Canadian-American Relations: The Background

by Hartwell Bowsfield

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 24, 1967-68 season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The theme of Canadian-American relations is one to which Canadians have been persistently over-exposed in the study of their history. Because that relationship was so powerful a force in bringing about Confederation as well as in the development of a Canadian national feeling the theme is one which can easily dominate the interpretation of Canadian history. Americans on the other hand have looked at their background from a broader perspective. The American student will of course study the colonial wars in which New France, allied with Indians, sought the destruction of the New England colonies. He will be aware of the latter's attempt to destroy the French imperial outpost on the North American continent. He will perhaps hear a version of the war of 1812-14 which differs from the story told in Canada. He may recall the war cry of "Fifty four forty or fight" and the irritation with Canada during the Civil War but beyond these events the American student will not attach significance or place particular emphasis on Canadian events.

This differing approach is the cause of misunderstanding of events by both Canadians and Americans. The genuine offer of freedom and liberty to Canada was considered as misplaced if not a little condescending. A tabulating machine would be required to total the number of times editor George Brown of the Toronto Globe equated the American republican system with corruption and Americans characterized the Canadian monarchial system as tyranny. As late as 1920 an American senator could say, "If the Canadians loved liberty they would not stay under the British flag." [1]

Misunderstanding has led Canadians throughout their development to seize eagerly upon American events and attitudes, magnify them out of proportion and interpret them out of context. The uniqueness of the American experiment has never been understood by Canadians nor the proud and continuing proclamation of the ideals of the American Revolution ever appreciated. The expansionist tone of American newspapers and politicians has been interpreted in an unflattering light. Manifest Destiny has been labelled as mere territorial aggrandizement by Canadians, always on the defensive. The same events, looming so large in the Canadian story, have been secondary in the United States and submerged in the larger scheme of continental and world development. A detailed study, for instance, of the American expansionist movement of the 1860s by an American historian is termed by the writer as a footnote to the history of the reconstruction of the South following the Civil War, as a curious and half-groping attempt at expansion, as the activities of a radical minority within one political party, and a current which never gained sufficient impetus to become an issue. [2] To Canadians it was the issue. Canadians consider the same movement as intrinsic in Confederation and profoundly significant in Canadian nationalism. Issues between the two countries have not involved a uniform focus. Americans approach the interminable and prolonged intricacies of the fisheries and boundary disputes in simple terms of material loss or gain. Canadians see in these negotiations - and in the results - a sacrifice of their local interests demanded by Britain for the sake of British-American harmony. To Americans these issues were one of rights. To Canadians they were also one of status.

Canadian history has often been written as a succession of reactions to American events. Canadian nationalism has an apparent and undoubted debt toward the American ,expression of expansion, and the proud and persistent exhibition of the ideals of the American Revolution has had a decided effect on the nature of the Canadian mentality. Imitation and rejection are continuing factors in the Canadian attitude toward the United States. Canada refused republicanism but accepted at Confederation one form of the American experiment by adopting a federal system. In the opening of the Canadian west American methods were the prototype. The influence of American political ideas was and remains a conditioning factor in Canadian thought. Since conditions and problems of development on the continent were similar on both sides of the boundary it is not surprising that they were approached in a similar way.

Canadians as Americans look to the past for the manifestation and affirmation of their national spirit. Whereas the American returns from that search proud and with no doubt in his mind, the Canadian has always encountered obstacles and hesitation. Canadians have been hesitant and reluctant, in this case, to employ the American method, that of open pride and flourish in displaying their history to others, believing that their historical figures and events cannot match the color and significance of American heroes. The obstacle Canadians meet is the limitation they must place on many of their great events. National spirit was often the result rather than the initial drive in the event, e.g. the War of 1812-14 and Confederation. To overstate a case, the American expansionist movement was positive and forward looking spreading out toward the inclusion of the continent within the American Union. The Canadian development of a sea to sea concept was a negative and defensive reaction to this movement, e.g. Confederation or the attachment of the Canadian west. (The defensive concept, as will be shown, is not entirely absent from American expansion.) Canadians have seen themselves in the great events of their history as middlemen. The American had no doubt as to what concept and what principles he was carrying to the rest of the continent. He had rejected in the Revolution a European system and its Old World attitudes. He had a new and unique way of life to develop and expand. In their development Canadians have placed emphasis on the fact of tradition and continuance of the British connection. They were maintaining a nation for the Empire. Even D'Arcy McGee, an eloquent and early exponent of a Canadian national spirit, spoke of Confederation as a means of preserving the future connection with Britain. A united colony, he said, was more valuable to Britain as it would strengthen rather than weaken the imperial connection. [3] The quality of a unique purpose or of a new political experiment was diluted at Canada's birth. Maintenance of the British connection and development of a separate existence by resistance to American expansion has been a prerequisite in Canadian development and a persisting theme in Canadian American relations.

