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Towards Confederation

Influence of the American Civil War

Fear of Annexation by the United States

Secession first he would put down
Wholly and forever,
And afterwards from Britain's crown
He Canada would sever.

(Yankee marching song sung to the tune of "Yankee Doodle" 1861)

Our American cousins in the North having had their waiting, whining and scolding time, have now come to the crowing, swelling and bullying time.

Quebec Gazette, April 7, 1865

If the opportunity [Confederation] which now presented itself were allowed to pass by unimproved, whether we would or would not, we would be forced into the American Union by violence, and if not by violence, would be placed upon an inclined plain which would carry us there insensibly.

Canada. Legislature. Parliamentary debates on the subject of the Confederation of the British North American provinces : 3rd session, 8th provincial Parliament of Canada / printed by order of the legislature -- Quebec : Hunter, Rose, 1865. - p. 6.
Sir É.-P. Taché, Premier, Lower Canada, February 3, 1865

Since 1850, William Seward, the American Secretary of State during the Civil War, had been an annexationist who felt that British North America (BNA) was destined to become part of the United States. As it became obvious that the North would emerge victorious there was a fear that American expansionism would rear its head and turn its eyes to the north.

In the Canadas and the Maritimes many thought that invading BNA would give the victorious Union army something to do. The possibility of annexation was even more real in the northwest of what is now Canada. In 1860 Seward praised the people of Rupert's Land for conquering the wilderness and creating a great state for the American Union.

In the election of 1864 the Republican Party used annexation as a means to gain support from Irish Americans and the land-hungry. In 1865-66 annexationism was a factor in the American abrogation of reciprocity. An annexation bill introduced by General Banks was passed in the United States House of Representatives in July of 1866. It intended that the United States acquire all of what is now Canada.

Whether based in reality or not, the fear of annexation played a definite role in the achievement of Canadian Confederation and in shaping its constitution. Seeing the horror of war that resulted from the divisiveness of American federalism, the Fathers of Confederation decided that Canada should have a stronger federal government than the one south of the border.