The United States and Red River Settlement
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 23, 1966-67 season
No balanced estimate of the career of Lord Selkirk should ignore the conflicting judgments of his work by his contemporaries. In his day Selkirk was characterized as philanthropist and humanitarian, empire builder and nationalist, as business man and land jobber. Though his Red River experiment was a mixture of shifting motives and erratic aims, there is no doubt he had a genuine humanitarian concern for the displaced crofters of the Scottish highlands. His desire to alleviate their distress inspired a number of emigration schemes, each one Louisiana, Prince Edward Island, Upper Canada and Red River-marked by overtones of imperialism. Agricultural relief was to be coupled with national interest. Destitute Highlanders, disaffected Irish, and dispossessed sheep farmers were to have a role in imperial development. They were to be diverted from emigration to the United States to settlement in British Territory.
In his second memorial of 1802 to the British government Selkirk cast his eyes toward the northern interior of the continent where at the western extremity of Canada on waters falling into "Lake Winnipeck" was a country he believed capable of sustaining an agricultural population. Selkirk's views were never limited geographically. Referring to the strategic location of this area in its continental setting, Selkirk not only suggested the possibility of acquiring territory on the upper Mississippi with which communications might be opened, but noted also the geographical relationship of the Lake Winnipeg water system to the Columbia River and the advantages of a port on the Pacific Ocean. 
The Lake Winnipeg plan had to be abandoned  but Selkirk persisted in his belief that emigration was the only solution to the economic problem of the Highlands. As a supporter of a colonial empire he was opposed to the current trend of emigration to foreign lands where Highlanders were lost to the Empire, and he did not accept the opinion that colonies, particularly Canada, would inevitably fall to American hands.  They could, he believed, become profitable commercial and strategic outposts of empire. A colony at Sault Ste. Marie would be a link with the North West Territories,  and Red River a step in the completion of a transcontinental possession reaching to the Pacific. Selkirk's colony at Red River was established partly and consciously as a British outpost in the centre of the continent.
When in the summer of 1812 war was declared between Great Britain and the United States, the first group of settlers had not yet arrived at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. The war, to Selkirk's mind, brought his settlement into the current of North American events. Notwithstanding its isolation more than a thousand miles from the centre of military activity, Selkirk outlined plans for its role should the war extend to the centre of the continent. If attacked, the young men of the settlement were to retreat toward Hudson Bay or, preferably, the plains where they were to remain ready to counter-attack when circumstances permitted. Selkirk's broad conception of the geographical position of the settlement is indicated in his further suggestion that should this force be cut off from Hudson Bay, communications were to be opened with the Spanish settlements of New Mexico where ammunition, cattle and provisions could be obtained. 
Miles Macdonell, the following year, assigned to Red River more than the defensive role suggested by a retreat to the plains. His plan, as Selkirk's, was on a continental scale. With a sufficient force an expedition might be undertaken down the Mississippi to New Orleans where with troops from Great Britain it could gain possession of the extensive Louisiana country and thereby open another communication to and from the Red River Settlement. 
Neither Imperial nor Canadian military authorities showed any enthusiasm for the continental strategy of Selkirk or Macdonell. The military horizon, at the time, did not extend beyond Michilimackinac, a key in the continuing influence which British fur trade interests maintained to the south and south-west in the United States where the American government had never attempted serious control. In May, 1814, American forces occupied the fur trade post at Prairie du Chien on the east bank of the Mississippi River, and commenced the building of a military fort. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert McDouall, of the Glengarry Fencibles, who sent an expedition to recapture the post, attached much importance to it; its significance, in his mind, was continental. He pointed out the relationship between this area of military activity and the distant North West Territories. Should Americans remain in control of Prairie du Chien, he argued, the United States could carry its schemes of conquest to Hudson Bay.  At Prairie du Chien the United States would be in the very heart of the country occupied by Indians friendly to Britain. Tribe after tribe would be gained over, and the only barrier protecting the fur trading establishments in the North West would be lost. Nothing, he said, could then prevent the Americans from taking the source of the Mississippi and gradually extending themselves to Red River, Lake Winnipeg, and by the Nelson River to York Factory on Hudson Bay. 
Expressed here is the threat of continental encirclement which had concerned both New France and the United States. The colony of New France had seen a threat to its existence in the presence of English colonies to the south and the Hudson's Bay Company establishments on the Bay. Following the revolution, the American Republic feared the expansion of British influence in North America from its base in Canada and via the St. Lawrence and Mississippi waterways confining the United States to the eastern part of the continent. McDouall in 1814 was expressing the fear of a third and reverse encirclement, that of American influence extending northward and via the Mississippi and Lake Winnipeg threatening to limit British possessions in North America to the north-eastern part of the continent.
The war of 1812-14 left the Red River Settlement undisturbed. For the moment, while it remained on the periphery of continental events, its location at the focal point of three natural geographical approaches made it a potential point of contact. Approaches from the north and east had been established by the French-Canadian and British fur traders and explorers. The approach from the south was still undeveloped, though the relationship of the Lake Winnipeg water system to the Mississippi, as the explorer Alexander Mackenzie indicated, was known and understood.  In 1815, Colin Robertson at Fort Douglas assigned to the Red River Settlement a precocious role. From the commercial and military point of view he singled it out as the key to the fur trade in North America as well as a check to the "aggrandizing power" of the United States. The settlement eventually fulfilled both these roles. Recalling no doubt the possibility of an American conquest of Canada during the War of 1812-14, Robertson suggested that should Canada at a future time fall into American hands Britain would find in the Hudson's Bay Company territories a "rallying point" of sufficient consequence "to keep the enemy in awe." Robertson therefore suggested strengthening the connection between the territories and Britain and the territories and Canada.  If supported and protected, he said, the colony would spread in every direction until it forced a passage to the Atlantic. 
