Chapter 2 – The Achievement of Confederation, 1860-1867

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Chapter 2 – The Achievement of Confederation, 1860-1867

  • two external factors helped create Confederation (British North America – Britain, and the U.S.)

  • Britain no longer depended on its colonies and thus encouraged the colonies to become more economically and politically independent

  • the U.S. threatened invasion so many colonies felt they should join forces to defend themselves

  • internal factors also helped create Confederation

  • many thought that the governmental problems between Canada East and Canada West would be fixed if the other colonies united with them

  • many British North American leaders felt that they should move beyond colonial status and become an independent country (the leaders were the Fathers of Confederation)

Britain as an External Cause of Confederation

  • there were mixed feelings with the relationship between British North America and Britain

  • some felt great pride in their connection to Britain because they were an economic and military leader

  • some felt that it was time to have more control over the land

Repeal of the Corn Laws

  • Britain had protected its colonies’ goods from foreign competition

  • Corn Laws (a series of tariffs – taxes) placed on foreign grain coming into Britain

  • Corn Laws meant importers had to increase their prices on grain products and to cover the cost of the tariffs which also meant that British farmers could also increase their produce prices and yet keep the profit

  • the Canada Corn Act was passed in 1843 – colonial farmers now had the same advantages as British farmers – this made farmers happy

  • high prices benefited wealthy landowners in Britain

  • workers (had to buy expensive grain), manufacturers (had to pay workers more) did not like the Corn Laws

  • 1846, Britain repealed (cancelled) the Corn Laws protecting its farmers

  • 1849, Britain repealed the Canada Corn Act

  • Britain did this so other countries wouldn’t tax them on Britain’s imports

  • this made landowners very mad, but manufacturers were happy

  • the repeal of the Corn Laws meant Britain no longer wanted or needed to control its colonies’ economies

  • many colonies felt betrayed by Britain and thoughts about an independent country began

  • loyalties began to shift from Britain to North America (some even felt they should look to the U.S. as a new economic partner)

  • colonists in Montreal and Quebec formed the Annexation Association in 1849 (work towards a union with the U.S.)
    in the end, the British North American colonies economy wasn’t all that affected since the Corn Laws were only put in place for a short time (it wasn’t really a big deal but many people still felt that it was time to have greater control over their own political and economic affairs)


  • 1800’s – revolutionized travel, efficient transportation of goods, food and people, helped countries industrialize, made investors in Britain wealthy

  • 1840’s – British investors began investing in British North American railroads

  • 1852 – GTR corporation began building a line from Toronto to Montreal (acquired a huge dept by borrowing money from British banks)

  • 1861 – Edward Watkin (British railway executive) was sent to sort out the GTR’s financial problems (he arranged for the Government of Canada to take over most of the debt – saved the railway from bankruptcy)

  • this created some financial and economical problems for the Government of Canada because not everyone agreed that Canada should get involved in building railroads in the first place

  • in order to make $, railways need to carry a lot of cargo and connect distant locations (people started to think about a transcolonial railroad – connecting more colonies together and not just Toronto to Montreal)


  • Britain did not want to pay for the expense of defending British North American colonies

  • 1861 – Civil War began and British and American relationship was tense (colonies feared if Britain and the States went to war – connections to Britain were becoming a threat and not a benefit)

  • 1862 – colonial governments took steps to strengthen their militias by trying to pass a bill to maintain a militia 50 000 men (the bill was defeated because it suggested it would require conscripts – forcing men to war instead of volunteering)

  • people liked the idea of building a militia but not by conscription

  • colonies thought that cooperation as their best defence (Britain liked this idea since it would reduce Britain’s responsibility)

The United States as an External Cause of Confederation

The American Civil War

  • the American Civil War convinced British North Americans that a union was necessary for protection

  • the southern states wanted slavery but the northern states weren’t in favor of slavery

  • 1861- the southern states formed a union and became the Confederate States and the northern states became the Union states (the North declared war on the South to stop the South from spreading)

  • the Civil War led to British North Americans feeling a need for better security – this sense of a threat from the U.S. led directly to Confederation

British Neutrality

  • 1861 – Britain and France declared their neutrality in the American Civil War (the South hoped that they would support their cause because both Britain and France depended on the South for cotton)

  • the Union states blockaded the South stopping shipments of cotton and other supplies

  • the North felt that Britain was being hypocritical since they were against slavery (the North felt Britain should support them as opposed to being neutral)

The Invasion of St. Albans

  • 1864 – Confederate soldiers (South) used British North America as a base for attacks against the North – this did not make British North America happy

  • Confederate soldiers using Montreal as a base attacked St. Albans, Vermont, robbed banks, set fires and killed a civilian and then fled back to Canada (Canadian courts did not punish the soldiers)

