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Canada and the United States

The Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1299, p. 77-78.

January 28, 1865


The relations of our chief Transatlantic colony to the United States are not quite so cordial just now as could be wished. None of the ties which connect them together in international friendship are actually severed, but a process has set in which, if allowed to go on much further, may very possibly end in rupture. Symptoms of incipient inflammation are already visible, and even where irritability of feeling is but slight, it greatly increases reasonable apprehension of the effects which may result from accidental causes. We believe that neither in the States nor in the colony is war desired by either the people or their Governments. And yet it cannot be concealed that, in opposition to the interests, the policy, and the will of both, an extraneous agent of discord has thrust itself between them, and has succeeded in giving to their position towards each other an aspect of antagonism. The best of neighbours are sometimes set together by the ears by the intemperance of some third party, and nations are occasionally brought into collision by the compulsory discharge of responsibilities which might have remained dormant but for the follies and crimes of people whom they both condemn.

There can be no doubt that the border States of the American Union have suffered more from the raids of so-called Confederates from the frontiers of Canada than any people would be likely to tolerate with equanimity. The actual amount of damage done may have been small; but the sense of insecurity, the apprehension, the suspense excited over a wide extent of country, have been considerable, and have naturally given rise to excessive soreness of feeling. The raiders were political refugees from the Southern States, to whom Canada, nobly imitating therein the policy of the mother country, had accorded prompt and generous hospitality. Unfortunately, the guests who received shelter in the colony do not seem to have recognised any obligation of consulting the convenience of their host, and, under the protection they have received, assert their right to levy war against and harry a neighbour with whom she is at peace. Without inquiring into the prevailing sympathies of Canada in reference to the pending struggle in the United States, it is sufficient that her Govern-

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ment honestly reprobated any such abuse of her hospitality, and showed its sincerity by disclosing to the Government at Washington every conspiracy against it of which it had an inkling of information. This neighbourly loyalty was so far reciprocated that, when the St. Albans raiders were captured by the Vermont militia on the Canadian side of the border, the prisoners with their plunder were unhesitatingly given up to the colonial authorities and their extradition demanded in conformity with law. The unhappy decision of Judge Coursal, by which the raiders were set at liberty and their booty restored to them, gave a momentary appearance of collusion between them and the government at Quebec. Momentary, we say, for the judgment was repudiated at head-quarters the next morning, and fresh warrants were issued against the accused, but quite sufficient to fire susceptibilities and passions not easy to be quenched. In the full blaze of this indignation General Dix issued his intemperate order to the military under his command to pursue all future raiders across the border if necessary, and to bring them thence to be dealt with as martial law in the United States might determine--an order for setting at naught the Queen's sovereignty which Mr. Lincoln had the good sense immediately to command the General to withdraw. Nevertheless, although the Canadian Government acted with the greatest decision and energy in endeavouring to counteract the mischief of Coursal's judgment, have since recaptured most of the liberated raiders, and have dispatched to the frontier a force of volunteers competent to prevent future depredation, the brief hurricane of anger in the States compelled the unwilling statesmen at Washington, and afforded an opportunity to the willing, to take some steps which have placed the relations of the two Governments in a rather unsatisfactory position.

Canada is menaced with two serious evils by the President, and is already galled by the infliction of another by Mr. Seward. Mr. Lincoln is proceeding to give the six months' notice to the British Government necessary to free the United States Government from the obligations of the treaty which restrains both Powers from having more then one armed vessel on the great inland waters that divide their respective dominions. The wisdom of that treaty, and its effectiveness in preventing needless expense and hostile collisions, have been fully recognised by both parties, and incontestably proved by a long experience. In what precise way the abrogation of it will operate for the security of the American border States from the incursions of lawless men, it is difficult to see. The only certain effect of it will be to compel Canada to maintain on the lake flotillas of equal strength, to involve both Governments in unnecessary expenditure, and to multiply the chances of future misunderstandings. The step has probably been taken partly with a view to threaten Canada, but chiefly for the purpose of amusing irritated public feeling in the North, and, possibly, the notice will not be followed up by action.

