Little Englander

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"Little Englander" was a phrase applied to a wing of the Liberal Party opposed to expansion of the British Empire in the 19th century, who wanted "England" to extend no farther than the borders of the United Kingdom. In the late 18th and 19th centuries the term was used for those Englishmen who looked upon the colonies of the British Empire as economically burdensome and wished the granting of self-government on them all as quickly as possible.[1]


The "Little England" movement originated among manufacturers in Manchester and found support among journalists such as Goldwin Smith. The movement objected to the protectionist stance of Canada exemplified by the tariff increase of 1859. The manufacturers resented paying taxes to defend a former colony that took few British goods, but exported so many. Moreover, it was believed that the United States could become a much more important partner as it was already Britain's best customer outside Europe.

There was also a social element to the movement. The Manchester School opposed the Empire for providing sinecures for the sons of the aristocracy when the same money could be used for tax breaks to industrialists at home.[2]

The Little England stance was adopted by a wing of the Liberal Party typified by William Gladstone (1809–1898), who opposed many of Britain's military adventures in the late 19th century. It is particularly associated with opposition to the Second Boer War (1899–1902). For example, Arthur Ponsonby wrote of the Liberal leader Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's opposition to the Boer War: "The impression one got of him from the Press in those days was … that he was an unpatriotic Little Englander".[3]

In literature[edit]

The term "little England" predates its political usage; the expression "this little England" was used in the Gunpowder Day sermon of the English Puritan preacher Thomas Hooker (5 November 1626).[4] It is also used in Shakespeare's play Henry VIII (1601), when the Old Lady tells Anne Boleyn: "In faith, for little England / You'd venture an emballing: / I myself would for Carnarvonshire."

Later usage[edit]

The Cambridge online dictionary defines Little Englander as "an English person who thinks England is better than all other countries, and that England should only work together with other countries when there is an advantage for England in doing so"[5]

The term has been used as a derogatory term for English nationalists or English people who are perceived as xenophobic or overly nationalistic.[6] It has also been applied to opponents of globalism, multilateralism and internationalism.[6][7] More recently the term has been linked by the left with nationalism[8] and supporters of Brexit.[9]


  1. ^ p. 676 Ashman, Patricia Little Englanders in Historical Dictionary of the British Empire, Volume 2 edited by James Stuart Olson and Robert Shadle Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996
  2. ^ Smith, Andrew (2008). British Businessmen and Canadian Confederation: Constitution Making in an Era of Anglo-Globalization. McGill-Queen's Press – MQUP. pp. 24–27. ISBN 9780773575004.
  3. ^ F. W. Hirst, In The Golden Days (London: Frederick Muller, 1947), p. 253.
  4. ^ p.62 of The Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology, edited by Alan Heimert and Andrew Delbanco. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985. 438 pages.
  5. ^ "little Englander | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary".
  6. ^ a b Crace, John (11 June 2013). "Who are these 'little Englanders' David Cameron is playing to?". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 February 2019. In short, it has become a byword for small-minded bigotry.
  7. ^ "A Eurosceptic union is forming across Europe". Coffee House. 2016-12-06. Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  8. ^ Chotiner, Isaac. "From Little Englanders to Brexiteers". The New Yorker.
  9. ^ Irving, Clive (October 15, 2016). "The Rise of Hateful Little England" – via