(CANADA, 1851 to 1900 – continued)

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CANADA, 1851 to 1900 (2 of 7)

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1861 to Confederation and Dominion in 1867

The US Civil War fascinated Canadians. Canadians were opposed to slavery, which had been abolished by Britain 28 years before the US Civil War. When Lincoln claimed that his intention was to preserve the Union rather than to free slaves, it dampened Canadian support for the Northern cause. Some 18,000 Canadians joined the Union armies, but the majority of the newspapers in Canada refrained from endorsing the North.

Seven months into the Civil War, a US ship intercepted a British paddle steamer, the RMS Trent, and removed two Confederate diplomats who were bound for Britain and France. Tensions increased between Canadians and the United States. Britain responded by sending troops to protect Canada. Bored soldiers and prostitution in towns where troops were garrisoned made local residents resentful.

Despite being opposed to slavery, Canadian whites viewed blacks with a bias and fear that was common in the mid-1800s. When Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in 1863, fears arose that there would be an eruption of blacks racing into Canadian territory. In the Ontario-Toronto area a renewed effort was made to exclude black children from schools, to refuse work to new black migrants and to encourage others to return to the United States. An anti-slavery lecturer noted in Montreal that whites were not accepting the idea of "race mingling" despite their opposition to slavery. note82

Map of Canada, 1867

The provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, 1867

Another incident that aggravated Canada-US relations was the St. Albans Raid late in the Civil War – in October 1864. Confederate soldiers had been hiding in Canada, and posing as Canadian vacationers that month the Confederates crossed from Canada into Vermont and robbed a bank in the town of Ablans. They fled the twelve miles back into Canada followed by an angry posse of 200,000 Americans who did not respect Canada's border. The Canadians captured the thieves but US citizens saw the Canadians as failing to convict or sentence the thieves properly. A Canadian court ruled that the Confederate soldiers were legitimate military belligerents and not criminals as argued by American authorities. The Canadian court freed the bank robbers, but the $88,000 that the Canadians had found with the raiders was returned to Vermont.

Shortly after the Civil War, in April 1866, a raid of a different sort aggravated the Canadians. It occurred at Campobello Island, in New Brunswick, a little east of Maine, and was conducted by the Fenian Brotherhood. These were Irish-Americans, most of whom had fought for the North in the US Civil War. The Irish tended to be less than fond of the British. They had a song:

We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war,
And we're going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore,
Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue,
And we'll go and capture Canada, for we've nothing else to do.

Between 1866 and 1871 they conducted raids on British army forts, customs posts and other targets, with Canadians angry over what they believed was the US government's failure to prevent the raids by cracking down on the Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, on March 29, 1867, Queen Victoria gave royal assent to the British North America Act – the beginning of Canada as more than a collection of British colonial territories. (This was the day before the US purchased Alaska from the Russians.) The British Northwest Act went into effect on July 1, and July 1 would be Canada's national holiday: Canada Day, or Dominion Day.

The men who engineered the Canadian Confederation were divided by religion and by political and regional animosities. Like the US Constitution, rather than a work done with heavenly bliss it was done with tough negotiating and compromise.

Canada was given a federal structure. Ontario and Quebec and the former colonies of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia became provinces of a single federation.

Canada was given a degree of self-government in the form of a justice system and a bicameral parliament: a House of Commons and a Senate. Britain retained legislative control over Canada and full control over Canadian foreign policy. Canada would not have any foreign embassies until its first one was established in Washington, DC in 1931, and the British monarch remained the head of state of Canada – as it does to this day in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

The rest of what today is Canada – Newfoundland all the way west to the Pacific Ocean – remained totally British.

The Bill of Rights that had been established in Britain back in 1689 was to continue to apply to all Canadians.

o   No royal interference with the law

o   No taxation by Royal Prerogative

o   Only civil courts, not Church courts, are legal

o   Freedom to petition the monarch without fear of retribution

o   Freedom of the people to have arms for their own defense

o   Freedom of speech and debates

o   No excessive bail or "cruel and unusual" punishments

Provinces were given the right to give financial support to denominational schools – something not provided in the United States with its greater separation between church and state. Quebec, traditionally Catholic, would have the right to fund Catholic schools.

The Constitutional Act provided rights regarding the use of English or French by institutions of the federal and Quebec governments. It contained specific provisions to protect the distinctiveness of Quebec, recognizing Quebec's civil code as distinct from the English common law.

Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.