The U.S. is in this, as in other aspects of its foreign relations, the heir to the British empire. Recall the French phrase “la perfide Albion” (perfidious Albion, i.e., England).
I do not imagine that this reputation arose so much because of deliberate English duplicity or treachery, as from the changeable nature of parliamentary government – one day’s policy being reversed, and one day’s ally being abandoned, because of a change of party control the nest day. This was not “à la mode de France” – or elsewhere on the continent – where absolute monarchies pursued their constant courses.
Such inconstancy also characterised domestic English politics, as it does ours. Here is a pasquil from the time of the English Civil War:
“Me have of late been in England, vhere me have seen much sport,
De raising of de Parliament, have quite pull’d down the court,
De King and Queen dey separate and rule in Ignorance,
Pray judge ye Gentlemen, if dis be a la mode de France.
“A wise man dere is like a Ship dat strikes upon de shelves,
Dey Prison all, Behead and Whip all viser den demselves,
Dey send out men to fetch deyr King, who may come home perchance,
Oh fye, fye, fye, itis be Gar not a la mode de France.
“Dey raise deyr Valiant Prentices, to guard deyr Cause with Clubs,
Dey root deyr Bishops out of doors, and presh demselves in Tubs,
De cobbler and de Tinker too, dey will in time advance,
Pox take dem all, it is (Mort Dieu) not a la mode de France.
“Instead of bowing to deyr King, dey vex him with Epistles,
Dey furnish all deyr Souldiers out with Bodkins, Spoons, and Whistles,
Dey bring deyr Gold and Silver in, de Brownists to advance,
But if dey be cheat of it all, ‘tiz a la mode de France.
“But if when all deyr wealth is gone, dey turn unto deyr King,
Dey will make all amends again, den merrily we will sing,
VIVE LE ROY, VIVE LE ROY, vee’le Sing, Carouse and Dance,
De Englishmen have done fort Bon, and a la mode de France.”
It was the back and forth between Parliament and a weak monarch that led to inconsistent policy – “when all deyr wealth is gone, dey turn unto deyr king.” Compare the vacillating response of Charles I to Parliament, his eventual deposition and death, the splintering of the Cromwellian coalition, and the final restoration of Charles II, with the firm subjugation of the Fronde (a sort of French parallel to Parliamentary anti-monarchical party) by Louis XIV. The poem contrasts the inconstant government of England, which was not “a la mode de France” with the steady personal government of Louis.