Driving Canada to Confederation
Both Canada and England feared the military strength of the immense Northern war machine which by early 1865 had nearly bludgeoned the American South into capitulation. Already Seward, Grant and Meade were overhead discussing an invasion of Canada after Mexico was dealt with severely. With Britain uneasy about sending regiments to Canada and provoking war, the Canadians themselves saw confederation with England as a barrier to conquest by power-intoxicated Northern radicals.
Like the Confederate States of America, Canada would review the defects of the US Constitution and restructure it to better serve its purpose. As McDonald offers below as a defect in the executive position, the Confederate Constitution solved with a six-year term, and no prospect of reelection. It is obvious below that McDonald’s understanding of the American Constitution and its reservation of sovereignty to the constituent States exceeded that of Lincoln and his fellow revolutionaries.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Driving Canada to Confederation:
“If we are not blind to our present position we must see the hazardous situation in which all the great interests of Canada stand in respect to the United States. I am no alarmist, I do not believe in the prospect of immediate war. I believe that the common sense of the two nations will prevent a war; still we cannot trust to probabilities. The government and legislature would be wanting in duty to the people if they ran any risk. We know that the United States at this moment are engaged in a war of enormous dimensions; that the occasion of a war with Great Britain has again and again arisen and may at any time in the future again arise. It would then be too late, when war had commenced, to think of measures for strengthening ourselves or to begin negotiations for a union with the sister Provinces.
At this moment, in consequence to the ill feeling which arisen between England and the United States—a feeling of which Canada was not the cause—in consequence of the irritation which now exists owing to the unhappy state of affairs on this continent, the reciprocity treaty, it seems probable, is about to be brought to an end…and at any moment we may be deprived of permission to carry our goods through United States channels…” Ourselves already threatened, our trade interrupted, our intercourse, political and commercial, destroyed, if we do not take warning now when we have the opportunity…”
It is the fashion now to enlarge on the defects of the Constitution of the United States…we can now take advantage of the last seventy-eight years during which that Constitution has existed, and I am strongly in the belief that we have in a great measure avoided in this system which we propose for the adoption of the people of Canada the defects which time and events have shown to exist in the American Constitution. By adhering to the monarchical principle we avoid one defect inherent in the Constitution…By the election of the president by a majority and for a short period, he never is the sovereign and chief of the nation. He is never looked up to by the whole people as the head and front of the nation. He is at best the successful leader of a party. This defect is all the greater on account of the practice of reelection. During his first term of office he is employed in taking steps to secure his own reelection, and for his party a continuance of power. We avoid this by adhering to the monarchical principle—the sovereign whom you respect and love. [This sovereign] who is not elevated by the action of one party nor depressed by the action of another; who is the common head and sovereign of all.
Ever since the [American] Union was formed, the difficulty of what is called “State rights” has existed, and this had much to do with bringing on the present unhappy war in the United States. They commenced, in fact, at the wrong end. They declared by their Constitution that each State was a sovereignty in itself, and that all the powers incident to a sovereignty belonged to each State, except those powers by which the Constitution were conferred upon the general government and Congress. Here we have adopted a different system. We have strengthened the general government.”
(MacDonald on Canadian Confederation, February, 1865; The World’s Famous Orations, William Jennings Bryan, editor, Funk & Wagnall’s, 1906, pp. 9-13)