The role of British North America in Anglo-American relations, 1848-1854
This study analyses the impact on mid-nineteenth-century Anglo-American relations of British North America. It argues that successive British governments worked to retain the strategically-important colonies, despite the often exaggerated influence of Little Englandism. It also stresses the overwhelming loyalty of the colonists, despite aberrations like Canada's 1849 Annexation Crisis. It points to two annexation crises - in 1848 and 1849. During the former, Anglo-American relations suffered as the colonists braced themselves for a popular American invasion. In the 1849 crisis, unknown to the British, the American government briefly considered annexing Canada. When this opportunity vanished, Washington willingly prolonged the crisis in order to weaken Britain during negotiations over Central America. The Fishery Dispute of 1852-1854 found Britain practising pressure politics. London used years of tension between American and colonial fishermen as a pretext for a show of naval strength off North America during negotiations with the United States over Cuba and Central America. The Fishery Dispute also succeeded in forcing the Americans to take Reciprocity seriously. This study rejects traditional interpretations which claim that Lord Elgin's success in 1854 stemmed from his own brilliance and his ability to tell America's feuding sections different stories about the likely effect of Reciprocity. Instead it argues that Elgin succeeded in 1854 because of the work over several years by other diplomats. He also succeeded in 1854 because of a mutual desire for transatlantic calm due to America s domestic problems and Britain's involvement in the Crimean War. Though Elgin's ability oiled the wheels of success, he was also fortunate to arrive just as the ruling party in Washington put down its guard and celebrated the Kansas-Nebraska Compromise. The ratification of Reciprocity in British North America confirms that, despite granting self-government to the three main colonies, Britain put wider imperial interests before purely colonial interests. The thesis concludes that British North America, though nominally powerless and dependent on Britain, had a significant role in Anglo-American relations. The colonies pressured London and Washington by various tactics, while Mother Country and territorially rapacious republic frequently used the colonies as a weapon in their dealings with each other. This produced a diplomatic North Atlantic Triangle with each polity cynically trying to use the other two for its own ends.