This is a remarkable and very entertaining book regarding Canada's involvement in the American Civil War. Of particular interest is how events in the United States hastened Canadian Confederation, and also how those events influenced the form thereof.
The story is told through six "witnesses": John Anderson, an escaped slave whose adventures in Canada established the limits of extra-territorial application of US law; William Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State and an unabashed proponent of US annexation of Canada; Sarah Emma Edmonds from New Brunswick who, disguised as a man, served as a nurse in the Union Army, and whose story is a vehicle for examining the involvement of Canadian citizens in both the Union and Confederate forces; Jacob Thompson, one of the Confederacy's primary agents in Canada, and who activities did much to inflame tensions among Canada, England and the United States; George Brown who, in the face of US moves to annex Canada, forced the politicians of the day to finally confront the necessity for Canadian Confederation and, finally, John A. MacDonald who receives credit for, in the end, bringing Canadian Confederation to fruition.
The author, John Boyko, is a former Dean of History at Lakefield College in Peterborough. He is clearly a teacher by trade, not an historian, and his style of writing reflects this outlook.
I found this book valuable for several reasons. First, the book shows that, with respect to England and Canada, the American Civil War was a continuation of the American belligerency that began with the American Revolution and continued though the War of 1812. Second, as noted above, the nature of Canadian confederation was heavily influenced by Canadian horror at how the American experiment with Republicanism had worked out. For example, the British North America Act speaks of "Peace, Order and Good Government" instead of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" as found in the American Declaration of Independence. In addition, Canada was founded on the principle of a strong federal government with specific powers delegated to the provinces; this is the reverse of the American model which, in effect, maintained the independence of the participating states, with only limited very specific powers delegated to the federal authority.
(It is worth noting that Quebec's concerns for the preservation of the French language and Catholic traditions were alive and well during this time. But Quebec's politicians of the day, looking at events to their south, quickly concluded that their best chance of preserving their language and traditions lay with Canadian confederation under the aegis of the English crown. This little nugget of history seems to be lost on the current crop of populist politicians in Quebec . . . )
And, finally, the book ends with an account of the Washington Conference of 1871 which ended with the Treaty of Washington. This conference was very significant because, in addition to addressing the claims and irritants arising from the Civil War, John A. MacDonald forced the Americans to recognize that Canada was a political entity distinct from England.
Enjoy! Highly recommended!
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|Last updated: 04 February 2014|