The movement for northern expansion in the United States had its beginning in the days before the American republic was founded. Natural outward growth from the seabord position is implicit in the stated determination of Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts in the 1740s that the continent could not contain peacefully both English and French colonies. The two elements were irreconcilable and security in America required the elimination of French power. [4] His stand was an attitude, in the colonial period, which lasted throughout a long period in American history. The later republic could develop its new and unique experiment only if Britain, France and Spain were left without any foothold from which the experiment could be limited, challenged or attacked. The fact that the northern French colony became British after 1759 did not alter this attitude. A point of contention between the two sections of the British colonial empire in North America and between the American colonies and the Imperial government remained in the area of the Trans-Appalachian west. This area had been explored and attached by the fur trade to New France. It remained part of Quebec threatening to limit American development to the Atlantic seabord. At the birth of the republic, appeals to Quebec and Nova Scotia to join the revolutionary cause, military attack, and the diplomacy of Benjamin Franklin failed to dislodge what became an alien and possibly hostile power on the continent. [5] Neither New England nor the young republic succeeded in establishing security on the northern frontier. It appears basic in a revolutionary movement - whether American, French or Russian - that the principles of the revolution must be defended and secured by building a sympathetic or defensive bulwark around them. This principle marks much of the expansionist movement within the United States and indeed may be used to interpret modern American attitudes. The defence of the American way of life, it has been stated on occasion, lies on the Rhine, in Laos or in Viet Nam. In the nineteenth century it was thought necessary to include Canada within the defensive system.

By the peace treaty following the Revolutionary War Britain ignored any local interest of Nova Scotia in the matter of fishing rights by yielding concessions to the republic for the sake of harmony. It was not the last time Canada would be slighted by this necessity. The loss of the Ohio Valley on which the Montreal fur trade had depended eventually forced Canada back from this attachment to a limited base on the St. Lawrence River. The revolution, in addition, initiated a movement which contributed greatly to the shaping of Canadian attitudes and feelings toward the United States. To Nova Scotia, to a newly-created colony of New Brunswick and to Upper Canada came thousands of Loyalists who did not share in the revolutionary fervor and preferred to remain attached to the mother country. This population, British in origin, anti-republican by choice, and more conservative in political attitudes determined the spirit in which a new British development in North America was founded.

Contrary to the picture Canadians are prone to accept of the American nation constantly aggressive and grasping at all corners of the continent is the more realistic one of a nation divided over the expansionist movement. Analysis of the movement for Texas, Oregon or Canada indicates that unanimity was far from characteristic, that expansion was more often merely a party, a sectional or an economic programme. The South never coveted Canada - in fact resisted its inclusion as a threat to the balance of political power in the Union -and was less interested in Oregon than it was in Texas, Mexico or Cuba. The War of 1812-14 has been interpreted as a movement of northern agrarian expansion. [6] The seemingly acquisitive nature of the United States in the 1860's may be seen as the platform of a minority group within the Republican party. [7]

Thomas Jefferson, the great expansionist of 1803 by the purchase of Louisiana, and his followers put a limit on American expansion. Jefferson considered extension of the American republic beyond the Rocky Mountains as an impractical object. Distance would prevent proper and efficient control except as a colonial possession and this was contrary to the ideals of the republic. Any state formed there, he believed, should do as the American colonies had done, i.e. form an independent republic. Jefferson did not think the United States could be confined to its then present limits. Expansion beyond, covering both northern and southern continents, was inevitable. States developed there should, however, not be part of the United States for republics in order to preserve freedom should be kept to a reasonable size. [8] Their relationship to the United States should be one of principle only. Republics in distant parts of the hemisphere were to be served by the ideals of the American revolution. The United States would serve as a "nest," Jefferson wrote, "Eagles would fly from the nest carrying principles of freedom, but with no strings tying them to the Confederacy." [9] Jefferson's attitude of limited expansion was held by others for nearly fifty years and was expressed into the 1840s when it was stated by many that California, Texas and Oregon should be separate republics. An arch-expansionist of the 1860s, James Wickes Taylor, as a young man in the 1840s, confided in his diary that he was not unhappy when a treaty of annexation with Texas was rejected. [10]