Concentration of the fur trade in the Hudson Bay route, following the amalgamation of the Hudson's Bay and North West companies in 1821, destroyed the tenuous link developed by the Nor 'Westers between the St. Lawrence valley and the continental interior. The role assigned by Robertson to the Red River Settlement as a link between the Atlantic and Pacific was for the time being unfulfilled. The Hudson's Bay Company purposely avoided the Canadian route and permitted it to decay as a deliberate policy of protecting the north-west from Canadian contacts and free traders. The Canadian expansionist movement of the 1850s and the completion of Confederation from 186 on was the attempt to revive this neglected Canadian route. The views expressed by Selkirk and Robertson were premature. When Robert Semple expressed similar views he called them "his crude opinions." However, Lord Selkirk had obtained, he wrote, "an important Territory" the political advantage of which was still unknown but which would not long remain so. 
The economic needs of the Red River Settlement and the development of free trade contacts with St. Paul destroyed the Hudson's Bay Company policy of insulation. It is customary to relate the development of these American contacts to the establishment of a fur trade post at Pembina by Norman Kittson in the 1840s. There had been many earlier contacts, extraordinary ones: expeditions undertaken for a special need and under special circumstances-expeditions in search of seed or sheep. By the 1840s the commercial contact became routine, and in 1858 the St. Paul route received "official" recognition and acceptance when the Hudson's Bay Company began to bring supplies into the North West via the United States. The Red River Settlement was again, in a tenuous and limited way, brought into the current of continental affairs.
By the 1860s the Settlement, separated from eastern Canada by the extended region of rock and forest north of Lake Superior, had a commercial tie with American settlements to the south which many suspected would lead to political attachment. The most practical route for exports and imports was neither by Hudson Bay nor the Great Lakes system but through St. Paul. In 1859, the S.S. Anson Northup arrived at Fort Garry and a new era of prosperity seemed to be opening for both the Settlement and the economic community of St. Paul. It is significant that the work of assembling this boat received the assistance and support of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce.
American observers were convinced that if the North West Territories could be made more dependent for transportation and trade upon Minnesota routes, a vast undeveloped area of agricultural and mineral land would eventually be forced to join politically with the United States. Their movements and writings record strikingly that phase of the American westward movement which became known as Manifest Destiny. Other North American empire builders were equally stimulated by a mission of destiny. In the 1850s and 1860s Canadian politicians, editors and railway builders preached the doctrine of a British possession stretching from sea to sea. At Red River in 1869-1870 these two continental movements came into contact and there was determined the Imperial role assigned to his settlement by Selkirk sixty years earlier.
In his first report as Minnesota's Commissioner of Statistics in 1860, Joseph A. Wheelock, a leading exponent of Minnesota expansion, argued that United States agricultural expansion absorbed 170,955 square miles every ten years, the westward progress of American population had nearly reached the extreme western limit of the areas available for settlement, and the only direction it could move was into the valleys of the Red and Saskatchewan rivers. The future growth of Minnesota was identified with the progress of settlement and development in the fertile lands north of the 49th parallel.  Assuming this development, Minnesota, with railway communication, would advance by resistless pressure to the first position among inland states commanding a vast commerce north, south, east and west. The key to this sublime and inevitable destiny was the railway. With the railway the British North West would become a valuable economic hinterland attached to St. Paul. With the railway the United States would complete part of its natural continental role. 
No railway line seemed more likely to provide the practical means of aiding Minnesota's control of the North West Territories than the Northern Pacific. The Northern Pacific itself had not failed in its promotional efforts to point out the political aspect of its development. Construction would, it was claimed, prevent the building of a transcontinental line through the British North West and preclude the political association of the territories with Canada.  As early as 1865, the year after its incorporation, the Northern Pacific had asked the banking firm of Jay Cooke & Co. to accept the agency for the sale of the railway's bonds.  Later this firm was highly successful in promoting a sales campaign for the Lake Superior and Mississippi railway which was to connect St. Paul with Duluth.  It was not, however, until December, 1869 that Jay Cooke agreed to take the Northern Pacific agency. By this time he had bought stock in the Company and held tracts of land along the route of the Lake Superior and Mississippi line, as well as at Duluth, the eastern terminus of the Northern Pacific. 
By this time also Minnesota expansionists had seen in the Red River disturbances a propitious event which could be turned to American advantage. But their efforts and those of American expansionists in Washington were not aggressive enough to halt the advance of the Canadian continental confederation.
Jay Cooke, having committed his company to the sale of Northern Pacific bonds, asserted the same firm direction which marked his campaign in support of the Lake Superior and Mississippi line. He was prepared to undertake the promotional work and to use his political influence in Washington. To supplement these plans he demanded in return the assistance of the people of the North West, particularly Minnesota which stood to gain most from the projected railway line. He desired Minnesota to "understand, appreciate and cooperate" in his efforts to make it one of the "most powerful & prosperous States in the Union" , and he expected the Minnesota representatives in Congress to exert their influence in support of his Duluth and Northern Pacific programmes. 
Ex-Governor William Marshall of Minnesota and Ignatius Donnelly, a former member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota, were in Washington in March, 1870. Donnelly was there at the request of William L. Banning, president of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railway, to lobby for harbor improvements at Duluth.  Marshall was assisting the Cooke lobby in support of a subsidy for the Northern Pacific.  The previous summer, as Governor of Minnesota, Marshall had accompanied one of the exploratory parties Cooke had sent out to inspect the proposed route of the Northern Pacific. Cooke. in March 1870, had a further and more sinister exploration in mind. He had been kept well-informed on the disturbances at Red River and intended perhaps the most positive step undertaken at this time towards annexation of the North West Territories to the United States.
