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 aspects of Canadian-American relations in the 1910s.
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 I. Prime Minister Robert Borden used the nation’s large contribution to the war effort as leverage. He asked for and received recognition for Canada in numerous areas including the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
As Canada experienced newfound national freedom, it wanted to avoid falling too much under the influence of the United States. Canadians wanted to have their own identity even if they weren’t yet certain what being Canadian meant. All they knew was that their soldiers’ war accomplishments had given Canada a source of national pride.
Fear of annexation to the United States 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 lands of North America from the Rio Grande to the North Pole.
A group of Irish-American Civil War veterans invaded Canada multiple times between 1866 and the early 1870s in what is known as the Fenian Raids. The U.S. House of Representatives proposed a bill in 1866 that would have annexed Canada, but the legislation never came up for a vote.
The Fenian incursions were unsuccessful, but it did renew Canadians’ fear that they would be forced to become part of the United States.
Officially, talk of annexation ended when the U.S. government recognized the Dominion of Canada, but the idea persisted into the 20th century. Then, it wasn’t so much fear of political annexation but economic annexation.
Updated: 21 October 2020
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