The US–UK Relationship: Solid As Ever

Friday, March 11, 2022

Image credit: 
US 7935, Poster Collection, Hoover Institution Library & Archives.

Diplomatic gifts are often given, well, diplomatically, to draw attention to the historical friendship and cooperation between the countries of the giver and receiver. So what are we to make of the brick that the White House Historical Association has given Liz Truss, the British foreign secretary, that originally came from The President’s House burned down by the British in 1814? As it was undoubtedly the historical nadir of the last quarter-millennium of Anglo-American relations, how diplomatic was it to put this particular piece of military history in the news?

Fortunately, such is the closeness of the Special Relationship—especially today when confronted with barbaric Russian aggression in Ukraine—that both Britons and Americans took this unusual presentational item in excellent spirits, as what John Rogers, Chairman of the Atlantic Council, called an “apt symbol of the resiliency of the US-UK relationship—able to work through our differences and remain committed to our enduring vision and our bond.”

Despite the brick coming from the part of the House affected by the conflagration, it fortunately did not have any scorch marks, as that might have brought the War of 1812 a bit too close for comfort even 210 years later. The fact that no one died in the burning of The President’s House undoubtedly made Mr Rogers’ present easier to give, and Liz Truss a happier recipient.

Although the British Rear Admiral George Cockburn was all in favor of razing the whole of Washington to the ground on August 4, 1814, his military counterpart Major General Robert Ross insisted that only public buildings were burnt. As it was, a heavy rainstorm saved the Capitol from total devastation, although the highly combustible Library of Congress situated there was destroyed. President Madison ensured that Congress continued to meet, initially at Blodgett’s Hotel, but it was five years before it could return to the Old Senate Chamber in the Capitol.

Liz Truss—who reportedly thought the brick was “sort of cool”—used her visit to argue that Putin’s invasion was “a paradigm shift on the scale of 9/11,” and to declare that Britain and the United States “stand together to face down aggression around the world—from the South China Sea to Eastern Europe.” She added that President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson had “promised to renew the architecture of international cooperation for the 21st century, and they pledged to stand up for democracy, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Putin should take note.” She fortunately didn’t try to use the brick to make any building analogies, however, and God knows what they’ll make of it when it’s displayed on a wall in the Foreign Office.