Evidence of Manifest Destiny?
David M. Dyment, Ph.D.
Much of the history of North America is a weave of relations between what were once French colonists, and two types of British colonists - loyalists and American patriots. For over 15 years, from 1760 to
1776, these groups lived under one sovereign authority and today find their expression in three political entities - Quebec, Canada, and
the United States. The last and dominant of these has historically been somewhat animated by a policy of Manifest Destiny and can be
seen to an extent as having had an appetite for expansion.
In high school history books a number of maps illustrate the various
stages of North American political development; Are we so temporal
centric as to think new maps will not be added? Relations between
Canada and Quebec and between Canada and the United States are so
central to the definition of Canada that change either or both
significantly and the country, and North America, are potentially
These relationships while central to Canada can pose a threat to it.
Quebec has yet to sign the constitution and a formal compromise with
the rest of Canada (ROC) not only appears unlikely it seems
implausible. As well, Canada is in the increasingly warm embrace of a
single integrated and booming binational economy, its fate tied more
than ever to the world's only superpower. Canada, or at least the
Canada we know, is precarious.
The ramifications of North American economic integration are
significant. The North American Free Trade Agreement includes a
provision for renewable work permits which may be a harbinger of the
free movement of people, and policy collaboration may in the fullness
of time lead to joint policy making which could increasingly come to
resemble nascent political integration - perhaps heightened by the
challenges of 9-11.
Initially Canada came together in response to the challenges of its
two central relationships - to bring Quebec in, and keep America out.
It now seems as if the dynamic may have reversed itself with signs
pointing to integration with the United States and episodically to
disintegration with Quebec. There are, for our purposes, three pieces
in the North American puzzle - Canada, the United States, and Quebec
- and their relationships can be organized in different ways.
Growing integration with the US seems conceivable, with an
undetermined end point. Disintegration of Canada after the departure
of Quebec is apt to compound this process. The ROC is not likely to
be a very cohesive entity and integration in varying degrees and
speeds by its parts into the American colossus seems possible.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s Canada unsuccessfully attempted
to stabilize its relationship with Quebec by finding a constitutional
compromise. This failure prompted observers to consider the
ramifications for the three pieces of the North American puzzle. A
consensus emerged that the ROC would be an unsturdy political
edifice. In America, Canada watchers began in earnest to wonder what
this and growing economic integration might mean for the US.
It is natural and healthy for the Americans to enter into such
reflections. To what extent is American literature devoted to this
reflection informed by US expansionism, often described as 'Manifest
Destiny'? As the historical record, which we shall visit, shows there
is a tradition in America of wanting to possess all of North America.
Is this tendency evident today? It can be argued that in the current
climate of continental economic integration and free trade, and of
globalization more generally, that it is possible to benefit from a
territory without physically controlling it, and perhaps much of the
logic of Manifest Destiny has passed. However, Manifest Destiny also
involves the belief that the US is a chosen land that had been
allotted all of North America by God. And, in this sense perhaps
there is a current in American thinking that feels a God given
obligation and duty to share the benefits of their system throughout
the continent, if not the world. It can be argued there are traces of
Manifest Destiny in the recent American literature and also of its
philosophical companion the Monroe Doctrine which is a statement of
opposition to influence and interference of outside powers in the
Before moving to an examination of the current US literature lets
look briefly at the role and influence of Manifest Destiny in US
relations with Canada. American restiveness with European influence
in North America can logically be seen to have begun when the US
emerged as a separate entity from the British Empire, and soon lead
to statements from its early presidents such as the US ought to have
"natural dominion in North America". As American historian Gordon T.
"American expansion was deemed to be in harmony with nature and
geography; British and Canadian expansion was viewed as artificially
instigated by imperial designs to check American growth. This view of
matters, formed in the early national period, remained a basic
element of the American mind-set."
