Students and fans of American politics will be pleasantly surprised to find that dotted across London are seven statues of six American presidents. These can be discovered on a guided tour of London with a knowledgeable Blue Badge Tourist Guide but I have highlighted below:
American tourists are often surprised that there is a statue of their first president in the heart of London at Trafalgar Square. The statue shows Washington holding a bundle of 13 fasces which represent the original 13 states of the newly created United States of America. There is a popular legend that Washington, whose family came from the North East of England, had said he would never set foot on British soil again so some American soil was put under the statue comply with his wishes. It is a replica of an original by Jean Antoine Houdon and was given to Britain by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1924.
Statue of United States President George Washington in London. Photo Credit: ©Ham via Wikimedia Commons.
Abraham Lincoln is arguably the most admired American president in Britain despite the fact that the southern states of the Confederacy provided slave-produced cotton which English factories and mills in the north were dependent on and they suffered badly because of the American civil war. Lincoln’s statue stands opposite the Houses of Parliament near to those other champions of the oppressed: Mandela and Gandhi. As with the Washington statue, Lincoln’s is a replica of one in the United States by Augustus Saint Gaudens which can be seen in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. It was unveiled in 1920 to commemorate 100 years of peace between the United Kingdom and the United States.
Statue of United States President Abraham Lincoln in London. Photo Credit: ©Sir James via Wikimedia Commons.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
If Lincoln has a rival in the affections of the British people, it is Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) whose statue stands in Grosvenor Square where there has been an American presence for over 200 years. A monument like FDR’s would be impossible today as it shows him upright when in reality he was confined to a wheelchair after contracting polio in 1921. Roosevelt assumed that his political career was over but his formidable wife Eleanor told him that ‘the only thing he had to fear was fear itself’, a line he recycled effectively when he led the United States out of depression in the New Deal. He also led the United States into war and effectively ended any possibility Hitler had of gaining victory. The statue, by William Reid Dick, was unveiled by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1948 with the Queen, Prime Minister Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill present. It was paid for by the British people, 160,000 of whom paid five shillings (25p) each at a time of rationing and hardship, the money raised in under a week. Apart from the official statue of Roosevelt in Grosvenor Square, there is an informal one of him and Churchill sitting and chatting in Bond Street.
Statue of United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in London. Photo Credit: ©Bill Harrison via Wikimedia Commons.
Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower
Ike, as he was popularly known, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s general in World War II and was based in Grosvenor Square, which had sustained an American presence virtually since the United States was born. I once heard a story that the Duke of Westminster, whose family owned the land, refused to sell it and insisting on a leasing agreement instead. Eisenhower pestered the Duke so much that eventually he agreed to do so but only on condition that his family regained all the land they had owned in America before independence. As this was most of Illinois, including Chicago, that deal never came about. It is a good story, but I can find no confirmation of it. Eisenhower’s statue, the only one of a President in uniform, was unveiled in 1989 with Margaret Thatcher in attendance.
Statue of United States President Dwight Eisenhower in London. Photo Credit: ©Ham via Wikimedia Commons.
Ronald Wilson Reagan
Mrs. Thatcher would have really liked to have unveiled this monument to her friend Ronald Reagan, but ill health prevented her attending when it was unveiled by the US Ambassador. Reagan never quite enjoyed the affection of the British people in the way that other American presidents did but he was given credit by his admirers for helping to end the Cold War, maybe his most famous saying being his appeal to “take down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev!” The Ronald Reagan Foundation paid for the ten foot (three metre) tall bronze statue which was unveiled on Independence Day 2011 when Reagan would have been 100 years old.
Statue of United States President Ronald Reagan in London. Photo Credit: ©Ham via Wikimedia Commons.
John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy
This is a personal favourite, a modest bust of JFK standing next to a magnolia tree opposite Regent’s Park, where the American ambassador has his official residence at Winfield House. Jack Kennedy spent part of his youth there after his father Joe was made ambassador to Britain by Roosevelt. Jack, as he was called, had planned to study at the London School of Economics, but returned to the USA before this was possible and enrolled in the navy, became a war hero and, after his brother Joe was killed on a bombing mission, became the focus of his father’s hopes for the presidency. Coming from Irish ancestry, the elder Kennedy never lost the anti-British attitudes he was born with and tried to persuade Roosevelt to stay out of the war. His son loved Britain, however, and was loved in return. Like Roosevelt’s statue, this one was paid for by the British, the readers of the Daily Telegraph raising £50,000 in donations of a pound each. The statue was unveiled by his brother Bobby, like Jack a victim of the assassin’s bullet.
Statue of United States President John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy in London. Photo Credit: ©Edwin Lerner.