The Climax and Collapse of the
The Canadian annexationist at the outset of 1888 had reasons both for hope and for misgiving. On the one hand, the movement was strongest where strength counted, in the central provinces whose weight swung the pendulum of Canadian policy, and the conditions which had created it there persisted. The political unionists had succeeded to some degree in infiltrating the Liberal Party and in pushing it to the verge of endorsing commercial union, the halfway house to their goal. These things were pleasant to contemplate, but there were clouds on the horizon. The Liberals had drawn back from the Zollverein movement at the crucial moment, and it had collapsed. Incautious actions and utterances of known political unionists, by tinging the minds of many Canadians with suspicion toward the movement for closer commercial relations with the United States and toward the Liberal Party, had compromised the strategy of indirect approach to political union.
To succeed, the movement must grow. Though virile in some places, it was weak in the peripheral provinces and in much of Ontario and Quebec. Specifically, the agitation must become strong enough to be the fulcrum of an early Liberal victory. If it did not, it would continue to beat itself futilely and fatally against the stanch and alert loyalty of Macdonald while he remained in power.
Did annexationism grow between 1887 and the general election of 1891? Since North America did not then rejoice in public opinion polls, this cannot be even imprecisely determined.