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Imperial Parliament

The Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1306, p. 254.

March 18, 1865

IMPERIAL PARLIAMENT.
...HOUSE OF COMMONS.--Monday.
...The Defences Of Canada.--Our Relations With America.

Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald brought under notice the report of Colonel Jervis [sic] with reference to the defences of Canada, and called attention generally to the state of that colony in the event of an attack by the Federal States of America. The hon. gentleman observed that in his opinion the Federal Government were quite justified in giving notice of their intention to terminate the mutual arrangement with regard to the naval strength of both Powers on the lakes; but that he thought we ought to have met the Government of Washington and to have proposed a temporary increase of the naval police. Had this been done the Federal Government would, in all probability, never have given us notice of the termination of the convention. Again, with regard to the notice to put an end to the Reciprocity Treaty, that notice might have been given in a moment of irritation, and he could not but think that if we had said to Mr. Seward, "Do not precipitately put an end to a treaty which has hitherto worked so well; but point out to us how we can meet your views and we will endeavour to modify the treaty with that end," matters might have been arranged satisfactorily. Looking at the experience of the past, as exhibited in the Trent affair, he thought it would be idle of us to shut our eyes to the imminence of a quarrel, at no remote period, with the Federal States. He believed that if Canada were independent she would have nothing to fear from the Northern States. But she was not independent, and, so long as she desired to maintain her connection with the mother country, we were bound in honour to stand by her. Under these circumstances, he warned the Government to take active steps to counteract the efforts which the Northern States were now making for the contingency of war with England. What, he asked, were we doing for the defence of Quebec, and for placing gun-boats on the internal waters of America. He considered that we were bound at once to communicate with the Canadian Government, with a view to putting the colony in a defensive state. This would strengthen the prospects of peace; and if, unhappily, war should break out, we would have the satisfaction of knowing that we had done our best towards maintaining the honour of England untarnished. Prompt and vigorous action was absolutely necessary, and he hoped that the Government would not hesitate a moment in taking it.

Mr. W. E. Forster expressed a hope that the Government would give a full and frank reply with reference not only to the relations between Canada and the United States, but also with respect to ourselves and the Government of Washington. He admitted that there was apprehension out of doors with reference to our future relations with America, but, in his opinion, they were absolutely groundless. In support of this argument he reminded the House of the absurd panic of a French invasion which had disturbed the propriety of the country a few years since, and which we were all now thoroughly ashamed of. He denied that either the American Government or the American people were anxious for war with England; and he maintained that the proper way to defend Canada was, not by fortifications or gun-boats, but by persistence in a dignified policy of neutrality.

Mr. Cardwell expressed the gratification with which he was able to make the announcement that our relations with the United States were perfectly friendly. With equal confidence and pleasure he was enabled to state that there were no papers in the possession of her Majesty's Government varying the principle upon which the question of the Alabama stood between the two Governments. With regard to the Convention limiting the naval force to be kept on the lakes, Earl Russell had communicated with the United States Minister his desire to substitute another agreement for the old one; and, so soon as the notice to terminate the Reciprocity Treaty had been given, no time would be lost by Government in endeavouring to open negotiations on a subject of such vital importance. The right hon. gentleman also explained in detail the steps which her Majesty's Government, in conjunction with the colonial Government, intended to take for the strategic defence of the provinces.

Mr. Disraeli did not wish to pass any opinion on the probable termination of the civil war in America, but he had no hesitation in saying that we were bound to put our Canadian possessions in a state of proper defence. No one wanted the mother country to defend an extended seaboard, but what the country expected was that her Majesty's troops in Canada should not be placed in such a position that their admitted bravery and skill would be of no avail.

Mr. Lowe asked the House to consider what this country was bound to do for the defence of Canada. It was, he thought, absurd to attempt to defend a seaboard of 1500 miles. In his opinion, the better course would be to withdraw our troops from Canada, and, in case of war with the United States, to concentrate our force upon some vulnerable point of the Union.

Sir J. Fergusson complained that the Government were not doing that which they themselves admitted to be necessary for the defence of Canada. It was, he thought, a mere mockery to speak of expending £50,000 a year for such a purpose.

Mr. White underrated the value of the North American provinces to the Crown, and asked whether the country was prepared to pay an income tax of a shilling in the pound for the purpose of defending Canada.

Mr. C. Fortescue observed that the Government considered it to be a matter of duty to defend our North American provinces, provided they wished to remain dependent on the British Crown and were prepared to play a manly part in their own defence. He did not believe that the American people would be insane and foolish enough to turn their arms against a friendly Power by attacking Canada.

Sir F. Smith was of opinion that a statement of the entire cost of the scheme of Canadian defence should be laid before Parliament. He confessed he could not see any reasonable prospect of supplying Canada with suitable ordnance for many years to come.

Mr. Watkin contended that her Majesty's Government should state distinctly to that of the United States that they looked upon Canada as a part of the British empire, and that they were prepared to defend it at all cost. In that case there would be no war with America.

Sir M. Farquhar urged that, in consideration of the loyal feeling of the Canadians towards the mother country and the extent of our commercial interests in Canada, it was the duty of this country to put forth all her power in the defence of that colony.

Lord Elcho concurred in the common-sense view taken by Mr. Lowe, and said that it would be most impolitic to attempt the defence of Canada by means of a British army. If war should break out, he would recommend striking at some vital part of the enemy. He regarded the proposals of the Government as powerless for defence, though strong to invite aggression.

Mr. Ayrton said the best way to defend and preserve Canada would be to maintain amicable relations with the United States. If, however, any dispute should arise between the two countries the better course would be to submit the matter to arbitration.

Lord R. Cecil deprecated discussions of this irritating description, and maintained that for the honour of England it was necessary that whatever was to be done for Canada should be done quickly and completely.

Mr. Bright commented upon the circumstance that a better feeling had grown up of late in reference to the Federal States, and inquired how there was to be war if England was not in favour of it and the United States were opposed to it. He did not believe that any cause of hostility would arise out of the recent affairs in Canada, but that, if the peace were broken, it would be in consequence of some misunderstanding between the Government at Washington and that at London. The hon. member proceeded to comment upon the panic which now prevailed on the subject of America, and said that, although "the City" appeared to be frightened, there was really nothing to cause apprehension, and that "the City" was very seldom right, because speculators were rarely able to form a cool and dispassionate opinion upon any subject in which their financial interests were concerned.

Lord Palmerston denied that any feeling of jealousy existed in this country against the United States; on the contrary, he believed that there was no Englishman who did not survey with pride the great Anglo-Saxon race which was rising on the other side of the Atlantic. Feelings of irritation no doubt prevailed against England in America--among the Northerners and the Southerners--because we had refused to join the one or recognise the other; but this feeling would wear away in time, and he was persuaded that nothing would be done by England to provoke hostilities with America. He did not agree with Mr. Lowe, that Canada could not be defended. There was no intention to withdraw her Majesty's troops from Canada, and he thought that, so long as the Canadians were prepared to throw in their lot with us, we were bound in honour to do the utmost we could for them. Her Majesty's Government had no cause of complaint against America. There were, it was true, international claims arising out of the war, but there was no reason to suppose that they could not be adjusted without difficulty.

The subject then dropped.

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