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Making HistoryEdward Augustus Freeman and Victorian Cultural Politics$

G.A. Bremner and Jonathan Conlin

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265871

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265871.001.0001

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date: 26 May 2020

Alter Orbis: E. A. Freeman on Empire and Racial Destiny

Alter Orbis: E. A. Freeman on Empire and Racial Destiny

(p.217) 12 Alter Orbis: E. A. Freeman on Empire and Racial Destiny
Making History

Duncan Bell

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

This essay analyses E. A. Freeman’s views on the past, present, and future of the British Empire. It elucidates in particular how his understanding of Aryan racial history and the glories of Ancient Greece helped to shape his account of the British Empire and its pathologies. Freeman was deeply critical of both the British Empire in India and projects for Imperial Federation. Yet he was no ‘little Englander.’ Indeed, it is argued that Freeman’s scepticism about modern European forms of empire-building was informed by an ambition to establish a globe-spanning political community composed of the ‘English-speaking peoples’. At the core of this imagined racial community, united by kinship and common citizenship, stood the Anglo-American connection, and Freeman repeatedly sought to convince people on both sides of the Atlantic about their collective history and their shared destiny. For Freeman, the institutions of formal empire stood in the way of this grandiose vision of world order.

Keywords:   Edward Augustus Freeman, Imperial Federation, empire, race, United States, history of English-speaking peoples

Where there is Empire, there is no brotherhood; where there is brotherhood, there is no Empire.

E. A. Freeman, ‘George Washington, the Expander of England’ (1886)1

E. A. FREEMAN WAS A CELEBRATED historian in a culture that venerated the historical arts as a privileged source of truth about the human condition. His historical writing was always political; his political thinking always historical. Indeed he once defined history in Aristotelian terms as ‘the science of man in his character as a political being’.2 A scholar of prodigious energy, he pioneered the application of the ‘comparative method’ to the study of politics and contributed to a wide range of contemporary debates. He was, that is, an archetypal public moralist.

Freeman gave the role two distinctive twists, however. The first, inspired by Thomas Arnold, stressed the ‘unity of history’, denying any radical break between the ancient and the modern—‘that wretched distinction’—and emphasising continuities and ‘survivals’ more than rupture and innovation. The ‘great truth’ to be discerned from studying the past was that ‘history is one’, that ‘every part has a bearing on every other part’.3 This led him to see events in a deep (and often distorting) historical perspective and to express suspicion of novelty. Freeman’s second characteristic move was to underscore the spatial dimensions of political life, contrasting the unity of historical time with the disunity of geographical space, the manner in which different constellations of geology, climate, and territory shaped political institutions, (p.218) racial character, and individual subjectivities. Indeed he can be seen as an early exponent of geopolitics.4 In combination, these intellectual commitments produced a body of work at once expansive in ambition and attenuated in execution.

Oscillating between Burkean gradualism and sentimental radicalism, Freeman was a self-declared searcher after truth and justice. His political activity was marked, he claimed, by ‘zeal for right against wrong’. Proud of his devotion to individual and collective freedom, he boasted that he was ‘for the oppressed everywhere, whoever may be the oppressor’.5 While his myopic vision of justice rarely extended beyond the limits of western Christendom, it nevertheless underpinned his scepticism about imperial order. Unconvinced by the purported benefits of British rule in India and Africa, he was hostile to plans for further imperial expansion and advocated immediate independence for the settler colonies.

Yet Freeman was no straightforward ‘Little Englander’, for he defended an alternative model of global racial imperium in which the ‘Teutonic’ peoples, and above all ‘the English folk’, would order the world. The English nation, on this account, was an immanent community distributed across North America, Britain, southern Africa, and the South Pacific. Its potential as an agent of progress was undermined by the misguided pursuit of empire. The bonds of ‘race’ were more fundamental than those of formal political institutions. ‘Surely the burthen of barbaric Empire is at most something that we may school ourselves to endure; the tie of English brotherhood is something that we may rejoice to strive after.’6

This essay begins by dissecting some of Freeman’s arguments about time, space, and politics. I then analyse his views on racial kinship and empire, focusing initially on his critique of the idea of imperial federation, one of the most prominent political debates of the 1880s and 1890s, before discussing his alternative conceptualisation of global order. He argued that dismantling the British settler empire was both a matter of justice and a precondition for establishing the proper sense of racial ‘brotherhood’ necessary to realise the higher purpose of the English-speaking peoples. The manifest destiny of the (p.219) race was thus premised on recognition of the deep unity of Britain and the United States.

Palimpsest: a world of worlds

On us a new light has come.7

Freeman once claimed that reading Aristotle taught him the ‘power of discerning likenesses and unlikeness, of distinguishing between real and false analogies’, and that this lesson informed both his historical and political writings.8 Supremely confident in his ability to decipher the palimpsest of human experience, Freeman carved multiple worlds from the historical record, each defined by a specific configuration of territory and social organisation, each subject to the perennial forces of expansion, contraction, dispersal, and even annihilation. Populated by civilisations, races, empires, cities, and states, his imaginative geography ranged across different scales, from the local to the planetary, but the practice of worlding—of classifying communities and assigning them meaning in a universal story of human endeavour—was a recurrent theme in his writings. It enabled him to trace patterns of continuity and change across continents and centuries. The privileged role of the historian was to map the fate of worlds and divine salutary lessons from the perpetual cycle of creativity and destruction.

