St. Albans Raid
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St. Albans Raid

In October 1864, 33 delegates from around British North America converged on Quebec City to hammer out the terms of Confederation. While many delegates from Upper and Lower Canada were satisfied with the progress, some Maritime delegates became increasingly uncomfortable as the three-week conference proceeded.
In 1864, a group of Confederate agents robbed a bank in St. Albans, Vermont and escaped north of the border, sparking an international incident. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
In 1864, a group of Confederate agents robbed a bank in St. Albans, Vermont and escaped north of the border, sparking an international incident. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

Prince Edward Island delegates felt increasingly isolated. They wanted the Canadians to help them settle a century-old problem by buying out absentee landlords who owned most of the Island. The absentee landlords were mainly British landowners, many of whom had never visited the island. Some refused to sell their lands to their tenants, while others demanded high prices from their tenant farmers. Prince Edward Island delegates wanted a resolution to this issue but on other subjects, every motion seemed to go against the interests of the smallest colony.

New Brunswick delegate Edward Chandler argued that under the proposed system of representation by population, the smaller provinces would be overwhelmed by the rest of the new country. They would lose control of their financial affairs and trade policy and be stuck with a share of responsibility for the sizable Canadian debt.

"I object to the proposed system..." said Chandler. "You are proceeding to destroy the constitutions of the local governments."
In 1864, the Chicago Tribune urged the American Union army to invade Canada after a group of Confederate raiders took refuge there. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
In 1864, the Chicago Tribune urged the American Union army to invade Canada after a group of Confederate raiders took refuge there. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

But as discontent grew among the Maritime colonies, an event was unfolding south of the border that would affect the outcome of the conference.

Midway through the conference, Governor General Monck was called away to handle a crisis. On October 19, a group of Confederate soldiers who had been hiding out in Canada had crossed the border and looted several banks in the town of St. Albans, Vermont. They fled back to Canada with $200,000, followed by a posse of angry Americans.

Governor General Monck ordered out the militia, who captured the fourteen raiders. They were later tried in a Montreal court but released on a technicality. Their stolen money was returned to them, causing outrage in the Untied States.

The Chicago Tribune urged the North to invade Canada to "...take Canada by the throat and throttle her as a St. Bernard would a poodle pup."

President Abraham Lincoln announced that Canadians would now have to produce passports to gain entry to the Untied States. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1854, which abolished the duties on many goods moving across the Canada-U.S. border, was revoked.

In Canada, the incident left a climate of anxiety and a fresh resolve to unite. As the conference drew to a close, Macdonald once again hammered home the need for a strong central government.

"For the sake of securing peace to ourselves and our posterity we must make ourselves powerful...The great security for peace is to convince the world of our strength by being united," Macdonald said.

In the final days of the conference the doubters were silenced and the Quebec Resolutions adopted.

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