Cooke requested Marshall to undertake a mission to the Red River Settlement. In his letter of instructions March 22, 1870, he stated that the Northern Pacific was planning a line to Pembina and was anxious to know more about the region north of the boundary through which the line would run, i.e. to Fort Garry, Lake Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, if, as he said, "we are encouraged to do so by our friends in Winnipeg."  These instructions did not specify the actual purpose of the mission but were for Marshall's use should he be asked about his presence at Fort Garry. "He goes ostensibly", Cooke confessed to his brother Henry, to attend to railway interests.  Specific details of the real purpose of the mission have never been documented and were probably given to Marshall verbally by Cooke in Philadelphia.  A copy of Marshall's instructions, and communications Marshall had received, presumably in relation to Red River affairs, were sent to Henry Cooke in Washington on March 31, 1870. Henry Cooke was asked to read these to President Grant and Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, and to get confidential instructions on how to proceed.  A few days later, Cook sent additional letters he had received from Marshall which were to be shown to the President for his comment.  At the same time, Marshall was asked to delay his start for a week to await the President's instructions. 
Before leaving St. Paul on April 7th for Fort Garry, Marshall wrote to Cooke introducing Oscar Malmros who had resigned his position as Consul at Winnipeg and was on his way to Washington via Philadelphia. From him Cooke could learn more about Winnipeg affairs.  Malmros had already suggested to Senator Alexander Ramsey of Minnesota that money could be used to influence events at Red River.  From others too Cooke might receive information. Alfred H. Scott, an American and one of the delegates of the Provisional Government appointed to negotiate with Canada, was expected to visit New York where his father resided. George Sheppard of the New York Times suggested Cooke should contact him.  Letters from Marshall, from Joseph A. Wheelock of St. Paul, and newspaper reports received by Cooke were forwarded to Henry Cooke who showed them to President Grant.  Jay Cooke appears to have been encouraged by the President and Secretary of State Fish in the Marshall expedition and in his expansionist views. It is difficult to believe, however, that they would approve a sinister plan since both disapproved of Malmros' suggestion of the use of money by the Government.  If not encouraged directly by the President, Cooke was aware his plan was not opposed. When Sheppard was shown all the Winnipeg documents, as Jay Cooke called them, he remarked, according to Cooke, that he was "glad our views are in accord with the President." 
The Marshall party reached Red River on April 24, 1870 and remained in the Settlement five days. During that time members of the party met Henry M. Robinson, the American Vice-Consul, Richard Burdick, an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company, H. S. Donaldson and others, all Americans. The three named had been arrested the month before by Riel and held for a few days. Marshall with N. P. Langford, a former member of the United States Revenue service, called on Riel and Marshall met W. B. O'Donoghue. The Americans they talked to stated that Riel had led them to believe he favored annexation but deceived them. Robinson as editor of the Nor'Wester had published pro-American editorials, some written by Consul Malmros, but such annexationist views were later suppressed. What American influence may have been present in Riel's council had apparently been eliminated by the time the Marshall party arrived. Other than the Americans there, according to Langford, not more than fifty men in the Settlement favored annexation to the United States. O'Donoghue asserted to Marshall his desire for independence and annexation, but that if Canada accepted the proposed terms of union he and Riel would "keep faith with Canada." Otherwise, they would look to the United States for aid. Langford inferred from Riel's conversation that he and O'Donoghue were in accord in this matter, i.e. that if Canada did not accept the terms he favored annexation to the United States. He would not, however, make this view known publicly since he knew very few people who would approve. Langford was satisfied that Riel secretly favored annexation and would show his hand at the proper time. 
Langford's letter of July 10, 1870 to James Wickes Taylor (his brother-in-law) is the only record of Marshall's mission to the Red River Settlement known to exist. Unfortunately, details of Jay Cooke's plan and what Marshall may have suggested or offered to Riel are not documented. Realizing the position of the Americans in the Settlement, Marshall perhaps never attempted to implement what Cooke outlined. If a full report on his mission was made by Marshall, it has not come to light. Marshall was communicating with Cooke and his letters were forwarded by Henry Cooke to President Grant.  A search has been made in the Jay Cooke Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and in President Grant's Papers at the Library of Congress in Washington but no report or correspondence has been located.
Though both details of Marshall's specific instructions and his report on meetings with Riel are lacking, we can gather an insight into Cooke's thinking at this time. He was an annexationist. He worked toward the entry of the North West into the American Union and to attaching it economically to the Northern Pacific Railroad. In February, 1870 he outlined to one of his financial agents a specific plan to this end. He referred to recent conversations with George Sheppard about "the Winnipeg business" and expressed the hope that he, i.e. Cooke, "might be one of a number to employ Sheppard in manipulating the annexation of the North West." This could be done, he said, "without any violation of treaties and brought about as the result of quiet emigration over the border of trustworthy men with families." Cooke obviously knew his history-particularly the story of Oregon. The emigration plan would be combined with a tacit understanding with Riel and others. "The country belongs to us naturally", he said, sounding like a native Minnesota expansionist, "and should be brought over without violence and bloodshed." 
Wheelock's correspondence confirms what appears to have been Cooke's plan. When the delegate, Scott, reached St. Paul on April 6, 1870, Wheelock had two meetings with him and arranged for him tomeet Sheppard and Jay Cooke in New York. Scott showed Wheelock a copy of the Bill of Rights which Wheelock reported to Ramsey had been designed, he was assured, for the express purpose of being rejected. Further, the Roman Catholic clergy were "all ardently for ultimate annexation". This kind of reporting is typical of all correspondence of Minnesota expansionists. Malmros, James Wickes Taylor and Wheelock were all guilty of exaggeration designed to elicit active steps from people like Cooke or the State Department. Reports and correspondence were intended to show not only that annexation was possible but that union with the United States was the wish of the people at Red River. Reporting to Senator Ramsey on his meetings with Scott, Wheelock referred to a "secret movement". This was the Marshall Mission. When Marshall was leaving St. Paul for Fort Garry, Wheelock advised him, in opposition to the tenor of advice Marshall had from Sheppard, to urge Riel toward independence only, leaving the issue of annexation to develop when it received stronger political support from the influx of American emigrants. This was precisely what Jay Cooke had recommended. Wheelock informed Cooke of his meetings with Scott. The information received from Scott, he felt, had a favorable bearing on the success of the Marshall mission and he told Cooke that while he did not let Scott "into the secret of the movement on foot" he had assured him that if the Red River people desired to keep Canada out they could depend on the cooperation of powerful interests in the United States which stood ready to lend whatever material aid was necessary. Wheelock indicated to Ramsey what this aid might be.  Riel, he said, should be supplied with one or two batteries, and some men and the Fenians stirred up. A few hundred sharp-shooters, in his estimate, could hold an army at bay along the Fort William route." This recommendation was undoubtedly made in the light of the preparations in Canada for a military expedition to Red River which were known to be underway. Malmros' suggestion for the use of money, and Wheelock's urging of military assistance indicate the extreme measures which irresponsible American expansionists hoped to see implemented.