  • 1865 – the United States threatened to take action against the Province of Canada (Canada West and Canada East sent volunteers/soldiers to respond to the border to defend against volunteers/soldiers from New York and Michigan)

  • this motivated more colonists to consider Confederation

The Fenian Threat

  • Union forces won the civil war in 1865 but threats towards British North America from the U.S. did not end

  • 1858 – Fenian movement began (civil war veterans were called Fenians)

  • the American Fenians wanted to free Ireland from its independence of Britain

  • the American Fenians wanted to take over part of the British colonies to hold the territory ransom for Ireland’s freedom

  • 1866 – the Fenians unsuccessfully tried to invade New Brunswick

  • this reinforced British North America’s sense of danger from the States

Reciprocity Ends

  • a reciprocity treaty was signed in 1854 between the U.S. and Britain (this agreement guaranteed free trade between the U.S. and British North America)

  • some American shipping and manufacturing businesses did not like this free trade; they wanted to bring back import taxes for Britain and its colonies’ goods

  • these businesses pressured the government to end the treaty (in 1866, the government notified Britain that the treaty was over)

  • British North America had now lost the American market and again they needed to look for new trading partners

  • some thought Confederation was the answer

  • Confederation could mean increased trade with one another and less dependence on Britain and the U.S.

Manifest Destiny

  • manifest destiny – a 19th century belief that Americans had a God-given right to the continent

  • the number of Americans that thought this way was increasing in the 19th century and these Americans wanted to annex both Spanish territory (Mexico) an the British colonies (Canada)

  • British North America colonies wanted a different destiny – an independent confederation of provinces within the British empire

Political Deadlock as an Internal Cause of Confederation

  • problems between Canada West and Canada East continued

  • the Province of Canada face a political deadlock (the government was prevented from making decisions because the Assembly members could not agree on any issue)

  • governments were formed by the party that won the most seats in the Assembly (but the winning party did not always have a majority of seats – minority government)

  • between 1848 and 1867, ten different governments ran the province (this occurred because once a government had a bill defeated, the government had to resign and a new election was called)

The Great Coalition

  • 1864 – Province of Canada’s government was at a standstill

  • a committee led by George Brown looked into the problems and concluded that the solution was a federal system of government (a central government would deal with issues affecting all parts of the country – each region would have a local government to deal with local issues)

  • therefore, Canada West and Canada East could make decisions that affected their regions

  • Representation by population was achieved (each Assembly member would represent the same number of people)

  • George Brown proposed that his party would support any other party that would work for a large union of British colonies

  • John A. Macdonald and George-Etienne Cartier agreed to Brown’s proposal

  • a prominent politician (Alexander Galt) also agreed to the proposal

  • together, the above men formed a coalition government (formed by an alliance of parties that would not otherwise have enough seats in the Assembly to form a majority

  • this coalition government was known as the Great Coalition (they wanted a union that included the Atlantic Provinces)

The Charlottetown Conference: What a Circus!

  • the possibility of a political union was addressed in Charlottetown, P.E.I. from September 1-9, 1864 (P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick had organized the meeting)

  • the Province of Canada heard about the meeting and asked permission to attend (they sent delegates to discuss forming a larger union)

  • Newfoundland also wanted to attend but they asked too late for them to organize a delegation

The Delegates Arrive

  • many delegates arrived in mid-August

  • delegates from the Province of Canada arrived on September 1 by a chartered ship (trying to impress the other delegates)

The Canadian Proposal

  • preserve the ties with Great Britain (including appointing a governor general – appointed by Britain)

  • a federal system (powers would be leveled – local matters would be dealt with the provincial government while some powers would be given to a central or federal government)

  • two-level system for the central government (lower house would have representation by population and the upper house would have representation based on regional (not provincial) equality

  • responsible government at both the federal and provincial levels

  • delegates were impressed with the presentation and talks of an Atlantic union was dropped from the agenda

  • at the end of the conference, the delegates agreed to meet again in Quebec in Ottawa

The Quebec Conference

  • held from October 10-27, 1864

  • the same delegates attended plus two from Newfoundland (as observers only)

  • John. A. Macdonald took charge

Key Issues

  • Macdonald wanted a union where all important decisions would be made by a single, central government

  • delegates from the Atlantic colonies and Canada East disagreed with Macdonald

  • Atlantic delegates felt that having a central government would be dominated by Canada West

  • delegates from Canada East still would not give up on issues of language and culture

  • in the end, provincial governments ended up with more powers than Macdonald wanted but it was the only way to reach an agreement

  • the federal government would hold powers that were viewed as issues of national importance

  • another key issue was how many elected representatives each province would get (the smaller provinces were very concerned about having no voice in the new union)