The most fundamental division was expressed in the ‘eternal Eastern Question’, the millennia-long struggle between East and West. Stretching from ‘the opening essays of Herodotus’ to ‘this morning’s telegrams’, it was an epic battle between ‘light and darkness, between freedom and bondage’, an enduring topography of fear and loathing. Originally centred on the Greek conflict against the barbarians, its most recent incarnation was the clash between Christianity and Islam.9 His hatred of the ‘Turk’ motivated Freeman’s political interventions during the 1850s and 1870s, when he took a lead in campaigning against the depredations of the Ottoman Empire.10 The Ottomans—with the insidious support of the ‘Jew’ Disraeli—presented a fundamental threat to the progressive western world, centred on Teutonic Europe. Blending anti-Semitism with a vitriolic hatred of Islam and the (p.220) barbarism of ‘the Orient’, Freeman’s racism infected his political vision and his historical writing in equal measure.11

Freeman was drawn above all to the Ancient Greeks. The rediscovery of classical learning in the 15th and 16th centuries, he marvelled, must have ‘been like the discovery of a new sense’, indeed like the ‘discovery of a new world of being, as it opened up the vistas of human knowledge and experience, granting access to the manifold treasures that had been lost from view’.12 The Hellenic world provided Freeman with a uniquely rich inventory of ideas and institutions to measure all other worlds against, and, as we shall see, this classicising gaze undergirded his account of the pathologies of empire and the potentiality of racial kinship. It also infused his understanding of historical pedagogy. He once wrote that the ‘great lesson of history is that the nature of man, or at any rate of civilized European man, is the same in all times and places, and that there is no time or place whose experience may not supply us with some teaching’.13 Yet some times and places taught the true philosophical historian more than others. By focusing on a great but comprehensible civilisation, students and scholars could uncover universal truths about history, politics, and the human condition. A microcosm of human experience, the Greek world was a laboratory of enlightenment and political virtue. While Freeman’s views can be read as an expression of bathetic nostalgia, he never yearned for a mimetic recreation of the past; rather, the Ancient Greek order was a yardstick and a navigation aid, both map and compass, for helping to comprehend his own world.

Freeman regarded the ‘comparative method’ as the intellectual polestar of the 19th century, a ‘new light’ arguably more significant than the Renaissance encounter with the ancients—the illuminator of worlds.14 Scholars such as Max Müller and Henry Maine provided tools to analyse the Aryan race and its Teutonic heirs through the study of symbols, myths, and above all language. They had demonstrated that unity could be divined in difference and that human progress was essentially the story of the Aryans and their offspring. ‘Civilization’, as Maine once declared, ‘is nothing more than a name for the old order of the Aryan world, dissolved but perpetually (p.221) reconstituting itself.’15 But Freeman thought that more still could be achieved, that enacting the ‘true philosophy of history’ required knowledge of the important institutional similarities connecting descendants of the ur-race, and he thus sought to track distinctive ‘forms of government’ across time and space—this was the overarching aim of the field he named ‘comparative politics’.16 Chains of racial descent could now be ascertained beneath ephemeral surface phenomena:

Like the revival of learning, it has opened to its votaries a new world, and that one not an isolated world, a world shut up within itself, but a world in which times and tongues and nations which before seemed parted poles asunder, now find each one its own place, its own relation to every other, as members of one common primeval brotherhood.17

Harnessing this dazzling intellectual power necessitated the cultivation of a new scholarly identity. The creation and maintenance of scholarly personae express a form of spirituality, characterised as they are by ‘an array of acts of inner self-transformation, of work on the self by the self’, with the intention of fostering ‘an open ended variety of ethical aspirations, “psychological” deportments, cognitive dispositions, public duties, and private desires’.18 Freeman’s historico-political project is a telling example. To become a true comparative scholar required arduous training in various scholarly arts and the mastery of a vast body of historical knowledge—‘[o]f some branches he [the historian] must know everything, but of every branch he must know something’.19 Moreover, it fostered a cognitive disposition to view the sensory output of the everyday with suspicion, allowing the scholar to delineate the fundamental patterns of history and politics. This was a kind of second sight, a trained capacity to identify ‘analogies which are to be seen between the political institutions of times and countries most remote from one another’ and in particular where the ‘most profitable analogies, the most striking cases of direct derivation, are not those which are most obvious at first sight’.20 Freeman was exceedingly proud of his mastery of the method, his self-proclaimed ability to perceive the importance of the unfamiliar and the counter-intuitive.

(p.222) The project of comparativism was predicated on an account of racial descent, the original Aryan ur-people spawning assorted lineal descendents the most important of which were the Greeks, Romans, and Teutons. These three races—of which the Teutons were the greatest—either had been or were the ‘rulers and the teachers of the world’.21 This was at once their burden and their sacred mission. While Müller and Maine had focused on the philological, mythical, and cultural connections between them, Freeman traced the descent of ‘forms of government’, including state, monarchy, and representative assembly.22 Whereas the splendour of the Greeks and the Romans lay in the past, the Teutons now stood as the foremost race in the world, with the English their dominant branch. The itinerant English had three homes: their primeval base on the European mainland, their main dwelling in Britain, populated by those who travelled with Hengst in the 5th century, and their newest offshoot in the United States.23 Whether they realised it or not, they were united by the indestructible bonds of kinship.

The intercalating of geography and politics shaped Freeman’s conception of both the possibilities and limitations of British power. He presented Britain as an ‘alter orbis’, another world, due to its island status. This spatial accident was freighted with historical meaning. ‘It is the insular character of Britain which has, beyond anything else, made the inhabitants of Britain what they are and the history of Britain what it has been.’24 Geographical otherness was the most important fact about British history, more significant even than the Norman Conquest. It explained critical variations between the ‘insular’ and the ‘continental’ branches of the Teutons, and in particular why the Romans (and romance languages) never fully colonised Britain.25 ‘We grew up as a Teutonic people, in some things more purely Teutonic than our kinsfolk of the mainland. For we never accepted the law of Rome, we never saw a roman empire of the English Nation.’26 Shaped by a fortuitous concatenation of history and physical geography, the liberty-loving character of the English was present wherever they settled, including the United States, that ‘newer and vaster England beyond the Oceans’.27

(p.223) Space could be recoded—at least in part—by human agency. Like so many of his contemporaries, Freeman was fascinated by the power of machines to master nature, though rather unusually he thought that this induced a welcome sense of temporal dislocation. Technological prosthetics, above all the electrical telegraph, furnished the recovery of the greatest of Greek political gifts: active citizenship. Freeman followed convention by arguing that small city-states (and their analogues) provided the ideal ground for the creation of political ‘character’. In such communities—with Athens the template—men ‘are raised to the highest level and sharpened to the finest point’, as all citizens had a stake in the life of the society.28 Such social intimacy was impossible to recreate in large communities, but technoscience finally allowed people separated by vast distances ‘direct personal knowledge’ of political affairs, creating a bond of solidarity between individuals and groups who might never meet face-to-face. For Freeman, always the time-traveller, this meant that it was now possible to replicate the political ethos of the Greeks.