Malmros was in St. Paul at this time and may again have suggested steps similar to those he outlined from Fort Garry two months earlier. In his view money rather than men would make the annexation movement a success. Filibusters, reported in January, 1870, to be preparing to go to Red River, would, he said, be of little value since the Provisional Government would not be able to feed them. The cause of annexation would be infinitely better served by the provision of $100,000, $25,000 immediately, i.e. in January, and the balance by May 1st. Was there no sympathy in Washington, he asked, were there no friends there to come forward at once with such a small sum?  Senator Ramsey had received an answer to this question when President Grant and Fish rejected the suggestion.  The negative response by the Administration is a key to the failure of the annexation movement. Responsible American officials were not prepared to support measures suggested by the extreme expansionists. Malmros' plea for money was not his first cry of despair. His complaint was but one of many to the effect that Washington was missing an opportunity to gain the North West Territories. He had been critical of the American administration on this account from the time of his arrival at Fort Garry as American consul. He was actively promoting annexation but felt his work was not appreciated and his despatches neglected. A note of frustration is evident through much of the correspondence of Malmros and Taylor, both zealous in their efforts to promote annexation but unable to gain the support they thought Washington should provide. In one of his first reports on the situation at Red River, dated September 10, 1869, Malmros showed what he considered "remarkably correct judgment" on the politics of the country. To his annoyance he received from the State Department nothing but an acknowledgment of the receipt of his despatch. The Department did not ask him, as he had expected, to continue his correspondence on political matters and he inferred that he had barely escaped censure for writing the report. Later, he was requested to inform the Department on the course of events but this was not the extent of participation in affairs he hoped the Administration would assign him. He desired a more positive role and was disappointed he had not been requested to act in a political capacity.
Lacking positive instructions from the State Department had not apparently inhibited him from taking part in events at Red River. In a pretentious confession to Senator Ramsey he stated he had done much to bring about the situation at Red River and had prevented the leaders of the disturbances from making many mistakes. In January, 1870, he complained he had not received from the State Department an answer to his inquiry of November whether troops from Canada would be allowed to pass over American soil. "I must conclude", he said to Ramsey, "that our Administration has no foreign policy."  The ultimate failure of the State Department to understand conditions at Red River must surely have been, in Malmros' eyes, the publication of his despatches. In his assessment of the political situation at Red River for the State Department in September, 1869, (the assessment he himself characterized as "remarkably correct") he referred to the Catholic clergy and the Hudson's Bay Company as the "influential corporations" in the territory, both of which had expressed to him a dislike of Canadian rule. Some of the statements he made in the report were omitted, but when the Consular Report appeared with the above remarks in a Senate Executive Document he felt the State Department had undermined his position, making it "untenable". Officers of the Company and members of the clergy, he said, would never have made such statements if they thought they would have been made public. As a result Malmros felt himself forced to leave Fort Garry without even taking time to write his resignation. 
The Cooke-Marshall mission did not produce the result hoped for by its protagonists. If Cooke was aware of Langford's estimate that apart from Americans not fifty men in the Settlement favored annexation, or that whatever inside American influence existed had evaporated, he may have hesitated in his expansionist plans until through a railway connection and emigration a more favorable climate of opinion and economic necessity drew the area into the Union. Cooke's influence in Washington was great, but it was not sufficient to influence events at the time of the Red River disturbances. Both he and his brother were close friends of President Grant. Cooke had supported Grant financially in the Presidential campaign of 1868, and early in 1869 it was expected he would be taken into the Cabinet as Secretary of the Treasury. Henry Cooke's friendship with Grant was, according to Jay Cooke's biographer, of "brotherly intimacy"  and led in 1871 to his appointment as Governor of the District of Columbia which brought him closer to the President and in almost daily communication.  But Jay Cooke, the Northern Pacific Railroad and the Minnesota expansionists were only one group seeking favors of the administration. No Northern Pacific petition for support or subsidy appeared in Congress without a howl of opposition from many contending supplicants. Resistance to its claims could also be found in the Cabinet.  The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railway lobbies active in Washington wished to hinder a competing continental railway system. Chicago interests feared the economic growth of Duluth. San Francisco was annoyed that Puget Sound would be the terminus of the Northern Pacific on the west coast. Wisconsin promoters sought assistance to Superior in their state, not Duluth,  and recalled that the Cooke influence in Washington had caused defeat in Congress of a bill granting land to a proposed Wisconsin railway which might have competed with Cooke's Lake Superior and Mississippi line in Minnesota.  "Why cannot the parties in power", cried Cooke, "have a little enthusiasm and faith in the progress of events in the Northwest, and add what they can to our gigantic efforts."  President Grant, the Cabinet and Congress could not be expected to focus their attention on one interest or one area of the nation even though Northern Pacific supporters throbbed with thoughts of the great national destiny and expansionist objectives the line would advance.
Northern Pacific energies had long been dissipated in wasted efforts even before Jay Cooke took control. The original charter holders, overoptimistic, did not gain the financial support expected from the public, and sought to sell their charter. In 1866 a new Board of Directors, with no intention of themselves providing the capital for construction, expended time, money and energy in attempts to obtain Government subsidies, extensions of time and permission to issue bonds guaranteed by the Government. An extension of time was all they received. Following a further re-organization and new capital in 1867, surveys were begun, but time and energy were still directed toward gaining government aid and amendments to the original charter. Congress granted another two years' extension in 1867. A government guarantee of interest on bonds was denied at that time though two years later an amendment to the charter permitted the company to mortgage the road. Mortgage of the principal asset, the land grant, was obtained in 1870.  "If the time, labor and money spent at Washington between 1866 and 1870", says an historian of the Northern Pacific, "had been devoted to a sound financial scheme for building the road, it would have been completed earlier, and many troubles and much needless expense would have been saved." 
