By Gerald Therrien

On July 1st, we celebrate Canada day, or as it used to be called Dominion day, to celebrate the original confederation of 4 separate colonies under the British monarchy, into 1 Dominion of Canada under the British monarchy, on July 1st 1867. This is the story of how Canada became a ‘Dominion’ of the British parliamentary monarchy – that it remains to this day.

The Dark Side of Canada’s Confederation (Or How Palmerston’s Zoo shaped Canada)

It is estimated that during the American Civil War, up to 40,000 Canadians volunteered to join the Union Army (many of them already living in the United States, including Calixa Lavallee – who would later compose the music for O Canada), while maybe up to 4,000 fought for the southern confederacy. 

Calixa Lavallee in his Union uniform

[for more of the story of Calixa Lavalle, please read ‘Calixa Lavallee: Father of Canada’s National Anthem and Lafayette of American music’, by Matthew Ehret]

While the majority of Canadians were pro-American, the British government of Canada, however, was in favour of the break-up of the United States.  While the British did provide support to the southern confederates – allowing the confederate secret service to freely operate out of the Canadian colonies during the civil war, the British also supported the annexation of the Canadian provinces with some of the northern American states.

However, the British policy of Lord Palmerston meant that those northern states would be annexed into the British North American colonies – but not the other way around – NOT annexing the Canadian provinces into the American union.


Henry Temple, Lord Palmerston

“the confederated States of British North America … would virtually hold the balance of power on the continent, and lead to the restoration of that influence which, more than eighty years ago, England was supposed to have lost”

[Excerpt from the Morning Post, ‘the recognized organ of the Palmerstonian government’ in The Civil War and the American System, by Alan Salisbury. Page 30-31]

On July 2nd 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the ‘Pacific Railroad Act’, to build a trans-continental railway from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California and the Pacific coast of America (accomplishing the greatest engineering feat that had ever been attempted), the British Empire saw their possessions of their small colony on Vancouver Island and the huge land holdings of the Hudson Bay Company in northern Canada threatened by America’s Manifest Destiny.

With the Union army victories at Vicksburg and at Gettysburg in July 1863, the British plan of separation and annexation was doomed. Not only that, but a new possibility of America’s annexation of British American colonies into the republic became a great fear for the British Empire, and had to be stopped at all costs.

And so began the Empire’s plan for Canada.

In the fall of 1863, Arthur Gordon, Governor of New Brunswick (and the son of the former British Prime Minister George Hamilton-Gordon (1852-1855)), proposed a meeting with the governors of the other maritime provinces – with George Dundas, the Governor of Prince Edward Island, and with George Phipps, Earl of Mulgrave, the Governor of Nova Scotia (and the former Treasurer of the Royal Household under the current Prime Minister Palmerston). 

When Phipps left Nova Scotia to return to Britain in September 1763, his successor, Sir Richard MacDonnell, was sent to Nova Scotia with instructions to support a union of the maritime colonies. 

Confederation was a high-level Palmerston project – run through the supporters of the government in the Canadian colonies – not the (real) Canadian reformers which they are often confused with today.

Gordon’s proposal was for a meeting of the three governors, along with their three provincial premiers – only! 

However, Charles Tupper, who became the new premier of Nova Scotia in May, stated that the government of Nova Scotia would not attend Gordon’s conference unless delegates from the opposition were also allowed to attend, and the provincial legislature approved a resolution for a five-man all-party delegation to participate.  The premiers of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island followed Tupper’s lead. It was agreed by the 3 provinces, that the conference would start on September 1st in Charlottetown.

Tupper saw this issue as potentially divisive, unpredictable and dangerous, and to go alone to the conference meant making a commitment – a commitment which might not be welcomed by his own party, or by the voters – where support for maritime union was barely an inch deep.

“It would be better to share the credit than risk taking the entire blame.”

[from ‘1867 – How the Fathers Made a Deal’ by Christopher Moore, p. 42]

Meanwhile in Canada [i.e. Ontario and Quebec], on June 14th, the Tache-Macdonald government suffered a vote of no-confidence, with the prospect of a dissolution of parliament and a new general election.  However, with the assistance of Charles Monck, the Governor-general of Canada, the free-trader George Brown was brought into negotiations to join the government, and on June 30th became the President of the Executive Council, replacing the now-ousted Isaac Buchanan. 