Very few Englishmen ever saw or heard Walpole or Pulteney, Pitt or Fox. Now the whole land has well-nigh become a single city; we see and hear our leading men almost daily; they walk before us as the leaders of the Athenian democracy walked before their fellow-citizens; they take us into their counsels; they appeal to us as their judges; we have in short a share in political life only less direct than the share of the Athenian freeman, a share which our forefathers, even two or three generations back, never dreamed of.29

Those inventions meant that the world of Freeman’s fellow subjects was closer to that of Periclean Athens than to their Georgian predecessors. The same technological developments also made it both possible and necessary to harness the power of race and the links of kinship uniting the English-speaking peoples.

The ‘dark abyss’: Freeman on imperial federation

‘I am no lover of “empire”’, Freeman once declared. ‘I am not anxious for my country to exercise lordship over other lands, English-speaking or otherwise.’ While such lordship was sometimes a necessary evil—‘a solemn and fearful duty’—it was never a ‘matter for rejoicing or boasting’.30 His main intervention (p.224) in imperial debates came during the 1880s and early 1890s, at a time when arguments raged about the possible unification of Britain and its settler colonies. Plans for ‘imperial federation’ tended to fall into three categories. Some advocated parliamentary representation for the colonists, others called for the creation of an extra-parliamentary council (or some equivalent institution) to offer non-binding advice to Parliament on imperial affairs, while the most radical plans envisaged a globe-spanning federal polity. Railing against the ‘dark abyss’ of imperial federation, Freeman established himself as one of the most trenchant critics of the project.31

Freeman repeatedly complained that plans for imperial federation were incoherent. This criticism carried considerable weight, as Freeman was widely regarded as the leading British authority on federal forms of government.32 To his fastidious mind there were only two coherent options: the federation of either the whole British Empire, or the totality of the English-speaking peoples.33 Both were fatally flawed. In the former, the non-white population of the Empire would have a huge numerical advantage, which denoted, he wrote to James Bryce, ‘a Federation in which we shall be outvoted by Hindoos and Mahometans’. This entailed the ludicrous conclusion that ‘barbarians’ would rule over their racial superiors.34 Encompassing the English-speaking peoples, on the other hand, meant incorporating the independent United States while excluding most of the British Empire.35 Although this would solve one problem—getting ‘rid of the barbarians’—it was predicated on the fantasy that the United States would willingly rejoin the very colonial power against which it had rebelled.36 However, he at least acknowledged the possibility. ‘I believe that no-one proposes that the Federation of the English-speaking people shall take in the United States of America; if any one does so propose, I honour him as being more logical than his brethren.’37 In both cases, Freeman was being disingenuous. Most imperial federalists were explicit about the racial exclusivity of their plans and some did argue for the absorption of the United States.38

(p.225) He lambasted imperialists for misunderstanding the true meaning of both federalism and empire. ‘On the principle that language was given to man to conceal his thoughts, “Imperial Federation” is surely the wisest name ever thought of. On any other principle it is surely the most foolish.’39 Freeman found it hard to believe that any sentient being might support it, and he was astonished when Bryce accepted the presidency of the Oxford branch of the Imperial Federation League. ‘For to me’, he wrote to his friend, ‘Imperial Federation seems to be, not an intelligible proposal which one deems unjust or inexpedient, and therefore argues against, but a mere heap of vague, meaningless, and contradictory phrases.’ The reasoning was simple: ‘what is Imperial cannot be Federal, and what is Federal cannot be Imperial’.40 Derived from Roman usage, empire had a distinct meaning, ‘the rule of some person or power over some other’, whereas federation was a system of government that implied ‘the unity of certain powers or communities, presumably on equal terms’.41 The former was premised on political hierarchy, the latter on parity. They were antithetical.

Freeman contrasted the superior Greek model of colonisation with the ruinous behaviour of post-Renaissance Europeans. In the Hellenic world, political obligation and patriotic loyalty were directed to a fixed space: the city. ‘The Greek was before all things a citizen.’ The modern European notion of personal allegiance, a type of feudal fealty that bound individuals to the sovereign, was alien to them: ‘The Greek would have regarded himself degraded by the name of “subject”.’42 The difference between subjecthood and citizenship determined the modality of colonisation, for ‘while the active duties of the citizen of a commonwealth can hardly be discharged beyond the territories of that commonwealth, the duties of the subject of … a personal master, are as binding on one part of the earth’s surface as on another’. The Greeks planted free cities populated by free citizens, as Corinth seeded Syracuse:

Parent and child were on the political side necessarily parted; the colonist could exercise no political rights in the mother-city, nor did the mother city put forward any claim to be lady and mistress of her distant daughter. Still the love, the reverence, due to a parent was never lacking. The tie of memory, the tie of kindred, the tie of religion, were of themselves so strong that no tie of political allegiance was needed to make them stronger.43

(p.226) In contrast, the modern European colonists, including the British, remained bound to their ‘mother land’ by formal and subordinate ties of political allegiance.44 Freeman’s sympathies were clear: the connections between metropole and colony were the ‘brightest facts of Greek or Phoenician political life’, while those of the modern colonial system were ‘among the darkest’.45 This history of subjection bestowed a dangerous legacy, for when the modern colony sought independence, as it invariably would, the relations between it and the ‘mother country’ were often poisoned, as demonstrated by lingering Anglophobia in the United States.46

Freeman suggested that imperial federation would be more theoretically intelligible if it drew on the Roman precedent: absorbing colonies within an expanded state. ‘By this process the ruling state gives up nothing; it simply admits others, not so much to its own level as into its own substance.’47 However, this act of constitutional transubstantiation would mean extending full parliamentary representation to the British settler colonies, an idea that Freeman thought open to a battery of objections. Perhaps the most important ‘moral’ taught by Roman history was that the quest for empire resulted in the extinction of freedom at home and abroad, with citizens demoted from citizenship to subjecthood.48 But there were also practical difficulties to overcome. Despite the wonders of modern science, the colonial empire was still too geographically dispersed for political unification.49 Moreover, the colonies would be unwilling to cede their de facto autonomy to a federal government dominated by England. ‘[S]ubjection, in short, formally abolished, would practically be made more complete.’50 Many colonial subjects concurred.

