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American History Through Literature 1870-1920
COPYRIGHT 2006 Thomson Gale


Historians use the term “Anglo-Saxonism” to describe a loose assembly of cultural assumptions that influenced Anglo-American political and intellectual life in varying ways from the seventeenth century into the twentieth century. In its most general form, Anglo-Saxonism extolled the traditions of the English people before the Norman conquest, who were themselves usually understood to be the descendants of old Germanic tribes of northern Europe: a people superior to others by virtue of their cultural possession of ethical values, legal principles, and governmental structures founded on a bedrock of liberty and democracy. Early American Anglo-Saxonists (like Thomas Jefferson , an enthusiastic student of old English language and law) invoked the attractive figure of the sturdy preconquest English yeoman, and Anglo-Saxonism thus connected itself readily to seminally American, antiaristocratic ideals of political and juridical localism and of the rights of small landholders. An Anglo-Saxon heritage, then, was from very early on one important component of America’s conceptualizing of a national character, often invoked as a kind of ruggedly homespun counterpoint to the high classical culture derived from Greece and Rome.


In the late nineteenth century Anglo-Saxonism attained a particularly prominent place in public or popular discourses of nation, for several reasons.
First and perhaps most important, the century’s proliferating racial theories in both Europe and the United States —generally taxonomic attempts at scientifically naturalizing the political histories of empire and slavery—shifted Anglo-Saxonism’s terms, emphasizing the old English virtues as racial rather than localized in a cultural history. Seen through the lenses of Darwinian evolutionary thought and, in the early twentieth century, Mendelian genetics, these virtues seemed indisputably heritable as well; thus the moral characteristics of a people could perpetuate themselves in a bloodline—or dissipate through racial admixture.

Moreover, the tempting language of hierarchy and teleology entwined with Charles Darwin’s evolutionary thought—a language of higher and lower, of success and failure—permitted the development, on both sides of the Atlantic, of a pervasive, powerful rhetoric of racial fitness and ultimate domination. This rhetoric in turn lent easy support to doctrines of imperial necessity in England, of Manifest Destiny in the United States . The Anglo-Saxons, in the popular terms of racial determinism, were naturally vigorous adventurers and leaders whose expansion over the face of the earth was a simple matter of biological inevitability. Such historical thinking, buttressed by an increasing fashionableness of “Teutonic” approaches to history in American universities, led by the 1880s to the vigorous apocalyptic language of the clergyman Josiah Strong, who wrote in his immensely popular Our Country (1885) of white Christendom’s coming crisis: “the final competition of races, for which the Anglo-Saxon is being schooled. . . . And can any one doubt that the result of this competition will be ‘survival of the fittest?'” (p. 214). Citing Darwin’s Descent of Man, Strong noted that the uncivilized non-Aryans of the world “are now disappearing before the allconquering Anglo-Saxons. . . . Whether the extinction of inferior races before the advancing Anglo-Saxon seems to the reader sad or otherwise, it certainly appears probable” (p. 215).

A few years later the young Theodore Roosevelt could write with similar extravagance (although without Strong’s genocidal complacency) in the opening pages of The Winning of the West that “the day when the keels of the low Dutch sea-thieves first grated on the British coast was big with the doom of many nations. . . . The sons of the unknown Saxon, Anglian, and Friesic warriors now hold in their hands the fate of the coming years” (pp. 20–21). In his later political career, Roosevelt would come to see the hybrid American experience as an advance on the simple racial determinism implicit here, with “American-ness” itself—a political identification and allegiance rather than an immutable biological category—more telling than simpler racialized versions of Anglo-Saxonism. But in the 1880s, for Strong, Roosevelt, and others, the century’s end seemed the fulfillment of humankind’s greatest ethnic adventure, the flowering of racial strength and destiny that the American Sinophile and military writer Homer Lea would call, a generation later, simply “The Day of the Saxon.”

Thinking of this kind, combining elements of white supremacy, optimistic progressivism, and a sense of impending crisis, had immediate psychic value for the historical circumstances of the United States in the years before and after the turn of the twentieth century. The new immigration of the 1890s created great (and unruly) “foreign” underclasses in the nation’s major cities; the continental frontier “closed,” in the historian Frederick Jackson Turner ‘s famous formulation; the “Negro problem,” unresolved by emancipation, haunted the exhausted agrarian South and the North’s industrial centers. For all of these, the legend of a dominating, pioneering Anglo-Saxon race at the very core of the American experience provided a framing perspective that was also, for some anxious white Americans, a consolation. But the high-water mark of American Anglo-Saxonism coincided most clearly with the nation’s own direct experiment in imperial expansion: the Spanish-American War of 1898, which also sealed the growing political rapprochement of Britain and the United States. In early 1899, in that war’s aftermath, Rudyard Kipling issued his famous transatlantic poetic challenge (in the New York Sun, the New York Tribune, and McClure’s Magazine) to a nation feeling its new international strength and the duties of its Anglo-Saxon heritage: “Take up the White Man’s burden.” The plea was at once both immediately political and deeply racial.