[for more of the story of Isaac Buchanan, please read ‘The American System in Canada’, by Alexandre Poisson]

And on that same day, Monck wrote to the governors of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, asking if a delegation from the new coalition government of Canada would be permitted to attend the Charlottetown conference.

At its first meeting on September 1st 1864, the Maritime delegates learned of the arrival of the Canadian delegates, and then decided that the discussion of Maritime union would be postponed until after the Canadians had presented their plan for federal union.  When the discussion of Maritime union was later held, the maritime delegates could not agree and decided that:

“… confederation seemed possible, but maritime union would not help confederation and, given its difficulties, would probably delay it.  If we could get confederation now, we could easily unite the maritime provinces … afterwards.”

[from ‘1867 – How the Fathers Made a Deal’ by Christopher Moore, p. 56]

This intervention by the delegates from Canada had temporarily derailed the plans for Maritime Union, and instead had put forward the plan for confederation with Canada.

After the Canadian delegates were re-admitted to the session, it was decided that a new conference to discuss a federal union for all of the British North America colonies would be held, and this conference was set to begin at Quebec in October 1864, and after 3 weeks of this Quebec conference, it would result in the signing of 72 resolutions – not a plan for union, but resolutions to be sent to the British government.

But something was still needed to be able to stampeded the Canadian and Maritime populations into agreeing to this confederation scheme.

The Confederate Secret Service, under the watchful and supportive eyes of British intelligence, would now organize and launch raids from British North America into the territory of the United States.  A confederate raid, organized out of Montreal, into St. Albans Vermont on October 19th 1864, robbed three banks of $208,000, and the raiders were able to escape back into Canada.

In response some Americans called for an invasion of Canada (as was the intention of the plan).  These reports caused a great concern among the Canadian population and were used to attack their pro-American outlook; and it would also be used to give a sense of urgency to those delegates who were in the middle of meetings at the confederation conference in Quebec City.

After the end of the Quebec confederation conference, the Morning Post in London (a Palmerston organ) printed that:

“there is but one enemy which the new confederation can have cause to fear, namely, the Northern section of the late American republic; and it is in the possibility of an American invasion of Canada as soon as all the hopes of subjugating the Southern Confederacy are abandoned which has dictated the union which would now seem to be determined on.”

But, Lincoln rescinded the orders from General Dix to send troops to St. Albans to find the raiders and, if necessary, to pursue them into Canada. Lincoln feared that a war with Britain would open up a two-front war and that this would only aid the southern confederates who were now facing defeat. 

General Sherman had by this point occupied Atlanta on September 2nd, and the Confederate army was precariously sitting between Sherman’s ‘anvil’ and Grant’s ‘hammer’. Lincoln decided that he would wait until after the upcoming presidential election on November 8th to deal with the British.

Within 24 hours, the Canadian government had arrested 14 of the raiders and had recovered only $86,000 of the stolen funds – $120,000 had simply disappeared!  When the trial was finally held, Judge Charles Coursol (who was the son-in-law of the Canadian premier Tache) ruled that the court had no warrant from the Governor-general and therefore no jurisdiction over the case, and the prisoners were released – along with the $87,000!

The raiders had excellent legal counsel, including lawyer John Abbott (who would later become Prime Minister of Canada, on the death of John A. Macdonald in 1891).  Abbott showed the court that there was a flaw in the extradition treaty between the United States and British North America, and that the raiders could not be extradited to the United States, to stand trial there.

On December 6th 1864, the newly re-elected President Lincoln in his address to Congress said, that :

“In view of the insecurity of life and property in the region adjacent to the Canadian border, by reason of recent assaults and depredations committed by inimical and desperate persons, who are harbored there, it has been thought proper to give notice that after the expiration of six months, the period conditionally stipulated in the existing arrangement with Great Britain, the United States must hold themselves at liberty to increase their naval armament upon the lakes, if they shall find that proceeding necessary.  The condition of the border will necessarily come into consideration in connection with the question of continuing or modifying the rights of transit from Canada through the United States, as well as the regulation of imposts, which were temporarily established by the reciprocity treaty of the 5th June, 1854 ….”

On December 13th, the same day that the St. Albans raiders were released, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution authorizing the President to give the requisite notice for terminating the treaty made with Great Britain on behalf of the British provinces in North America [i.e. Canada and the Maritimes], and to appoint commissioners to negotiate a new treaty with the British government, based upon the true principles of reciprocity.  After the resolution was also passed by the Senate, the resolution was approved by President Lincoln.