Many Federalists believed in a limited republic, objecting to the Louisiana Purchase, the manoeuvring for the acquisition of Florida and the move against Canada in 1812-14. [11] Expansion, they argued, would unsettle the balance between the colonies united under the Constitution. It would diminish the power of the east in the nation and lead possibly to clashes with Britain and Spain. An extreme stand on the issue was expressed by one Federalist during the War of 1812-14. As British forces approached New Orleans he expressed the hope that the city would be captured, that the Trans-Appalachian States would join with the victors to form a separate nation thereby restoring union to the original thirteen colonies in which New England would exercise its influence. [12]

Despite general agreement between Jeffersonians and Federalists on the issue of expansion the matter could develop into factional differences. William Coleman, Federalist editor of the New York Evening Post, appeared to be, unlike most Federalists, an expansionist. He attacked Jefferson as a dupe of Napoleon over Louisiana in permitting the latter direction in American affairs - "... the direction of North America," he wrote, belonged to the United States, "The country is ours, ours is the right to the rivers and to all the sources of future opulence, power and happiness ..." When, however, Jefferson succeeded in obtaining Louisiana the same editor, in factional back-tracking, sought to divert credit from Jefferson - the territory was of little value, it was beyond the nation's needs, a threat to the nation since it would create a wide dispersal of population, add to the weight of the west and hasten dismemberment of the country or a dissolution of the government." [13]

The War of 1812-14, the second attempt to include Canada within the republic, serves admirably to illustrate not only the sectional nature of American expansion but also the theme of Canadian history as a succession of nationalist reactions to American events. Britain, in giving up the Ohio valley under the peace treaty, had not intended to limit Canadian access to the area. The economic pattern of the Canadian fur trade was expected and in fact did continue. Moreover the traditional alignment between Britain and the Indians on the American western frontier was not disturbed. As no time limit had been specified in the peace treaty for British withdrawal from the interior posts Britain malingered in abandoning these and the Indians for several reasons. To abandon the Indians in the face of advancing American settlement, it was feared, might lead to reprisals and an Indian attack on Canada; an Indian war could bring on a renewal of hostilities with the United States; Canadian fur trade interests required access to the area; and control of the posts might be used as a means of effecting a revision of the peace treaty. Americans saw the lingering control over the Indians as a threat to the advance of settlement and to the security of the United States. Only the expulsion of Britain from the continent could remove this threat. [14]

Combined with the question of the Indians and western land was the issue of maritime rights involved in Britain's war with revolutionary France. Questions of the rights of neutrals, seizure, impressment, embargo and blockade plagued British-American relations and were the specific points of contention which resulted in war between the two nations. While maritime issues, affecting the commercial northeast section of the United States, were the stated cause of the conflict it was precisely that area which least supported the war. "Governors refused to call out the militia. Investors refused to subscribe to war loans, preferring to invest in British securities. Merchants and ship owners traded actively and lucratively with Halifax, and across the borders of New York and Vermont went droves of cattle to provision the Canadian forces. New England's attitude not only prevented any invasion of New Brunswick or Nova Scotia; it weakened the whole American war effort and even developed into an active threat of secession by the time the war came to an end." [15] The people of the south and the west - the latter being labelled the War Hawks - with less interest in the maritime controversy were the enthusiastic supporters of an attack on Canada and Britain. Western enthusiasm resulted from resentment at Britain's continuing control of the Indians and in the expansive desire for land. The south saw the war as a means of gaining Florida from Spain.

