, Special Relationship has come to describe the “exceptionally close political, diplomatic, cultural, economic, military and historical relations between the United Kingdom and the United States.” The phrase first earned its political associations in 1946 when Winston S. Churchill, the former British Prime Minister, referred to Britain’s relationship with the United States during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency as “special.” Since then the phrase has been used to describe other relationships between British and American political figures such as Heath and Nixon, Thatcher and Reagan, and Blair and Clinton.

However, there is a lesser-known yet equally special Churchill-Roosevelt duo that established their personal and political relationship decades before their contemporaries were ever acquainted.

Winston Churchill, the American novelist and Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, first began their relationship around the turn of the twentieth century during a meeting of the Vermont Fish and Game League in September of 1901. Churchill had been invited to address the meeting and Roosevelt attended as the guest of honor.

Churchill to Roosevelt, 24 August 1906Roosevelt to Churchill, 1 January 1904
By 1901 Churchill was already considered a best-selling novelist. He had published two historical novels prior to the release of The Crisis that launched him into literary infamy. The Crisis became the best-selling novel of 1901 and a fan favorite of Theodore Roosevelt. Even before the two men met on Isle La Motte on Lake Champlain, Roosevelt had reached out to Churchill in a note praising The Crisis. Churchill, who supported Roosevelt’s political platform and quietly rallied behind his presidential aspirations, was equally a fan of Roosevelt.

Perhaps it was their similar political beliefs, fondness for the outdoors or respect for one another’s craft that forged the early stages of their relationship. For whichever reason the best-selling novelist and the young politician developed a lasting friendship that survived both of their evolving careers and political ambitions long after their first meeting at Isle La Motte. Roosevelt went on to become President of the United States after McKinley’s death and secured a full term when he won the 1904 election. Churchill also entered the political world during the Progressive Era and served in the New Hampshire state legislature in 1903 and 1905 but was unsuccessful in his run for governor of New Hampshire.

Roosevelt to Churchill, 20 September 1906
In the papers of Winston Churchill we have several letters between Churchill and Roosevelt, discussing visits to the White House, congratulatory messages on literary success and new additions of family members as well as informing on political situations. In a letter dated September 20, 1906, Roosevelt writes to Churchill asking for “I want you to come alone to lunch with me or else give me a couple of hours when I can go over at length the whole political situation with you.”

Roosevelt to Churchill, 18 August 1906
If you would like to learn more about their Special Relationship you can request Robert W. Schneider biography of Churchill, Novelist of a Generation, by asking for Rare PS1298.S3. ML-16 will get you Churchill's papers.

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