Using King Charles and the British Monarchy to Teach U.S.-U.K. Relations

british monarchy
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The recent death of Queen Elizabeth II is a milestone for U.S.-Anglo relations. But it’s also a unique period for American students to learn more about our constitutional republicanism and the British monarchy. 

As modern Americans, we often try to understand the United Kingdom’s royals. Some of us are mesmerized by their regality and legacy while others are disenchanted by their wealth and scandals. Still, their monarchical succession process and coronation will be a rare moment to witness as King Charles III takes the throne. 

For American educators, we need to recognize that the British monarchy acts as head of state, but the British government operates as a constitutional monarchy with a national parliament making the political decisions. 

While Queen Elizabeth II’s reign was the longest in British history, her power was lessened because of nineteenth-century reforms to the crown. The parliament received more power and the monarchy is not nearly as powerful as it was several centuries ago.  

The British Monarchy in Early U.S.-U.K. Political History 

Early American history demonstrates that states, and ultimately, our nation, were founded to avoid strong monarchical power. 

When I teach U.S. Government and Constitutional Law classes, I emphasize the Declaration of Independence as a lasting reminder of early U.S.-Anglo relations and the establishment of our constitutional republic. Our Declaration was a diatribe against King George III. Many of us tend to forget that our nation’s founders chose to forge a representative national government and not a monarchy. 

No surprise then, I have to explain the American Revolution as well as the English Civil War in my classes. There were clear and lasting divisions between royal loyalists and parliament sympathizers during the seventeenth century.  

Many English settlers in America disavowed such Old World divisional politics and many of our nation’s early leaders stressed social contract theory that protected individual rights. New England, for example, was unique to institute Enlightenment Era ideals from English philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Their classical liberal approaches are apparent in Connecticut’s Fundamental Orders, which emphasized governmental power was derived by the people and not by a monarch. Generations later then, America’s founders instituted similar ideals into our U.S. Constitution.  

 U.S.-Anglo Political History Themes 

  • Political philosophy, such as Enlightenment Era’s social contract theory 
  • Early American History including New England’s founding and Fundamental Orders 
  • Twentieth-century U.S.-Anglo History such as World Wars I and II 
  • Modern U.S. presidential and British prime minister relations, Brexit, and commonwealths 

Discussing Modern U.S.-U.K. Relations 

Twentieth-century American-Anglo diplomacy has several transformative periods, especially during World War I and World War II. With the U.S. entry into World War II, for example, relations between the superpowers improved significantly. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill brokered European allies to defeat fascism across Germany, Spain and Italy but their partnership also caused uneasy relations with Russia

More recently, the alliance between President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is another case study in the political relations between the nations. During the 1980s, both leaders worked increasingly well together in addressing economic crises and the Cold War. Similarly, the recent presidential and prime minister relationship was a populist turning point for Donald Trump’s protectionism approaches and Boris Johnson’s withdrawal from the European Union through Brexit.

With the recent death of Queen Elizabeth, the world is also learning more about the royal family and commonwealth relations. Several countries, including Jamaica, are seeking to end their commonwealth status. This will be a revealing but critical learning moment to witness the United Kingdom’s divisions and alliance building. 

U.S. and U.K. relations have been an ongoing struggle and alliance for generations. With Queen Elizabeth’s death and King Charles’ impending coronation, American students need to understand the fascinating but also intricate political and economic history between both nations. 

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is the School of Graduate and Professional Studies Associate Dean and teaches political science at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He is also a frequent contributor on WNPR and CT News Junkie columnist.