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Britain on America: documenting the elections

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Britain on America: documenting the elections

19 January 2009

Election fever ran high in the run up to the 2008 US presidential elections. A record number of people turned out to cast their vote, bringing in Democrat Barack Obama as the 44th President. With his inauguration to the White House on 20 January, The National Archives looks at some of the fascinating records we hold that reflect a long history of British interest in political affairs in the US.

Files include detailed research by the embassy in Washington on the 1952 election won by Dwight Eisenhower, the first Republican president since the 1930s; and the 1964 election, which saw Lyndon Johnson officially voted in following the assassination of John F. Kennedy the previous year.

Such records show the intense interest the British had in the nature of the campaigns in the latter half of the twentieth century. Of most interest was information on the individual presidential candidates and their policies, as this enabled the British to gauge the type of relationship Britain could expect to have with America.  Files on Eisenhower even include copies of his medical record.



Document reference: FCO 68/331 & FO 371/97583

Records include a draft telegram, shown here, prepared for Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1968 to send to the winner of the US election. It gives an insight into the connection the British government felt it had with America and the value it placed on a continuing 'friendship'. Richard Nixon proved to be the victor in this election, having been both Eisenhower's Vice-President and  narrowly defeated in the presidential race by Kennedy in 1960. 


Document reference: FCO 68/331, FO 371/68015B & FO 371/174273

These documents show examples of British government attitudes to the presidential campaigns.  In 1948 the expectation from all US opinion polls was that Harry Truman would lose in the race to the White House, after stepping in following the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945.  Yet popular opinion proved to be incorrect when Truman was elected as president and served until 1952.  Another document provides a view of the 1964 election when Republican Senator Barry Goldwater opposed Johnson.  The report, shown here, indicates a lack of enthusiasm for both candidates.

Anthony Eden's letter

Document reference: FO 954/30B (No. 705) & FO 371/977585

The documents in this series show the extent of the interest the British government had in political events occurring across the Atlantic. Records show that in 1944 the government was receiving information on Franklin Roosevelt that there was concern over how his policies would sit with British interests if he were re-elected.  Other records include a 1952 review of Eisenhower's foreign policy during the height of the Cold War and a letter written by British Foreign Secretary, Sir Anthony Eden, on the British Government's concerns over Eisenhower's choice of John Foster Dulles as Secretary of State, shown here.

Report on Goldwater's speech

Document reference: FO 371/174273 & FCO 68/331

These documents show concern by the British about the policy of potential and newly elected presidents.  The document shown is a report of a speech made by Goldwater, the Republican candidate at the 1964 election in which he expresses a low opinion of Britain.   Other documents review Richard Nixon's likely policies after his victory in 1968.

Report on Nixon's character

Document reference: FO 371/97585 & FCO 68/331

British concerns were not restricted to the campaign or the policies a President would be likely to pursue, but encompassed the individual himself. Particular interest in Eisenhower and his then Vice President, Richard Nixon, was expressed in 1956 during Eisenhower's re-election, due to the likelihood of Nixon stepping in as President in the event of Eisenhower's ill-health.  Nixon eventually won the Presidency in his own right and was re-elected in 1972, before being forced to resign over the Watergate scandal in 1974.   A candid report summing up Nixon's character for the British government is held by the archives - the three pages of which can be viewed here.

Second page of report on Nixon Third page of report on Nixon - Catalogue reference: FCO 68/331
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