Annexation movements of Canada
From the independence of the United States until today, various movements within Canada have campaigned in favour of U.S. annexation of parts or all of Canada. Historical studies have focused on numerous small-scale movements which are helpful in comparisons of Canadian and American politics.
In the early years of the United States, many American political figures were in favour of invading and annexing Canada, and even pre-approved Canada's admission to the U.S. in the Articles of Confederation in 1777. The defeat of American attempts to achieve this goal, both in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, gradually led to the abandonment in the U.S. of any serious push toward annexation. As historian Joseph Levitt notes:
- Since the Treaty of Washington in 1871, when it first de facto recognized the new Dominion of Canada, the United States has never suggested or promoted an annexationist movement in Canada. No serious force has appeared on the American political scene that aimed to persuade or coerce Canadians into joining the United States. And, in fact, no serious initiative for any move in this direction has come from the Canadian side either.
Surveys have suggested that a minority of Canadians would potentially support annexation, ranging from as many as 20 percent in a survey by Léger Marketing in 2001 to as few as seven percent in another survey by the same company in 2004.
No elected member of any federal or provincial assembly in Canada, nor any mainstream politician in the United States, openly advocates annexation. Two minor provincial political parties in Canada promoted the concept in the 1980s, but neither attracted widespread support or attention.
Historical annexationist groups
Historical annexationist movements inside Canada were usually inspired by dissatisfaction with Britain's colonial government of Canada. Groups of Irish immigrants took the route of armed struggle, attempting to annex the peninsula between the Detroit and Niagara Rivers to the U.S. by force in the minor and short-lived Patriot War in 1837-1838.
Although the Rebellions of 1837 were motivated in part by this type of dissatisfaction, Canadian resentment of British rule never reached the degree that led to the American Revolution in 1775. Notably, Canada's population growth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was spurred largely by United Empire Loyalists, who left the American colonies during the Revolution because of their loyalty to Great Britain. In the period from 1790 to 1837, imperial officials repeatedly denounced American-style republicanism and tried to suppress it. The Rebellions themselves were not fought with the goal of annexation, however, but were launched in pursuit of political independence from Britain and liberal social reforms.
Between 1848 and 1854, a significant and articulate minority of conservatives in Upper Canada advocated constitutional changes modelled on the American federal-state system and the US Constitution. They critiqued Canada's imitation of British parliamentary government as both too democratic and too tyrannical. It destroyed the independence of the appointed governor and Legislative Council and further concentrated power in the Cabinet. This critique led many conservatives to argue that the American model of checks and balances offered Canada a more balanced and conservative form of democracy than did British parliamentary government. These "republican conservatives" debated a series of constitutional changes, including annexation to the United States, an elected governor, an elected Legislative Council, a federal union of British North America, and imperial federation, within this framework. These conservatives had accepted "government by discussion" as the appropriate basis for political order.
Around 1850 there was a serious annexationist movement on the border region of Quebec's Eastern Townships, where the American-descended majority felt that union with the United States would end their economic isolation and stagnation as well as remove them from the growing threat of French Canadian political domination. Leading proponents of this genuinely bipartisan movement were careful not to appear disloyal to Britain, however, and they actively discouraged popular protest at the local level. Fearful of American-style democracy, the local elite also expressed revulsion toward American slavery and militaristic expansionism. Consequently, the movement died as quickly in the Eastern Townships as it did in Montreal after Britain expressed its official disapproval and trade with the United States began to increase.
In Montreal at midcentury, with little immigration and complaints that the repeal of the Corn Laws had cut the region off from its British trade links, a small but organized group supported integrating the colonies into the United States. The leading organization advocating merger was the Annexation Association, founded in 1849 by an alliance of French Canadian nationalists and Anglophone businessmen in Montreal who had a common interest in the republic. Many of its members, including Louis-Joseph Papineau, were participants in the 1837-38 rebellions.
The Montreal Annexation Manifesto was published in 1849. It was hoped a merger with the United States would give Canada markets for its goods, ensure national security, and provide the finances to develop the west. A half measure was the in 1854 Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty that linked the two areas economically.
However, the movement died out in 1854. Annexation was never a very popular choice. Many Canadians were loyal to the Crown and Great Britain, especially the descendants of the United Empire Loyalists. French Canadians worried about being an even smaller minority in a larger union, and were concerned about American anti-Catholicism. The American Civil War, further, convinced many Canadians that the American experiment was a failure.
