nail in someones coffin

Canada in the American Civil War

At the time of the American Civil War, Canada did not yet exist as a federated nation. Instead, the territory consisted of the United Province of Canada (modern southern Ontario, southern Quebec and Labrador), the six other remaining colonies of British North America and crown territory administered by the Hudson's Bay Company. The United Kingdom (and therefore its North American colonies) was officially neutral for the duration of the American Civil War and sympathies in the nation were divided. Despite this, tensions between Britain and the North were high due to incidents on the seas, such as the Trent Affair and the Confederate commissioning of the CSS Alabama from Britain. If the conflict had continued to escalate and Britain had entered the war, Canada would probably have been the first target of Union forces. During the war, Britain thus reinforced its garrisons in Canada. Many Canadians also felt the smaller, weaker United States that would result from the separation of the South would be a positive development.

At the same time, however, Canadians were almost universally opposed to slavery, and Canada had long been the terminus of the Underground Railroad. Close economic and cultural links across the long border also encouraged Canadian sympathy towards the North.

Effect of the American Civil War upon British North America

British North America reacted in 1867, by instituting Canadian Confederation. Covert British aid to the CSA during the War was in defence of Canada, to avoid a repetition of the War of 1812, in an era when the USA was much stronger and had just proven its mettle. Furthermore, it can be argued that contemporary issues which inspired the Whig Party (United States), also affected BNA during the Rebellions of 1837 and which were among the many frustrations which led to the change in government infrastructure by both countries, for self-preservation from Federalist expansionisms, whether along Democratic or Republican party lines. In this case, those Whigs hearkened to the tradition of British Insularism and the Hartford Convention, rather than Napoleonic Continentalism which had been adopted by the Union after the French Revolution.

The new government stipulated the relinquishment of ex-Colonial States' Rights to individually settle in pre-Indiana (see Northwest Territory), with a promised treasure of the Louisiana Purchase (cf. Southwest Territory) by the Federal government. Manifest Destiny for the cause of Continentalism was the rallying cry of the Union, which wanted to amass more land thought to be compensation for the people who fought the French and Indian War (and still expected by Britain to pay wartime expenses), having enticed Easterners to settle the quasi-British Oregon Country (which was taken to be New Albion and thus, belonging to the Crown, without license for settlement by the ex-Colonists). This all was after the Union rounded off affairs in Louisiana by acquiring Florida Territory, formerly a British Colonial possession and therefore thought to be "retaken" by the new central government, although without apparent benefit to any individual State, while these newfound American territories were the reserve of the Federal government alone. American expansion insofar as the Alaska purchase (undertaken by the newly freed hands of Washington, DC), was what put the nail in the coffin of BNA inaction, fearing that the USA did have the willpower to do to them what was done to the CSA. On the other hand, Texan and Hawaiian annexations in the context of this fear, had less of a direct impact on Canada, even though it did give cause for glaring fear, since they were similar to the suppression and annexation of the CSA as a formerly independent nation, except were like Canada, being peripheral nations without direct investment in the American system.

All of this contributed to what is known as "Canadian nationalism" and such anti-American perception that the USA has been hypocritical, for its actions in the Revolution, vis a vis subsequent periods, when it "denied the rights" of other independent nations through warfare, as the USA did consider itself an independent nation in 1776 (the supposed inspiration behind Confederate independence), when its own aspirations were fought down by the British Parliament. In truth, many of the early Founding Fathers of the United States were not complete radicals and wished to remain within the framework of the Empire, as Canada was later to do--such people included George Washington (another inspiration for the CSA). In effect, the story is quite similar to Anglocentric perceptions of the French, after the Hundred Years' War, when the French called Joan of Arc their liberator from English domination, but thenceforth became the principle expansionist country in Europe, through the House of Bourbon.

Furthermore, the type of British government which was establishmentary in the South before the American Revolution (e.g. Colony and Dominion of Virginia), but rejected in what would later become the Union (e.g. Dominion of New England) of the Civil War era, had been loosely that which was adopted in Canada (see Dominion). After the War, the USA and British Empire spent decades of cooling off their causes of conflict and it was only after the South Seas arrangement of Australia and New Zealand (where pre-Revolutionary convicts meant for Georgia were planted), as well as South Africa (a White minority establishment, albeit without institutional slavery) were brought in line with the Canadian model; only after the Spanish-American War brought criss-cross political affinities into alignment. Most American colonists and convicts left Britain through serious grievances, which affected not only the way they dealt with London, but also how they would treat a new government, even established by themselves--with only London as their model by experience to draw upon. It was through this, the UK's later exemplary concessions of colonial autonomy to the Old Commonwealth, proving something beneficial or impressive to American prejudices about imperial governent and the US's defeat of Spain, Britain's oldest colonial foe (whereupon the USA experimented with a Commonwealth-style Governor-General--see Commonwealth#Australia), that the Special Relationship (US-UK) gradually came into effect, pointedly against Germany and her allies (including the British Royal Family, which culminated in renaming the dynasty to the House of Windsor and the Edward VIII abdication crisis), as the "big three" of competing industrial nations well in the 20th century.