Sir John Colomb’s idea of ‘Britannic confederation’ struck Freeman as the most intellectually credible plan for colonial unity. Its name was not self-contradictory and its scope was clearly specified: a federation of Britain, Australia, Canada, and South Africa.51 Yet it was neither feasible nor desirable. Establishing a durable connection was impossible between geographically (p.227) fragmented territories bound only by sentimental attachment, especially when that sentiment was directed at the metropole but not each other. Colonial affect was bidirectional not multilateral, and Freeman predicted that this augured badly for the longevity of the empire. He regarded competition between constituent units as a weakness of all federations, but he thought it would be exacerbated in a distended non-contiguous one. Finally, he pointed to the lack of historical precedent for creating such a political association.52 Neither space nor time was on Colomb’s side.

Many advocates of imperial federation had failed to grasp the implications of their plans for the fate of Britain itself. Federation, he complained to Bryce, meant ‘the degradation, if not the destruction, of England and its institutions’, chiefly because Parliament would either be abolished or transformed ‘into the Legislature of a Canton’.53 Elsewhere he compared the status of a federated England to that of ‘the State of New York or the State of Delaware’.54 Again, history offered no precedent. Federations were typically instituted when a number of small states banded together against an external threat, but the imperialists proposed to conjoin a dominant state with several weaker entities, and as such ‘a great power, an ancient power, a ruling power, is asked to come down from its place, to rank for the future simply as one member alongside its own dependencies, even though most of those dependencies are its own children’.55 This upset the natural order of things. The lack of precedent carried great epistemological and moral authority. The historian G. W. Prothero once observed that ‘if a proposal threatened to change the fundamental character of a thing or an institution, then, for Mr Freeman, it stood condemned’.56 Such was the case with empire. Absence of a precedent ‘does not of itself prove the proposed scheme is either impossible or undesirable’, he admitted, but it was ‘a fact worth bearing in mind’, and it was always ‘dangerous to imagine a precedent where there is none’.57 Bryce too acknowledged the role of past experience in shaping Freemans’s political views. Based on his reading of the Greeks, he thought ‘that the relation between the “metropolis” and her colonies to be one not of political interdependence, but (p.228) of cordial friendliness and a disposition to render help, nothing more’.58 The historical record taught colonial independence not union.

Freeman played a Janus-faced role in the debates over imperial federation, cited as an authority by advocates and opponents alike. Both Sir Frederick Young, enthusiastic unionist and honorary secretary of the Royal Colonial Institute, and Francis De Labilliere, one of the most radical federalists, drew inspiration from Freeman’s earlier influential work of federalism.59 So too did Liberal politician W. E. Forster, the co-president of the Imperial Federation League, who utilised Freeman’s account in outlining his own vision of a federal Greater Britain.60 Freeman retorted that Forster was confusing the Bundesstadt, the ‘perfect’ type of federation, with the Staatenbund, a much weaker form that was bound to fail, and he attacked those who claimed the colonial empire already constituted a nascent federation.

All the elements of federation are wanting. There is no voluntary union of independent states, keeping some powers to themselves and granting other powers to a central authority of their own creation. There is instead a number of dependent bodies, to which a central authority older than themselves has been graciously pleased to grant certain powers. This state of things is not federation, but subjection.

The colonies, indeed, were not ‘states’ in the relevant sense, but rather subordinate ‘municipalities on a great scale’.61 Freeman was exasperated that his work provided succour for the imperial unionists.

While he complained that his objections fell on deaf ears, numerous critics deployed Freeman’s arguments to bolster their attacks on imperial federation.62 Imperial federalists, meanwhile, often felt the need to respond to him. George Parkin, an energetic Canadian proselytiser, sought to rebut Freeman’s argument about the absence of intra-colonial sentiment.63 Praising Freeman (p.229) for keeping ‘faith’ in federalism during the American Civil War, Labilliere ‘regretted’ that the great historian had ‘written decadently against Imperial Federation’ and questioned the significance of historical precedent. He also denied that imperial federation would damage relations with the United States.64 Others acknowledged the force of Freeman’s objections while stressing their limited scope. The journalist W. T. Stead conceded that Freeman was ‘quite right in pointing out … [that] Imperial Federation is an absurdity when used by those who are really aiming at the federation of all the English-speaking peoples’, but insisted that ‘after all this criticism advances the matter very little’, presumably because such a union was not the main object of the debate. ‘Against those who have plans and are ready with paper constitutions for an Imperial England’, wrote Sir Robert Stout, a senior colonial politician, ‘Mr Freeman’s criticism may hold good’, but it failed to challenge those ‘who strive to prevent separation and who are as yet unable to formulate the new form of government’.65 Indeed it was a common federalist trope that preaching the general idea of unity was more important than specifying constitutional details. Vagueness, on this account, was a political virtue, albeit not one that Freeman would have acknowledged. Archly characterising Freeman as a man ‘with a keen sense for the political antiquities of political terms’, the idealist philosopher D. G. Ritchie accepted that imperial federation was an ‘absurd’ idea if projected onto historical empires, but he argued that modern political experience demonstrated its feasibility:

[J]ust as representative government was the great political invention of the middle ages, so federation (as distinct from mere leagues or confederacies) is the greatest political invention of modern times. To the Greek philosopher a republican nation would have seemed an impossibility. A federal Empire (like Germany), a federal republic, a federation of self-governing communities with dependencies more or less autocratically governed according to their degree of civilization—all these forms now seem possible to us.66

Ultimately, though, Freeman’s scepticism was more realistic and support for imperial federation drained away after the turn of the century.

