Goldwin Smith on Canada’s joining the U.S., 1888

In the 1880s, Torontian Goldwin Smith wanted Canada to pursue political and economic union with the U.S.
Goldwin Smith

U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium and is threatening to do the same on automobiles. He has attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as weak, dishonest and worse. Back in the 1880s, Professor Goldwin Smith of Toronto acted as a self-appointed proponent of Canada’s full commercial and political union with the U.S. Smith was also an Anglophile who held the Quebecois in contempt.  He believed that Canada, particularly with the “French wedge in her heart,” was not viable as a nation. He made this speech to the Chamber of Commerce in New York on 20 November 1888.  


“Nature has manifestly made this continent an economical whole”

The Speech

I had the honour, some time ago, to receive from your president a letter of inquiry on the subject of commercial union. I believe I may say, with confidence, that the subject is taking a strong hold on the minds of our Canadian people. The eyes of our people have been opened as they have not been for a long time, if they ever were before, to the advantages of unrestricted trade with their own continent. All our great natural industries, those of the farmer, the lumberman, the shipowner, and the fisherman, desire the removal of the tariff wall. Even of our manufacturers, only the weaker classes object; the stronger are ready for the open market. You know that party ties, even when very irrational, are very strong, and at by-elections it is difficult to break them; but even at our by-elections, popular interest in the question has begun to tell, and at our next general election our trade relations with the United States are evidently going to be the main issue.

Nature made continent whole

To me it has always seemed that the map settles the question. Nature has manifestly made this continent an economical whole, ordaining that its products, northern and southern, shall supplement each other, and that all its inhabitants, with their varied gifts and industries, shall combine in creating its common store of wealth. She has unified it by the great waterways, and where she has run chains of mountains, it has been from north to south, not from east to west. Her behest has been completed by the railway system which has bound us, and is daily binding us closer together, and which separatists help, with strange inconsistency, to develop, while they set themselves against the extension of commercial and general relations. To run a customs line across this continent, cutting off its northern margin commercially from the rest, is surely to fight against nature, and reject the benefits which she offers with outstretched hands. Viewed politically, the map of Canada presents a vast and unbroken domain, including the North Pole, and equaling in area the territory of the United States.

No natural connections

But, viewed economically, it presents four separate blocks of territory, having hardly any natural connection with each other, while each is naturally connected with the country immediately to the south of it. There are the Maritime provinces, cut off by a wide wilderness from old Canada, French and English; old Canada, cut off by another wilderness and by Lake Superior from the newly opened prairie region of the northwest; and the prairie region, cut off by a triple chain of mountains from British Columbia, while the Maritime provinces are economically connected with the northeastern states of the Union; old Canada, with New York and Pennsylvania; the prairie region, with Dakota and Minnesota, which are divided from it only by a conventional line; and British Columbia, with the Pacific territories and states . . . The attempt to force an interprovincial trade has failed, and each province practically is almost confined to its own market.

Storehouse of wealth

It is needless to tell you that Canada, if she could only be opened up and get access for her products to their natural market, is a great storehouse of wealth. She has minerals of almost every kind and in immense abundance, and more native copper than any other country in the world, all waiting for a market, and for the free ingress of American machinery and American capital. She has abundance of lumber, which, however, is being largely wasted, and will continue to be wasted till the lumber of this continent is brought into a common stock, assessed at its real value and husbanded accordingly. She has fish, not only in her seas, but in her great northwestern lakes, whence, if the trade were open, they would find their way to the tables of your middle states. She has barley and other special farm products, favoured by her soil and climate; she has healthy stock and horses, the demand for which among you is very large.

Treasure house of nature

She is a great treasure house of nature, which awaits the key of American capital and enterprise to unlock it. She is, as has been truly said, rich by nature, poor only by policy. She is far richer than Scotland was before her commercial union with England; yet England gained greatly by that union, though Scotland, perhaps, gained still more. It has been said that the products of the two countries, being similar, it is not likely that there would be much trade between them. Facts confute that assertion. Wherever an opening is made in the tariff wall by the remission of a duty, as in the case of eggs, trade rushes through; even when there is no remission, its tide beats against and overleaps the barrier with a force that shows how great the volume would be if the barrier were removed . . .

“French wedge”

You cannot take up a Canadian newspaper, or read the Canadian correspondence of one of your own journals, without seeing that Canada is debating her political destiny, and that there is great diversity of opinion among us. Some, mostly of the official class, look forward to perpetual or, at least, indefinite continuance in the state of a dependency. Some cherish the hope that Canada, in spite of her want of compactness and the French wedge in her heart, will become an independent nation. Some think that the shadow can be made to go back on the dial of colonial history, and that Canada, in common with the other colonies, will surrender a part of her self-government to the government of an imperial federation.

“English-speaking race”

Others there are who believe that the English-speaking race upon this continent will some day be one people. As it was one people before the civil war of the last century, so they believe that it will in time be one people again, and that England, well-advised as to her true interest, will applaud and bless the union. Without the consent of England, Canada will do nothing. To Canada, at all events, England, according to her lights, has been a good mother. What nobody in his senses desires is forcible annexation, which would give you disaffected citizens, and introduce discord into the vitals of the republic. A despot, when he annexes, can send down a viceroy; you would have to give the ballot, which would be used by unwilling citizens for the purposes of their discontent. If you want union at all, it is a free and equal union, a union of common interest and of the heart, such as a citizen of either country may advocate without treason, and welcome without dishonour. In the meantime, while the political destiny of the two countries is working itself out, why should not our industry and commerce enjoy the advantages of continental free trade? . . .

What nature has designed

I almost feel that I have been presumptuous in addressing such an assembly as this on such a subject as the trade relations between the two countries, being, as I am, nothing but a private Canadian citizen. I have, however, at least no interest or motive other than the desire that our Canadian people should enjoy the fair earnings of their industry and the measure of prosperity which nature has designed for them.


Source: “Speech of Mr. Goldwin Smith at the Banquet of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York,” 20 November 1888. National Library of Canada. Microfilm. AMICUS Number 26090785.
Biographical material:

Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-29624.





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