Today Canada and the United States are loyal Allies. A century ago, however, there was no love lost between the nations. The reasons are long and complex, but we will touch upon two here.
Early 20th century Canada was a nation stuck between two powers. It was tied culturally and politically to Great Britain. As a dominion of the British Empire, Canada had the power to decide domestic issues, but when it came to international affairs, Britain still ruled on its behalf.
There were many who believed Canada deserved the right to speak for itself on foreign issues. This attitude grew during World War One. The nation’s large contribution to the war effort was used as leverage and Prime Minister Robert Borden was able to ask for and receive recognition in numerous areas including signing the Treaty of Versailles.
As Canada experienced newfound national freedom, it didn’t want to fall too much under the influence of the United States. Canadians wanted to have their own identity even if they weren’t quite sure what being Canadian meant. All they were aware of was that their soldiers’ war accomplishments had given Canadians a source of national pride.
Fear of annexation to the U.S. was something 19th century Canadians feared, and political parties used this fear in their rhetoric as late as the pivotal 1911 election.
Talk of annexation began during the American Revolution. The belief was that the American flag should fly over all the land of North America from the Rio Grande to the North Pole.
After the American Civil War, a group of Irish-American soldiers invaded Canada multiple times between 1866 and the early 1870s in what is known as the Fenian Raids. Their incursions were unsuccessful, but it did renew Canadians’ fear that they would be forced to become part of the union. The fear was further strengthened when a 1866 bill was proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives that would have annexed Canada. The bill never came up for a vote.
Officially, talk of annexation ended when the Dominion of Canada was recognized by the U.S., but the idea persisted into the 20th century. If it wasn’t fear of political annexation, it was fear of economic annexation.
Fear of annexation didn’t end with Armistice. Today, there are still a number of Americans and Canadians who believe Canada should be annexed to the U.S.
Were you aware of the distrust between North America’s great powers? Leave a comment below.
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