(p.230) On racial solidarity

To me most certainly the United States did not seem like a foreign country; it was simply England with a difference.67

Although sceptical of constitutional models of union, Freeman nevertheless propounded a form of racial ‘brotherhood’, declaiming that true greatness was to be found in the diffusion of the English people(s) across the world. His was one voice among many. While debates between imperial federalists and their critics were heated, the participants often shared more than they were willing to concede, including a commitment to the basic unity and superiority of the ‘English-speaking peoples’ (or ‘Anglo-Saxons’).68 Their disagreements centred on the best means of realising this racialised form of global dominion. Thus, Goldwin Smith, widely reviled as an anti-imperialist, insisted that he had the ‘greatest respect for the aspirations of the Imperial Federationists, and myself most earnestly desire the moral unity of our race and its partnership in achievement and grandeur’.69 Freeman promoted a similar vision. Racial unity was, he argued, ‘a thought higher and dearer than any thought of a British Empire’.70 Above all, he vested his hopes in the United States, ‘brethren in a higher brotherhood, born of one ancient stock, speaking one ancient tongue, sharer under different forms of one ancient freedom’.71 Race was the basic ontological category of global politics, far more significant than the state, let alone the artificial shell of empire.

Primed by the ‘comparative method’ to recognise ‘survivals’ of the Teutonic order, Freeman unsurprisingly found them wherever he looked during his 1882 visit to the United States. He regarded his public lectures as an act of filial persuasion, an attempt to remind Americans that they were part of one great racial family. ‘The feeling of unity between the two severed branches is really present in the American breast, but it needs something special to wake it up.’72 He was happy to serve as an alarm clock. Like many keen on bolstering cooperation with the United States Freeman sought to defuse lingering Anglophobia, which he interpreted optimistically as a sign of familial intimacy, although he admitted that the memory of the War of (p.231) Independence and of 1812 remained ‘a formidable historic barrier’ to reconciliation.73 As it was, the very existence of the British Empire circumvented the transformation of sentiment necessary to unlock racial destiny. Not only did the existence of a large ‘dependent colony’ (Canada) on the borders of the ‘independent colony’ (the United States) stand as a permanent reminder of the historical injustice of British rule, ‘inconsistent with the full acknowledgement of the general brotherhood of the English folk’, but the mixture of dependent and independent polities in the English world meant that suspicion would remain the norm. This quandary could be resolved only by granting independence to the colonies.74 Intra-racial equality was a perquisite for justifying the global inequality between races.

In a lecture delivered in Oxford in 1886 to commemorate the birth of George Washington, he criticised the imperial unionists and outlined an alternative vision. Entitled ‘George Washington, the Expander of England’, the lecture was a provocative riposte to J. R. Seeley’s The Expansion of England (1883), the bible of the imperial federation movement. Seeley argued that the true greatness of British history lay in its imperial expansion during the 18th and 19th centuries rather that in a Whiggish unfolding of liberty, and he promoted the creation of a ‘great and solid world-state’.75 Freeman turned the historical argument on its head, arguing that Washington—rebel and founder—was the real ‘Expander of England’, not the men who had pilfered swathes of south Asia. True expansion meant establishing permanent independent communities, a feat that Washington had achieved through dismembering the British Empire.76 The act of rebellion was thus a paradoxical but productive moment in the history of racial ‘brotherhood’.

In a world thrown into close communion by modern technoscience, it was possible to deepen those racial bonds through replicating the political ideas and ethos of the ancients. ‘Geographical distance, political separation, fierce rivalry, cruel warfare, never snapped the enduring tie which bound every Greek to every other Greek. So the Englishman of Britain, of America, of Africa, of Australia, should be each to his distant brother as were the Greek of Massalia, the Greek of Kyrênê, and the Greek of Chersôn.’77 Misunderstanding the power of affect, the imperial federalists failed to grasp that the ‘tie of national brotherhood, the abiding feeling of the oneness of the (p.232) folk, lives on through physical distance, through political separation, through political rivalry and wasting war’.78 A heterogeneous assemblage of territories, peoples, and forms of government, ‘patched up out of men of every race and speech under the sun’, the empire failed even to approximate the necessary conditions for successful union. In prioritising empire over the race-nation they endangered racial unity. He concluded his peroration on Washington by sketching a glorious future:

I shall hardly see the day; but some of you may see it, when the work of Washington and Hamilton may be wrought again without slash or blow, when, alongside the Kingdom of Great Britain and the United States of America, the United States of Australia, the United States of South Africa, the United States of New Zealand, may stand forth as independent homes of Englishmen, bound together by the common tie of brotherhood, and bound by loyal reverence, and by no meaner bond, to the common parent of all.79

Here, then, was a suitable application of federalism to the English-speaking world. Just as communications technologies had transformed the possibilities of citizenship, so they had reanimated federalism, allowing its extension across vast political spaces. ‘It is by the help of modern discoveries that the federal systems of old Greece can be reproduced on a gigantic scale, that a single Union of States can embrace a continent stretching from Ocean to Ocean instead of a peninsula stretching from sea to sea.’ The United States exemplified the wonderful possibilities. It demonstrated that federal government was appropriate for uniting territorially contiguous colonial polities, thus fashioning powerful independent states like Australia that would constitute the elements of a vast racial brotherhood.80 But empire itself was of little value. ‘The sentiment is possibly unpatriotic’, Freeman wrote, ‘but I cannot help looking on such a friendly union of the English and English-speaking folk as an immeasurably higher object than the maintenance of any so-called British Empire.’81

