The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812

By A. L. Burt | Go to book overview

EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION

THE recent march of events has given a peculiar importance to this volume in the Canadian American Series. Never was the old Greek saying that history is philosophy teaching by experience more applicable to any section of the annals of the New World than to the story which is unfolded in these pages. The theme is that of the continuing relation with Great Britain and its colonies of the newly established United States of America, which had formerly been the most important part of the overseas empire. The recognition of American sovereignty by the British government upon which the American commissioners concentrated their diplomatic effort in the peace negotiations left many questions unsettled. There was above all the delimitation of the frontiers running through untracked wildernesses where the forgotten men of the negotiations, the American Indians, bitterly fought back against the advancing settlement. There was the commercial conflict of the mercantile system in which England had so large an initial advantage, and there was the continued use of the old military system with its mercenary soldiers and impressed seamen. More difficult still were the problems of the North Atlantic fisheries, which had plagued the relations of half a dozen European and North American communities since the end of the fifteenth century, and some of which have not yet been satisfactorily settled. The full story of the international economy thus involved has been set forth in another volume of this series, The Cod Fisheries, by Professor H. A. Innis . Finally, there were habits of mind shaped on the one hand by imperial and commercial needs and on the other hand by the challenge of the greatest opportunity that had ever opened before any people in history. Under these circumstances it was perhaps inevitable that the pathway should be marked by many blunders and that the misunderstandings thus created should last on in the traditional history of both the United States and the British Commonwealth of Nations. The application of the scientific method to the historical research of these issues, which were so hotly in debate and ultimately provoked another war, is in itself a contribution to statecraft, because with impartial mind it explores the causes of events in the terms in which they were presented to the actors themselves. Its judgments are not misplaced wishful thinking in the light of the world today but the full statement of how things happened in their own time, when men had other interests to keep in mind than those which seem so important to us now.

War always leaves a heritage of misunderstanding; the period which Professor Burt covers in this volume comprises two wars and deals with

-v-

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