The Other Churchill


"I propose to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. Wouldn't it be a great lark if you could be President of the United States at the same time?"-
WSC to WC, 1903


AS A bookseller specializing in Winston Churchill the Englishman, I am constantly offered novels by Winston Churchill the American. Thinking readers might welcome a brief account of the American - but with no hope that people will stop offering me his books. I am prompted to write this capsule history of Sir Winston's distant relative, who had an interesting career of his own.

Winston Churchill was born in St. Louis, Missouri on 10 November 1871 and educated in the city's public schools ("public" in the American sense, "state schools" in the British sense). In 1894, a year before his English counterpart graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, he graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. After the Naval Academy, Churchill served briefly on the editorial staff of the Army and Navy Journal. In 1895, when Winston Churchill of England was paying his first visit to the United States, American Winston became managing editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. Three decades later, English Winston would begin a lengthy series of articles for the same journal.

The two Churchills became aware of each other in 1900 when books by the English author began to join those of the already-well-established American. Indeed, such was the American's prominence at the time that Winston Spencer Churchill wrote him a polite letter promising to use his middle name to distinguish himself from the far better-known American. The latter replied that had he a middle name he would have been pleased to return the compliment! The amusing correspondence between them ("Mr. Winston Churchill to Mr. Winston Churchill") appears in English Winston's autobiography, My Early Life.

In 1901, the young authors met in Boston during English Winston's lecture tour, when his American relative threw a dinner for him. Great camaraderie prevailed and each agreed there would be no more confusion...but English Winston got the bill! From 1903 to 1905, American Winston was a member of the New Hampshire legislature, to this day the third largest representative body in the world after the Indian and British Parliaments. His election caused English Winston to write: "I propose to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. Wouldn't it be a great lark if you could be President of the United States at the same time?"

American Winston was an early recruit of the famous artists and writers colony at Cornish, New Hampshire, that brilliant "aristocracy of brains" founded by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the 1890s. Among its distinguished cadre Cornish counted illustrators Stephen and Maxfield Parrish, the garden designer Charles A. Platt, artists Kenyon Cox, Florence Scovel Shinn and Willard Metcalf. Statesmen, notably Theodore Roosevelt, were among their occasional visitors.

That the two Churchills were not political soulmates is suggested by American Winston's close friendship - shared with Maxfield Parrish - with Teddy Roosevelt, who nursed a famous antipathy toward English Winston. (See Finest Hour 100, p. 46.) American Winston actually ran for Governor of New Hampshire on the ticket of TR's Progressive Party in 1911, but was not elected. I believe, though I cannot prove it, that Roosevelt's influence had something to do with the two Churchills' lack of contact as the 1900s wore on. When American Winston visited London during the Great War to interview leading statesmen for his only non fiction work, A Traveller in Wartime, he paid no call on English Winston.

While English Winston published only one novel, Savrola, American Winston devoted almost his entire career to fiction, and his books are still commonplace in New England. Rich in the panoply of 19th Century American history and New England politics, they include Richard Carvel, The Inside of the Cup, A Modern Chronicle, A Far Country, The Crossing, The Title Mart, The Celebrity, Mr. Crewe's Career, and a notable Civil War novel, The Crisis. American Winston died in Florida on 12 March 1947, less than three weeks after the death of English Winston's brother Jack.

Précis of The Crisis

The two Churchills were alike in their appreciation for the heroism and sacrifice of the American Civil War. In The Crisis, Winston Churchill the American offers an epic tale of that war, showing the tragedy and the glory it brought to Federals and Confederates alike. He explained some of his feeling about the book in an afterword, which reads in part:

"The author has chosen St. Louis for the principal scene of this story for many reasons. Grant and Sherman were living there before the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln was an unknown lawyer in the neighboring state of Illinois. It has been one of the aims of this book to show the remarkable contrasts in the lives of these great men who came out of the West....St. Louis is the author's birthplace, and his home - the home of those friends whom he has known from childhood and who have always treated him with unfaltering kindness. He begs that they will believe him when he says that only such characters as he loves are reminiscent of those he has known there. The city has a large population‹large enough to include all the types that are to be found in the middle West."

The Crisis was in print at least through 1970, and I used to think it survived so long because people mistook it for English Winston's The World Crisis. In fact, it is a historical novel that well deserves to stand on its own among other great works of its genre. American Winston said the book spoke "of a time when feeling ran high. It has been necessary to put strong speech into the mouths of the characters. The breach that threatened our country's existence is healed now. There is no side but Abraham Lincoln's side. And this side, with all reverence and patriotism, the author has tried to take. Yet Abraham Lincoln loved the South as well as the North."

And here is another interesting convergence between the two Churchills: each shared a belief in the nobility of those who fought, both the Blue and the Grey, and in the unifying genius of Abraham Lincoln. To demonstrate Lincoln's love for the South as well as the North, Winston Churchill the American ends The Crisis with the closing words of Lincoln's second inaugural address:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan‹to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

Those indelible words were also quoted, in other contexts but with equal fervor, by Winston Churchill the Englishman.