Such was the divergence of causes and motives as well as results that the war has been described as one without victories. [16] If the war was an attempt by the west to dislodge Britain, that cause was lost. If the war was over maritime rights it can be recalled that this; issue, though part of the peace negotiations, was not dealt with by the peace treaty. The questions which gave rise to the issue were no longer of any importance at the end of the war. The controversy about the west soon disappeared as Canadian fur traders turned their attention from the American west to the Canadian north-west and the Indians were removed beyond the Mississippi. There were positive results from the war and while they were intangible they were nevertheless important and long lasting. Victory over the Americans is one of the positive factors in the Canadian nationalist sentiment. It is not necessary to deny the impact on Canadian mentality in relation to the event. Canadians have constantly yearned for such factors as a replacement for the negative position in which they find themselves. But the victory, in historical fact, must be qualified by noting that the war did not represent the Canadian nation in arms rising to defend their territory from the aggressor. Neither was the war, unfortunately for the jingoist, solely a Canadian event. Because it was a joint imperial victory in which British troops took part Canadians are denied the aspect of total Canadian content in the affair. Nor can the war be looked upon as a conflict between Canada and the United States. Although in Canadian commercial interest in the American west may be seen a point of conflict between the two countries the overshadowing conflict was that between Britain and the United States in which Canada was involved as a result of her imperial connection. In spite of this, and in spite of the sectional division in the United States the war undoubtedly made a lasting contribution to the spirit of nationalism in both countries which was to be a positive feature of their future relationship. It gave to Canada the victory at Queenston Heights and General Brock, and to the United States not only a hero and presidential candidate in Andrew Jackson but the beginning of a naval tradition based on successes in the Great Lakes. The United States found satisfaction in the very fact of challenging Britain's aggressive maritime policy. The same could be said for Canada which had fought the invader and maintained a separate existence. [17]

The rising power and strength of the United States in comparison with the slower growth north of the boundary made it essential that Canada maintain a relationship with Britain on which her existence as a separate entity depended. At the same time this connection brought her into conflict with a neighbour who was the only threat to this existence. The peculiarity of this situation was never more evident than during the tense period of the American Civil War. During the War of 1812-14 the United States, unable to challenge Britain on the sea, could threaten her only in Canada. Had a conflict resulted during the Civil War the result would have been similar. Even Fenians discovered this back-door method of attacking Britain through Canada. Within the framework of the imperial connection Canada, after the War of 1812-14, became more conscious of her existence as a separate entity both in relation to Britain and the United States. [18] The impetus toward the definition of a distinct political unity was provided by the activities of both. British commercial policy, symbolized by Free Trade in 1846, denied to Canadian interests the preferred position formerly enjoyed ,is a result of the imperial connection. The rise of Manifest Destiny in the United States prompted Canadian vigilance and resistance.

When General William Hull crossed into Canada from Detroit in July 1812, he repeated Franklin's earlier offer of freedom for Canada. To the population of Upper Canada Hull issued a proclamation which sounds so misdirected to the modern Canadian ear. "You will be emancipated," he said, "from tyranny and oppression and restored to the dignified station of freemen ... The United States offer you peace, liberty, and security - your choice lies between these and war, slavery or destruction." [19] In their reaction to such proclamations issuing from United States sources repeatedly throughout the century Canadians are misled, at least in the case of 1812, by the identification of democratic principles which now characterizes both countries. Hull's proclamation, in its day, was not without practical validity. It was initiated by the fact that the population of Upper Canada was largely former American which might be expected to have American sympathies. Canada had not advanced as far toward political democracy as the United States. Loyalists, arguing that allegiance to Britain required, resistance to the so-called corrupting influences of American democratic institutions, had maintained control of political institutions. Responsible government, the system by which the executive arm of the government was controlled by the legislative or elective arm had not yet been established. Hull's proclamation, strange as it may appear to us today. was not entirely misplaced. It was in fact for these American principles of self-government that Canadians fought during the rebellion of 1837.

Loyalists and later the Family Compact oligarchy found in the War of 1812-14 and continuing resistance to American ideas justification for their control of political power. Only by preventing the spread of the democratic ideal of popular sovereignty could the British Empire survive in Canada. If they lost their power by the spread of American principles separatism and republicanism would result. [20] It proved difficult, however, - even in the first half of the century - to resist American ideas and principles. If only because of American success, imitation seemed inevitable. The response in Canada to an oligarchic system was similar to that which resulted in the democratic advances during the period of President Andrew Jackson. Economic, social and political grievances brought an attack on the position of the Family Compact at first in language which echoed American principles then in rebellion which found support along the American frontier for these champions of Canadian freedom. Of less significance to the movement than the attempt of Canadian rebels to carry on the struggle from sympathetic bases in the United States or the resulting border friction, was the development in Canada drawing her closer ideologically to the American position. [21]