For the American reading public, Anglo-Saxonism manifested itself in a number of ways, including a resurgent interest in Sir Walter Scott ‘s chivalric romances and other medieval revivals, like Howard Pyle’s illustrated children’s fantasies. Kipling himself, England’s self-aware literary spokesperson for Anglo-Saxonism and empire, married an American, lived in Vermont, and enjoyed remarkable American adulation in the 1890s and on into the new century. His famous poem “The White Man’s Burden” provided the subtitle for the first of Thomas Dixon Jr.’s popular works, The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden 1865–1900 (1902), an openly racist romance of the post– Civil War South (remembered mainly as one of the sources for D. W. Griffith’s epic 1915 film Birth of a Nation). Like Kipling and others, Dixon
understood the late nineteenth century as a climactically decisive chapter in white racial history: “The future American must be an Anglo-Saxon or a Mulatto,” says his senior protagonist, and “the future of the world depends on the future of this Republic” (p. 200). His novel’s happy ending, a triumphal reassertion of racial separatism, is made possible by the Spanish-American War and a corresponding international rediscovery of Anglo-American race pride: “[The war’s] sudden union of the English-speaking people in friendly alliance disturbed the equilibrium of the world, and confirmed the Anglo-Saxon in his title to the primacy of racial sway” (p. 412).


Rudyard Kipling ‘s “The White Man’s Burden,” shown here in its first American periodical appearance in February 1899, clearly aligned Anglo-Saxonist sentiments with modern imperialism.

Take up the White Man's burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
Take up the White Man's burden—
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain,
To seek another's profit
And work another's gain.
Take up the White Man's burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine,
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
(The end for others sought)
Watch sloth and heathen folly
Bring all your hope to nought.
Take up the White Man's burden—
No iron rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper—
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go, make them with your living
And mark them with your dead.
Take up the White Man's burden,
And reap his old reward—
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"
Take up the White Man's burden—
Ye dare not stoop to less—
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness.
By all ye will or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your God and you.
Take up the White Man's burden!
Have done with childish days—
The lightly-proffered laurel,
The easy ungrudged praise:
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers.

Other authors before and after the turn of the century deployed Anglo-Saxonism in various ways, although seldom with Dixon’s single-minded enthusiasm. Frank Norris , for example, invoked racial destiny with a characteristically confusing mixture of irony and fervor at the end of The Octopus (1901), as the great wheat ship sails from California for India. “We’ll carry our wheat into Asia yet,” says the capitalist Cedarquist, “The Anglo-Saxon started from there at the beginning of everything and it’s manifest destiny that he must circle the globe and fetch up where he began his march. . . . The irrepressible Yank is knocking at the doors” (p. 648). Some writers more or less openly
satirized Anglo-Saxonism’s simple nostalgia, like Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur ‘s Court (1889). Finley Peter Dunne, the Chicago humorist and celebrant of a distinctly non-Anglo-Saxon immigrant world, mocked the naïveté of rallying the polycultural, polyethnic United States around a myth of racial homogeneity. “I tell ye,” his persona Mr. Dooley observed dryly in 1898:

whin th’ Clan an’ th’ Sons iv Sweden an’ th’ Banana Club an’ th’ Circle Francaize an’ th’ Rooshian Sons of Dinnymite an’ th’ Benny Brith an’ th’ Coffee Clutch that Schwartzmeister r-runs an’ th’ Turrnd’ye-mind an’ th’ Holland society an’ th’ Afro-Americans an’ th’ other Anglo-Saxons begin f’r to raise their Anglo-Saxon battle-cry, it’ll be all day with th’ eight or nine people in th’ wurruld that has th’ misfortune iv not bein’ brought up Anglo-Saxons. (P. 56)