This "basic element of the American mind-set" finds its expression in
a number of different instances. On July 1, 1867 no congratulatory
message came from Washington, rather the announcement of the
impending purchase of Alaska. During the 1870s President Ulysses
Grant described Canada as "unnatural" and President Rutherford Hayes
wrote that "the annexation of Canada is our manifest destiny". In
1903 a settlement was reached in the Alaska boundary dispute but the
position of President Theodore Roosevelt had been so bellicose as to
leave his Canadian counterpart Wilfred Laurier bitter long into his
retirement. And finally, at the time of the 1911 reciprocity
agreement between Canada and the United States a number of
intemperate statements were made by American politicians which
contributed to the failure of the agreement to win support in Canada.
A US Senator declared that "Canadian annexation is the logical
conclusion of reciprocity with Canada". The Speaker of the House said
"we are preparing to annex Canada." And, perhaps most famously, the
House Democratic Leader announced that he "looked forward to the time
when the American flag will fly over every square foot of British
North America up to the North Pole."
Though certainly not the dominant theme it would seem plausible that
at least some thin threads of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe
Doctrine might be found in contemporary American reflections on the
future of Canada. 'Contemporary' is taken to mean since the
mid-1960s; characterized initially by the nascent Quebec separatist
movement within the context of the Quiet Revolution, and growing
economic integration as embodied in the Canada-US Auto Pact.
Regardless of whether some strands are found, North America is in
objective terms becoming more economically integrated. And this is
happening heedless of any annexationist tendencies in the US, or
whether Quebec separates and the ROC disintegrates. As Canadian
historian Jack Granatstein and others point out Canada has been
petitioning the US for free trade since 1849, even Sir John A.
Macdonald's famous National Policy was forced upon him by the
rejection of Free Trade by a US Senate still inflamed by British
policy during the recent American Civil War. In 1886, 44 percent of
Canadian exports went to the US, in 1982 it was 68 percent. By 2002
economic integration had so accelerated that Canadian exports to the
US were 85 percent. The US is a huge cultural and economic engine, a
force in and on the world, and no country is more integrated with it,
feels its impact more, and the weight of its policies as much as
Canada. The prospect of emergent political convergence, if not indeed
absorption, is likely only quickened by Quebec separation and
possible ROC disintegration.
The future of Canada is so intricately bound in its relationships
with Quebec and with America that in examining the US literature for
hints of Manifest Destiny it is difficult to separate American
reflections based on Quebec separation and ROC disintegration from
Canadian economic integration with the US.
This article was prompted by one in Foreign Affairs, "Will Canada
Unravel?" by American academic Charles Doran in which he urges the US
government to consider the consequences of ROC disintegration after
Quebec's departure. He speculates that Washington would increasingly
have to "Take on the jobs of peacemaker, adjudicator, rule-maker, and
police officer.". While provocative, and on first reading suggestive
of an aggressive American position, upon closer examination the
article is not bristling with examples of Manifest Destiny. As Doran
said when I spoke to him "A Canadian can say it and its not even
noticed, an American says it and it's a crisis.". Indeed, once
Canadians get beyond the emotional impact of his observations there
is some basis for them. The article seems to find its premise in a
book by journalist Lansing Lamont, as both works discuss the
implications for the US of what they call the worst case situation
after the departure of Quebec. The evidence we are looking for is
readily found in Lamont's book and to a lesser degree in another by
policy analyst Jonathan Lemco. Significant though subtle evidence is
also found in a formerly secret US State Department document.
Doran writes "Some analysts assume Canada is a cornucopia of minerals
and raw materials that would suddenly open up, to US advantage.
Others believe that large new strategic benefits would flow to the
US, for example, from adhesion of a coastal province." Doran adds,
"But each of these expectations is likely to disappoint.".
Lemco writes: "Some provinces, especially BC, Alberta, and Ontario,
might be particularly attractive to US annexationists. Presumably,
the US would then enjoy an economic boom and be better able to
compete with its economic rivals." and, "Latter-day Manifest Destiny
is attractive to many Americans because of the goodwill they feel
towards Canada and the vast storehouse of natural resources in Canada
that would be most welcome additions to US industrial strength.".
