Why Canada is not part of the US (part 2)

Part 1 is here.

After the Revolution

The American Revolution ended with the Thirteen Colonies, but not the other British colonies, united as the United States of America, a new country.  As the first revolution of its kind in the world, it would serve as a template for future wars of independence in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe, as well as the French Revolution.

The treaties that followed the end of the war in 1783, the Treaty of Paris and the Jay Treaty (1794), settled the boundaries of the new nation and established a number of other provisions.  In particular, the United States claimed the land between the Thirteen Colonies’ previous borders and the Mississippi River (the British portion of the former French Louisiana) and expelled the remaining British military presence from the region, claiming the Great Lakes forts for themselves.  A number of questions remained unresolved, and would flare up again in the War of 1812.

As a response to the American victory, the British divided the Province of Quebec into the new colonies of Upper Canada (west of the Ottawa River) and Lower Canada (east of the Ottawa River), though they remained in most ways one unit.  They also divided Nova Scotia into New Brunswick (west of the Isthmus of Chignecto) and Nova Scotia proper.  Upper Canada and New Brunswick were opened up to settlement by Crown loyalists fleeing the newly independent United States, further cementing the British colonies’ desire to remain associated with their parent country rather than the United States.

In 1800, Spain sold its share of the former Louisiana back to France.  In 1803, after losing the Haitian Revolution and depleting his treasury, Napoleon sold the territory to the United States, dramatically increasing the young nation’s size and starting the US’s quest to claim all of the land between its borders and the Pacific coast.  With France’s holdings in North America reduced to a handful of small Caribbean islands and two more off the coast of Newfoundland, it was effectively removed from further relevance to the continent.

The War of 1812

Britain’s latest war against France, instigated by Napoleon in his bid to conquer Europe, along with a lingering disdain for the new nation, led the British to pursue a number of policies that the people of the United States found offensive.  Chief among these was Britain’s policy of considering anyone born in Great Britain but serving in the US Navy or merchant marine to be a deserter and impressing them into the British Navy for use against Napoleon’s forces.  In effect, Great Britain disregarded the concept of naturalized citizenship for Americans, and continued to treat the United States as a source of resources—that is, as a colony.

Great Britain was also arming the natives of the Northwest Territory, the region of the United States ceded as part of the Treaty of Paris, preventing effective American settlement of the region.  Because the weapons could reach the natives only via Canada, and because of Canada’s importance as a food source for Britain’s colonies in the West Indies, early American efforts in the War of 1812 focused on capturing Upper and Lower Canada.  However, the majority of Canadians at the time had fled the US in order to remain loyal to the Crown, and did not make this invasion easy for the American forces.  Worse, the American army had not yet come into its own, despite having won the Revolutionary War.  American forces suffered many sound defeats at the hands of British regulars, Canadian militiamen, and armed natives led by Tecumseh, at the cities of York (now Toronto), Sandwich (now part of Windsor), Montreal, and Niagara Falls, despite capturing some Canadian territory.  This renewed aggression from the United States helped cement Canada’s desire to remain separate from its southern neighbor.  Canadian ill will toward the United States culminated in the Burning of Washington, during which the White House was razed, the only successful invasion of American soil to date.

The War of 1812 ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, after Napoleon abdicated his position as emperor of France and France and Britain became allies.  Without the Napoleonic Wars to test their position, Great Britain abandoned many of the policies that had provoked its war with the United States.  Arming the natives was now moot, since with Tecumseh`s death they had largely disbanded.  The Treaty of Ghent and the subsequent Treaty of 1818 established the 49th Parallel as the border between the United States and British North America west of the Great Lakes, which remains to this day.  The details of this border at the Pacific coast were not resolved until 1846, with the division of British Columbia and Vancouver Island (new colonies under the de facto control of the Hudson Bay Company and separated from one another in 1849) from the Oregon Country, which would later become several US states.

Manifest Destiny and Confederation

Relative peace reigned between the two countries for decades, called the Era of Good Feelings, until the American Civil War began in 1861.  Some Americans perceived that the British were subtly favoring the South, and at the conclusion of the war in 1865 rescinded trade privileges given to Canada.  This served as a reminder that the two regions were distinct and always had the possibility of hostilities in the future.  Coupled with the emerging American doctrine of Manifest Destiny, which impelled the United States to expand its hold over more and more of North America, the people of British North America felt a greater need to present a united front to their southern neighbor, especially since Great Britain simultaneously felt less and less need to defend them militarily.

Unity Negotiations

In 1864, delegates from the colonies of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Upper Canada, and Lower Canada met in Charlottetown, PEI to discuss a union.  The proposed union was a more difficult sell than it could have been, because the various colonies had not been nearly as economically integrated as the Thirteen Colonies south of them had been, and rail connections between the various colonies were minimal.  The promise of greater integration between the colonies, of greater autonomy and cohesion for British North America under a single local government, and of being able to repel any further American invasions via their own military appealed to the delegates, though the exact details would require tremendous negotiations.  Newfoundland was included in later meetings, but both Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island emerged disappointed, and would not join with the other colonies until many years later.

Confederation and the West

The establishment of the Dominion of Canada, uniting Upper Canada (renamed Ontario), Lower Canada (renamed Québec), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia was formalized in 1867, the same year Russia sold its Alaska colony to the United States, after Britain declined an earlier offer of sale.  The colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island strongly considered joining the United States at this time, since their economies depended heavily on California.  Indeed, President Polk had purchased Alaska with the future annexation of British Columbia in mind, hoping to gain the entire Pacific coast for the United States.  When the Gold Rush collapsed in 1870, however, their interests turned eastward, and they joined the Dominion of Canada as the province of British Columbia in 1871.    (If Britain had purchased Alaska, it would almost certainly have become part of Canada at or near this time.)

Canada organized its federal-level politics with an eye toward the British parliamentary model, rather than the American model, reinforcing the idea that they were not unifying out of a desire to be separate from the Crown.

Division and Growth

Rupert’s Land was purchased from Great Britain and renamed the Northwest Territories (not to be confused with former American Northwest Territory) in 1870.  It would eventually be divided into three new provinces (in 1870 and 1905) and have two new territories carved from its expanse (in 1898 and 1999).  As this division proceeded, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland decided that remaining separate from the Dominion of Canada was not in their interests, and also joined (in 1873 and 1949).  Like the United States, Canada spent a long time between 1861 and the present sorting out internal borders and fully incorporating its western lands into the nation as a whole.

In 1931, Canada gained almost total autonomy from Great Britain, retaining only the ceremonial ties of the Queen, the Governor General, and status as a British Commonwealth Nation.  The Canadian model of independence and confederation served as a template for many British colonies around the world, including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Australia, and New Zealand, just as the American model had served Haïti and Latin America.


Due to a variety of historical and cultural factors, the British colonies that eventually united to form Canada did not feel the same pressure to separate from Great Britain during the Revolutionary War, and so they did not.  Several efforts to capture and annex these territories failed, confirming their desire to remain separate from the United States.  Even later, the people of Canada built their society with an eye toward their British origin, feeling far less animosity toward their parent than the United States did.  This separation has assured that the two nations have distinct cultures, despite their common heritage and strong trade and diplomatic relations with one another.

This animated map traces this history from the early days of European colonization all the way to the 21st century.



Wikipedia out the wazoo

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