The American who came closest to rivaling Kipling as his nation’s literary spokesperson for Anglo-Saxonism was his admirer Jack London , who famously peopled his work with masterful Nordic blonds enacting their violent destinies at the edges of the civilized world. London wrote vividly and explicitly about the non-Western challenges facing “our own great race adventure” in essays like his well-known 1904 piece on the Russo-Japanese War , “The Yellow Peril,” and in stories like “The Unparalleled Invasion” (1907) and “The Inevitable White Man” (1908), whose aptly named protagonist Saxtorph murderously explores the proposition that “the white man’s mission is to farm the world. . . . the white has to run the niggers whether he understands them or not. It’s inevitable. It’s fate” (p. 1558). In 1910 he vigorously led the openly racist call for Jim Jeffries, the “great white hope” of professional boxing, to take down Jack Johnson , the first black heavyweight champion.

London’s case is instructive in its complexity, suggesting Anglo-Saxonism’s protean functioning in the intellectual currents of his time. He saw himself as (and in most senses was) a politically progressive or radical thinker and an activist for human justice. Largely self-educated, he drew his politics from voracious reading in social theory and philosophy, from Darwin and Karl Marx to Friedrich Nietzsche but with special attention to Herbert Spencer , the father of Social Darwinism , who had wholeheartedly adapted evolutionism to social and historical analysis. London enthusiastically endorsed the utopian possibilities of modern “scientific” thought (as fantasies like “Goliah” and “The Unparalleled Invasion” attest) and aligned himself sympathetically with the culture of manly vigor espoused by imperialists like Roosevelt and Kipling, with the international eugenics movement, and with world socialism. By his mid-twenties he had also shipped as a sailor to Asia, hoboed across the United States, run as a Socialist-Labor candidate in the Oakland, California, municipal elections, joined the great Klondike gold rush , and explored urban industrial poverty in the slums of London. Thus London’s version of Anglo-Saxonism, again something like Roosevelt’s or Kipling’s, is probably best understood as one expression of naively progressive, internationalist thinking—based in old ideas of Manifest Destiny, modernized by a simple “scientific” determinism, drawing its vocabulary from the racial discourse of the preceding fifty years, and made theatrical by an appeal to popular Orientalism. For London (as for Kipling and other great British imperialists) the brotherhood of man and the white man’s burden, progressivism and racism, could and did coexist in a single political philosophy.


But even at the peak of Anglo-Saxonist optimism, such a philosophy seemed to many Americans willfully blind to its own brutal underpinnings. Along with its accolades, for example, “The White Man’s Burden” elicited an immediate scattering of counterresponses in the United States, like William Walker ‘s sardonic March 1899 Life cartoon, where brown and black bearers struggle beneath the imperial bulk of Uncle Sam and John Bull . And through the 1910s and 1920s, as the American racial, economic, and international experiences grew more complicated, the triumphant myth of the Anglo-Saxon available to Josiah Strong and Teddy Roosevelt in the 1880s seemed to most serious writers not only doomed to disappointment but in fact also comically inadequate to the modern world and its cultural ironies. By 1925 a social theorist like Lothrop Stoddard, whose The Rising Tide of Color (1920) gloomily announced the international triumph of black, yellow, red, and brown, could be satirically dismissed as a crank by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby (1925); in 1929 William Faulkner (in The Sound and the Fury) similarly mocked Jason Compson’s hayseed, all-American anti-Semitism. These high modernist white writers (and others like Ernest Hemingway , T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Willa Cather) were themselves hardly freer of their culture’s deeply entrenched racial attitudes than had been their predecessors. It can be powerfully argued, in fact, that high modernism’s nostalgic neoclassicism, its formalism, and its frequent appeals to myth carried forward in a subtler form the raw expression of white power that energized the
Anglo-Saxonism of the previous generation. But the innocent exuberance of Roosevelt, London, and the early Kipling, their simple confidence in Anglo-Saxon culture, virtue, and progress, disappeared almost without a trace into the complications of post– World War I America.

See also Immigration ; Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism ; Race Novels ; Social Darwinism ; Spanish-American War


Primary Works

Dixon, Thomas, Jr. The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden 1865–1900. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1902.

Dunne, Finley Peter. “On the Anglo-Saxon.” In his Mr. Dooley in Peace and in War. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1899.

Kipling, Rudyard. “The White Man’s Burden.” McClure’s Magazine, February 1899.

London, Jack. The Complete Short Stories of Jack London . Edited by Earle Labor, Robert C. Leitz III, and I. Milo Shepard. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993.

London, Jack. “The Yellow Peril.” In his Revolution and Other Essays. New York: Macmillan, 1910.

