19th-century Anglo-Saxonism, or racial Anglo-Saxonism, was a racial belief system developed by British and American intellectuals, politicians and academics in the 19th century. It is viewed by historians as an ideological successor to the earlier Alfredism and veneration for Anglo-Saxon institutions in the 17th and 18th centuries. Racialized Anglo-Saxonism contained both competing and intersecting doctrines, such as Victorian-era Old Northernism and the Teutonic germ theory which it relied upon in appropriating Germanic (particularly Norse) cultural and racial origins for the Anglo-Saxon "race".
Predominantly a product of certain Anglo-American societies, and organisations of the era:
An important racial belief system in late 19th- and early 20th-century British and US thought advanced the argument that the civilization of English-speaking nations was superior to that of any other nations because of racial traits and characteristics inherited from the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain.
In 2017, Mary Dockray-Miller, an American scholar of Anglo-Saxon England, stated that there was an increasing interest in the study of 19th-century Anglo-Saxonism. Anglo-Saxonism is regarded as a predecessor ideology to the later Nordicism of the 20th century, which was generally less anti-Celtic and broadly sought to racially reconcile Celtic identity with Germanic under the label of Nordic.
In terminology, Anglo-Saxonism is by far the most commonly used phrase to describe the historical ideology of rooting a Germanic racial identity, whether Anglo-Saxon, Norse or Teutonic, into the concept of the English, Scottish or British nation, and subsequently founded-nations such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
In both historical and contemporary literature however, Anglo-Saxonism has many derivations, such as the commonly used phrase Teutonism or Anglo-Teutonism, which can be used as form of catch-all to describe American or British Teutonism and further extractions such as English or Scottish Teutonism. It is also occasionally encompassed by the longer phrase Anglo-Saxon Teutonism, or shorter labels Anglism or Saxonism, along with the most frequently used term of Anglo-Saxonism itself.
American medievalist Allen Frantzen credits historian L. Perry Curtis's use of Anglo-Saxonism as a term for "an unquestioned belief in Anglo-Saxon 'genius'" during this period of history. Curtis has pointed toward a radical change from 16th- and 17th-century adulation of Anglo-Saxon institutions towards something more racial and imperialist. Historian Barbara Yorke, who specializes in the subject, has similarly argued that the earlier self-governance orientated Anglo-Saxonism of Thomas Jefferson's era had by the mid-19th century developed into "a belief in racial superiority".
According to Australian scholar Helen Young, the ideology of 19th-century Anglo-Saxonism was "profoundly racist" and influenced authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and his fictional works into the 20th century. Similarly, Marxist writer Peter Fryer has claimed that "Anglo-Saxonism was a form of racism that originally arose to justify the British conquest and occupation of Ireland". Some scholars believe the Anglo-Saxonism championed by historians and politicians of the Victorian era influenced and helped to spawn the Greater Britain Movement of the mid-20th-century. In 2019, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists decided to change its name due to the potential confusion of their organization's name with racist Anglo-Saxonism.
At the passing of the 19th-century Anglo-Saxonism era, progressive intellectual Randolph Bourne's essay Trans-National America reacted positively to integration ("We have needed the new peoples"), and while mocking the "indistinguishable dough of Anglo-Saxonism" in the context of very early 20th-century migration to the United States, Bourne manages to express an anxiety at the American melting pot theory.
In 1647, English MP John Hare, who served during the Long Parliament, issued a pamphlet declaring England as a "member of the Teutonick nation, and descended out of Germany". In the context of the English Civil War, this anti-Norman and pro-Germanic paradigm has been identified as perhaps the earliest iteration of "English Teutonism" by Professor Nick Groom, who has suggested the 1714 Hanoverian succession, where the German House of Hanover ascended the throne of Great Britain, is the culmination of this Anglo-Saxonist ideology.