While partly American in inspiration the movement in Canada for self-government and increasing democratic control did not imply, as American expansionists wrongly assumed, that Canada was moving along the path allotted by destiny toward political union with the United States. On the contrary the growth of self-government had the opposite effect, producing self-confidence and an increasing awareness of Canada's distinct and individual interests. [22] The 1840s in which self-government was obtained were coincidentally the years in which the commercial unity of the British Empire was strained and broken by the Free Trade movement as well as those in which American Manifest Destiny not only acquired its philosophic content but exhibited its greatest manifestation. The declaration of America's North American destiny had a backlash effect - frustrating the end it was intended to serve by solidifying the tendency in Canada toward a separate political entity. Canada became watchful, cautious and suspicious as the United States expanded into Oregon, Texas and California. When Texas was secured in 1845, John L. O'Sullivan, the American newspaperman who had coined the phrase "Manifest Destiny," raised the question of priority. "Who's the next customer," he asked, "Shall it be California or Canada?" [23]

Frederick Merk, an American historian, in the volume Manifest Destiny and Manifest in American History has made what is probably the most searching analysis of the philosophy of Manifest Destiny. He confines the movement to the 1840s and refers to the virtual disappearance of continentalism from American thought after 1848. Now, what true-blooded Canadian nationalist will not be startled and annoyed by such a denial of Canada's manifest right to the acquisitive attention of the United States beyond this date! Canada cannot, and will not, they will insist, be rejected so casually as an object of American desire and if Professor Merk is correct they will surely sue for breach of promise!

Canadians will have difficulty in accepting the distinction which Merk makes between the 1840s and the 1860s, the latter period being one, they are led to believe, in which fear of American expansion was a potent factor in the development of Confederation. The distinctive elements separating the two periods, he writes, are those of passion and ideals. The 1840s movement was characterized by the expression of the natural, inalienable and divine right of the United States to possession of the North American continent in which a brighter day would follow the extension of American freedom and liberty. Expansion was a divine command, a call from Heaven, a gospel to enlarge Utopia, regenerate backward peoples, redeem resources from unhallowed hands and bestow the blessings of order and progress. The policy of acquisition and aggrandizement was thus softened by the application of the ideals in which the nation was conceived. It was not really acquisition at all. It was not a process of taking or acquiring but of giving beneficiently of the American ideal of peace and freedom. Expansion was beyond all human control, "the natural, unchangeable effect" of the American position on the continent;" [24] an opportunity for neighbouring peoples to reach self realization." [25] It was a unique American development undefiled by the baser motives of other nations and not aggression as others termed it. "It is surely not necessary," argued a New York newspaper in 1845, "to insist that acquisitions of territory in America, even if accomplished by force of arms, are not to be viewed in the same light as the invasions and conquests of the States of the old world." [26] Pure also were the aims. Oregon should be put to beneficial use. It should be made to blossom and not, as England wished, held for hunters of wild beasts. [27] True title, said O'Sullivan, was in actual occupation, not in discovery, exploitation, settlement or contiguity. An American claim was by right of American Manifest Destiny to possess till, continent and not limited by past history of prior exploration or colonial rights. [28] As to Oregon, it was the duty of the government, in the realization of America's destiny to seek rather than evade a war with Britain for its possession. [29]

At the end of the Mexican War in 1848 such passions and ideals were stemmed. Opponents of Manifest Destiny challenged the idealistic framework in which its expression and manifestation had been made. It was attacked as mere phrases and slogans covering actions entirely opposed to the ideals offered. Extending the area of freedom meant to the south extending the area of slavery; a war of liberation came to mean a war of acquisition; uplifting Mexico was power politics to prevent European colonial powers from establishing their regimes. [30] This frank and candid analysis of the expansionist movement exposed the contradictory elements in its philosophy. It had been phrase-making upside down, writes Professor Merk, or as a Washington newspaper quite bluntly put it - it was "Political Clap Trap." [31] Merk characterizes the continuing expansionist movement of the 1850s and 1860s as mere materialism. "The poetic forties had given way to the prosaic fifties." [32] The sixties exhibited less passion and less actual acquisition than the earlier period. Americans were prepared, at least in relation to Canada, to follow a patient watch and wait approach, depending on inevitability for the fulfillment of continental destiny.

