The period August 1966–September
1967 saw a decline in Wilson’s commitment to President Johnson and to
the United States, both personally and in the wider context of Britishforeignpolicy. In February 1967, the Prime Minister tried to use the visit
to London of the Russian leader Alexei Kosygin to bring Hanoi and Washington
to the negotiating table over Vietnam. Wilson was sincere – if
Harold Wilson and Lyndon B. Johnson: a ‘special relationship’?
Gordon Walker, Stewart and Brown all supported the idea of close ties
between Britain and the United States, but Wilson’s input was such
that, as Richard Crossman commented, Britishforeignpolicy was
characterised above all by the ‘peculiarly Wilsonian touch’ of a
‘personal reliance on LBJ’. 27 The Foreign Office backed up Wilson’s support for
the continued close relationship with Washington and for the British
analysis noted that
Britain’s standing in the United States depended ultimately on
‘our practical contribution to the Western Alliance rather than on any
particular feeling of United Kingdom/United States interdependence’. 48 It was commented in 1964 that
the ‘alliance with the United States’ was ‘the most
important single factor’ in Britishforeignpolicy: ‘As much the
weaker partner, dependent on overseas trade and with world
service. This strategy sufficed to maintain British naval
supremacy, since all Choiseul’s efforts to rebuild the French navy
foundered on lack of materials, manpower, and money, and so did the
Spanish attempt. At the time of the Falkland Islands Crisis of 1770
some eighty British ships were soon fit for action, and there was every
confidence Britain could defeat the combined enemy fleets.33
If the conduct of Britishforeignpolicy posed more problems than
could be anticipated in 1760, the attention of both government and
Parliament was increasingly taken up by imperial
, Macartney in Russia, pp. 13–33. Scott, BritishForeignPolicy,
15 Escott, Thesis, pp. 66–100. Scott, BritishForeignPolicy, pp. 91–5.
16 Powell, Thesis, p. 110.
17 Walpole, Memoirs, II, 144–5.
18 Thomas, British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis, pp. 132–6.
19 Thomas, British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis, pp. 137–8. This view is
confirmed by Lord Hardwicke’s later comment. BL Add. MSS. 35428, fo.
22. For a more literal interpretation, see Langford, First Rockingham
Administration, pp. 80–2.
20 Thomas, British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis, pp. 138
relations between the Labour government and the United States,
characterised above all by Wilson’s determination to secure his ties
with the White House, in keeping with his personal inclinations and his view
that close cooperation with Washington was fundamental to Britishforeignpolicy.
The Labour victory
President Johnson had never feared a
Labour victory in Britain, but he felt it necessary to ease any
Austria would adhere
to her French alliance was not seen as a final rebuff, merely as a postponement of hopes cherished by many in Britain.
Unrealistic as the main thrust of Britishforeignpolicy may have
been, under Grenville it was nevertheless a success. Quite apart from
the 1765 coup in Sweden, which was to prove short-lived in the face
of French countermeasures, the Premier himself, continuing his hardline attitude already evident during the Bute ministry, resorted to
what in the next century came to be known as ‘gunboat diplomacy’.
Still resentful about the
without further orders. A Falkland Islands crisis was postponed only
by Spanish failure to find the British base before this dispute was in
1768 temporarily overshadowed on the international scene by the
Corsica question and the outbreak of a Russo-Turkish war.29
The failure of Britishforeignpolicy during the Chatham ministry
can be ascribed to internal factors as well as the unfavourable international scene, the distractions of party politics at home and the need
to devise measures for India and America. Yet when the new Parliamentary session began in
Sweden and the lesser powers in the long eighteenth century
Press, 1969); Michael Roberts, Splendid Isolation, 1763–1780: The Stenton
Lecture 1969 (Reading: University of Reading, 1970); Ingrao, The Hessian
Mercenary State, pp. 135–162; Jeremy Black, A System of Ambition? BritishForeignPolicy 1660–1793 (Harlow: Longman, 1991), pp. 204ff; Wilson,
‘The German’, 786–787; Wilson, German Armies, pp. 311–312, 326; Scott,
The Birth, pp. 146–147. Sweden received very substantial British subsidies
in 1805–1816; Åmark, Sveriges statsfinanser, pp. 594, 852–856; Sherwig,
Guineas and Gunpowder, pp. 366–368, passim; Jan Glete, ‘The
BL Add. MSS. 32978, fos 235–41.
BL Add. MSS. 32988, fo. 49.
Lawson, George Grenville, pp. 258–69.
O’Gorman, Rise of Party, pp. 220–8.
BL Add. MSS. 32990, fo. 57.
BL Add. MSS. 32990, fo. 107.
Thomas, John Wilkes, pp. 68–76.
Thomas, John Wilkes, pp. 76–86.
Walpole, Memoirs, III, 146.
Legg, British Diplomatic Instructions, pp. 101–5.
Corr. of George III, II, 44.
For a detailed examination of the Corsica question see Escott, Thesis,
Scott, BritishForeignPolicy, pp. 112–24.
Thomas, Townshend Duties Crisis, pp. 76–8.
Thomas, Townshend Duties Crisis