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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: July 2017

7 - Anglo-Saxonism and the Racialization of the English Diaspora

Summary

[Anglo-Saxons] are apt to fly apart. […] They quarrel easily and do not easily forget. Their pride perpetuates their estrangement. In their spleen and factiousness they take the part of outsiders against each other. It is thus that the race is in danger of losing its crown. It is thus that it is in danger of forfeiting the leadership of civilization to inferior but more gregarious races, to the detriment of civilization as well as to its own disparagement. The most signal and disastrous instance of this weakness is the schism in the race caused by the American Revolution with the long estrangement that followed.

Outpourings such as these by Goldwin Smith, historian, writer and journalist, found national and international audiences among the periodical- and book-reading public in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They also had quite focused potential audiences with the many associations connected to expressions of Englishness, Canadianness and Anglo-Saxonism in North America. Smith delivered his words, in fact, at the Canadian Club of New York in 1887, and would make similar statements amid much controversy at the St George's Society of Toronto a few years later. Smith's views reflect what Bell describes as ‘a lost opportunity’: after the American Revolution and subsequent schism, ‘the two main branches of the Anglo-Saxon world had followed radically different trajectories, and the chance to act in unison had been forfeited’. A supporter of continental union with the United States, Smith sought to overcome the schism, drawing on Anglo-Saxonism as ‘a common lexicon […] of […] kinship and Anglo-Canadian affinity’.

Anglo-Saxonism has its roots in the sixteenth century, making its way to North America with English migrants ‘as part of their historical and religious heritage’. In the eighteenth century Anglo-Saxon myths primarily served an internal function, for instance against royal absolutism in England. Anglo-Saxonism transformed, however, in the early 1800s when it was increasingly defined in terms of ‘the innate characteristics of the race’. This shift facilitated the use of Anglo-Saxonism for an external purpose, establishing boundaries between Anglo-Saxons and other races. Importantly, it was also this shift, and the subsequent framing of Anglo-Saxons as a superior race, that ideologically underpinned expansionism in America by 1850. Yet, as Kramer shows, ‘Anglo-Saxonism would [only] reach the height of its explanatory power’ in the late nineteenth century, offering ‘the alloy of superior but distinct racial elements’ to the English-speaking peoples.