Lamont's book which examines the worst case scenario after Quebec
separation which involves ROC disintegration writes:
"The portents of America's absorption of Canada had been there right
along. British military power and Confederation had blunted the
thrust of 'manifest destiny'. Former US Undersecretary of State,
George Ball, had figured it right when he wrote in 1968 that Canada
was fighting 'a rearguard action against the inevitable,' and that
sooner or later Canada-American free trade would impel the
integration of the two nations' economies. [Which] would require an
ever greater degree of 'political cohesion', diplomatic puff for the
US absorption of Canada."
He goes on to write:
"Just as US authorities would prepare to slam the door on the
provinces' requests for statehood, however, a second opinion might
land on the President's desk. It would offer an assessment of
Canada's natural resources in terms of America's benefit. The memo
would start from the premise that Canada is sitting on the world's
third richest mineral trove, with the third largest forest area, and
one quarter of the planet's fresh surface water. It is not
inconceivable that, having digested the memorandum, the President
would accede to requests from Alberta and BC to be admitted as
states, Manitoba and Saskatchewan might be placed on associate
Prominent American newspaper columnists such as William Safire, Peter
Brimelow, and Pat Buchanan have also written that Quebec secession
and its ramifications would be in the interest of the US, and that
America might gain by swallowing parts of a divided Canada.
Much more subtle is the comment by the careful US academic Joseph
Jockel who writes - "To be sure, should the day ever come when parts
of Canada applied for admission to the Union, it would be very
difficult to refuse them entry.". But we are left to speculate as to
why "To be sure, it would be very difficult." This guarded style is
found in the once secret American State Department report The Quebec
Situation: Outlook and Implications. In considering the
disintegration of Canada the report states "The US would be faced
with new opportunities." that could be "positive" and that
"Nevertheless, the present situation also is not to our benefit.". Of
interest in the last phrase are the words "nevertheless" and "also"
which seem to infer that while the prospect of Canadian
disintegration poses problems 'nevertheless' it could 'also' be of
benefit to the US.
Canadian Prime Ministers have certainly seen benefits to the US. Sir
John A. Macdonald said "Every American statesman covets Canada." In
the mid 1940s Mackenzie King was moved to say "The long-range plan of
the Americans is to control the continent, to turn Canada into a part
of the US." And, upon the election in 1976 of the Parti Québécois,
Pierre Trudeau is reported to have been "Anxious and concerned as to
whether the Americans would seize the PQ victory as an opportunity to
redraw the boundaries of North America.".
There are also echoes in the current US literature of the Monroe
Doctrine. In 1823, President James Monroe made a statement which
bears his name in which he opposed the influence of European powers
in the Americas. Perhaps surprisingly these strands come not from the
less scholarly authors but from the senior American academics: Doran
and Jockel. Doran writes that "Continuing fragmentation potentially
involves powers outside North America in special treaties and
coalitions." Jockel writes:
"Clearly, a major goal of a sovereign Quebec's foreign policy would
be to pursue close ties with other francophone states, especially
France, and to play a major role as a sovereign member in the
Francophonie. Thanks to Paris-Quebec ties, it is easy to conjure up
images of Quebec, as the 'EC's Trojan horse' in economic discussions.
To be sure, there will be issues on which Quebec will agree with the
North America for the sake of our ruminations is built upon the
relationships of three political units. Sufficiently alter the nature
of these relations and the political structure of North America is
also changed. The separation of Quebec from Canada is such a change,
as is the potential integration of the ROC into the United States.
All of this takes place against a backdrop of growing continental
integration led by economic factors, and perhaps by more recent
collaboration against terrorism. In considering the future of North
America the attitude of the US, the dominant piece of the puzzle, is
significant. Are America's reflections upon the future of North
America still informed by Manifest Destiny, as they once so clearly
were? Contemporary US literature indicates, not surprisingly, that
there are some vestiges or threads of annexationist sentiment. But
the US, and the position of the US in the world, are now so different
than they were at the time of Manifest Destiny's hey-day that such
inclinations are tempered by other more pressing and immediate
considerations. Manifest Destiny can be seen as one element, in a
more complex constellation of American concerns and interests.
David M. Dyment, Ph.D., is a Research Affiliate at the Université d'Ottawa, and was formerly advisor to the Governor General (Adrienne Clarkson). You can contact him at: email@example.com