The reciprocity treaty of 1854 was to be for 10 years, after which either side could end the treaty.  The treaty was now set by the United States to expire in one year, on March 17th 1866.  Canadian vessels would no longer be able to sail freely in American waters, and Canadian goods would no longer pass freely across the border.  Lincoln was, in effect, sealing the border.

Some Words About the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854

When Britain had repealed the corn laws in 1846 in favor of a free-trade policy, because of the adverse effects on the Canadian economy, an annexation movement was organized in 1850, in support of Canada joining the United States.  To defeat this movement, the Governor-general of Canada, Lord Elgin, negotiated a free-trade deal, the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854, with William Macy, the Secretary of State under the treasonous President Franklin Pierce.

The treaty provided for free trade of natural resource and agricultural products between United States and the British colonies.  Previously, the British tariff on American goods into Canada had been a low 2 ½ %, while the US tariff on Canadian goods had been 21 %.  In exchange for the American generosity, the United States were given free fishing rights in Canadian waters, and the Canadians were given free fishing rights in American waters north of 36 degrees.

It was because of the inadequacy of this treaty regarding manufactures, that Isaac Buchanan organized for the passing of the Cayley-Galt tariffs of 1858 and 1859 – increasing the Canadian tariff to 25% on all manufactures that competed with Canada’s domestic industrial products.

Henry Carey had organized in the United States to defeat the attempt of a reciprocity treaty, but “the election of Mr. Pierce, and consequent return of the proslavery party to power, brought about a change, however; it having then become to the South most clearly obvious that for preventing annexation of the British Possessions there was but a single remedy – that of granting to the Provinces all the advantages of being in the Union, while requiring of their people the performance of none of the duties, the bearing of none of the burdens, of American citizens.”   

[from ‘The Civil War and the American System’ by W. Allen Salisbury (page 177 – ‘Open Letters to Henry Wilson”]

Carey would later provide advise for the drafting of the Morrill Tarriff, passed in 1861, that increased the duties on imported manufactures.

With the end of the free-trade policies in the United States, and the end of free-trade treaty with the United States, Britain was again worried about the threat of an annexation movement in Canada.  Remember – Palmerston favored the northern states being absorbed into British North American, but in no way, would allow the absorption of the British colonies into the United States!

In December 1864, George Brown was sent to London to explain the plan of confederation to the British ministry.  He travelled with British Lt-Col Jervois, who had been sent to Canada by the Colonial Office to advise the Canadian government on measures of defence needed in Canada. 

Brown would seek approval of the confederation scheme, and met with Cardwell, the Colonial secretary, with Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with Russell, the minister of Foreign Affairs, with members of the War Office, and would spend a weekend with Palmerston.

On March 10th 1865, after much debate, the majority of the Canadian legislature approved the Quebec resolutions – by a vote of 91 to 33.  But the resolutions could only get passed in the Canadian legislature, where Brown’s Grits and Macdonald’s Tories in Canada West were both in the grand coalition government with Cartier’s Bleues from Canada East – only Dorion’s Rouges in Canada East opposed the resolutions. 

In the Maritime provinces, even though the leaders of the government parties and the opposition parties had attended and signed the resolutions at Quebec, they couldn’t get the resolutions passed in their legislatures! 

On March 6th, the New Brunswick government of Tilley was defeated in an election, centered around the issue of confederation, with only 8 supporters of the union plan, with 28 opponents of confederation (and with 4 of doubtful opinion) elected to the new legislature. And Nova Scotia’s government was too afraid to even put the Quebec resolution to a vote.  

Confederation with the Maritime provinces at this time was a dead letter!!!

That same week, the Canadian government cabinet would send a new delegation (including Macdonald, Brown, Galt and Cartier) to London, to explain the new situation to the British imperial cabinet.  The delegation was presented to the Queen and were allowed to kiss her hand, and they were able to meet with the British cabinet. 

Brown was to write to his wife that “they are willing to do whatever we desire”, because Confederation was the policy of the British Empire.

On April 15th, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, using the same Confederate Secret Service nest run out of Montreal.

