Britain and the Origins of Canadian Confederation, 1837-67

By Ged Martin | Go to book overview

5
Motives and Expectations of the British

British motives for endorsing an eventual regional union in British North America were marked by the same features that characterised their overall perceptions of the provinces: a few bold outlines, but much fuzziness of detail. Broadly, there were three main reasons why British opinion favoured a union of British North America: better government, preparation for eventual independence, and the creation of a barrier against the United States. The three types of argument were interconnected, for if intercolonial union created a more efficient system of government, the provinces would be better prepared to stand alone in the world and resist the temptations of annexation to the United States. However, this superficially convincing package of reasons for Confederation masked the fact that the arguments were in fact free- floating in a sea of illogicality, in which several basic assumptions were never explained, if only because they were rarely questioned. 1 These broad notions in favour of British North American union were formed prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War: indeed, if anything the war itself discouraged speculation on the subject, with the result that the British were to some extent taken by surprise when the Great Coalition adopted Confederation as one of its policies in June 1864. It was a pleasant surprise, and arguments for uniting the provinces which had been formed in earlier and calmer times were by and large carried forward in its support, their very familiarity probably discouraging too close an examination of logic and consistency.

It was not immediately obvious that a larger colonial state would be governed with greater honesty or effectiveness than a series of

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