Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
March 2005

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


Jonh S. Ewart's Second Letter to J. Castell Hopkins


THE EDITOR, The Statesman:


SIR:-In reply to my last letter, Mr. Hopkins says:


A real historian tells the truth . . and I am sure that Mr, Ewart will credit me with fairness in that respect.


In a previous sentence, Mr. Hopkins, with astonishing disregard of the truth, had said:


In your last issue Mr. Ewart admits that he took a passage in my Story of the Dominion away from its context and applied it in an altogether different connection.


In other words, Mr. Hopkins, after penning, to my discredit, as deliberate a falsehood as ever was placed on paper, wishes me to vouch for his veracity. I should like to oblige him, but I am afraid I cannot.


That apart, I suppose the issue between us is whether Canada ought to be grateful for the military protection afforded to her, in past times, by the United Kingdom. The true answer to that question I gave, in my last reply to Mr. Hopkins, in the shape of quotations from his own book - quotations of indictment of British indifference, ignorance and absence of statecraft. Among his phrases were the following:


"A combination of British indifference to territory and of utter ignorance of American character"; "such an extraordinary clause . . . was perhaps never included in a treaty before;" "the blunders of British statecraft" are stamped "in broad and vivid outline upon the map of Canada;" "discredit upon the statecraft of England;" Ashburton's appointment was a "standing disgrace to the Melbourne Government" - "a wedge of American soil was pushed up into the heart of the Maritime Provinces;" the Oregon Treaty "was even worse for British and Canadian interests."


Having quoted these condemnations, I repeated my question, Ought Canada to be grateful for all that? In reply, Mr. Hopkins tells me that such matters ought to be studied in the light of certain bases which my book made clear, but to which Mr. Ewart does not refer.


He specifies five bases. One of them relates to a period (1783-1812) in which nothing relevant happened. The second admits British ignorance of the value of what he calls "the wilds of British America ." The third confesses that the "chief desire" of the British people in 1783 and 1814


was to heal the breach with the United States, and insure a prolonged period of peace and friendly interchange.


The fourth declares that, "in the minds of British statesmen," Canada would have been the chief sufferer by war, and that


the useless sacrifice of unsettled wilds which were comparatively useless in those days to either Britain or the colonies was much better than a serious risk of war.


The fifth complains that


in the Maine and Oregon boundary issues, American bluff and a fraudulent map in one case, with erroneous statements in the other, won out over the honourable traditions of British statecraft - but that this was not a British crime.


Those statements (although not all in his book, as Mr. Hopkins asserts) are very much in line with those which I previously quoted from it, and the additions encourage me to repeat my question, Ought Canada to be grateful for all that? To his assertion that but for British diplomacy, British statecraft, and the British navy, "there would be no Dominion of Canada," I reply with the questions: What bit of British diplomacy saved Canada ? What piece of British statecraft saved Canada ? What action of the British navy saved Canada ? We know well what we have lost by British diplomacy and British state­craft. It appears, as Mr. Hopkins says, "in broad and vivid outline upon the map of Canada ." Will he be good enough to refer us to a per contra? We know, too, what the Brtish navy has done for us. In our history there have been but two occasions upon which the British navy would have been of service to us: first, in connection with the Newfoundland fisheries; and second, in connection with the seizures by the United States of our sealing ships in Behring Sea. On both occasions the British navy took the side of our opponents, although they were indisputably in the wrong. Here, too, I ask for a per contra. I crave, too, a reply to the question: How is it that the twenty little American republics contrived to keep themselves alive without the aid of either British diplomacy, or British statecraft, or the British navy?


Mr. Hopkins charges me with regarding British faults and mistakes with a "powerful magnifying glass." His assertion is untrue. On the contrary, first, Mr. Hopkins has exaggerated the Maine incident much beyond anything that I have ever said or could be induced to say about it, for it is not correct. And second, in my article of The Statesman of 24th April last, I said as follows:


I do not join in the general condemnation of the United Kingdom for all the diplomatic surrenders which she made to the United States in order to hush up our disputes with our neighbors. . . Such questions have always been of very insignificant importance with the United Kingdom , compared with the maintenance of cordial relations with the United States , and it is, therefore, foolish to charge British diplomacy with either stupidity or dereliction of duty because it relinquished the immaterial in order to maintain the essential. . But when I know, and everybody knows that British diplomacy, has pursued this natural and highly self-regarding course - that in order to maintain comfortable relations with the United States, the United Kingdom has been indifferent to Canadian interests - I do object to being told that she has defended us, and protected us, and surrounded us with kindly offices.


Once more, I ask: "What has occurred for which Canada ought to be grateful?"



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. 47-49.



© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College