My grandfather, Winston Churchill, took enormous pride in his American heritage. This book stands as a tribute to him. It is also a testimony to the faith that he had in the theme of Anglo-American unity--a theme that transcended his life and achieved its apotheosis in World War II with the march to victory of the armies of Britain and her Commonwealth, the United States, Russia, and their allies. Thanks to their sacrifices the nations of Europe were liberated from Nazi tyranny.
Churchill was half American through his mother, the glamorous Miss Jennie Jerome of Brooklyn, New York, and, on the occasion of his first address to a joint session of the United States Congress, on December 26, 1941, he could not resist alluding to this fact, teasing the assembled senators and members of Congress with the mischievous suggestion: "If my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own!" Through his maternal grandfather, Leonard Jerome, sometime proprietor and editor of The New York Times, he had at least two forebears who fought against the British in the American War of Independence: one great-grandfather, Samuel Jerome, served in the Berkshire County Militia, while another, Major Libbeus Ball of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, marched and fought with George Washington's army at Valley Forge. Furthermore, Leonard Jerome's maternal grandfather, Reuben Murray, served as a lieutenant in the Connecticut and New York Regiments, while his wife Clara's grandfather, Ambrose Hall, was a captain in the Berkshire County Militia at Bennington.
Not only did he have Revolutionary blood in his veins but, it is believed, Native American as well. According to family tradition Jennie's maternal grandmother, Clarisse Wilcox, was half Iroquois. Clarisse's father, David Wilcox of Macedon, near Rochester, New York, is recorded as having married Anna Baker of nearby Palmyra, New York, in April 1791. In recent times genealogical researchers have cast scorn on the suggestion that Jennie's descent is other than "American Colonial of English background," citing David Wilcox's wife as being the daughter of Joseph Baker and Experience Martin, whose daughter "Anne" was born in Rutland, Vermont, "about 1782." However, this is implausible, given that she would have been only nine years old when David Wilcox married his "Anna" and just fourteen when Clarisse was born. Thus another myth bites the dust.
We Churchills take great pride in our Native American heritage and are not lightly to be deprived of it. In opposition to those who doubt it, I would merely assert that Winston's mother, Jennie, and her sister, Leonie Leslie, were convinced of it. Furthermore, it is undisputed that the densely wooded hills south of Lake Ontario had been the heartland of the Iroquois nation. Anita Leslie, in The Fabulous Leonard Jerome, quotes her grandmother Leonie, remarking on her exceptional energy, as saying: "That's my Indian blood, only don't let Mama know I told you!" Having inherited from my grandfather portraits of his maternal grandparents, Leonard and Clara Jerome, I have no doubt, judging by the marked Native American features of Clara, as to the truth of the matter. Physical features speak louder than entries in any Register of Births, but I leave it to the reader to make his or her own judgment of the matter.
While researching my family's American heritage on the Internet--thanks to the Mormons who have recently made available thirty years of their researches on both sides of the Atlantic (www.familysearch.org)--I stumbled on the fact that one of my ancestors, John Cooke, who died in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1694, had been born in Leyden, Holland, in 1607. Knowing that half the pilgrims on the Mayflower had been known as the "Leyden Community"--Walloon Protestants escaping religious persecution--I was prompted to wonder if any of my forebears had made that momentous voyage.
Within seconds, via the Mayflower website I was able to call up the passenger manifest of all 102 passengers and was fascinated to discover that Winston Churchill, at ten generations removed, had not one, but three, ancestors who sailed on the Mayflower and who were among the mere fifty who survived the rigours of that first winter on the inhospitable shores of New England. John Cooke, a lad of just thirteen, was one of those passengers, as was his father, Francis, and his future father-in-law, Richard Warren. I was further intrigued to learn that, through them, we are linked to no fewer than three Presidents of the United States--Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George Bush--as well as to Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the first American in space and the fifth man to walk on the moon.
It is no wonder that this injection of American Revolutionary blood kick-started to new triumphs the Marlborough dynasty, which had slumbered through seven generations since John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, who, in a series of dazzling victories at the turn of the eighteenth century, had humbled France's "Sun King," Louis XIV.
