Book Review: What Has Sweden Done For The United States?

What Has Sweden Done For The United States?, by Lars P. Nelson

At first glance, one might be tempted to think of a short answer to the titular question of this book and answer, “nothing,” but that would be rather inaccurate. Although the relationship of the United States and Sweden has not drawn nearly the same amount of attention as that of other nations, this very short (about 40 page) book provides a fascinating introduction, written in 1917, to the issue and provides a useful and thoughtful and highly patriotic (for both Sweden and the United States) account of the good that Sweden has done for the United States. This is done, it should be noted, without mentioning any of the many Nobel Prizes that the United States has won, which may be Sweden’s most obvious benefit to the United States in the 20th and 21st century, even though plenty of undeserving Americans have won the Nobel Prize.

This particular book covers aspects of history that would greatly surprise most of its readers. It is telling that some of America’s most notable diplomacy relates to times of war [1], and this book demonstrates that in at least two cases with Sweden. Sweden’s early history of the United States relates to the theme of religious toleration and the propagation of Protestant religion in Sweden’s early colonial efforts and in its later support efforts even after its colonies had been taken over by the English. It was not only the log cabin that Sweden left as a legacy from its short efforts at colonialism, but also a large number of immigrants (with a generally positive result on America’s economy and culture) and a sturdy and independent minded Lutheranism. These underlying roots are highly surprising, and the author attempts to calculate (in 1917 dollars) the quantifiable benefit of Sweden’s immigrants to the United States, even if their descendents have not often been aware of those contributions or the nobility of their home nation’s behavior.

The two diplomatic coups of the United States relating to Sweden in times of war are both highly intriguing, and they result from the results of a long friendship, by which Sweden (by then a minor Baltic power) recognized the United States as an independent nation even before Great Britain did, in 1782, making a very early treaty with the Continental Congress. Soon after this treaty, at the beginning of the War of 1812, the friendliness of Sweden’s rulers towards the United States allowed the American consul to spread the word to protect America’s Baltic Fleet under Swedish protection from being seized by the powerful British fleet. Likewise, American diplomacy and friendliness with Sweden allowed for the development of the monitor-class of ships for the Union, with a powerful influence on the course of the American Civil War. Given that the Swedes were able to do this without involving themselves directly in those wars (although Sweden did end up being, in a complicated fashion, an ally of Great Britain against France even as it was friendly to the United States).

The other area where the book manages to come to a great surprise is its examination of the contribution of Swedish singers to 19th century culture, talking about Jenny Lind and Christine Nilsson and their contributions and praise from musicians, as well as their somewhat advantageous marriages. This is a “forgotten book” that I managed to pick up from many of my lists of books, and it is a book that is easy to read and well-worth reading for those who have an interest in Sweden and its contributions to the well-being of the United States in a material, diplomatic, and cultural way. I don’t know if that is necessarily a wide reading audience, but at any rate, it ought to be an appreciative one.

[1] See, for example, US diplomacy with San Marino:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Military History, Music History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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