[for more of the story of Canada and Lincoln’s assassination, please read ‘Understanding the Tri-fold Nature of the Deep State’, by Matthew Ehret]

But by July 1865, the Union Pacific Railway had finally begun construction at Omaha, and the Central Pacific Railway had built almost 50 miles of track and had arrived at the Rockies.

In September, the British ministry convened a Confederate Council on Commercial Treaties in Quebec, under Governor-general Monck, (including Brown and Galt from Canada, and one representative each from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland), to adopt resolutions to try to seek a temporary continuation of the present reciprocity treaty with the United States.

This is important to keep in mind since the civil war was fought as much over slavery, as it was over economic policy. The monumental change in the United States began with the election of Abraham Lincoln and the return to the American System of Alexander Hamilton.

The fight continued, as the protectionist policies of the Henry Carey-wing of the Republican party defeated the sabotage of the free traders in the Republican party (like William Cullen Bryant of New York). The United States, led by Lincoln and Carey, had established the Morrill tariff, begun the trans-continental railroad, and created a national currency (greenbacks) with government bonds to finance industrial and economic expansion – in order to win the civil war.

In November, Brown was sent to the Maritimes, to try to revive the prospects for confederation. 

The Maritime supporters of confederation were promising to build an Inter colonial Railway from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to Canada East (to link up with the Grand Trunk rail-lines to the west, and the line from Montreal to Portland, Maine); while the Maritime opponents of confederation were promising to build a railway from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to Maine – but this would require support from both the presently-indifferent American government and from the unsympathetic British government.

At that time, Nova Scotia had a 60-mile railway from Halifax to Truro, and New Brunswick had a 100-mile railway from St. John to Shediac – while the United States was engaged in building a trans-continental railway of over 1500 miles across the American desert and the Rocky Mountains!!!

In New Brunswick, Brown met with Governor Gordon, who after his visit to Britain that summer was now a firm supporter of confederation (and against a Maritime Union), and with Wilmot, who had been a delegate to September’s Confederate Council.  Wilmot, a Liberal, had previously been in Conservative governments, but had rejected confederation and had joined the new anti-confederation liberal government.  Wilmot would shortly resign from the government and proclaim himself pro-confederation!

At the same time, Galt had traveled to the United States and had been able to meet with Secretary of the Treasury, McCulloch, and with Secretary of State, Seward. 

Seward said that a new reciprocity treaty was out of the question – the only option would be to have trade legislation enacted by both governments.  While the Canadian cabinet approved of these negotiations, Brown disagreed, because without a treaty and with legislation only, it meant that either side might repeal any legislation at a moment’s notice, and Brown then resigned from cabinet.

Although Lord Palmerston, the British prime minster, would suddenly die on October 18th 1865, his policies were to be continued uninterrupted by Lord Russell.

For 31 years, from 1835 to 1866, (except for 4 short intervals totalling about 8 years), Palmerston and/or Russell were either Prime Minister and/or Foreign Secretary – including the periods of the 1837 rebellions, the 1849 annexation movement, the 1854 reciprocity treaty, the American civil war, the Fenian raids and confederation.  From 1846 to 1866, all the governor-generals of Canada were appointed by a Russell or Palmerston Government!

But something was still needed (besides bribery and blackmail of the weak officials) for the stampede of the Maritime population into supporting the Confederation plan, and thus pulling along the last hold-outs in the Maritimes against Confederation.

And the Fenians, from ‘Palmerston’s Zoo’, would now be set loose to save the British Empire’s confederation plan.

[for more of the story of Palmerston’s Zoo, please read ‘Palmerston’s London during the 1850s: a tour of the human, multicultural zoo’ by Webster Tarpley.]

[ to be continued in part 2, The Fenian Vision]


For those who wish to support my continuing work on ‘The Unveiling of Canadian History’, you may purchase my books, that are available as PDFs and Paperback (on Amazon) at the Canadian Patriot Review :
  • Volume 1 – The Approaching Conflict, 1753 – 1774.
  • Volume 2 – Forlorn Hope – Quebec and Nova Scotia, and the War for Independence, 1775 – 1785.
And hopefully,
  • Volume 3 – The Storming of Hell – The War for the Territory Northwest of Ohio, 1786 – 1796, and
  • Volume 4 – Ireland, Haiti, and Louisiana, and the Idea of a Continental Republic, 1797 – 1804,
may appear in print, in the near future, while I continue to work on :
  • Volume 5 – On the Trail of the Treasonous, 1804 – 1814.

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