North America: the American Civil War and Dominion of Canada

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  • 0:05 Civil War & Dominion of Canada
  • 0:34 Civil War's Effects
  • 3:06 Dominion of Canada
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the American Civil War's effects on European geopolitics and the remotely connected creation of the Dominion of Canada only a few years after the war's close.

U.S. Civil War and Dominion of Canada

Canada and the United States are two countries which share many more things than other neighboring countries. While there are major differences - French Canada and Los Angeles, for instance, share very little - both countries share similar pastimes, cuisine, and possess a shared, immigrant heritage. Despite how alike the two countries are today, in the 1860s, the two countries were going in opposite directions: one tearing itself apart in Civil War and the other coming together to form a new country.

Civil War's Effects

While the American Civil War's terrible toll in the United States is well known, what is less widely discussed is the war's impact abroad, particularly in Europe. The American Civil War and the Union's success in maintaining a unified nation also scored a symbolic victory in Europe for the American republic. In Europe, the 19th-century saw the absolute monarchies of the past slowly transform into constitutional monarchies where the king and parliament ruled in tandem. Many monarchists and political theorists felt that republics were doomed to failure, just as the French Revolution's attempted republic had collapsed in less than a decade. Many felt the secession of the Southern states was a natural progression in America's hopeless attempt at a republican government. The success of the Northern states in preserving a unified republic proved this notion false.

The sides the European powers chose during the American Civil War changed the face of European geopolitics as well. Britain, who had naturally been unfriendly with the American government after the American Revolution and the War of 1812, supported the Confederacy in theory but wavered when it came to actively aiding the Southern war effort. Despite British political interests, the British public would have heavily opposed British aid of a slavery-supported regime in any state, jeopardizing stability at home. Nonetheless, Britain still nearly declared war on the United States when a Union captain boarded a British naval vessel and seized two Confederate emissaries aboard. In response, the British demanded an apology and threatened war, but serious conflict between the two nations never occurred. France, too, proved unfriendly to the Union as they had colonial ambitions in Mexico, which the U.S. heavily opposed.

Whereas the Confederacy was non-materially supported by the major powers of western Europe, the Union gained a tacit ally in Tsar Alexander II's Russia. Tsar Alexander freed Russia's serfs in 1861, though his support of the Union had less to do with his reforming nature and more to do with Russia's mid-19th century rivalry with Great Britain. Russia had lost the Crimean War on its own soil in the mid-1850s, and Russia heavily opposed increased British presence on the seas around Russian territory in the Black and Baltic Seas. Russia's rivalry and the U.S.'s unfriendly disposition toward Britain made the two natural allies. Though Russia did not enter the war, many historians count Russia's friendly countenance with the Union as one of the major reasons why Britain did not get directly involved in the Confederate cause.

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