Passionate or not, to Canadians, continentalism was continentalism. Not themselves adept, and suspicious of rhetoric and phrase-making they did not appreciate the concept of Manifest Destiny as a philosophy of political idealism. Manifest Destiny as a divine command was seen in its application as more the concept of "God helps those who help themselves." In the philosophy of Manifest Destiny the extension of the area of freedom would come as a natural consequence from causes over which Americans had no control, and which they had no disposition to arrest. [33] The reaction to natural and divine command, however, was not as implied a negative one. Manifest Destiny appeared to require a positive and not inconsiderable human nudge. According to the philosophy if the nation was called to war with Mexico it would be as a "call from heaven" to redeem California and to "hold it for the use of a people who know how to obey heaven's behests." [34] Application of lofty principles, nevertheless, required the use of down-to-earth human encouragement. Thomas Larkin, a Monterey merchant and United States Consul in California, was instructed by the Secretary of State to encourage a native California separatist movement. Captain John Fremont of the United States Topographical Corps applied more direct action. He encouraged a native local revolt and declared a republic - the "Big Bear" republic in upper California. [35] No better evidence of the need of a human hand in the fulfilment of the divine destiny can be found than the statement that the United States should seek rather than evade war with Britain over Oregon.

With the defeat of Mexico a great debate ensured as to whether the conquered country should be absorbed as United States territory. The pro-annexationist element argued that the Mexican people should be liberated from cruel and selfish rulers; Mexico was necessary to the defence of the United States; and its resources should be developed. [36] The same arguments were applied in the 1850s and 1860s to advance the annexation of Canada. Canada indeed was a more natural area for expansion than Mexico since it did not contain an alien people and by its background and development could more safely be advanced the principles of American government. [37] Contained in the philosophy of Manifest Destiny was the belief that democracy and republicanism were universal ideals for the benefit of all mankind. The theory received its most serious test in the "All Mexico" debate when it was evident not only in the south that there was hesitation in extending the benefits of citizenship and democracy to the mixed and untutored races of Mexico. [38] Such a formidable obstacle did not exist in Canada.

Hesitation regarding Mexico did not mean that continentalism was dead. To Canadians it was still much a part of American thought and could be recognized, Canada was convinced, in any disguise conceived by American expansionists. It did not at first exhibit its earlier acquisitive tendency. Vast new areas had been added to the Union. These and the north-south sectional difference absorbed American attention and energy. Hence restraint and a surprisingly negative response attended the Annexation Manifesto of the Montreal merchants in 1849. The British policy of Free Trade had denied the Canadian commercial community the easy access it had enjoyed to the British market. The alternative was an economic orientation southward - to an economic and political union with the United States. The Canadian annexation movement had limited support and was short lived. [39] It declined with the return of an improved economic situation but the basic question - one still with Canada in much the same form - of how Canada was to survive politically and economically in relation to Britain and the United States remained. A temporary answer was found in closer and freer trade relations with the United States through reciprocity - an economic flirtation but not a political marriage. When first promoted by Canada in 1846 the American response was cool. The issue was one of controversy between sections and economic interests in the United States, the south resisting what it believed would bring about a change in the political balance of power between free and slave areas, protectionists objecting to foreign competition. [40] Support for reciprocity came from expansionists who saw in a closer economic relationship with Canada a prelude to annexation. Ten years later the same expansionists refused to support continuance of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 believing that the economic blow to Canada by withdrawal would force her into annexation. Continentalism was very much alive - now disguised not in passion or ideals but in the cloak of economics.

In the presidential campaign of 1860 continentalism was revived publicly by William H. Seward of New York. That year, in an appropriate place, St. Paul, Minnesota, he declared his belief that the future United States would extend from the frozen north to the burning south. [41] The fact that St. Paul was the centre of an active expansionist sentiment, that Seward flattered the city by picturing St. Paul as the capital of the future expanded republic, and that it was a campaign Speech suggests the clever mixture Seward made of expansion and politics. As Secretary of State in Lincoln's cabinet he suggested the adoption of an aggressive expansionist programme as a means of healing the domestic sectional schism. [42] In 1867 he acquired Alaska from Russia thereby stimulating particularly the Minnesota expansionists toward a programme of annexation of the Canadian north west then part of the Hudson's Bay Company territories.