Construction of the Northern Pacific west from Duluth did not begin until February, 1870, and reached Red River at the end of 1871,  too late, as James Wickes Taylor had hoped, to influence the events at Red River in 1869-1870. Taylor, however, never ceased in his efforts to promote railway connection with Manitoba as a means of strengthening its economic dependence on Minnesota and attracting the entire North West Territories to the Union. Even had such a connection not led to annexation, it would have the effect, it was expected, of preventing the building of an all-Canadian railway route to the west, thus giving to the Northern Pacific a monopoly. Taylor pursued this double purpose not only as Consul but as a paid employee of railway interests who subsidized his salary.
An equally indecisive influence on events had been the failure of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Its development as a force in the economic penetration of the North West was as important to Minnesota expansionists as the Northern Pacific. The St. Paul and Pacific (which became part of the Northern Pacific system in 1872) had its origin in the rash of Minnesota railway legislation in the 1850s. The Minnesota and Pacific, incorporated by the State in 1857, was authorized to build northwest to Breckenridge on the Red River, with a branch from St. Paul north to the international frontier.  This company, like so many other Minnesota lines, forfeited its rights after failing to meet obligations under the charter.  In a major reorganization of railway charters by the Minnesota Legislature in 1862, the charter rights of this line were granted to the newly-organized St. Paul and Pacific. James Wickes Taylor had become Secretary of the Minnesota and Pacific in the year of its incorporation, and in 1869, on Jay Cooke's recommendation, was appointed a press agent for the Lake Superior and Mississippi and the St. Paul and Pacific. Persistent financial difficulties forced the latter to seek funds in Europe and an additional land grant in Congress to aid construction to the boundary.  Taylor and Senator Ramsey worked together lobbying for such aid. Taylor wrote to the Secretary of State in January, 1870, and again the following month in his capacity as a Special Agent of the State Department for Red River Affairs, specifying the importance of aid to the St. Paul and Pacific in promoting annexation. A bill was then pending in Congress making a land grant for the Pembina extension of the railway, which, if enacted, Taylor said "would be decisive of the political association of the Red River people."  If it were passed and word could reach Red River it would "exert a marked influence upon the deliberations of the Convention" assembled at Fort Garry in the spring of 1870, and would "do more than all other agencies to determine the future relations of Northwest British America."  Later that year he reported Governor William Mactavish's earlier statement that the opinion prevalent at Red River was that a railway to St. Paul would make it impossible for Canada to colonize and govern the country.  The bill in Congress did not pass. The same year the Northern Pacific purchased a controlling interest in the St. Paul and Pacific and their separate destinies became united. The financial crisis and the collapse of the Jay Cooke Company in 1873 halted advances on both lines. By 1870 the St. Paul and Pacific had reached only to St. Cloud, approximately eighty miles north of St. Paul. Even when the line north-west reached Breckenridge on the Red River in 1871, Taylor could not be enthusiastic and said he would reserve his congratulations until arrangements were completed for the branch line to the frontier.  It was not until 1878 that the St. Paul and Pacific reached the international frontier and made a connection with the Pembina branch of the CPR. The same year John A. Macdonald had campaigned and won election on a platform of a national policy of tariffs. The policy, introduced in 1879, doomed for the time any hopes men like Taylor and the Minnesota expansionists may still have held that the economic tie between Winnipeg and St. Paul could be strengthened and lead to political union, or that Minnesota, as Taylor had expressed it, would "long be the principal avenue of Commerce between eastern and western Canada". 
To the failure of the railways in advancing expansionist plans must be added the cautious stand toward Red River and Canada assumed by the American administration. President Grant and Secretary of State Fish, though both expansionist-minded not only in regard to the North West Territories but to Canada, were also responsible men and did not countenance any such overt steps as Malmros or Cooke suggested which might create an international incident. Fish and Grant were shocked at Ramsey's suggestion that money be used to influence events in 1869-1870.  Both were optimistic that such methods were not necessary. Fish believed that Britain considered Canada an expense and a source of weakness and would part with it any time Canada requested separation.  Reports received by Fish indicated the Confederation scheme was not a success. Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island had rejected it, the Maritimes were dissatisfied, and petitions for annexation from British Columbia had been forwarded. He was satisfied there was a growing feeling in favor of annexation brought on by the pressure of commercial relations.  This feeling Fish admitted he did not wish to retard. Information from many sources suggested that, with the exception of government officials, bankers and wealthy families, a preponderance of opinion in Canada favored separation from Britain.  At the end of 1869, Malmros had reported alleged conversations with William Mactavish of Fort Garry who said he intended to submit to the Governor and Committee of the Hudson's Bay Company in London the suggestion that it might be in the interest of the Company to favor annexation to the United States.  Taylor supported the possibility of some arrangement with the Hudson's Bay Company, basing his opinion mainly on dissatisfaction of wintering partners at not receiving a share of the money involved in the sale of Rupert's Land to Canada. 
President Grant was aware also of a diplomatic stick he might have in the unsettled "Alabama" claims. The "Alabama", a Confederate privateer built in Britain, had caused considerable damage to Northern shipping during the Civil War. Claims by the United States for these losses remained a cause of continual friction between Britain and the United States until settled by arbitration in 1872. Taylor had on many occasions suggested that the American claims be settled on a basis of exchange. Britain would give up Canada and the North West and the United States would forego its claims.  Publicly the Administration and Grant pressed Britain for the settlement of the "Alabama" claims, but secretly Grant did not want any such adjustment at the time. He hoped to use them as a means of obtaining Canada. Hamilton Fish in his diaries records on November 26, 1869 that Grant at a Cabinet meeting said he had heard talk of John Bright being sent to the United States to negotiate a settlement. Grant hoped this was not true as he feared Bright might be able to settle them and he (Grant) "wished them kept open until Great Britain was ready to give up Canada", that holding the "Alabama" case open would make Britain more anxious to "settle the case by the cession of Canada."  Fish openly suggested to the British Ambassador, Sir Henry Thornton, that Britain "withdraw entirely from Canada, & remove the pretext of ... Fenian threats, & at the same time ... settle the Alabama claims." 