Norris, Frank. The Octopus. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1901.

Roosevelt, Theodore. The Winning of the West. Vol. 1. New York: Putnam, 1889.

Strong, Josiah. Our Country. 1885. Edited by Jurgen Herbst. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963.

Secondary Works

Anderson, Stuart. Race and Rapprochement: Anglo-Saxonism and Anglo-American Relations, 1895–1904. East Brunswick, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1981.

Horsman, Reginald. Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.

John N. Swift

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[ang-gloh-sak-suh n]
  1. an English person of the period before the Norman Conquest.
  2. Old English(def 1) .
  3. the original Germanic element in the English language.
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  5. plain and simple English, especially language that is blunt, monosyllabic, and often rude or vulgar.
  6. a person whose native language is English.
  7. a person of English descent.
  8. (in the U.S.) a person of colonial descent or British origin.
  1. of, relating to, or characteristic of the Anglo-Saxons.
  2. of or relating to Anglo-Saxon.
  3. English-speaking; British or American.
  4. (of words, speech, or writing) blunt, monosyllabic, and often vulgar.

Origin of Anglo-Saxon

1605–15; based on New Latin, Medieval Latin Anglo-Saxōnēs, Anglī Saxōnēs (plural); from 10th cent., collective name for WGmc-speaking people of Britain (compare Old English Angulseaxan); see Angle , Saxon Unabridged
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for anglo-saxon

Contemporary Examples of anglo-saxon

  • The most effective weapon Anglo-Saxon elites have used to preserve power in American society has been the rule of law.

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  • According to an account in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, written in the 9th century, that failed Viking raid was hardly a one-off.

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    Every Viking ‘Fact’ Is Wrong

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  • When Viking invaders tore through 9th-century Europe, only one Anglo-Saxon leader was able to withstand their ferocious onslaught.

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    Scientists Find Remains of Alfred The Great Or King Edward The Elder

    Nico Hines

    January 17, 2014

  • Americans with funny names like Kagan or Shapira might also feel that Anglo-Saxon heritage shouldn’t be a requirement for office.

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    Mitt, Are You Sure This Trip Was a Good Idea?

    Gershom Gorenberg

    July 27, 2012

  • Romney also showed diplomatic sense when he declined to play the Anglo-Saxon card earlier brandished by one of his aides.

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    Mitt Romney Using U.K. Visit to Raise Money

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Historical Examples of anglo-saxon

  • It is not easy for an Anglo-Saxon to confess the realities of affection in vital intimacies.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • The Anglo-Saxon civilizes the other races or devotes them to extinction.

    The International Monthly, Volume 3, No. 2, May, 1851


  • It was rumored that there lay the ultimate proof of Anglo-Saxon ascendancy.

    Rosinante to the Road Again

    John Dos Passos

  • Our Anglo-Saxon inheritance descends upon us in times like these.

    The Portygee

    Joseph Crosby Lincoln

  • I am here because there is more of the Latin than the Anglo-Saxon in me.

    The Strollers

    Frederic S. Isham

British Dictionary definitions for anglo-saxon


  1. a member of any of the West Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) that settled in Britain from the 5th century ad and were dominant until the Norman conquest
  2. the language of these tribesSee Old English
  3. any White person whose native language is English and whose cultural affiliations are those common to Britain and the US
  4. informal plain blunt English, esp English containing taboo words
  1. forming part of the Germanic element in Modern English“forget” is an Anglo-Saxon word
  2. of or relating to the Anglo-Saxons or the Old English language
  3. of or relating to the White Protestant culture of Britain, Australia, and the US
  4. informal (of English speech or writing) plain and blunt
  5. of or relating to Britain and the US, esp their common legal, political, and commercial cultures, as compared to continental Europe
Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for anglo-saxon


Old English Angli Saxones (plural), from Latin Anglo-Saxones, in which Anglo- is an adjective, thus literally “English Saxons,” as opposed to those of the Continent (now called “Old Saxons”). Properly in reference to the Saxons of ancient Wessex, Essex, Middlesex, and Sussex.

I am a suthern man, I can not geste ‘rum, ram, ruf’ by letter. [Chaucer, “Parson’s Prologue and Tale”]

After the Norman-French invasion of 1066, the peoples of the island were distinguished as English and French, but after a few generations all were English, and Latin-speaking scribes, who knew and cared little about Germanic history, began to use Anglo-Saxones to refer to the pre-1066 inhabitants and their descendants. When interest in Old English writing revived c.1586, the word was extended to the language we now call Old English. It has been used rhetorically for “English” in an ethnological sense from 1832, and revisioned as Angle + Saxon .