Although wary of formal political institutions, Freeman hinted at a political technology that could help to fuse the brotherhood: common citizenship. ‘I have often dreamed’, he wrote, ‘that something like the Greek συμπολιτεíα‎, a power in the citizens in each country of taking up the citizenship of the other at pleasure, might not be beyond hope; but I have never ventured to dream of more than that.’82 Although he did not live to see it, the idea of (p.233) common citizenship attracted considerable support during the 1890s and beyond, its advocates including Bryce and A. V. Dicey.83 In the early 1890s the industrialist Andrew Carnegie demanded the ‘reunion’ of Britain and America. His call resonated widely, feeding the intellectual currents helping to drive the ‘rapprochement’ between the two powers. Carnegie commended Freeman’s ‘wider and nobler patriotism’—the elevation of race over empire—and he likewise advocated ‘a common British–American citizenship’, while calling for the independence of the British settler colonies as a precondition for racial union.84

Freeman’s greatest intellectual influence, though, was exercised in the ‘western home’ of his beloved English folk. His Teutonist account of the racial foundations of the English-speaking peoples, and his outline of the field of ‘comparative politics’, played a formative role in the development of the human sciences in North America.85 His main disciple was the historian Herbert Baxter Adams, who established a famous ‘seminary’ at Johns Hopkins University to train American scholars in the arts of ‘historical and political science’—a veritable laboratory for constructing ‘comparativists’. Alongside Bluntschli and Maine, Freeman was one of its guiding lights, his pithy motto ‘history is past politics and politics are present history’ adorning both the wall of the library, where it ‘stares every man in the face who enters’, and the front page of the influential Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science.86 During his visit to the United States, Freeman spent time with Adams and his students, lecturing on the ‘eternal Eastern question’.87 Adams hailed the sage: ‘He had come to the Western Empire of the English people, which, expanding with the great Teutonic race from local centres, is repeating in the continental island of Atlantis and in the continent of Asia, with Egypt and Ocean between, the experiment of the Roman People upon a grander and nobler scale.’ He also endorsed Freeman’s mission to inculcate ‘national belief in the civic kinship and religious unity of (p.234) Britain and America’.88 Adams considered Freeman ‘the founder of our new walls’, the ‘godfather’ of his project. Freeman reciprocated, contributing an article to the first edition of Adams’s journal, arguing that local institutions in the United States were expressions of the Teutonic branch of the ‘Aryan family’.89 Contra Freeman, Adams praised the ambition to federate the Teutons, although he recognised that the solidarity of race was stronger and more enduring than institutions. ‘England and the United States will probably never be federated together in that magnificent imperial system which some people in your country are now advocating; but they will always remain one in blood and thought and speech, which are better ties than politics.’90

Freeman also exerted a powerful spell over the philosopher and historian John Fiske, who was arguably the most widely read Teutonist in the United States.91 ‘No student of political development in our time’, Fiske declared, ‘has made more effective use of the comparative method’, and none, he concluded, had done as much to establish the continuities in transatlantic Teutonic history.92 Fiske even shared Freeman’s prejudices, congratulating him for expressing ‘very sound and wholesome views of the unspeakable Turk and the Everlasting Eastern Question’.93 Like many of its adherents, he translated Teutonism into a conservative and racist vision of the present, and it is no coincidence that he served as honorary president of the Immigration Restriction League, for he believed that the Teutonic greatness of the people was threatened by an influx of racial inferiors. The admiration was returned. Praising Fiske’s attempt to trace the Teutonic origins of American history, Freeman lamented that it ‘is so strangely hard to get people on either side of Ocean to take in the simple fact that Englishmen on both sides of the Atlantic are one people’.94 ‘Truly’, Freeman wrote after reading Fiske’s popular American Political Ideas Viewed from the Standpoint of Universal History (1885), ‘you preach exactly the same doctrine as I do.’95 Fiske later dedicated (p.235) The Discovery of America (1892) to Freeman, a ‘scholar who inherits the gift of Midas, and turns into gold whatever subject he touches’.96

Not all American intellectuals were so impressed. Henry Adams, for one, derided Freeman’s ‘parade of knowledge’ and asserted that he had never written anything ‘really solid’.97 Unsurprisingly, the Teutonic interpretation of American institutions generated fierce criticism. Describing Freeman, Goldwin Smith, Froude, and Matthew Arnold as the most distinguished ‘British chauvinists’, one commentator talked of ‘an idea received with enthusiasm by some here in America, with indifference by others, but by a large section of our people by dislike, because it is false and because it is offensive’.98 The archaeologist Charles Waldstein called it a ‘modern version of the old story of national lust for power’, and dismissed the Saxonist account for its ‘pedantic pretensions of its inaccurate ethnological theories’, while historian H. Morse Stephens labelled it a ‘perverted and inaccurate view of the past as a source for political arguments in the present’.99 While popular during the 1880s and early 1890s, by the turn of the century Teutonism had largely been displaced as the central interpretive framework to understand American political development, though it claimed a dwindling band of enthusiasts deep into the 20th century. As it sank, so too did Freeman’s reputation in the most recent ‘home’ of the English. (p.236)


(1) E. A. Freeman, ‘George Washington, the Expander of England’, in idem, Greater Greece and Greater Britain (London, Macmillan, 1886), p. 102.

(2) E. A. Freeman, ‘A Review of My Opinions’, The Forum (1892), 152; idem, The Methods of Historical Study (London, Macmillan, 1886), p. 117.

(3) E. A. Freeman, Comparative Politics: Six Lectures Read before the Royal Institution in January and February, 1873 (London, Macmillan, 1873), pp. 293–4.

(4) This novelty was acknowledged. See C. R. M., ‘The Late Professor E. A. Freeman and His Services to Geography’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 14 (1892), 401. Halford Mackinder critiqued Freeman in ‘The Geographical Pivot of History’, Geographical Journal, 23 (1904), 423–4.

(5) Freeman, ‘A Review of My Opinions’, 150, 157. On this uneasy oscillation, see John Burrow, Stefan Collini, and Donald Winch (eds), That Noble Science of Politics: A Study in Nineteenth-century Intellectual History (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 219–26; J. W. Burrow, A Liberal Descent: Victorian Historians and the English Past (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1981), pt 3.