These territories, Canada was aware, were dangerously vulnerable to American expansion. Settlement by Americans in Texas, California, and Oregon had been the wedge by means of which annexation had proceeded. The precedent of Oregon had stimulated movements for the protection of the British Pacific coast - the organization of Vancouver Island as a Crown Colony and the development of an effective authority over the British Columbia mainland. [43] Experience suggested to Canada the attraction which the central plains of the north west might be to the United States unless this territory were similarly secured and protected. Canada was itself developing an expansionist movement. The movement never acquired a philosophy nor rhetorical phrases such as "Manifest Destiny" but expressed itself in the more prosaic Canadian way as exhibited in the phrase "an interest in the west." (The difference in phrasing may well indicate one of the many subtle differences in Canadian and American mentality.)

The desire to secure the west was but one of the incentives leading to Confederation in 1867. The American Civil War with its tension between Britain and the United States highlighted once again the political and military vulnerability of the British North American provinces. The withdrawal of reciprocity indicated their economic weakness. Confederation was not entirely a product of the Canadian-American relationship though factors in that relationship combined with domestic issues provided a stimulus toward union not the least of which was the fear of annexation. Survival depended on the organization of a viable political and economic system.

Confederation did not lessen American expansionist fervour. As they had during the Civil War anti-British newspapers, especially the New York Herald of James Gordon Bennett and the Chicago Tribune of Joseph Medill called for aggressive measures against Canada. [44] A Detroit paper in 1867 commenting on the Confederation movement asked whether the President had remonstrated or given permission for this violation of the Monroe doctrine. [45] The same year N. P. Banks, who the year before had introduced a bill in Congress providing for the inclusion of the whole of British North America in the American Union, read in Congress a Memorial from the State of Maine requesting the United States to "interpose its legitimate influence ... against establishing any system of government in North America the influence of which would endanger the friendly relations of the people of the British Provinces with the people of the United States." [46] In 1869, Zacariah Chandler, a violent Michigan expansionist, demanded the President open negotiations for the surrender of all British possessions in North America. [47]

The American administration at this time was not prepared to take positive steps toward annexation. President Grant and Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, though both expansionist minded, preferred rather to await the inevitable. Both were convinced Confederation could not survive and that Canada was moving toward independence from Britain. Annexation would soon follow. Hesitation to take any direct action against Canada or Britain was exemplified in their reaction to an annexation request from British Columbia. Fish suggested to the cabinet that the proper action was "to keep our eye fixedly on the movement, & to keep our hands off." [49] Compared to the instructions to Consul Larkin in California in the 1840's to encourage a separatist movement American policy had indeed changed. Minnesota expansionists with their eye on the difficulties at Red River in 1869-70 were exasperated at the attitude of the administration. Joseph A. Wheelock, expansionist editor of a St. Paul newspaper, might recommend that Louis Riel be provided with one or two batteries and some men, and the Fenians stirred up. [50] The United States Consul at Winnipeg, Oscar Malmros, might suggest that annexation would be secured by the provision of $1,000,000 [51] but such moves were rejected by the administration and no Captain Fremont appeared on the scene to take independent action. The negative response of the administration led Consul Malmros to complain that the government had no policy toward Red River. [52] Jay Cooke, the financial backer of the Northern Pacific Railroad, hoping to promote annexation through railway penetration, was equally frustrated. "Why cannot the parties in power," he cried, "have a little enthusiasm and faith in the progress of events in the Northwest, and add what they can to our gigantic efforts." [53]

To move against the north west would possibly have involved the United States in a war with Britain. This President Grant would not risk. He held, he believed, a diplomatic stick in the "Alabama" claims which might be used to obtain Canada without war. The "Alabama," a Confederate privateer built by Britain during the Civil War, had caused considerable damage to northern shipping. United States claims against Britain for these losses had not yet. been settled and on several occasions expansionists had suggested that the claims be extinguished in exchange for Canada. Both Grant and Fish pursued this policy. [54]

The claims were not settled on this basis but later as a result of the arbitration set up by the Treaty of Washington in 1871. This treaty cleared away a series of accumulated controversies between Britain, Canada and the United States including such matters as the navigation of the St. Lawrence, fishing rights and the San Juan Islands boundary. Major causes of friction being removed Canada and the United States entered a lengthy period of tranquil relations. Canada was not entirely pleased with the results of the treaty. Her hope that reciprocity could be revived was not fulfilled. She felt, once again, in respect to the fisheries and Fenians, that she had been forced to make a sacrifice of her own interests for the sake of British-American harmony. Denied reciprocity by the trade protectionist spirit in the United States she turned inward toward the organization of an integrated national economic programme - the "National Policy."