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

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Word Definitions, Terminology, and Jargon

What is Anglo-Saxonism?

7 Answers

Elspeth Cowie

Elspeth Cowie , Student at University of Nottingham

Originally Answered: What does "Anglo-Saxon" mean to you?

The culture and people who lived in Britain, after emigrating from the Germaniac lands, from the end of the Roman/Romano-British period to the Norman Conquest in 1066 – a period of around 500 years.

Referring to modern cultures as “Anglo-Saxon” is one of my bugbears. No-ones Anglo-Saxon. The highest percentage of Anglo-Saxon DNA and heritage that anyone has now is around 40%. If youre using it as shorthand for British-derived cultures, youd do better saying “Anglo-Norman” – the Norman culture has a much bigger impact on our current culture than a people who were conquered and rapidly subsumed.

Were a nation of immigrants. Why is one group of immigrants so much more important than the ones who actually had a lasting impact on our culture?

JerryDon Lane

JerryDon Lane , Adventurer of the uncharted – at Spiritual Inc. (1953-present)

I think today that the term Anglo-Saxon is used to denote a portion of the white race as in the acronym WASP: White, Anglo Saxon Protestant. This seems to be interpreted as a term for a closed social group of high-status and influential white Americans of European, Protestant ancestry—The racists sometime might define it as ‘whitey with old money.’

Of course, as has been pointed out to you, it cannot formally be used to describe the entire white race, as there were other white people who were not of the Anglo-Saxon tribes, such as the Celts.

But the term ‘ism’ is usually used to express a belief in something, or to express one’s self as an adherent to something, such as Hinduism, Judaism, Baptism, etc. So it may be surprising that there is a term Anglo-Saxonism—but there is, it is in the dictionaries.

This is a racist term, but this time, used by white racists. Mariam-Webster defines it as “the belief in the superiority of AngloSaxon characteristics or of the AngloSaxon people.”

As you can see, the term Anglo-Saxonism is just another term for white supremacy.

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Matt Dodgers

Matt Dodgers , Purchasing Analyst (2006-present)

Originally Answered: What does "Anglo-Saxon" mean to you?

Germanic peoples, they came mainly from northern Europe (today, parts of Belgium, Holland and Germany) at precisely the time that the Romans were vacating England (circa 450 AD). Through “ethnic cleansing” (read war) they displaced the local Celtic population ethnically, linguistically, and culturally, finishing a 400 year project begun by the Romans. Until the Norman (also a Germanic people) conquest 550 years later, they dominated most of what we today call England. In the two hundred years after 1066 the Normans were transformed into Englishmen, much like the Franks (also a Germanic tribe) were transformed into Frenchmen. So, I would say the Germanic influence on England (Anglo Saxon) and France (Norman) is considerable.

Ted Wrigley

Ted Wrigley , Philosophy, spirituality, science, mathematics, politics…

Originally Answered: What is Anglo-Saxon?

The Angles and the Saxons were Germanic tribe that settled in England in the late Roman period, largely driving the then-resident Celts off into what is now Scotland and Ireland. Anglo-Saxon, then, is a reference to English people of this stock, often used to distinguish Southern Brits from Brits descended from earlier Celtic roots, or from those who have Norman heritage stemming from the Norman conquest in 1066.

Krister Sundelin

Krister Sundelin , UX Writer at HiQ Göteborg (2011-present)

Originally Answered: What does "Anglo-Saxon" mean to you?

What does "Anglo-Saxon" mean to you?


And this:

And this:

And this:

Andrew Cole

Andrew Cole , Owner / Operator (2010-present)

Originally Answered: What does Anglo-Saxon mean?

It is a term used to describe the migrants from Northern Germany in the dark ages after Roman rule.

The Angles and the Saxons were 2 different tribes yet neighbours in Germany.

The Anglo-saxon was more a way to differentiate saxons of England from saxons of Germany.

So you have the Anglo-saxons and the old – saxons hence Old Saxony in Germany.

Marie Siduri

Marie Siduri , Author (2011-present)

According Merriam-Webster:

plural -s

1 :  a word or idiom that strongly suggests Anglo-Saxon origin


a :  the quality, qualities, traits, or outlook regarded as distinctive of the English or of the people of English descent

b :  the belief in the superiority of Anglo-Saxon characteristics or of the Anglo-Saxon people

So it would depend on the context.