From the years between 1789, when the American Constitution was put into effect, through to l867, when British North America became the Dominion of Canada, there existed foreign influences which impacted on the formation of Canada as an independent country. The United States of America had a major impact on Canadian Confederation and played an influential role in its formation. American attitudes and political, military, and economic actions were influential factors that nudged Canadians along the path to union.
The American attitudes such as Manifest Destiny and slavery had an impact on Canadian Confederation. The idea of Manifest Destiny was that it was the United States of America’s God given right to be in control of all of North America. “Continental expansion was becoming part of God’s plan for the American republic.” The idea of it seemed to appear in every action like the Civil War, Trent Affair, St. Albans Raid, Fenian Raids and the cancellation of the Reciprocity Treaty. There were a number of reasons for these actions but one underlying reason was to accomplish Manifest Destiny. “By the United States controlling its neighbouring countries it controlled its own destiny.” This says that the United States had to control everything just to prove it could control itself. Slavery was practised in some parts of the United States. Canada was opposed to slavery and would not want to be part of a country where fifteen out of thirty states practised it. This is presented by Canadians supporting the abolitionists during the Civil War.
The Political actions that affected Canadian Confederation were the American Constitution and the St. Albans raid. When the American Constitution was written, the Unites States had a fear of central government. They decided to have “states’ rights”. Here they had a weak central government and strong state governments. This eventually lead to the Civil War eighty years later. When slavery came about half of the states practised it while the other half were opposed to it leading to conflict and the Civil War.
One of the Fathers of Confederation who drew
lessons from the American experience was John
A. Macdonald. Determined to avoid the difficu-
lties Associated with “States’ Rights” agitation
in the United States, he initially argued for a
legislative form of Union. (Based upon a single
Central government and no provinces). Only when
Macdonald’s preferred scheme met with resistance
and proved impracticable did he endorse the alter-
native of federal union.
Canada was bound and determined to learn from the American’s mistake and when Confederation occurred they made a strong central government and weak provincial governments. “There was no intention of imitating the United States” This again shows the dislike for the United States structure, and Canada’s want for their own style of government and society.
The St. Albans Raid, which happened during the Civil War, was an attack on the northern United States by the southern United States. Britain was allied with the south as it required cotton for its textile industry. This made British North America allied as well as they were a British colony. The Canadian people were in disapproval of Britain’s support for the South. The Raid occurred when some Southerners travelled up to Canada, went down to the northern United States and robbed a few banks in St. Albans, then went back to Canada. The Canadian government, being their allies only arrested the raiders, returned the money, and let them go. This was a circumstance where the people and the government were not aligned which would cause vulnerability and the possibility of being assimilated. This encouraged Confederation as Canada needed to be powerful enough to defend themselves from assimilation.
Military actions, such as the Civil war and the Fenian raids, had a considerable effect on the Confederation movement. As seen, during the Civil War the people and the government were not aligned in Canada. The government, being British, was allied with the south, while the people, who were anti-slavery, were allied with the north. This caused conflict between the Canadian people and their government resulting in weakness and instability leaving them open for a possible assimilation from the United States.
The Fenian raids had a similar impact. A group of Irishmen from the United States attacked Canada in 1866 in hopes of trading it with Britain for Ireland. If the Fenian raiders could cause a dramatic uprising then Canadians wondered how they could defend themselves if the United States ever decided to wage a full force assimilation attempt. After this it seemed that Confederation was necessary for Canada’s defence.
The experience of losing American reciprocity
of l846, when Britain embraced free trade and
left Canada almost economically abandoned.
It can be argued that there were other very powerful forces driving Canada toward Confederation. Along with the United States, Britain had a dramatic impact on the Confederation movement. As well as external forces, there were also internal pressures. During the Trent Affair, Britain tried to make Canada pay for troops for their own defence against America. Canada did not want any part in a war between Britain and the United States.
As Donald G. Creighton once wrote: “The anxious
encouragement of Great Britain was the first of
the external forces hastening national expansion;
the second was the pressure of a resentful and
predatory United States.”
Britain was pushy and had control over Canada. There was also a “political deadlock” in the Canadas in the 1840’s. The Act of Union was an unworkable system in establishing equal representation for both East and West Canada. In 1861 there were almost three hundred thousand more Anglophones than Francophones. This made passing legislation nearly impossible, leaving Canada in a deadlock. These internal forces and Britain’s influence drove Canada to confederate so they could not be controlled by any outside force and also have the proper government internally.
Arguing that Confederation occurred primarily because of Britain and other internal pressures ignores a larger factor that influenced Canadian confederation. The United States stands out as having an immense influence on the confederation movement. “While the reasons for the Confederation of Canada in 1867 were many and varied, the American Civil War gave dramatic impetus to the movement.”
George E. Cartier of the Parti Bleu went so far
as to declare that the colonies had either “to
obtain British American Confederation or be
absorbed in an American Confederation.”
This is saying Canada would have been absorbed by the United States of America, not Britain, showing that America caused the considerable threat that in turn had the larger result.
From looking at the American attitudes and political, military, and economic actions, it can be concluded that Canada’s developmental stages through the 1860’s were greatly affected by the United States. There were a myriad of influences which impacted on the formation of Canada as an independent country. Canadian Confederation, which occurred on July 1, 1867, was directly inspired by the United States of America and it played a vital role in Canada’s development. Without the United States as its neighbour, Canada may not have developed as successfully as it has.
Bennett, Jaenen, Brune, Skeoch, Canada: A North American Nation, McGraw Hill, Ryerson LTD, Canada, 1989
Copp, J.T. Confederation: 1867, The Copp Clark Publishing Company: Canada, 1966
http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/E/manifest/manif3.htm “Manifest Destiny” copyright 1997. Department of Humanities Computing
http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/E/manifest/manif4.htm “The Manifest Destiny” copyright 1997. Department of Humanities Computing
http://odur.let.rug.nl/~us/E/manifest/manif5.htm “Manifest Destiny” copyright 1997. Department of Humanities Computing
http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/confed/raids.htm “Raids and Skirmishes” copyright 1995-09-22. National Library of Canada
http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/confed/stalban.htm “The St. Albans Raid” copyright 1995-09-22. National Library of Canada
Mackirdy, Moir, Zoltvany, Changing Perspectives in Canadian History, J.M. Dent & Sons: Canada, 1971