Racialized Anglo-Saxonism was largely founded on "Teutonic germ theory". Many historians and political scientists in Britain and the United States supported it in the 19th-century. The theory supposed that American and British democracy and institutions had their roots in Teutonic peoples, and that Germanic tribes had spread this "germ" within their race from ancient Germany to England and on to North America. Advocacy in Britain included the likes of John Mitchell Kemble, William Stubbs, and Edward Augustus Freeman. Within the U.S., future president Woodrow Wilson, along with Albert Bushnell Hart and Herbert Baxter Adams were applying historical and social science in advocacy for Anglo-Saxonism through the theory. In the 1890s, under the influence of Frederick Jackson Turner, Wilson abandoned the Teutonic germ theory in favor of a frontier model for the sources of American democracy.
Anglo-Saxonism of the era sought to emphasize Britain's cultural and racial ties with Germany, frequently referring to Teutonic peoples as a source of strength and similarity. Contemporary historian Robert Boyce notes that many 19th-century British politicians promoted these Germanic links, such as Henry Bulwer, 1st Baron Dalling and Bulwer who said that it was "in the free forests of Germany that the infant genius of our liberty was nursed", and Thomas Arnold who claimed that "Our English race is the German race; for though our Norman fathers had learned to speak a stranger's language, yet in blood, as we know, they were the Saxon's brethren both alike belonging to the Teutonic or German stock".
Anglo-Saxonists in the 19th-century often sought to downplay, or outright denigrate, the significance of both Norman and Celtic racial and cultural influence in Britain. Less frequently however, some form of solidarity was expressed by some Anglo-Saxonists, who conveyed that Anglo-Saxonism was simply "the best-known term to denote that mix of Celtic, Saxon, Norse and Norman blood which now flows in the united stream in the veins of the Anglo-Saxon peoples". Although a staunch Anglo-Saxonist, Thomas Carlyle had even disparagingly described the United States as a kind of "formless" Saxon tribal order, and claimed that Normans had given Anglo-Saxons and their descendants a greater sense of order for national structure, and that this was particularly evident in England.
Edward Augustus Freeman, a leading Anglo-Saxonist of the era, promoted a larger northern European identity, favorably comparing civilizational roots from "German forest" or "Scandinavian rock" with the cultural legacy of ancient Greece and Rome. American scholar Mary Dockray-Miller expands on this concept to suggest that pre-World War I Anglo-Saxonism ideology helped establish the "primacy of northern European ancestry in United States culture at large".
During the 19th-century century in particular, Scottish people living in Lowland Scotland, near the Anglo-Scottish border, "increasingly identified themselves with the Teutonic world destiny of Anglo-Saxonism", and sought to separate their identity from that of Highland Scots, or the "inhabitants of Romantic Scotland". With some considering themselves "Anglo-Saxon Lowlanders", public opinion of Lowland Scots turned on Gaels within the context of the Highland Famine, with suggestions of deportations to British colonies for Highlanders of the "'inferior Celtic race". Amongst others, Goldwin Smith, a devout Anglo-Saxonist, believed the Anglo-Saxon "race" included Lowland Scots and should not be exclusively defined by English ancestry within the context of the United Kingdom's greater empire.
Thomas Carlyle, himself a Scot, was one of the earliest notable people to express a "belief in Anglo-Saxon racial superiority". Historian Richard J. Finlay has suggested that the Scots National League, which campaigned for Scotland to separate from the United Kingdom, was a response or opposition to the history of "Anglo-Saxon teutonism" embedded in some Scottish culture.
Nineteenth-century Anglo-Saxonism was largely aligned with Protestantism, generally perceiving Catholics as outsiders, and was orientated as an ideology in opposition to other "races", such as the "Celts" of Ireland and "Latins" of Spain.
Charles Kingsley was particularly focused on there being a "strong Norse element in Teutonism and Anglo-Saxonism". He blended Protestantism of the day with the Old Norse religion, saying that the Church of England was "wonderfully and mysteriously fitted for the souls of a free Norse-Saxon race". He believed the ancestors of Anglo-Saxons, Norse people and Germanic peoples had physically fought beside the god Odin, and that the British monarchy of his time was genetically descended from him.:76
Embedded in 19th-century Anglo-Saxonism was a growing sense that the "Anglo Saxon" race must expand into surrounding territories. This particularly expressed itself in American politics and culture in the form of Manifest Destiny.