Despite the desire of the American administration and the reported attitudes in Canada, no direct action was planned by the United States to separate Canada from Britain. The Administration was apparently prepared to accept the theory of the inevitability of Canadian annexation. When a Memorial from British Columbia was received asking annexation to the United States, Fish suggested to the Cabinet that the proper action was to abstain from action, "to keep our eyes fixedly on the movement & to keep our hands off." President Grant agreed that this was precisely their "course of duty."  Fish regularly made a point of relating the information he had received to the British Ambassador. He showed Thornton the British Columbia petition and suggested that the movement there and the difficulties at Red River presented to the British government an opportunity to follow a policy which he assumed Britain appeared willing to adopt, i.e. the separation of the connection between Canada and Britain. It was inevitable in any case, he stated to Thornton. The troubles at Red River and its geographical location precluded any close commercial relation with Canada. Canada was shut off from the Pacific by the Rocky Mountains; Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had no commercial and little political or social intercourse with Canada. 
Positive steps by Britain toward separation would not be taken. Fish had assurances of this from the British Ambassador and from John Motley, American ambassador in Britain.  Since he was also assured Britain was not unwilling to part with Canada his policy was first to encourage the independence of Canada in Britain. Motley was asked to promote this and to use his influence to discourage British response to Canadian requests for assistance to the Pacific railway.  In Washington Fish would exert pressure on Thornton and use his influence with the press. With Thornton, Fish argued that the Civil War proved what a menace British possessions on American borders could be and that the dangers of annoyance and collision between the two countries would be removed if Britain would make Canada independent.  This approach was used on many occasions. Thornton's usual response was that Britain was willing and anxious to do so but could not inaugurate separation.  Fish made little progress with Thornton.
Throughout 1869-1870 Fish received many reports on Canadian dissatisfaction with Confederation and desire for independence. Both these attitudes were invariably assumed by him to mean Canada wished for annexation to the United States. But reports of an independence movement which he wished to see nursed and encouraged were on many occasions over-optimistic and misleading. An example of misunderstanding Canadian attitudes is found in Taylor's account of a meeting in Montreal in June, 1870. Taylor sent Fish the complete newspaper report of the proceedings. His brief letter with the enclosure referred to the meeting as the one in which Hon. John Young (a former Cabinet Minister) "avowed himself in favor of Canadian Independence". The meeting was, however, more embracing and more complex than Taylor's description. It is true Young presented a resolution stating that the British connection was a mutual cause of difficulty. The British American provinces, he said, should assume a national independent position. Other speakers referred to tension between Canada and the United States as a result of the British connection. The purpose of the meeting was more subtle than to give expression of these attitudes. It had been called to express public opinion on a recent Fenian raid and to stress the duty of Imperial authorities to provide protection. Taylor and perhaps Fish were prepared to regard the meeting as an indication of an independence movement. Taylor's letter forwarding the newspaper account suggests this was his purpose. A few days earlier he had reported that Hon. Alexander Campbell had gone to England on matters of defence. Canadian newspapers were stating England must assume defence of the provinces or they must not be encumbered with England's quarrels. "The movement for independence has received a great impetus", Taylor noted, "There can be no mistake as to the drift of the tide".  There were nuances, however, that he missed, and it is possible to interpret the Montreal meeting as leading to quite the opposite of separation and independence. Allegations were made at the time that the meeting had been arranged by the Canadian government to promote ministerial purposes, to gain an expression of public opinion to support the government's representations to the Imperial government for assistance in the burden of defence. At the same meeting, Hugh Allan presented a resolution calling on the Canadian government to come to an understanding with the Imperial government on the nature and extent of support Canada would receive for defence in resisting the invasion of British territory which invasions resulted from Canada's connection with Britain.  The meeting therefore may be seen as an expression of strengthening the connection between Canada and Britain, particularly in the area of defence.
Whatever interpretation Fish may have placed on this and other reports, he was satisfied there was encouraging evidence of an independence movement which should be cultivated. "You & I know", he wrote to Horace Greely of the New York Tribune, "that Annexation must follow Independence very soon."  How to proceed in furthering the independence sentiment was his difficulty. Open pressure on the British government might hinder rather than help, and a provocative press would have an unfavourable effect.  When the independence movement developed too slowly to satisfy Fish, he took steps toward removing what he felt was an obstacle. To his mind the American press had not shown the necessary prudence. The movement had not progressed, he thought, because many people in Canada believed independence meant immediate annexation. Fish believed this to be true but he did not want Canadians to believe it. Friends of independence in Canada, he said, indicated their greatest fear was the American press which fostered this belief and hindered the movement. Fish suggested to Greely that the Tribune make an effort to distinguish between independence and annexation. A powerful press, he said, could assist in the growth of sentiment for separation from Britain. He recommended articles pressing the question of independence and urged the postponement of thoughts of annexation. To do so would "help the cause greatly."  In reply the Tribune agreed that less provocative articles and editorials would be printed. 
