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Canada, French Canadians and Franco-Americans in the Civil War Era (1861-1865)

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Bibliographical Note


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On the whole, the Civil War was beneficial to Canada. Though the United States abrogated the Reciprocity Treaty in 1866 primarily to punish Britain for its benevolent neutrality towards the Confederacy, and the Fenian raids gave Canadians a fright, the war promoted British North American unity. The possibility of invasion and the loss of reciprocal trade paved the road to Confederation. In a way, the war helped craft the British North America Act of 1867 and furnished a welcomed respite from American expansionism. Even Canada’s official name was affected by the conflict. Indeed, the Fathers of Canadian Confederation chose not to further irritate the United States by giving their new nation the rather ambitious name of "Kingdom" of Canada and chose the more humble "Dominion" instead. The Civil War also brought a brief but intense period of economic prosperity to Canada.1

A further consequence of the Civil War, strongly lamented in French Canada, was that military service became the gateway to assimilation for many Franco-Americans. As would be the case in all of America’s wars, the armed services proved to be a powerful agent of Americanization. Like Major Mallet, many Franco-Americans were assimilated in the army.

For the next fifty years or so, French Canadian and Franco-American veterans of the conflict held reunions periodically. In the year he founded L’Union continentale (1893), Jean-Baptiste Rouillard made a rousing call in favor of Canada’s annexation to the United States at a Civil War meeting held in Montreal. Thereafter, the reunion became increasingly emotional as Rémi Tremblay recited his poem, Le drapeau du 14e, dedicated to his former regiment, which, ironically, he had deserted from on more than one occasion.2

After the two world wars, the Civil War is the third largest conflict in which French Canadians have fought and died since the fall of New France in 1760. This is despite relentless clerical and political censure back home and the fact that the conflict did not concern French Canada in any direct way. For generations of Franco-Americans, the Civil War took on a special importance. Veterans were revered as a living testament to Franco-American courage and patriotism. In later years, the Franco-American contribution to the Union cause was frequently cited as proof that French Catholics could become loyal Americans and that Franco-American blood had also watered the Liberty Tree.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College