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Churchill and the Great Republic
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INTRODUCTION
TIMELINE
THEMES
  Forebears and Family
Warrior for Empire
Visits to America
American Presidents
The Communicator
The Politician
World War II
Cold Warrior
The Long Sunset
OBJECTS
Winston Churchill to Jack Churchill, November 15, 1895
Churchill visited the United States for the first time in November 1895. He was almost twenty-one and was en route to his first military adventure in Cuba. He stayed in New York, where he was lavishly entertained by the politician Bourke Cockran. Churchill recorded his first impressions in this letter to his brother Jack. The aspiring writer describes American journalism as "vulgarity divested of truth" and Americans as "a great, crude, strong, young people."

Object Details:
Holograph letter. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (19)


Related Theme:
Visits to America
Image: Winston Churchill to Jack Churchill, November 15, 1895
Transcript:
15 November [1895] 763 Fifth Avenue

My dearest Jack,

I daresay Mamma showed you my letter of the 10th, which gave an account of the voyage and such news as was to hand at that time.

I am still staying with Mr. Bourke Cockran, whom you met in Paris, in his very comfortable and convenient flat in 5th avenue. We have postponed our departure from New York for three days - as there was lots to see and do. On Sunday we start for Havana by the route of Philadelphia - Washington - Savannah - Tampa Bay & Key West - arriving there on Wednesday morning, all being well.

Mr. Cockran, who has great influence over here, procured us orders to visit the Forts of the Harbour and West Point - which is the American Sandhurst.

I am sure you will be horrified by some of the Regulations of the Military Academy. The cadets enter from 19-22 & stay 4 years. This means that they are most of them 24 years of age. They are not allowed to smoke - or have any money in their possession nor are they given any leave except 2 months the 1st two years. In fact they have far less liberty than any private school boys in our country. I think such a state of things is positively disgraceful and young men of 24 or 25 who would resign their personal liberty to such an extent can never make good citizens or fine soldiers. A child who rebels against that sort of control should be whipped--so should a man who does not rebel.

The other night Mr. Cockran got the Fire Commissioners to come with us and we alarmed four or five fire stations. This would have interested you very much. On the alarm bell sounding the horses at once rushed into the shafts - the harness fell on to them - the men slid half dressed down a pole from their sleeping room and in 5 ½ seconds the engine was galloping down the street to the scene of the fire. An extraordinary feat which seems incredible - unless you have seen it.

There is a great criminal trial going on now--of a man who shot a fellow who had seduced his sister. I met the judge at dinner the other night and he suggested my coming to hear the case. I went and sat on the bench by his side. Quite a strange experience and one which would be impossible in England. The Judge discussing the evidence as it was given with me and generally making himself socially agreeable - & all the while a pale miserable man was fighting for his life. This is a very great country my dear Jack. Not pretty or romantic but great and utilitarian. There seems to be no such thing as reverence or tradition. Everything is eminently practical and things are judged from a matter of fact standpoint. Take for instance the Court house. No robes or wigs or uniformed ushers. Nothing but a lot of men in black coats & tweed suits. Judge prisoner jury counsel & warders all indiscriminately mixed. But they manage to hang a man all the same, and that after all is the great thing.

I saw Sunny last night & am dinning with the Vanderbilts this evening. He is very pleased with himself and seems very fit. The newspapers have abused him scurrilously.

But essence of American journalism is vulgarity divested of truth. Their best papers write for a class of snotty housemaids and footmen & even the nicest people here have so much vitiated their taste as to appreciate the style.

I think - mind you that vulgarity is a sign of strength. A great, crude, strong, young people are the Americans - like a boisterous healthy boy among enervated but well bred ladies and gentlemen. Some day Jack when you are older you must come out here and I think you will feel as I feel--and think as I think today.

Picture to yourself the American people as a great lusty youth - who treads on all your sensibilities - perpetrates every possible horror of ill manners - whom neither age nor just tradition inspire with reverence--but who moves about his affairs with a good hearted freshness which may well be the envy of older nations of the earth. Of course there are here charming people who are just as refined and cultured as the best in any country in the world - but I believe my impressions of the nation are broadly speaking correct.

I have written you quite a long letter - & cannot write again today so send this to Mamma after reading.

With best love -

Ever your loving brother

Winston S. Churchill
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