Mr. Lincoln has also intimated to our Government that the Reciprocity Treaty, which will soon expire, will not be renewed in its present form. It is a strictly commercial agreement between the two Governments, under which great advantages have accrued to the people on both sides. It may be that the balance of advantage has been in favour of Canada; but, in truth, each country gets by means of it what it most wants from its neighbour at a much cheaper rate. Here again the political wisdom of the menace is lost in obscurity. Canada cannot be punished by the termination of the treaty without including in her punishment large and influential classes in the States themselves; and the Chamber of Commerce at Detroit, to which the question was referred for examination and report, have lucidly pointed out the mischief which the execution of the threat will inflict upon the trade and prosperity of the American Union, as well as its utter inutility as a political expedient. Where the interests are mutual, and ample time remains for deliberation, it may be hoped that sober judgment will set aside the intentions of temporary exasperation.

But Mr. Seward has struck his blow at once. He has established a passport system along the frontier, which, as the Toronto Globe observes, can be of no earthly use for the prevention of raids; but which, by the heavy price demanded for passes, not only prevents any American from passing into or out of Canada who can possibly do his business in any other way, and thus deprives her, to a large extent, of a large and lucrative traffic, but which also taxes the trade which may be carried on in spite of the regulation. In point of fact, the telegram sent over by the last mail represented the overland intercourse between the two countries as very nearly suspended, which statement, although pointing to a possible truth, must be regarded as giving us a description of facts as they are seen though the mist exhaled by anger. The commercial dealings between Canada and the United States are too numerous, too various, and too important, to allow of their being carried on satisfactorily without the passing and repassing of commercial agents across the border. A six-dollar fine each way is a heavy tax, no doubt; but scarcely heavy enough, one would imagine, to stop all traffic requiring personal superintendence. And, indeed, thus much may be inferred from the Globe's proposal to levy on the Canadian side, sum for sum, whatever is levied on the American side. "No American," says that journal, "who can help it will, while Mr. Seward's passport system exists, cross the boundary line either way. But those whose business compels them to do so would not be prevented therefrom by an additional six dollars. We have as good an excuse for carrying out our plan as the Government of the United States have for carrying out theirs. They wish to prevent raids; so do we. They have instituted a passport system for the purpose; let us follow their example; let us make all the passports they have issued worthless, so far as we are concerned, until they have been viséed by our agent to an equal charge to that of the United States. We may just as well make money out of the business as they."

We trust the Government at Quebec will think long and seriously before they act on this advice. That the course proposed will not mend matters is obvious. That it will contribute but little to the Canadian Exchequer is confessed. It would be simple retaliation, which, in the present state of affairs, is precisely what is least to be desired. Mr. Seward, whose bias and habits as a politician are known more than they are honoured, has committed the United States Government to an act of petty vindictiveness. It would be bad policy it the Canadian Government should suffer themselves to be provoked into following his undignified example, and thus throw the sympathy of American traders into his scale. The existing irritation is temporary in its character and mainly factitious. Wise statesmanship will give it time to die away. Just now, the most pressing duty of the Canadians is to mature and set in motion the Constitutional machinery which will make British North America a strong empire, and to put up, as best they may, with the small annoyances inflicted upon them by regulations which injure their neighbours as much as themselves. Great and permanent interests are at stake, and it is by their regard to these rather than by the impulse of angry excitements, even if justifiable, that their present policy should be shaped. They have borne themselves nobly hitherto; let them not descend to a miserable contest with Mr. Seward, nor fight him with vulgar weapons. As a matter of fact, although through no fault of theirs, the fire was kindled by sparks from their own side, and they will, doubtless, recognise the propriety of forbearing to add fuel to the flame.

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