Had the American government desired to take positive or belligerent steps to gain the North West Territories, an opportunity presented itself when Canada prepared to send a military expedition to the Red River Settlement. Hindrance to the expedition was attempted, but extreme measures avoided. In one of his first despatches to the State Department, Consul Malmros in September, 1869, referred to the opposition to union with Canada which was developing in the Red River Settlement. At the same time he pointed out the ease of defending the settlement against a Canadian force in case of insurrection.  Early in November after Riel had seized Fort Garry, the possibility of troops having to be sent west became more real. The only possibility Malmros saw, however, of troops suppressing an insurrection would be if the United States permitted them to reach the settlement over American soil. If troops reached the settlement the "revolution", as he called it, would be a failure. He hoped permission would not be granted.  Malmros' assessment was proven in 1870 to be wrong. Troops did not require the American route. But his attitude toward a military expedition is representative of optimistic expansionist views. Troops at Red River and the failure of the resistance would constitute an obstacle to American annexation and every attempt should be made to prevent a military force reaching Fort Garry.
On the basis of Malmros' report Secretary of State Fish in Cabinet called attention to the possibility of a request for permission to send troops through United States territory. President Grant at first expressed the opinion that it should be granted, but the eventual decision of Cabinet was that if an application was received permission was to be denied.  Fish conveyed this decision to Thornton, the British ambassador, as well as the decision that troops would not be allowed to use the Sault Ste. Marie Canal.  The Imperial and Canadian governments had already decided to send an expeditionary force to Fort Garry in the summer of 1870, and rumors of the preparations had prompted discussions in cabinet as to the use of the canal. As a result, President Grant directed that orders be given to the effect that should a request for the use of the canal be made, permission was to be refused until the question was referred to Washington for further instructions. 
In discussions with Thornton, Fish urged that no attempt at military subjugation be made,  and when Thornton hinted at the use of the canal Fish stated firmly there would be no point in Britain seeking permission since it would be denied.  Thornton argued the matter of passage, pointing out that American vessels had not been denied the use of the Welland Canal during the Civil War. Fish refused to accept the parallel, counter-arguing that munitions carried through the Welland Canal had been articles of merchandise and not part of the supplies of a military expedition. Fish was not apparently pleased with the situation. He hoped Thornton would not be instructed by the British government to make a request for he "should not wish to refuse it.  Thornton's case was a good one and did eventually prove effective in changing the American government's attitude. At the time, however, Fish was bound by the cabinet decision as well as by public opinion. Senator Chandler of Michigan, one of the most extreme of Republican expansionists, while these discussions were taking place, had moved a resolution for annexation of the north west and warned Canada against the use of a military expedition. Senator Ramsey of Minnesota referred to secret plans for sending troops through the canal and others in disguise through the United States.  Thornton eventually put a number of specific questions and variations to Fish: would vessels be allowed to pass with troops; would vessels without troops but with munitions be allowed; and would vessels without troops or munitions be allowed. Fish would make no distinction. All were parts of a military expedition and would not be given permission to use the canal. 
Despite these diplomatic manoeuvers it became evident as the Red River Expeditionary Force reached the Sault that other variations of the use of the canal would have defeated whatever obstacles short of a show of military force the American government placed in its way. As soon as the canal was open in the spring of 1870, the steamer "Algoma" with mercantile cargo was sent through to determine whether the United States intended to be obstructive.  The steamer passed through without incident. Five days later the steamer "Chicora" carrying commercial freight only, was prevented from passing. The "Chicora" had landed troops and military supplies at the east end of the canal on Canadian soil. The troops and supplies were to pass over Canadian soil to the west end of the canal, there to be picked up by the steamer and continue on through Lake Superior. 
Early in May, 1870, the State Department had sent instructions to Governor Baldwin of Michigan that no military expedition or material was to pass through the canal without permission from Washington.  On the basis of these instructions authorities in Michigan had stopped the "Chicora". Immediately, Thornton, at Canada's request, protested, pointing out that the difficulties at Red River had been settled amicably and the force was a peaceful one. He again referred to the use of the Welland Canal during the Civil War. His protests were effective. President Grant issued instructions to the Governor of Michigan stating that the United States would not oppose the passage of such vessels as the "Chicora", provided they carried no troops or munitions of war. Thornton's hints that the Welland Canal might be closed in retaliation, combined with his statement that Canada had granted an amnesty, appear to have been decisive in obtaining this American concession.  The affair at the canal delayed Wolseley's Expeditionary Force for a short time only. Had the Americans been firm they could not have prevented it from reaching Red River. Troops and supplies could have proceeded around the three-mile portage as in the case of the "Chicora". Had vessels been halted, the "Algoma", which had passed through earlier, was still in Lake Superior and could have been used to carry the force to Thunder Bay. Ironically, too, an American vessel had been hired at Sarnia and sent empty through the canal, the master swearing to American authorities that he had not been hired by the Canadian government and had nothing to do with the expedition. A second vessel for carrying men and supplies  was therefore in Lake Superior.
To Minnesota annexationists the entry of Manitoba into Confederation in 1870 was not the final blow to their expansionist venture. Their continuing expectation of success is clearly evident in the correspondence and official reports of Consul James Wickes Taylor. Late in 1870 Taylor accepted the consular post at Winnipeg, he said because it was there he could best pursue the policy of annexation.  This statement was made to N. P. Banks, the man who had introduced in Congress in 1866 the bill prepared by Taylor providing for the entry of the British American territories into the United States. At the end of November, 1870, Taylor promised Banks a revision of the 1866 bill based on the discussions they had had in July. Banks replied he would be glad to renew the proposition. In the Taylor Papers is found the draft of a speech apparently prepared for Banks' use in introducing such a bill. In this, Banks would say he never regretted the introduction of the 1866 bill despite opposition in the English and Canadian press. He was renewing the proposition in the profound conviction that England was unwilling and Canada unable to inaugurate and advance the measures necessary to the development of British America, and especially the districts north-west of Lake Superior. Significantly, Taylor would have Banks say that such measures could be advanced only by the United States in connection with the enterprise and policy of the Northern Pacific Railroad. 