United States Secretary of State William Seward predicted in 1860 that western British North America, from Manitoba to British Columbia, would with Russian Alaska join the United States. Many in Britain, such as Goldwin Smith and the Times of London, were pessimistic about the future of British North America and agreed with Seward; the Times said that Britain would only object if the United States attempted to take the territory by force. In the late 1860s, residents of British Columbia, which was not yet a Canadian province, responded to the United States' purchase of Alaska with fear of being surrounded by American territory. Some residents wanted the colony the next American purchase. Local opinion was divided, as the three Vancouver Island newspapers supported annexation to the United States, while the three mainland newspapers rejected the idea. Even opponents of the annexation scheme admitted that Great Britain had neglected the region and that grievances were justified. Nonetheless, annexation sentiment disappeared within a few months and prominent leaders moved toward confederation with Canada.
Petitions circulated in favour of American annexation. The first, in 1867, was addressed to Queen Victoria, demanding that the British government assume the colony's debts and establish a steamer link, or allow the colony to join the U.S. In 1869, a second petition was addressed to President Ulysses S. Grant, asking him to negotiate American annexation of the territory from Britain. It was delivered to Grant by Vincent Colyer, Indian Commissioner for Alaska, on December 29, 1869. Both petitions were signed by only a small fraction of the colony's population, and British Columbia was ultimately admitted as a Canadian province in 1871.
Most Canadians were strongly opposed to the prospect of American annexation. Reports of the Annexation Bill of 1866 — a bill that, contrary to myth, never came to a vote — might have been one of the many factors behind Canadian Confederation in 1867. Much more serious were the Fenian raids made by Irish Americans across the border in 1866, which spurred a wave of patriotic feeling that helped the cause of Confederation.
Nonetheless, a substantial annexation movement existed in Nova Scotia, and to a lesser degree in New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario, during the 1860s. Nova Scotia anti-confederationists led by Joseph Howe felt that pro-confederation premier Charles Tupper had caused the province to agree to join Canada without popular support. Howe in London unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the government to free Nova Scotia from the pending British North America Act by threatening American annexation. A significant economic downturn occurred after the end after 1866 of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854; the colony was heavily dependent on selling fish to Americans, causing many to believe that free trade with the United States was necessary for prosperity. Anti-confederationists won all but two seats in the 1867 provincial election; as in British Columbia they did not necessarily support annexation. They again sent Howe to London to free Nova Scotia but in 1868 the British government again refused, believing that New Brunswick would likely follow Nova Scotia out of the dominion and cause the new nation to collapse.
Angry Nova Scotians began talking seriously of annexation. An alarmed Howe—who wished Nova Scotia to be free of Canada but still with Britain—warned his supporters against disloyalty, dividing anti-confederationists. The provincial government, dominated by extremists who now also opposed Howe, decided that if another appeal to London failed it would seize federal offices and unilaterally declare annexation, believing that Britain would not use force to stop Nova Scotia. Believing he had no choice, Howe left the anti-confederationists. Although he narrowly won reelection to his federal parliamentary seat in March 1869 as a confederationist, support for secession and annexation grew that year; however, by 1871 the movement had mostly disappeared. The federal government promised changes to taxes and tariffs, the economy revived, and the United States agreed to free trade for Canadian fish.
Canadian author Prosper Bender wrote in the North American Review in 1883 that many Canadians believed that annexation by the United States would occur "within the present generation, if not sooner". He believed that Irish Catholics—about one quarter of Canada's population—would prefer annexation because of the British rule of Ireland. They would be joined by the majority of those under 40, who viewed the United States as a prosperous, fast-growing neighbor providing many opportunities. (The author attributed the absence of an active annexation movement in part to many who would favor such an effort taking the "easiest and quietest method of securing the benefits of annexation, by themselves silently migrating to the Republic", as more than a million already had.)
Bender believed that Prime Minister John A. Macdonald's promise of a transcontinental railway linking eastern Canada to British Columbia to be overambitious and too expensive, and unfavourably compared the Canadian government's growing debt to the United States' rapid reduction of its Civil War debt. He stated that Canadian businesses would benefit from duty-free access to the American market, while "wondrous American enterprise, supported by illimitable capital" would rapidly prosper Canada, especially its vast undeveloped interior. Bender concluded with pessimism about the likelihood of success of a nation divided in two parts by 1,200 miles of "forbidding, silent wilderness stretching from the head-waters of the Ottawa to Thunder Bay, and thence to Manitoba".
In 1891, Goldwin Smith posited in his book Canada and the Canadian Question that Canada's eventual annexation by the United States was inevitable, and should be welcomed if Canadians genuinely believed in the ideal of democracy. His view did not receive widespread support.
In January 1893, concerned about Canada's possible annexation, a goal then being pursued by the Continental Union Association, a group of Ontario and Quebec Liberals, Prime Minister Sir John Thompson delivered a speech on tolerance, Canadian nationalism and continued loyalty to Britain. Thompson eventually learned that the desire to make Canada part of the U.S. was confined to a small minority amongst the Liberals.