  • other key issues dealt with financial arrangements (Canada West proposed two ideas – ideas that would gain the support from the smaller colonies)

  • 1) all colonies’ debts would be taken over by the new central government

  • 2) the central government would distribute subsidies (grants of money, to provinces with small populations)

  • delegates agreed to give the central government the power to collect taxes on goods such as imports

  • Newfoundland was given the highest subsidies because it had a small debt and a small population

  • the outcome of the Quebec conference was a document called the 72 Resolutions or Quebec Resolutions

  • the Quebec Resolutions would be the main subject for a conference planned in December, 1866, in London, England

  • delegates returned to their colonies and convince their legislatures that the Quebec Resolutions would satisfy their needs (legislatures had to approve of the resolutions in order for the colonies to join Confederation)

The Debate in Canada West

  • after Quebec, some people argued for Confederation and some argued against it

  • Canada West had the most to gain from Confederation (all of their demands were met in the Quebec Resolutions)

  • therefore, people in Canada West were in favor of Confederation

The Debate in Canada East

  • debates raged in Canada East

  • many felt Confederation was happening too quickly

  • the French would be lost in an English government

  • felt that an Intercolonial Railway (Canada West wanted it) would be a financial downfall

  • the U.S. may see Confederation as a threat

The Debate in Nova Scotia

  • Charles Tupper – Premier of Nova Scotia (he was confident that Nova Scotia would join Confederation)

  • But ….. opposition was strong – especially by Joseph Howe

  • Howe was Nova Scotia’s imperial fisheries commissioner from 1863-1866 (he did not participate in the Confederation conferences)

  • Howe led Nova Scotia’s opposition to Confederation in 1866

  • (Howe ended up being elected to the first Confederation government, where he continued to oppose Nova Scotia’s place in the union – however, in 1869, he joined John A. Macdonald’s cabinet – therefore, abandoning his principles)

The Debate in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick

  • opposition to Confederation was strong in P.E.I., Newfoundland and New Brunswick

Prince Edward Island

  • little support was shown for the Quebec Resolutions after they were published in a local P.E.I. paper


  • the delegates sent to the Quebec conference recommended that Newfoundland join the union

  • Charles Bennett, a prominent business person, opposed the union

New Brunswick

  • Premier Leonard Tilley was in favor of joining Confederation

  • he called a quick election thinking that if he won he would be able to pass a resolution to join Confederation

  • he lost to Albert Smith and a group of politicians that were against Confederation

  • but, in 1866, people’s attitudes in the colony had begun to change in favor of Confederation

  • attitudes changed because Smith did not govern the colony well and the Fenians continued to raid the their border and many New Brunswickers felt uneasy about their ability to defend themselves (so they saw Confederation as the best solution to their needs)

Who Was Not at the Negotiations

  • delegates attending the conferences were male, European background, English or French speaking, Christian, well educated and financially secure

  • no women, African Americans, First Nations, Metis, Inuit, or new immigrants

  • it was thought that women were not knowledgeable enough and their primary job was to look after their home and family (women were also too emotional)

Aboriginal Peoples

  • interests of aboriginal people were only briefly discussed at the conferences and that was only to decide which level of government would handle their relations (central government would handle their relations)

  • interests Metis and Inuit communities were not considered at all

  • the treaties signed between the aboriginals and the British would be honored by the new Confederation (however, the Fathers of Confederation interpreted the treaties differently than the British)

  • Fathers of Confederation believed the treaties amounted to sales of land while the First Nations people felt the treaties were nation-to-nation and they should have been invited to participate in the discussions

  • Fathers of Confederation felt that the treaties were the first steps towards the assimilation of First Nations (adopting of culture, language, and ways of life)

The London Conference and the First Dominion Day
The London Conference

  • December 4th, 1866

  • the goal was to turn the Quebec Resolutions into a document (this took them until December 24th)

  • Nova Scotia and New Brunswick delegates tried several times to get better terms for their entry into Confederation (they wanted better financial arrangements – in the end, very little changed)

  • the name of the country was debated (Leonard Tilley of New Brunswick was given credit for the name The Dominion of Canada)

  • the resolutions were passed into a parliamentary bill and quickly moved through British Parliament an passed into a law on March 29, 1867

The First Dominion Day

  • the British North American Act came into effect on July 1, 1867

Canada Begins

  • first election in Canada took place from August 7 to September 20, 1867

  • 73% of those eligible to vote, did so (only 10% of total population of 3 230 000 was eligible)

  • John A. Macdonald became first prime minister of Canada

  • George Etienne Cartier was named minister of militia and defence

  • Charles Tupper of Nova Scotia and Leonard Tilley of New Brunswick were also voted to the first parliament

  • not all members of the new government were supporters of the union (Joseph Howe continued to oppose Confederation)

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