The map above shows what an alternate United States might have looked like if the The Annexation Bill of 1866 had passed.
The bill would have authorized the President of the United States to, subject to the agreement of the governments of the British provinces:
“publish by proclamation that, from the date thereof, the States of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East, and Canada West, and the Territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan, and Columbia, with limits and rights as by the act defined, are constituted and admitted as States and Territories of the United States of America.”
Or to put it more simply, the bill would have annexed Canada, before Canada became a country.
Several financial incentives were offered to the British Colonies to help get them on board including:
- Purchase of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s lands for $10,000,000.
- Take over provincial debts which amounted to $85,700,000.
- Give an annual subsidy of $1,646,000 to the new states.
- Connect Canada with the Maritimes by rail and spend $50,000,000 to complete and improve the colonial canal system.
If the bill had passed, it would have added 4 new states and 3 new territories to the United States.
- New Brunswick: Modern-day New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia: Modern-day Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island
- Canada East: Modern-day Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and part of modern-day northern Ontario.
- Canada West: Modern-day southern Ontario, and part of modern-day northern Ontario.
- Selkirk Territory: Modern-day Manitoba, and parts of modern-day northwestern Ontario, Nunavut, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories
- Saskatchewan Territory: Modern-day Alberta, and parts of modern-day Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
- Columbia Territory: The part of modern-day British Columbia west of the Rocky Mountains.
The Annexation Bill of 1866 of course excluded Alaska, which at the time was still owned by the Russian Empire. Yet, Alaska would actually go on to join the United States the following year when it was purchased from Russia for $7.2 million.
The Annexation Bill of 1866 was introduced by Massachusetts Congressman Nathaniel Prentice Banks and was intended to appeal to Irish Americans who supported the Fenian Movement, which was extremely hostile to Britain.
However, while the the bill was sent to committee, it never came back and was never passed in the United States House of Representatives or even presented to the United States Senate.
Nevertheless, it does make one wonder if it would have been possible for the US to annex Canada in 1866. Here are a few key facts:
- US population in 1865: approximately 35 million.
- Population Great Britain and Ireland in 1861: around 29 million
- Population of British North America in 1867: around 3.5 million
- Size of the Union army at the end of the Civil war: around 600,000 men
- Size of British Army in 1861: around 220,00 men
The US obviously defeated the UK in the Revolutionary War at the end of the 18th century. However, it was unable to invade Canada during the War of 1812, which resulted in a draw (with both side declaring victory).
By the end of the Civil War the Union Army alone was several times the size of the British Army and located right next door to Canada, whereas the British were an ocean away and had to use deploy their army throughout their Empire.
In terms of population the two sides are remarkably evenly matched with British North America plus Great Britain and Ireland almost exactly matching the population of the United States.
The economy of the United States was in poor shape following the Civil War, with huge debts and the economies of the Southern States in ruins. Great Britain, on the other hand, was the pre-eminent industrial power in the world at the time with the world’s most powerful navy.
Furthermore, the US would send 20,000 troops to the Southern States in 1867 to enforce the Reconstruction Acts.
Therefore, given it’s military strength and location, it seems likely that the United States could have successfully invaded Canada. However, given its economic situation and desire to reconstruct the South, it’s a big question of whether or not they would have been able to hold it if Canadians and/or British had decided to resist.
Fortunately, politicians of the time, did not take The Annexation Bill of 1866 seriously and Canada remains an independent country and the UK and US enjoy their special relationship.
To learn more about this topic have a look at the following books:
- Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada
- Canada and the United States: Differences that Count
- Union in Peril: The Crisis Over British Intervention in the Civil War
- If The South Had Won The Civil War
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