In November 1895, three weeks shy of his twenty-first birthday, Winston, a lieutenant in the 4th Hussars, snatched a few weeks' leave from his regiment to visit Cuba, with the aim of observing the Cuban Revolutionary War against Spain. Getting there involved travelling by way of New York. Thus, on November 9, Winston Churchill arrived in New York harbor aboard the RMS Etruria and first set foot in his mother's homeland and the city where she had been born and brought up. It is evident that he did so with singularly little enthusiasm, for he was impatient to get to Cuba. Indeed, the day before landing in New York, he wrote to his mother from on board ship: "I look forward eagerly to reaching our destination and it is possible we may cut down our stay in New York to a day and a half instead of three."
His visit, clearly, was a revelation and it did not take long for the young Winston to become captivated by the spirit and excitement of America. Within a day of his arrival, he was writing to 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. On the other hand their press and their currency impressed me very unfavourably. . . ." It is no wonder that he extended his stay in New York to six days and that in each of his fifteen visits to America, over the span of sixty-five years, he derived the same delight and inspiration from America as on his first visit.
From an early age Winston rejoiced in his American ancestry and, as an enthusiastic student of history, the great events in the saga of the American nation held a powerful attraction for him. Indeed, so impassioned did he become that in 1929 he personally tramped several of the battlefields of the American Civil War--a fact that shows through in his brilliant chapters on this aspect of American history. His guide at the battlefields of Fredericksburg and the Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania had himself, at the age of eight, been an eyewitness of some of the heaviest fighting that had taken place there more than sixty-five years before. Winston was captivated: "Here is the Angle," recounted his guide. "Here is where the dead lay thickest. Yes! In this trench they were piled in heaps, both sides together, blue and grey. We came here while the firing was still going on a mile or two away. My father scolded me for trying to take the boots off a dead soldier who lay here. See that little gully here? It was pouring with rain, and all the water running along it was red. . . ."
Churchill's love of America endured throughout his lifetime until, by the chance of history, it fell to him to provide the leadership at a critical juncture in the greatest war of history, that crucially enabled Britain to hold out, though the rest of Europe had fallen beneath the Nazi jackboot, until in the fullness of time the United States was able to join the conflict. Though confident that Britain, sustained by her Empire and Commonwealth overseas, could hold out in her island, he was sufficient of a realist to acknowledge that only with the full-hearted commitment of the United States could the liberation of Europe be achieved and the defeat of Hitler accomplished.
It was in recognition of his contribution to victory in World War II that, on April 9, 1963, President John F. Kennedy conferred upon Churchill the remarkable distinction of honorary citizenship of the United States. By then eighty-eight years of age and infirm, he was not strong enough to make the journey to Washington in person but deputed my late father, Randolph, and me to represent him. In his reply (read by my father) to the President's citation, my grandfather declared: "I am, as you know, half American by blood, and the story of my association with that mighty and benevolent nation goes back nearly ninety years to the day of my father's marriage. In this century of storm and tragedy I contemplate with high satisfaction the constant factor of the interwoven and upward progress of our peoples. Our comradeship and our brotherhood in war were unexampled. We stood together and because of that fact the free world now stands. . . . Mr. President, your action illuminates the theme of unity of the English-speaking peoples, to which I have devoted a large part of my life."
This book brings together for the first time Churchill's personal view of American history, from the voyages of discovery and the founding of the first colonies on the Eastern seaboard, through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars to the point where America stands on the threshold of world power. It is drawn from his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, a four-volume work, which he began in the mid-1930s but which, due to certain interruptions, he did not finish until the mid-1950s. The original work traced the fortunes of the British nation from the Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar in 55 b.c. through the Dark Ages, the Viking raids, the Norman invasion of 1066, the Crusades, and on to the creation of the greatest empire the world has ever seen and the birth of the Industrial Revolution, that was the forerunner of the technological age in which we live today. Buried in this grand sweep of British history are many fascinating chapters unfolding the remarkable tale of the birth and development of the American nation; it is these that I now place before the American reader. I have also included, towards the end, a selection of Churchill's articles and speeches on twentieth-century America, as well as chapters on America's English constitutional and legal heritage.
I have called this work The Great Republic, the term my grandfather used with fondness to refer to the United States, upon which--in Britain's darkest hour--all his hopes of salvation and ultimate victory were focused. I have dedicated this work to the soldiers of the English-speaking world, whose heroism and tenacity through six long years of war brought Nazi Germany to unconditional surrender and the Allies to victory.
Winston SS. CChurchill
London, April 23, 1999From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Great Republic by Sir Winston Churchill. . Excerpted by permission of Random House Audio, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.