Notes on 25th Text for Reading Field: Warner

Canadian History, Week Four

Pawning The Flag

"Pawning The Flag"

“And some naughty children attempt to pawn their mother’s pocket-handkerchief; but are arrested by Policeman Punch, who was stationed ‘around the corner.'”

Courtesy Library and Archives Canada, source: A Caricature History of Canadian Politics by J.W.A. Bengough, Vol. 1&2, Toronto: The Grip Printing & Publishing Co., 1886.


Donald F. Warner. The Idea of Continental Union: Agitation for Annexation of Canada to the United States, 1849-1893. Lexington: Mississippi Valley Historical Association and the University of Kentucky Press, 1960.

Donald F. Warner describes how calls for continental union have been voiced in different ways at various points in time by a varying collection of dissatisfied individuals, who occasionally appeared to be representative of larger dissatisfied group. The book is not about the idea of continental union so much as it is about what use was made of the idea and when. As an abstraction, Warner’s account makes it clear that the idea was most firmly established within the economic realm and related to commercial concerns. For example, Continental Union surfaced in the Canadas in 1849 during a time of economic uncertainty; was raised again from 1854-67, and voiced loudly in the Maritimes, when reciprocity and confederation were issues of import (as Warner puts it, “The colonial movement for annexation produced reciprocity, and the death of reciprocity revived annexation”)[1]; and the idea surfaced in the West from 1866-85, while the political and economic status of newly acquired territories was at issue, and, because tariff decisions had ramifications in the Maritimes, the issue also resurfaced there.

Collected and put in chronological order, these voicings, in Warner’s opinion, can be said to constitute a historical movement which peaked and collapsed in the 1880s and 1890s. However, the idea of annexation does not appear to have functioned as a driving force in its own right. It does not appear to have been widely held. Proportionately, very few Canadians seem to have been sincerely committed to absorption by the United States. Rather, raising the idea appears to have been a strategy, resorted to from time to time, in an attempt to move a political economic debate towards some other desired goal. Usually, access to trade, favorable tariffs and whether reciprocity with the United States could or would be negotiated, were the central issues. These issues in turn appear to have rested on a desire for greater say in local (regional/provincial) governance. Suggesting that annexation of Canada to the United States was a possibility seems to have been a way of both voicing a protest and underlining the protest’s seriousness — the greater the dissatisfaction, the more likely that somebody would play the annexation card.

Overall, in Canada at least, the idea of annexation, if not raised as an explicit threat, seems to have been perceived as one. What is striking about Warner’s description is how in the United States so little official interest in pursuing annexation existed. ‘Manifest destiny’ seems to have been more a point of pride – it was something that Americans could do if and when they chose – than a plan worth pursuing.

"Young Canada: 'We don't want you here!"

"Young Canada: 'We don't want you here!"

“”Young Canada: ‘We don’t want you here!’

John Bull: ‘That’s right my son, No matter what comes – an empty house is better than such a tenant as that!'”

Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada online, source: A Caricature History of Canadian Politics by J.W.A. Bengough, Vol. 1&2, Toronto: The Grip Printing & Publishing Co., 1886.


Additional Resources:

Library and Archives Canada, “Fear of Annexation by the United States,” Influence of the American Civil War, Canadian Confederation, Library and Archives Canada website http://bit.ly/uwHbC .


[1] Donald F. Warner, The Idea of Continental Union: Agitation for Annexation of Canada to the United States, 1849-1893 (Lexington: Mississippi Valley Historical Association and the University of Kentucky Press, 1960), 58.

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About hallnjean

PhD in Canadian History
This entry was posted in Book Notes, Canadian History, Week 4 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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