Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
March 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


John S. Ewart's Reply to J. Castell Hopkins

(May 1919)


SIR: I have received a copy of a letter from Mr. Hopkins, to be inserted this week. Mr. Hopkins has evidently forgotten that he wrote one of the strongest indictments of British diplomacy with reference to Canada - of "British indifference to territory and of utter ignorance of American character, aggressiveness and ambitions" - that has yet appeared. Indeed, he goes farther in that respect than I have ever gone, or could be   induced to go. In his book, The Story of the Dominion, Mr. Hopkins, after referring to two good points in the convention of 1818, said (the italics in all cases are mine):


At this point, however, the terms of the convention passed on to deal with boundary matters and a combination of British indifference to territory, and of utter ignorance of American character, aggressiveness and ambitions marked every phase of the negotiations - as they continued for another half century.


Mr. Hopkins refers to the clause of the convention which postponed the settlement of the Oregon boundary question for ten years leaving the territory open, meanwhile, to the people of both nations, and adds:


Such an extraordinary clause as the latter was, perhaps, never included in a treaty before . . . . The "settlement" simply postponed consideration of the matter until United States citizens should have time to pour into the country, and claim it by virtue of present colonization, if not by right of discovery, or of early and temporary occupation.


After dealing with the treaty of 1825, Mr. Hopkins proceeds as follows:


In 1812 and 1816 came two arrangements with the United States which stamp the astuteness of American leaders and the blunders of British statecraft in broad and vivid outline upon the map of Canada.


Around and through them runs that thread of political thought which did so much in its day to diminish British power and to weaken British prestige - the policy of the Manchester school. What were territorial rights, or the future interests of Canadians, or the development of British power on the American continent in comparison with an undisturbed peace which might facilitate the sale of a few more bales of cotton goods and promote immunity from increased responsibility or a little fresh taxation. (page 624).


It is literal quotation of this last sentence to which Mr. Hopkins objects. Referring to American statesmen, Mr. Hopkins said:


They had a distinct, though not always direct, policy of expansion, and, that they followed this up at the expense of Canada and Great Britain, reflects credit upon their astuteness, and only discredit upon the statecraft of England . Well-meant friendliness or conciliation, when not reciprocated, is simply weakness of the worst kind.


Referring to the Maine boundary negotiation, Mr. Hopkins said:


Three years later, Lord Ashburton and Daniel Webster were appointed Commissioners to settle the dispute. They were admirably fitted to duplicate the events of 1783 and 1818. The one was a good-natured believer in peace - at a high price if necessary - and was personally interested through his connection with the Barings, in American securities. This latter point might not have directly affected his action, because no one has ever disputed his personal sense of honor, but the fact of his being a member of the school of political thought which considered British external responsibilities as a burden, and colonial possessions as useless, is beyond question. His appointment is, therefore, a standing disgrace to the Melbourne Govermnent . . . Webster, on the other hand, a keen American statesman, with a shrewdness which bordered on unscrupulousness and without any hampering friendship for England or for British interests.


The result of such negotiations was inevitable. Out of the 12,000 square miles of disputed territory, 5,000 went to New Brunswick; 7,000 square miles of the most valuable portion went to Maine; the Dominion of the future was shut off from an Atlantic port; a wedge of American soil was pushed up into the heart of the Maritime Provinces; and Lord Ashburton returned to England with a treaty of renewed peace and amity.


Mr. Hopkins then dealt with the Oregon boundary controversy, and what he thinks of British diplomacy in that regard may be judged from his opening sentence:


That of Oregon was even worse for British and Canadian interests.


Mr. Hopkins appears to think that I quoted some "statement which I (he) made". I did not. I quoted a question which he formulated, and I quoted it accurately. Where he got material for the question is of no importance. But I may safely say that the quotations above made from Mr. Hopkins' book amply prove that I was doing no injustice to British diplomacy with reference to Canada when I asked whether we ought to be grateful for the answer which ought to be given to Mr. Hopkins' question. Indeed, I think that I can safely leave the reply in Mr. Hopkins' hands. Ought we?

Return to the Controversy between J. S. Ewart and J. Castell Hopkins on the role of Britain in Canada (1919)

Source: John S. EWART, Independence Papers. Reprints principally from the Canadian Nation and the Statesmen , Ottawa ,   1921, 176p., pp. 44-45.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College