(7) Freeman, ‘Unity of History’, in Comparative Politics, p. 301.

(9) Ibid., 155, 156. See Vicky Morrisroe, ‘“Eastern History with Western Eyes”: E. A. Freeman, Islam, and Orientalism’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 16 (2011), 25–45; William Kelley, Chapter 7, this volume.

(10) Richard Shannon, Gladstone and the Bulgarian Agitation 1876 (London, Harvester, 1963), pp. 81, 223–30.

(11) On Freeman’s racism, see the contrasting accounts in Vicky Morrisroe ‘“Sanguinary Amusement”: E. A. Freeman, the Comparative Method and Victorian Theories of Race’, Modern Intellectual History, 10 (2013), 27–56, and Theodore Koditschek, Liberalism, Imperialism and the Historical Imagination: Nineteenth Century Visions of a Greater Britain (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 240–50. See also Koditschek, Chapter 11, this volume, and C. J. W. Parker, ‘The Failure of Liberal Racialism: The Racial Ideas of E. A. Freeman’, Historical Journal, 24, 4 (1981), 825–46.

(13) Freeman, ‘Greater Greece and Greater Britain’, in Greater Greece and Greater Britain, p. 59.

(14) Freeman, ‘Unity of History’, pp. 301–2; idem, Comparative Politics, pp. 1 and 18. On the ‘comparative method’, see Burrow, Collini, and Winch, That Noble Science, ch. 7.

(15) H. Maine, Village Communities in the East and West, 3rd edn (London, John Murray, 1876), p. 230.

(16) Freeman, Comparative Politics, pp. 33, 19. Maine said that Freeman’s lectures on the topic were the most interesting he had ever heard: Maine to Freeman, 22 December 1873, JRL, FA 1/7.

(18) Ian Hunter, ‘The Persona of the Philosopher and the History of Early Modern Philosophy’, Modern Intellectual History, 4 (2007), 571–600 at 574.

(20) Freeman, Comparative Politics, pp. 18, 20. On his understanding of ‘method’, see Herman Paul, Chapter 15, this volume.

(22) Ibid., Lectures 3–5. On Freeman and ‘democratic Teutonism’, see Peter Mandler, The English National Character: The History of an Idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair (New Haven, CT, and London, Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 86–105.

(23) E. A. Freeman, Lectures to American Audiences (Philadelphia, PA, Porter, 1882), pp. 7–204.

(24) E. A. Freeman, ‘Alter orbis’, Historical Essays, 4th ser. (London, Macmillan, 1892), p. 221. See also Freeman, Comparative Politics, pp. 47–50; idem, The History of the Norman Conquest of England, Its Causes and Its Results, 5 vols (London, Macmillan, 1870), vol. 1, p. 556.

(26) Ibid., p. 234.

(27) Ibid., pp. 221–2.

(28) Freeman, ‘Greater Greece and Greater Britain’, p. 13; idem, History of Federal Government in Greece and Italy, ed. J. B. Bury (London, Macmillan, 1893), pp. 29–32; idem, Comparative Politics, pp. 93–7.

(30) E. A. Freeman, ‘The Physical and Political Bases of National Unity’, in Arthur Silva White (ed.), Britannic Confederation (London, Philip, 1892), p. 56; Freeman, ‘George Washington’, p. 90.

(31) Freeman, ‘The Physical and Political Bases of National Unity’, p. 45. For context, see Duncan Bell, The Idea of Greater Britain: Empire and the Future of World Order, 1860–1900 (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2007).

(32) This reputation was based on E. A. Freeman, History of Federal Government (London, Macmillan, 1863).

(33) Freeman, ‘Imperial Federation’, in Greater Greece and Greater Britain, pp. 140–1.

(34) Letter from Freeman to Bryce, 7 February 1887, in W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, 2 vols (London, Macmillan, 1895), vol. 2, p. 359.

(36) Freeman to Bryce, 7 February 1887, p. 359; Freeman, ‘Greater Greece and Greater Britain’, pp. 39, 87.

(38) S. R. Mehrota, ‘Imperial Federation and India, 1868–1917’, Journal of Commonwealth Political Studies, 1 (1961), 29–40. For American incorporation, see, for example, John Redpath Dougall, ‘An Anglo-Saxon Alliance’, Contemporary Review, 48 (1885), 693–707.

(40) Letter from Freeman to Bryce, 16 December 1886, in Stephens, Life and Letters, vol. 2, p. 356; Freeman, ‘The Physical and Political Bases of National Unity’, p. 45. He also dismissed the idea of ‘Greater Britain’. See Freeman, ‘Greater Greece and Greater Britain’, p. 1.

(47) Ibid., p. 55.

(48) Freeman, Comparative Politics, p. 99. On ancient models in imperial thought, see Duncan Bell, ‘Empire’, in Mark Bevir (ed.), Historicism in the Victorian Human Sciences (Cambridge, forthcoming).

(50) Freeman, ‘Imperial Federation’, p. 125; idem, ‘The Physical and Political Bases of National Unity’, pp. 53–5.

(51) Freeman, ‘The Physical and Political Bases of National Unity’, p. 49; J. Colomb, ‘A Survey of Existing Conditions’, in A. S. White (ed.), Britannic Confederation (London, G. Philip & Son, 1892), pp. 1–31.

(53) Freeman to Bryce, 7 February 1887, in Stephens, Life and Letters, vol. 2, p. 360. Freeman had consulted A. V. Dicey on the constitutional status of the British colonies. See Dicey to Freeman, 21 February 1885, JRL, FA 1/7.

(54) Freeman, ‘Greater Greece and Greater Britain’, p. 52; idem, ‘The Physical and Political Bases of National Unity’, p. 55.

(55) Freeman, ‘Greater Greece and Greater Britain’; idem, ‘Imperial Federation’, p. 120; idem, History of Federal Government, ch. 2.

(56) G. W. Prothero in English Historical Review, 8 (1893), 385.

(58) J. Bryce, ‘Edward Augustus Freeman’, English Historical Review, 7 (1892), 502.

