February/March 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 2
For the magazine of American history to publish a major article about a day in the life of Winston Churchill may be puzzling. He was a very great man, to be sure, but first and foremost he was an Englishman. In fact, it is not hard to justify our decision. During the Second World War, England and the United States needed each other desperately. For us a German victory would have meant a moral and political failure that would have shaken the foundations of the world we know; for England such a calamity would have meant invasion, occupation, and the ignominious destruction of the nation.
Churchill spoke for all of us when, in 1941, he said to Hitler: “You do your worst and we will do our best.” He spoke to all of us when, addressing the younger generation, he said: “Don’t be frightened. Do not despair. Keep your head. Strength will be given when it is needed....”
Like Lafayette and Kosciusko before him—allies who fought for us and gave us courage—Churchill will always be considered an honorary citizen of the United States, a title given to him by the Congress in 1963.
Of course, he was much closer to us than the word honorary would suggest. His mother, Jennie, born in Brooklyn, New York, could trace her American ancestry back to 1650, and Churchill was proud to boast that he was “directly descended through my mother from an officer who served in Washington’s Army.” (The fact that on his father’s side he was directly descended from the Duke of Marlborough was also not forgotten.)
All his life Churchill the Englishman loved his American heritage: “a child of both worlds” he called himself. Never an outstanding scholar at Harrow, he applied with some trepidation at sixteen for entrance to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. Luckily for him, one of the examination topics was the American Civil War—a subject that Jennie’s mother had made sure her grandson knew a great deal about. Time and again over the years he reminded his audiences that “American blood flowed in my veins.” (And some of it was spilled in America when he walked into a speeding car on Fifth Avenue in 1931 and was badly injured.)
Churchill even attributed a large portion of his ability to speak and write well—surpassing all public figures of his time—to the New York politician Bourke Cockran, a close friend of his American grandparents. As Churchill recalled it, Cockran’s “conversation, in point, in pith, in rotundity, in antithesis, and in comprehension, exceeded anything I have ever heard.”
It is with pleasure, then, that we offer a piece by the American historian William Manchester that shows us Churchill in a new and vivid way. With one volume of his biography of Churchill already published, and two more to come, Manchester is now in his sixth year of writing about the life of a man who is as much a part of our history as we are of the land of our mother tongue.