An attempt was made in 1873 and in 1885 to revive reciprocity but there was no real enthusiasm for the cause until 1911 when Canadian nationalist sentiment still suspicious of annexationist expressions in the United States brought about the defeat of the proposed treaty. In the Alaska boundary award of 1903 Canadian claims were again frustrated. In this case resentment was directed more at Britain than the United States and irritation was expressed at Canada's lack of independence in the conduct of foreign affairs. Canada remained faced with its awkward dualism, working out the problems of a geographical position in North America and a political attachment to Britain. Her growing economic dependence on the United States and economic penetration of her economy by the United States drew her increasingly into the North American orbit. She did not, however, reject Britain and withdraw into the continent as her efforts in the Boer War, World War I and entry into the League of Nations indicated. The result of her continuing attachment to Britain was eventual international recognition of her separate status. Even when Britain had appeared disinterested in Canada, looking upon her as an expense without adequate return, Canada would not be cast adrift and on occasion sought even closer imperial ties. Throughout her history the search for political survival on the North American continent has rested on her attachment In Britain. As that connection has gradually loosened her continuance as a nation may again be in jeopardy and may again require her to look outward toward the growing and broader concept of international organization for the maintenance of her separate identity.


1. George McKinnon Wrong, The United, States and Canada, a Political History. Abingdon Press, New York, 1921, p. 146.

2. Joe Patterson Smith, The Republican Expansionists of the Early Reconstruction Era, Chicago, 1933, ii.

3. Quoted in Reginald G. Trotter, "Some American Influences Upon the Canadian Federation Movement", Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 5. No. 3, September 1924, pp. 221, 225.

4. Wrong, op. cit., 29.

5. Ibid., p. 78.

6. Julius W. Pratt, Expansionists of 1812, New York, 1949.

7. Smith, op. cit.

8. Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1963, pp. 8-10.

9. Ibid., p. 9n.

10. Minnesota Historical Society, James Wickes Taylor Papers, Diary 1842-1844, pp. 163, 183, 199.

11. Merk, op. cit. p. 10.

12. Ibid., p. ii.

13. Ibid., pp. 11-12.

14. Edgar W. McInnis, The Unguarded Frontier, a History of American-Canadian Relations, Doubleday, Doran & Co., New York, 1942, pp. 88-97.

15. Ibid., 118-119.

16. Ibid., 117.

17. Ibid., 116-118.

18. Ibid., 147.

19. Ibid., 121.

20. Ibid., 147, 148.

21. G. M. Craig, "The American Impact on the Upper Canadian Reform Movement Before 1837", Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 29, No. 4, December 1948, pp. 333-352.

22. McInnis, op. cit., 180, 181.

23. Merk, op. cit., 50

24. Ibid., 22.

25. Ibid., 24.

26. Ibid., 25.

27. Ibid., 31.

28. Ibid., 32.

29. Ibid., 37.

30. Ibid., 225.

31. Ibid., 226.

32. Ibid., 269.

33. Ibid., 71.

34. Ibid., 81-82.

35. Ibid., 78-79.

36. Ibid., 121.

37. Ibid., 164.

38. Ibid., 191-192.

39. McInnis, op. cit., 190-191.

40. Ibid., 194.

41. Merk, op. cit., 229.

42. Smith, op. cit., 6.

43. McInnis., op. cit., 179.

44. Smith, op. cit., 12.

45. Ibid., 108.

46. Ibid., 110.

47. Mclnnis, op. cit., 259-260.

48. Library of Congress, Hamilton Fish Diary, November 26, December 21, December 23, 1869, January 3, 1870.

49. Ibid., January 4, 1870.

50. Minnesota Historical Society, Alexander Ramsey Papers, Wheelock to Ramsey, April 7, 1870.

51. Ibid., Malmros to Ramsey, January 14, 1870.

52. Ibid., Malmros to Ramsey, January 6, 1870.

53. Ibid., Cooke to Ramsey, March 11, 1870.

54. Library of Congress, Hamilton Fish Diary, November 26, December 23, 1869; United States National Archives, James Wickes Taylor Special Agent, State Department, Papers, Taylor to State Department, November 18, 1868.

Page revised: 22 May 2010