(59) F. Young, On the Political Relations of Mother Countries and Colonies (London, Stanford, 1883), p. 22; F. De Labilliere, Federal Britain (London, S. Low, 1894), pp. 94–5.

(60) W. E. Forster, Our Colonial Empire (Edinburgh, Douglas, 1875), p. 31; idem, Imperial Federation (London, Kegan Paul, 1885), p. 1. See also James Stanley Little, The United States of Britain (Guilford, Billing, 1887), p. 17.

(62) Freeman to Bryce, 7 February 1887, in Stephens, Life and Letters, vol. 2, p. 360. For examples, see P. Glynn, Great Britain and Its Colonies (Adelaide, W. K. Thomas & Co., 1892), p. 3; [Anon.], ‘Greater Greece and Greater Britain’, The Spectator (18 September 1886), 15; E. Burton, ‘Federation and Pseudo-Federation’, Law Quarterly Review, 5 (1889), 176; Alpheus Henry Snow, ‘Neutralization versus Imperialism’, American Journal of International Law, 2, 3 (1908), 569–70; G. W. Wilton, ‘Solidarity without Federation’, Parts I and II, Juridical Review, 4 (1892), 317–34, and 5 (1893), 248–62.

(63) George Parkin, Imperial Federation (London, Macmillan & Co., 1892), pp. 40–3. See also E. T. Stuart-Linton, The Problem of Empire Governance (London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1912), pp. 60–1. For other responses, see H. Mortimer-Franklyn, The Unit of Imperial Federation (London, Sonnenschein, Lowery & Co., 1887), pp. 20, 24, 32, 41, 60; Imperial Federation League in Canada (Montreal, W. Drysdale, 1885), p. 28; [Urquart Forbes], ‘Imperial Federation’, London Quarterly Review, 4 (1885), 325–6.

(65) W. T. Stead, Review of Reviews, 4 (August 1891), 164; R. Stout, ‘A Colonial View of Imperial Federation’, Nineteenth Century, 21 (1887), 356.

(66) D. G. Ritchie, ‘War and Peace’, International Journal of Ethics, 11 (1901), 152.

(67) E. A. Freeman, Some Impressions of the United States (London, Longmans, Green, & Co., 1883), p. 10.

(68) Freeman rejected the designation ‘Anglo-Saxon’, largely on etymological grounds: Lectures to American Audiences, pp. 38–67.

(69) G. Smith, ‘Straining the Silken Thread’, Macmillan’s Magazine, 58 (1888), 242.

(72) Freeman, Some Impressions of the United States, p. 19. For context, see Jonathan Conlin, Chapter 6, this volume.

(74) Ibid., pp. 23, 24.

(75) Freeman, ‘George Washington’, p. 66; J. R. Seeley, The Expansion of England (London, Macmillan, 1883), pp. 169, 75.

(76) Freeman, ‘George Washington’, pp. 89, 69–70. A quarter of a century later, an American scholar was still praising the lecture: ‘the English historian was right, and the title was correct’. See Edwin Mead, ‘The United States as a World Power’, Advocate of Peace, 75 (1913), 58.

(82) Ibid., p. 142. In a letter to Goldwin Smith he summarised the idea as the ‘taking up of citizenship at pleasure—between Great Britain, United States of America, United States of Australia, and so on’. See Freeman to Goldwin Smith, 19 August 1888, in Stephens, Life and Letters, vol. 2, p. 384.

(83) J. Bryce, ‘The Essential Unity of England and America’, Atlantic Monthly, 82 (1898), 29; A. V. Dicey, ‘A Common Citizenship for the English Race’, Contemporary Review, 71 (1897), 457–76. See Duncan Bell, ‘Beyond the Sovereign State: Isopolitan Citizenship, Race, and Anglo-American Union’, Political Studies, 62 (2014), 418–34.

(84) A. Carnegie, The Reunion of Britain and America (Edinburgh, Abbott, 1893), pp. 22, 10.

(85) Robert Adcock, Liberalism and the Emergence of American Political Science: A Transatlantic Tale (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014), ch. 5.

(86) H. B. Adams to Freeman, 10 July 1883, JRL, FA 1/7. Freeman called the motto a ‘chance proverb’. See Freeman, ‘A Review of My Opinions’, 157. See also H. B. Adams, ‘Is History Past Politics?’, Johns Hopkins University Studies, 13 (1895), 67–7.

(87) H. B. Adams, ‘Mr Freeman’s Visit to Baltimore’, Johns Hopkins University Studies, 1 (1882), 10.

(89) H. B. Adams to Freeman, 12 January 1885, and 9 June and 25 December 1882, JRL, FA 1/7; E. A. Freeman, ‘An Introduction to American Institutional History’, Johns Hopkins University Studies, 1 (1882), 13.

(90) H. B. Adams to Freeman, 5 September 1884, JRL, FA 1/7.

(91) J. Fiske, American Political Ideas Viewed from the Standpoint of Universal History (Boston, MA, Houghton Mifflin, 1885).

(92) J. Fiske, ‘Edward Augustus Freeman’, in J. Fiske, A Century of Science and Other Essays (Boston, MA, Houghton Mifflin, 1899), p. 268.

(93) Ibid., p. 275.

(94) Freeman to Fiske, 9 August 1889, in John Spencer Clark, The Life and Letters of John Fiske (Boston, MA, Houghton Mifflin, 1917), p. 414.

(95) Freeman to Fiske, 10 November 1889, in ibid., p. 415.

(96) J. Fiske, The Discovery of America, 2 vols (Boston, MA, Houghton Mifflin, 1892).

(97) W. C. Ford, The Letters of Henry Adams (New York, Constable, 1930), vol. 1, p. 236.

(98) John Fleming, ‘Are We Anglo-Saxon?’, North American Review, 153 (1891), 253.

(99) C. Waldstein, ‘The English-speaking Brotherhood’, North American Review, 167 (1898), 227; H. M. Stephens, ‘Nationality and History’, American Historical Review, 22 (1916), 227.