That Time the U.S. Almost Went to War With CanadaRoundup
tags: Canada, Trump, Justin Trudeau
Since President Donald Trump lambasted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “weak” and “dishonest” earlier this month during a trade dispute, many have been shaking their heads in disbelief. Isn’t the U.S. supposed to be friends with Canada, its largest trading partner by far, wartime ally, primary supplier of crude oil and home to as many as 2 million Americans living abroad?
Not necessarily. Trump might not realize that his war of words with the younger and more handsome Trudeau is just one more cross-border squabble in a 200-year history of them. You think the U.S.-Canada relationship has always been as sweet as maple syrup? In fact, it’s long been beset by petty bickering and jealousies. The countries even once saw each other as serious geopolitical foes—going so far as to develop detailed war plans to invade one another. Let’s hope Trump doesn’t decide to make a trip to the Library of Congress archive anytime soon.
The animosity goes back to the War of 1812, when troops from Canada—then a British colony—marched to Washington, D.C., finished James and Dolly Madison’s unfinished dinner and burned down the White House. After that disastrous war, which both sides claim to have won, fighting between the U.S. and Canada devolved into a series of disputes over just where the border between the two lay, and, quite literally, whose trees or pigs were on which side—a question now thankfully answered by aerial imagery and GPS markers.
Most of these altercations have comical names, revealing the often flimsy reasons behind the disagreements. The Lumberjack, or Pork and Beans War—so called after the lumberjacks’ favorite meal—took place from 1838 to 1839. It started over an argument about who could chop down the dense forests on the border between Maine and New Brunswick. After Congress authorized a force of 50,000 men to march northward to defend what the U.S. believed to be its trees, Secretary of State Daniel Webster and the British Chancellor of the Exchequer Baron Ashburton came to an agreement, redrawing the borders to increase the size of Maine. “The whole territory we were wrangling about was worth nothing,” Ashburton later sniffed, justifying his sacrifice.
Twenty years later, in 1859, an argument about the value of a Canadian pig shot while rooting for potatoes in an American’s garden in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington quickly escalated into a full-on naval showdown, known as the Pig War. With 500 American troops and a single ship, the USS Massachusetts, facing off against 2,000 British troops and five warships, the governor of Vancouver ordered the British to attack the weaker Americans. Thankfully, the conflict was resolved with a bit of humor, when Royal Navy Rear Admiral Robert Baynes refused his orders, defusing the tensions by pointing out that “to engage two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig would be foolish.” Both sides agreed to retreat, keeping just 100 men each on either end of San Juan before the borders were made official in 1870. If calm-headedness and a sense of humor are needed to defuse cross-border tensions with Canada, there may well be cause for worry under the current administration. ...