Robert Sherwood’s Union of the English-Speaking Peoples

Franklin Roosevelt’s speechwriter saw unity as a way to keep the English-speaking world free of totalitarianism.

Map of a proposed English-Speaking Union, published in Life magazine, October 7, 1940
Map of a proposed English-Speaking Union, published in Life magazine, October 7, 1940

For British conservatives of a certain persuasion, the idea of uniting their country with its former white dominions plus America has long had a special appeal.

Outside Britain, not so much. Few Americans, Australians or Canadians, much less the Irish and South Africans, have ever relished the prospect of an English-speaking union.

One exception was Robert E. Sherwood, an American playwright who would write speeches for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Second World War.

Writing before the Russians entered the war on the Allied side in 1941, Sherwood feared a prolonged stalemate between Nazi-controlled Europe and the English-speaking free world. Isolated in a largely totalitarian world — “a world in which the term ‘cut-throat competition’ would mean just that” — America’s standards of living would be reduced, he warned readers of Life magazine. A union of the English-speaking peoples promised respite.

It would have no involvements whatever in the continent of Europe. It would constitute a power of unassailable magnitude, dominating all the oceans; and this power would be in the hands of 200,000,000 people who speak the same language and believe in the same three fundamental things — liberty and justice and peace.

Consider this closer to Fortress America then than the free-trading visions of today’s Anglophiles.

Sherwood went on to write that such an English-Speaking Union ought to be governed by a joint Congress in which the other six nations could at all times be outvoted by the United States. What an alluring prospect that must have seemed to them.