The Great Anglo-Celtic Divide in the History of American Foreign Relations

by Thomas A. Breslin


Anglo-American presidents have been willing to undertake risky wars to build a national system and global trading network. Celtic-American presidents have been more cautious about going to war, yet less willing to cut American losses and make peace. Are these generalizations true? Does presidential ethnicity really shape American foreign policy?

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Cover image for The Great Anglo-Celtic Divide in the History of American Foreign Relations

October 2011


Pages 411
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics American History/Politics
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Positing that presidents shape America's foreign policy according to their ethnic heritage, this intriguing volume examines two groups that have dominated the presidency and the distinctly different agendas that have resulted.

How is American foreign policy determined? The Great Anglo-Celtic Divide in the History of American Foreign Relations approaches that question from a fascinating perspective, arguing that, to a large extent, the answer lies in the ethnicity of the president. To make its point, this book examines the key foreign policies of American presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush and shows how their most important foreign policy decisions have tended to follow an ethnic pattern.

The presidency has been dominated by Americans from English or Celtic backgrounds since the nation's founding, and as readers will discover, the foreign policies of the two groups have been very different. To document those differences, this book analyzes seven alternating periods of political domination by Anglo-Americans and Celtic-Americans, demonstrating how the cycle of change affected the shape and distinguishing characteristics of U.S. foreign policy in matters of war and peace and in relations with other countries.


  • A bibliography


  • Provides the first and only book-length, systematic examination of the effect of presidential ethnicity on U.S. foreign policy
  • Illustrates the effect of these patterns on U.S. relations with East Asia, Great Britain, the Caribbean, and Latin nations
  • Covers all the presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush
  • Offers a fresh interpretation of the origins of the Cold War and wars to control oil
Author Info

Thomas A. Breslin, PhD, is professor of politics and international relations in the Department of Politics and International Relations, School of International and Public Affairs, at Florida International University, Miami, FL. Dr. Breslin's published works include ABC-CLIO's Beyond Pain: The Role of Culture and Pleasure in the Making of Foreign Affairs, as well as China, American Catholicism, and the Missionary and An Ordinary Relationship: American Opposition to Republican Revolution in China, coauthored with Daniel M. Crane.



"This is an authentic tour de force. Thomas A. Breslin, a pre-eminent authority on political culture, has produced a provocative re-interpretation of the history of American foreign policy through the activities of presidents who represented the two major ethnic strains in the nation's history – the Celtics (largely Scots-Irish) and Anglo-Americans (English). In 17 brilliantly crafted chapters, Professor Breslin offers trenchant insights into the ethnic influences on the course and conduct of American diplomacy, from the early Republic to the Second Gulf War. This is an ideal text for undergraduate and graduate students alike who congregate around, history, politics, and international relations."—Joseph M. Siracusa, Professor of Human Security and International Diplomacy and Associate Dean of International & Justice Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

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