Taylor's efforts toward annexation and his promotion of Northern Pacific railway interests were indistinguishable. His contact with the railway continued while he was consul and he sought financial assistance for his work.  Soon after his arrival in Winnipeg he began to talk and write about an American railway connection. He reported that such a connection was "ardently desired" and that it was considered by every intelligent resident to be a step toward a political connection with the United States. He encouraged this attitude, seeking to organize and direct public opinion by giving the newspapers confidentially articles on railway developments.  Lieutenant-Governor Archibald he found surprisingly responsive to plans which would advance his own and Northern Pacific railway designs. Archibald's attitudes seemed to harmonize completely with Taylor's views. He even suggested that the Northern Pacific might be induced to divert its main line or build a branch to Fort Garry, the Saskatchewan valley and the Pacific coast. He was, according to Taylor, "dispossessed of the illusion" that a railway would be built across Canada north of Lake Superior.  Taylor cultivated these ideas and the Archibald relationship, reporting regularly to Jay Cooke of the Northern Pacific. 
In other ways Taylor used his position as consul, as he had intended, to advance railway interests.  He labored persistently and was successful with the Treasury Department in obtaining regulations to facilitate the passage of settlers to the Canadian west through the United States. He was much praised in Manitoba for these efforts, but it should be pointed out that his purpose was a double one. He was not only promoting railway traffic for Minnesota lines, but expecting that many of these immigrants on seeing Minnesota would not continue on to Manitoba but take up lands of both the Northern Pacific and St. Paul and Pacific railways. 
In the uneasiness, tension and even strife that characterized Manitoba's early years as a province, Taylor saw hopeful signs leading to annexation. Each area of dissatisfaction was reported to the State Department, and on occasion he was reprimanded for his zeal in suggesting what action should be taken by the United States. The French population was dissatisfied at delays in the allotment of lands reserved for half-breeds and their children. Under the Order-in-Council of May 26, 1871 it had been stated that settlers found in possession of lands at the time of survey and who had entered their holdings at the land office would not be disturbed.  The French argued that half-breeds should have the first right of possession and that under the Order settlers coming into the province could take up land in an area later chosen as part of the half-breed grant.  The issue was such that Taylor reported the peace of the province was threatened. He saw the possibility of a clash between the French- and English-speaking populations. "You can easily conceive the danger of collision," he wrote, "which could involve the Province in civil strife."  Early in September, 1871, he was aware of a contemplated Fenian movement and he was certain it would have the sympathy and possibly the aid of the French element. As he expressed it, "there was enough dissatisfaction to encourage a Fenian invasion, but not enough to make it successful."  Though the Fenian raid of 1871 was a fiasco, tensions continued to the point where the government, in his words, "was paralyzed at all points by the breach of faith which accompanied the Canadian occupation" of Red River in 1870.  The riots and disturbances in September, 1872, at the time of the Federal election "produced an alarming condition of affairs," a situation he described as an "anarchy."  "There is probably not a thoughtful man in the country but regards these events as hastening the annexation of Manitoba to the United States a full decade."  Taylor insisted in his despatches that the Canadian government had granted an amnesty to Riel and his followers, and that simultaneous assurances were given by the British ambassador to the State Department in 1870. He felt that as a result of this the American government was a party to the "treaty" between Canada and the people of Red River and had a responsibility in insisting that the amnesty be issued. The United States could not, he said, overlook "the violation of faith by Canada." The State Department searched its records and found nothing relating to such a guarantee by the British Ambassador, and reprimanded Taylor, noting that recommendations to the government to take political action were out of place in his official correspondence. 
Taylor may have had less zeal after this reprimand but he never gave up his dream of continental union. Throughout his years as consul he hoped and suggested a Reciprocity treaty could be revived. In 1877, he wrote to W. K. Rogers, President Hayes' secretary, suggesting that the question of union was ripe, that political conditions in Canada made it possible the State and Treasury departments working together might take advantage of Canada's financial and political situation with political results.  As late as 1885 he still thought union possible. To Senator Henry B. Payne, an old Ohio friend, he wrote stating his belief that the extension of the American Union northward to be a practicable measure within a brief period.  He was pleased his communications to the State Department on the North West Rebellion in 1885 had been favorably received and hoped he would be allowed to complete the great object of his life, i.e. the commercial, perhaps political, union between the United States and Canada.  By 1885, however, a transcontinental railway line had been built north of the boundary Taylor had hoped to eliminate.
American policy in regard to the Red River disturbances and the North West Territories cannot be separated from its total approach toward British North America. If, as Consul Malmros had complained, the administration had no policy toward Red River it was because Red River was a secondary matter, a side issue which did not divert American focus from the broader pursuit of Canada. If Canada could be gained, as the administration believed it could, Red River, the North West Territories and British Columbia would follow. Canada's entry into the Union was inevitable. It was on Canada, therefore, that the American government concentrated its attention and it was there it failed to fulfill Minnesota's hopes. Reliance on inevitability was the negation of positive policy. The required aggressive position was taken by Canada and Lord Selkirk's isolated imperial outpost discharged its function within the continental possession.
37. Ibid., Cooke to George B. Sargent, February 25, 1870. Quoted in Oberholtzer, op. cit., p. 296. George Sheppard, who had been associated with a number of Canadian newspapers, particularly the Toronto Globe, left Canada disillusioned with George Brown and the Reform Party in 1862 and became a political writer for the New York Tribune and later the New York Times. In the Tribune in 1865 he had opposed the renewal of Reciprocity with Canada believing as did many Americans that without the economic advantages of the treaty Canada would be forced into annexation. His erratic newspaper career may be followed in Maurice Careless, Brown of the Globe, 2 vols., 1959, 1963. His work for the Tribune is referred to in Joe Patterson Smith, The Republican Expansionists of the Early Reconstruction Era, Chicago, 1933. In the New York Times in 1870 he published several articles on Duluth and on both the Northern Pacific and the Mississippi and Lake Superior railways. See, H.S.P., Cooke Papers, George B. Sargent to Cooke, March 3, 1870 and Cooke to Henry Cooke, April 7, 1870. Later he became the Northern Pacific's commissioner of emigration in Great Britain. See, Oberholtzer, op. cit., p. 311.
92. G. L. Huyshe, The Red River Expedition, London, 1871, pp. 41-43.
Page revised: 22 May 2010