A persistent "Anglo-Saxonist" idea, Albert Venn Dicey believed in the creation of a shared citizenship between Britons and Americans, and the concept of cooperation, even federation, of those from the "Anglo-Saxon" race.
This study, part of growing interest in the study of nineteenth-century medievalism and Anglo-Saxonism, closely examines the intersections of race, class, and gender in the teaching of Anglo-Saxon in the American women's colleges before World War I, interrogating the ways that the positioning of Anglo-Saxon as the historical core of the collegiate English curriculum also silently perpetuated mythologies about Manifest Destiny, male superiority, and the primacy of northern European ancestry in United States culture at large.
Nordicism replaced the older concepts of Anglo-Saxonism promulgated by David Starr Jordan and Aryanism espoused by Charles Woodruff.
In the Nordicist discourse, what can be noticed is the attempt to racially unite the English with the Celts, a rather pioneering element considering the earliest theories which were ideologically constructed on a strictly anti-Celtic basis.
The more the Germans excelled in industry, commerce, science, and education, the more American and British elites fell under the spells of racial Teutonism or "Anglo-Teutonism".
John Hare had praised English Teutonism as early as 1647, insisting, "We are a member of the Teutonick nation, and descended out of Germany, a descent so honourable and happy, if duly considered, as that the like could not have been fetched from any other part of Europe, nor scarce of the universe.
The racial ideology of Anglo-Saxonism was founded upon nineteenth-century Teutonic germ theory, which posited that the seeds of democracy traveled westward with the Teutonic conquerors to Britain, and then North America.
Freeman, a pre-eminent English historian of race, went to Oxford as a student in 1841, a time when ... 'the ingredients for the new racial interpretation of Anglo-Saxon destiny were all present' ... By the end of the 1840s, Freeman was writing of 'Teutonic greatness' and, comparing seeds planted in the 'German forest or on...Scandinavian rock' with the legacy of Greece and Rome, was able to declare confidently in favour of the former.
In the late eighteenth and nine-teenth centuries, Scots living outwith the Highlands increasingly identified themselves with the Teutonic world destiny of Anglo-Saxonism and intensified the constructed images of bifurcation and division between themselves and the inhabitants of Romantic Scotland.
After the outbreak of the Highland famine ... public opinion firmly decided that the best route for the destitute Gaels lay outside the country ... they belonged to the 'inferior' Celtic race. Such as people was better sent to a remote colonial land instead of being a permanent burden and drain on the 'superior' and developed Anglo-Saxon Lowlanders.
Chief among the movement's advocates was Goldwin Smith, former Oxford don, founder of the Commercial Union Club of Canada, and devout Anglo-Saxonist. Smith, an anti-imperialist, viewed Canada's connection to a distant colonial powers as unnatural and believed Canada's ultimate destiny was to unite with the United States.
Therefore, it was perhaps for want of the strengthening of Anglo-Saxon superiority that Anglo-Saxonism was not automatically defined as exclusively English. While, for Goldwin Smith, the Irish were certainly excluded, Anglo-Saxonism could be used more inclusively, at times embracing Welsh and (Lowland) Scots.
Thomas Carlyle was perhaps the first notable Englishman to enunciate a belief in Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, and, as he told Emerson, among the members of this select race he counted the Americans.
People who belonged to the League during this time were, above all, Celtic nationalists and there were many implicit criticisms of Scottish culture which had been tinged with 'Anglo-Saxon teutonism'.
Having begun as a British defense of the superiority of the Anglican church and having early confronted Catholic "others" - the "Celtic" race in Ireland and the "Latin" in Spain - Anglo-Saxonism was closely allied to Protestantism and was often said to share its virtues.
Late-19th-century Anglo-Saxonism was often pressed into the service of the United States' new global self-image as a nation in the vanguard of "civilization" ... By 1898, it provided the powerful racial and hereditary ideology that propelled U.S. statesmen into the acquisition of an empire in the Pacific and Caribbean.
Some of these Anglo-Saxonist ideas - including those of legal theorist A.V. Dicey - called upon isopolitan ideas of common citizenship for Britons and Americans ... in particular the belief that, through cooperation and federation, the "Anglo-Saxon" race would help to bring peace, order and justice to the earth.