The account written by Canadian historian John Boyko presents the chronicle of events from 1850 to 1872 with a decidedly anti-American perspective. Not that Americans at that time did not deserve resentment from their northern neighbors. The un-American attitude was fueled by the territorial ambitions of the United States. Land-greedy politicians wanted to extend Manifest Destiny northward to the Arctic Circle. Government officials led by Secretary of State William Seward threatened to add Canada to the Union by peaceful or military means.
Boyko's narrative is told from the perspective of escaped slave John Anderson, Secretary of State William Seward, Union nurse Sara Emma Edmonds, Confederate agent Jacob Thompson, publisher George Brown, and politician-statesman John A. Macdonald. It is a rich and well-written chronicle of events during the Civil War that are largely unknown to both Canadian and American audiences. The threat of American annexation and the desire of British authorities to lessen their responsibilities in North America combined to foster the environment for the creation of the Canadian Confederation.
In the chapter on "John Anderson and the Railroad to Freedom and War," Boyko tells the story of the trial of escaped slave Anderson and the efforts by his former owners to return him to captivity. Although Southerners tried to dissuade slaves from taking the Underground Railroad to Canada, many blacks made their way to freedom and prosperity. To the demands by Southern governors that slaves be returned to their owners, Canadian officials replied that "slavery is not recognized in the law of Canada."
Stories from the 40,000 Canadians who illegally fought in the Civil War are revealed in "Sarah Emma Edmonds: Donning the Blue and Gray." Edmonds case is interesting as she concealed the fact that she was from New Brunswick and, perhaps more significantly, that she had enlisted as a man. Canadians served in both the Union and Confederate armies due in some measure to the obligations they felt in living and working in the United States. Between 1850 and 1860, 102,000 Canadians and Maritimers had crossed the border to find work. Joining the military migration were deserters heading north and south. The presence of Union prisons in Illinois and Ohio spurred plots by Confederate agents in Canada to free the men and attack northern cities. One of the most interesting developments was the use of crimping by Union and Rebel agents to encourage and help someone enter military service. Unfortunately, these recruiting methods looked more like impressment and many Canadians were forced into service against their will.
Canada also served as a base for terrorist acts by Confederate agents who plotted and carried out attacks on Union cities and officials. This network of conspirators was led by Jacob Thompson and other "Confederates in the Attic." Canada and Britain supplied arms to the Confederacy to derail the American threat of annexation and invasion. After the war, many Confederates found sanctuary among Canada's Rebel ex-patriots. Boyko describes the raid on St. Albans, Vermont and plots to burn Chicago and New York City. Perhaps most destructive of US-Canadian relations was the Lincoln assassination. Atlantic Magazine reported that "the assassination plot was formed in Canada, as some of the vilest miscreants of the Secession side have been allowed to live in that country" and "the Canadian error was in allowing the scum of the Secession to abuse the 'right of hospitality' through the pursuit of hostile action against us from the territory of a neutral."
A. Macdonald work to form the Canadian Confederation. George Brown was the owner-editor of the
The book could use Cast of Characters and Time Line sections to help readers navigate the overlapping time lines in the various chapters and different players.
John Boyko is the author of four previous books, including the critically acclaimed Bennett: The Rebel Who Challenged and Changed a Nation and Last Steps to Freedom: The Evolution of Canadian Racism. He is a teacher and administrator at Lakefield College School, and an op-ed contributor to newspapers across Canada. The author lives in Lakefield, Ontario.