In 1901 W. T. Stead, a newspaper editor in London, England, discussed in The Americanization of the World possible annexations of Canada and Newfoundland. He believed that because of its size and strength Canada would likely be the last of Britain's possessions in the Americas to join the United States. Stead cited several reasons for why he believed annexation seemed "inevitable", however, including rapidly growing economic ties and migration between the two countries, the French Shore, and disputes over the Alaska boundary and fishing rights in the Atlantic.
After the discovery of gold in the Yukon, many Canadians propose to annex parts of Alaska currently controlled by the United States, by calling for a revision in the original map of the boundary line between Russia and the United States. The US offered to lease the territory but not to give it back. London and Washington agreed on arbitration, with one member of the panel from Canada. In 1903 the Chief Justice of Britain sided with the Americans to resolve the map dispute in favor of the United States. Many Canadians felt a sense of betrayal on the part of the British government, whose own national interest required close ties to the United States, regardless of the interests of Canada.
Newfoundland in the mid-twentieth century
While the Dominion of Newfoundland was still separate from Canada, during World War II, a party known as the Economic Union Party sought closer ties with the United States. However, Canada objected to the possibility, and the British government, which controlled Newfoundland as a colony, would not allow it to consider annexation with the United States in any referendum. Instead, the EUP sought an independent "responsible government" that would then explore American annexation. A referendum showed a plurality in support of independence, but not a majority; a runoff referendum resulted in Newfoundland instead confederating with Canada to become the tenth province.
Modern annexationist groups
Two modern provincial political parties have proposed that their province secede from Canada to join the United States. Neither attracted significant support.
The Unionest Party was a provincial political party in Saskatchewan in 1980 that promoted the union of the western provinces with the United States. It was the most politically successful annexationist group, but its success was both short-lived and extremely limited in scope. The party briefly had two members in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, both of whom crossed the floor from another party, but dissolved within a few weeks after failing to qualify for official party status.
Parti 51 was a short-lived political party in Quebec in the 1980s that advocated Quebec's admission to the United States as the 51st state. The party won just 3,846 votes, or 0.11 per cent of the popular vote in the province, in the 1989 election — fewer votes than the Marxist-Leninists or the satirical Lemon Party — and was dissolved the following year.
In modern Canadian political discourse, the idea of Canada becoming the "51st state" of the United States is much more often used as a scare tactic against political courses of action that may be seen as too "Americanizing". The use of this type of rhetoric may occur even if the proponents of such a course of action have not endorsed or proposed annexation.
In the 1911 federal election, the Conservative response to the proposed reciprocity treaty negotiated by the Liberals was to denounce it as equivalent to an American economic takeover, with annexation likely to follow. The parties swapped position in the later 1988 federal election, when the Liberals used the same type of rhetoric to denounce the Progressive Conservatives' proposed Canada – United States Free Trade Agreement, although the Progressive Conservatives won that election and the agreement was implemented.
Annexation fears can be found throughout Canadian History for Dummies, in which humourist Will Ferguson stated that for "John L. O'Sullivan, it was the "manifest destiny" of the United States to annex and possess all of North America". In fact, O'Sullivan's use of the term never extended beyond potential American annexation of Texas and the Oregon Territory; he explicitly wrote that he did not believe that the United States had a destiny to annex Canada.
Political satirists, including the Rhinoceros Party of Canada, have occasionally proposed reverse annexation, whereby all or part the United States would be annexed into an expanded Canadian federation. Following the 2004 American election, some Americans distributed the satirical Jesusland map on the Internet, depicting a similar proposal under which the "blue states" were part of a new political entity called "The United States of Canada".
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- Leger Marketing survey, 2001. Archived October 20, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
- Leger Marketing survey, 2004. Archived 2012-02-19 at the Wayback Machine.
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- Cumming, Carman. "The Toronto Daily Mail, Edward Farrer, and the Question of Canadian-American Union" Journal of Canadian Studies 1989 24(1): 121-139. ISSN 0021-9495 Campaigned for annexation to protect Anglophone Protestants in Quebec.
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- Levitt, Joseph. A Vision Beyond Reach: A Century of Images of Canadian Destiny Ottawa: 1982, twelve eminent Canadian intellectuals discuss annexation
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- McNairn, Jeffrey L. "Publius of the North: Tory Republicanism and the American Constitution in Upper Canada, 1848-54." Canadian Historical Review 1996 77(4): 504-537. ISSN 0008-3755
- Neuhold, Hanspeter, and Harald Von Riekhoff, eds.; Unequal Partners: A Comparative Analysis of Relations between Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany and between Canada and the United States Westview Press. 1993
- Neunherz, Richard E. "'Hemmed In': Reactions in British Columbia to the Purchase of Russian America". Pacific Northwest Quarterly 1989 80(3): 101-111. ISSN 0030-8803
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