The study of Winston Churchill remains a vital force in political and historical scholarship because Churchill’s life, writings, and political career provide lessons and sources of reflection that remain valuable today. Churchill is best known for his leadership of Great Britain during the Second World War, but his influence extends far beyond the war itself. His life and long political career spanned the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and one is hard pressed to name a significant political event in the West during his adult life in which he did not play a significant part or upon which he did not make influential comment. Because Churchill left us a remarkably copious record, not only of his political views and judgments, but also of his reflections on the human condition, he ought to be studied as a means of approaching the most important political questions.
One of the most decisive changes wrought in the world in which Churchill lived was the emergence of the United States as a major power. Churchill’s relationship with his mother’s homeland spans his entire life, from his schoolboy fascination with Buffalo Bill to his honorary American citizenship. Churchill had working relationships with three presidents during his more than sixty years in politics; together they tackled the most difficult issues of international relations. Churchill’s understanding and appreciation of FDRs commanding presence and intelligent statesmanship is especially to be noted. Although not agreeing on everything important, their collaboration during the great crises of the war is an especially worthy story.
Yet Churchill’s relationship with America was not merely one of practical convenience or necessity. He viewed the two nations as being linked by principle. He viewed the United States and Britain as very closely related politically—indeed, as essentially the same. Often he made references to Anglo-American action which incorporated the political and legal documents of the two nations and emphasized the common traditions and goals of the two peoples. At the core of his identity as a statesman was his unceasing call to the world to order itself according to the political principles of freedom, especially those which are the legacies of the Anglo-American political tradition.
Churchill’s themes of the unity of the English-speaking peoples and the Anglo-American relationship are timely. They are the focus of the collection of his speeches and writings on America edited by his homonymous grandson, Winston S. Churchill, The Great Republic: A History of America (New York: Modern Library, 2001). They were in evidence in a major exhibition last year at the Library of Congress, “Churchill and the Great Republic.” They are also explored in Martin Gilberts new book Churchill and America (New York: Free Press, 2005). Both The Great Republic and Churchill in America, along with Churchill’s autobiography, My Early Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996; first published in 1930), which describes his first encounters with the United States, and Geoffrey Best’s biography Churchill: A Study in Greatness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), will be texts for the institute.
Together these books help to present a rich and balanced view of Churchill’s political achievement and reflections, and to raise the questions about the character of modern democratic politics in America that we particularly seek to explore in the institute.
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