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Confederation, The Approval Process

Joseph Howe, Atlantic colonies, British North America Act, colonial assemblies, Fenians

The Seventy-two Resolutions had to be ratified by the colonial assemblies and then voted into law by Britain’s Parliament. Confederation was debated vigorously in the colonies from 1864 to 1867. It was popular in Canada West but more controversial in Canada East. The Rouges accused Cartier and his allies of betraying French Canada, but most politicians and the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Canada East supported Confederation. It was quickly approved by the joint assembly of Canada.

Confederation was also controversial in the Atlantic colonies, where many were reluctant to join a union that Canada East and West were sure to dominate. The assemblies of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland refused to ratify the Seventy-two Resolutions. In New Brunswick, vigorous opposition forced elections that were won by candidates opposed to Confederation. However, the anticonfederate government could offer no persuasive alternative to a federal union. Raids in 1866 by Fenians, anti-British rebels based in the United States, created a sense of crisis and national solidarity, and the same year New Brunswick reelected the government of Confederation supporter Samuel Leonard Tilley. In Nova Scotia, opposition to the Seventy-two Resolutions was led by Joseph Howe, and at first the province refused to ratify Confederation. However, as New Brunswick committed to Confederation, the Nova Scotia assembly voted to send delegates to the London conference where Canadians worked with British officials to draft a final version of the Resolutions to submit to Parliament. The colonial delegates made some small changes to the resolutions, and the result was the British North America Act, which was passed by the British Parliament. On July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada, with four provinces—Quebec (formerly Canada East), Ontario (formerly Canada West), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia—came into being. Ottawa was chosen as the national capital.

Macdonald was appointed as the first prime minister of the Dominion, and an election was set for August. Macdonald’s coalition, into which he had drawn many of the advocates of Confederation, won the election. Nova Scotia overwhelmingly supported anti-Confederation candidates, however, and it appeared for a while as if Nova Scotia might attempt to secede. Macdonald negotiated with Howe, and the danger of secession was removed in 1869 when Howe, acknowledging that Britain would not repeal confederation, joined Macdonald’s government.

In 1871 Macdonald participated, under British supervision, in negotiating the Treaty of Washington on Canadian-American relations. The treaty acknowledged that Canada would remain closely allied to Britain but that this allegiance would not pose a threat to American interests. Britain withdrew its last garrisons from Canada in 1871, confirming that the British Empire would not challenge the supremacy of the United States in North America.

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