The fall of the CSA, ironically and eventually led to the North Atlantic triangle, which preserves for Canada many of the aspirations sought by the CSA, although obviously not within the Southern territory that was fought over to defend/promote these principles of government. The other differences between the American Confederate and Canadian Confederate systems, is that in the former there was slavery and in the latter, there is the monarchy--each of these situations were untenable within the other's polity, but there were/are otherwise, no serious differences, especially in the present era of an Anglosphere and the UK-USA Security Agreement that bridges sovereignty on account of religious, political and cultural similarities. These were also, aspirations sought by the Antebellum South, building up to the Civil War era when massive immigration in the North, had begun threatening to end, what have been deemed "Anglo-Celtic" ways treasured by so-called "old stock" Americans--a majority still, in the Southern States, known in other areas and especially to Irish Catholics, as White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

Confederate activity in Canada

Because of Canada's neutrality and some sympathy for the Southern cause, Canada became home to a number of Confederate operations during the war. In December 1863, the Confederates captured the American ship Chesapeake and took it to Halifax harbour. The Northern forces then launched an operation to retake the ship, in Canadian waters, and captured two Nova Scotians aboard it.

The most controversial incident was the St. Albans raid. Montreal had become home to a group of Confederates attempting to launch covert and intelligence operations from Canada against the North. In October 1864, they attacked St. Albans, Vermont and robbed banks. They fled and were pursued by Union forces over the Canadian border, creating a diplomatic incident. The Canadians then arrested the Confederate raiders, but the charges against them were dismissed.

Enlisted Canadians

Many Canadian-born men are believed to have fought in the Civil War. There are no exact figures, but estimates have ranged from 40,000 to 100,000 men, although the late Yale historian Robin Winks has shown that there is no basis to these estimates. But it is very certain that several thousand definitely did serve in the war. The largest group were those who had immigrated to the United States sometime before the conflict and had been in the United States for some time. A significant number of Canadians seeking employment and adventure did join the conflict from Canada, mostly enlisting with the Northern side. A number of Canadians were secured for the Northern army through crimping, whereby men were drugged or intoxicated and then spirited across the border.

The majority of Canadians who served in the war fought with the Northern army; it is unclear how many served with the Confederacy, but the number was most likely small. One notable Canadian volunteer who served the Confederate army was George Ellsworth, who, as telegrapher for Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan during Morgan's Raid, deliberately spread considerable misinformation about Morgan's whereabouts over the telegraph wires, imitating the unique styles of Federal telegraphers.

On the Northern side, Edward P. Doherty was an American Civil War officer who formed and led the detachment of soldiers that captured and killed John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of United States President Abraham Lincoln, in a Virginia barn on April 26, 1865, twelve days after Lincoln was fatally shot.

At least twenty-nine Canadian-born men were awarded the Medal of Honor.

Economic effects

The Civil War period was one of booming economic growth for the British North American (BNA) colonies. The war in the United States created a huge market for Canada's agricultural and manufactured goods, most of which went to the northern side. The collapse in Southern States' exports to the world also led to increases in the prices of many of Canada's exports.

Political effects

The American Civil War had extremely important political effects on the BNA colonies. The tensions between the United States and Britain, which had been ignited by the war, led to concern for the security and independence of the colonies, helping to consolidate momentum for the confederation of the colonies in 1867.

In this regard, the conflict also had an important effect on discussions concerning the nature of the emerging federation. Many Fathers of Confederation concluded that the secessionist war was caused by too much power being given to the states, and thus resolved to create a more centralized federation. It was also believed that an excess of democracy, commonly referred to as mob rule, was a contributing factor and the Canadian system was thus deliberately made less democratic with institutions such as the appointed Senate and powers of the British appointed Governor-General, who until the 1931 Statute of Westminster was an official of the United Kingdom government. It is little surprise, therefore, that one of the guiding principles of the legislation which created Canada - the British North America Act - should have been peace, order, and good government. This remains an important element of Canadian collective self-identity.

See also

Britain in the American Civil War
Bahamas in the American Civil War


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