All Aboot Canada - Canada and the Civil War
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, after America had successfully fought and won independence from Britain, Canada was also fighting for better representation and more individual freedoms. They were tired of being led by appointed Governor-Generals from London, and they were tired of not having an equal voice in their own representation. Canadiens, Late Loyalists from America, and immigrants from the British Isles and Europe all struggled against Crown soldiers to win a more representative governing body. They fought with words in stump speeches and newspapers. They also raised the flag of Liberalism inspired by the Enlightenment movement that sparked the same flame in the Thirteen Colonies, France, Haiti, Ireland, Latin America, and in Mexico in the late 18th century.
In 1834, Louis-Joseph Papineau and the Parti Patriote (formerly the Parti Canadien) passed the Ninety-two Resolutions that outlined the problems in Lower Canada which could be traced to the lack of power in the elected assembly. The Resolutions were sent to London to be reviewed by Parliament, but there is no response and no change. Papineau then creates the Societe des Fils de la Liberte (Society of the Sons of Liberty) - a paramilitary organization that attacks British forces in Lower Canada. They had early successes, but ultimately failed to win against the British soldiers.
By 1837 there was rebellion in Upper Canada. William Lyon Mackenzie called for government reform in the form of a republic modeled after the newly formed United States. On July 4th of the previous year, Mackenzie begins publishing his own newspaper called The Constitution. He reprinted texts by Thomas Paine and other radical views of Republicanism. The 1837 attack on Toronto, lead by Mackenzie, also failed, and many rebels in Upper and Lower Canada were shipped off to the British penal colony in Tasmania. Mackenzie, who had fled to the U.S., became an advocate for the annexation of Canada by the U.S. This was fine and dandy by the Americans, who were flush with the idea of controlling the entire Western Hemisphere in their dreams of Manifest Destiny.
The Monroe Doctrine advocated the absence of European Empires in the Western Hemisphere, and called for all of the Americas to be independent from Europe. To show Canada their support, America enacted the Canadian-American Reciprocity Agreement in 1854. This agreement allowed raw goods to cross the border between America and Canada without being taxed. After the loss of The Corn Laws in 1846, numerous rebellions, a cholera outbreak, the Fenian raids, and a general malaise of death, fear, and political mistrust - Canada welcomed the help from their neighbor to the south.
However, the amiable relationship between the U.S. and Canada was fragile. It only took one raid into St. Albans, Vermont to shatter it completely. Canada is a big place, and the whole world was watching the very young Republic of America come again and again to the brink of war with itself over the issue of states’ rights and slavery - that “peculiar institution” of the Southern states. Some people in Canada supported the fight for states’ rights and allowed a group of Confederate soldiers to attack the Union from Canada. The Confederates crossed the border, pretending to be Canadian hunters, robbed the local banks of St. Albans of about $200,000, tried to burn down the town, and killed one person. When the soldiers were captured on the Canadian side of the border, it caused a diplomatic issue. The U.S. wanted the men to be extradited to the states in order to bring them up on criminal charges. Canada, however, recognized the men as soldiers following orders during a war and they would not release the men to the U.S.
And that was it. The Union rescinded the Reciprocity Agreement and Canada returned to the ever-present fear that, at any moment, the United States would look to the North and swallow them either whole or piecemeal in the name of Manifest Destiny. The event also led credence to the idea that Britain supported the Confederacy, even though they were publicly neutral.
As we know, the U.S. did not conquer Canada, and the separate regions in Canada eventually became one nation, under the Crown. What would have changed if this had turned out differently? After the Civil War, the Union army was strong - much stronger than the Canadian military. Britain was much more interested in sending soldiers to Egypt and India and was tired of fighting with its colonies in the West.
Perhaps it was the siren song of the emerald shores of the Pacific Northwest and the lure of undiscovered gold in them thar hills that kept these two nations separate. Or, perhaps, they each recognized in the other the struggle against an Empire that once used them as a source for raw materials and gave very little in return. Perhaps the U.S. and Canada, under all the political rhetoric, saw each other as comrades in the same fight for the Enlightenment ideals of Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality.