Crusty old Tories long complained that Winston Churchill wasn’t quite British. His official biographer shows that they were right.
Churchill’s mother, née Jennie Jerome, was born in Brooklyn in 1854. It thrilled Winston more to know that one of his ancestors was what he called, in the parlance of the time, “a Seneca squaw.” Writes Gilbert (The Righteous, 2003, etc.), “the quintessential Englishman was not only half American but also one-sixty-fourth Native American.” Being half American did not keep Churchill from serving as an advisor to the Spanish government just before war broke out with the U.S., nor did he shy from answering the call when it appeared that the U.S. and England were on the verge of war over some tangled dealings in Venezuela. Yet Churchill’s affinities were always with America, and the feelings were mutual; Churchill’s powers of persuasion were such that Charles Schwab, the head of U.S. Steel, gladly violated neutrality laws to build submarines for England during WWI, and even FDR figured out a way to skirt those same laws to supply Churchill with airplanes before the U.S. entered WWII. Close feelings apart, though, Churchill often found himself flummoxed by American politics: He was irritated when Congress pressed for quick repayment of war debts after WWI; unhappy when, in his view, the U.S. allowed Russia to swallow up half of Europe; and downright irate at Eisenhower’s obstinate refusal to hold informal talks with Soviet diplomats, which might have ended the Cold War much sooner. Much of this will be a revelation even to those who know Churchill’s work and career, and Gilbert does a fine job of charting the statesman’s sometimes mixed feelings for the land he considered a second home—and his closest ally.
The ties that bind the two countries today are, at least in part, of Churchill’s making.