with Michael Gillespie
Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston, prime minister of England, read the news of Southern secession with unguarded pleasure. The prospect of a Confederacy of cotton-producing states, a new nation dedicated to free trade with Europe, delighted him. The seventyseven-year-old Palmerston also knew that a divided pair of American countries could never pose the transatlantic threat of a single, united nation, either to the European balance of power or to the Old World aristocracy.
As one member of Parliament vindictively announced, the world now would witness “the bursting of the great republican bubble which had been so often held up to us as the model on which to recast our own English constitution.” But with secession in America came the unsettling realization that the provinces of Canada lay open, virtually undefended, should the North decide to invade in retaliation for any British aid to the Confederacy.
As its major physical link to the mother country, Canada relied heavily upon the St. Lawrence River, a tenuous connection at best, for hadn't one Canadian commander described it as “everywhere vulnerable through its whole length”? Adding to this vulnerability was nature itself—aside from the falls, rapids, and shoals that rendered the stream only partially navigable at the best of times, the St. Lawrence regularly froze solid from December to April. The provincial governments had built several bypass canals, but those could handle only shallow-draft wooden vessels.
Despite their prime waterway's limitations, the Canadians never had gotten around to finishing their interprovincial rail line. The
This essay first appeared in the August 1984 issue of Military History.