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A FOREIGN AGENT IN WASHINGTON: GEORGE W. BREGA, CANADA'S LOBBYIST, 1867-1870 James G. Snell Following the Civil War, relations between Canada and the United States were both complex and changing. The geopolitical character of the entire continent was changing and uncertain.1 The Mexican constitution was being altered dramatically, relations between the various sections of the American Republic were still being worked out, and die various British colonies across the north were gradually uniting. American relations with the Canadian Provinces were quite extensive and equally tense. Canadian-American animosity was one legacy of the Civil War, and was maintained in the Dominion by real or threatened border raids (by the Fenian Brotherhood) and by American talk of annexing the colonies. While political relations between the United States and Canada were uncertain and apparently changing, so too were economic ties. Congress had decreed that an extensive system of free trade would terminate on March 17, 1866 when the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 would end; in its place international tariff barriers threatened to dislocate die partial integration of the Canadian and American economies which had been allowed to occur. For the new Dominion of Canada (which officially came into being on July 1, 1867), this economic problem was particularly important. Without a new reciprocity agreement giving close access to the lucrative American market, fears of economic distress were considerable in Canada. It was therefore important to the political leaders of die Dominion that some new trade arrangement be worked out with die United States, and for this reason the first action of the Canadian government in the field of foreign relations was to hire an agent, one George W. Brega, to assist in gaining a new trade treaty or legislation. An examination of Brega's activities and role on behalf of Canada reveals much about the American political process in the mid-nineteenth century. In particular, this individual can be used as a means of 1 W. L. Morton, "British North America and a Continent in Dissolution, 1861-71," History, XLVII, 2 (June, 1962), 139-156. Civil War History, Vol. XXVI, No. 1 Copyright © 1980 by The Kent State University Press 0009-8078/80/2601-0004 $00.90/0 54CIVIL WAR HISTORY examining three themes: die techniques and efforts of lobbyists at that time; the problems of foreign agents operating in the United States; and die lobbyist-agent as a feature of Canadian-American relations.2 Brega is similar to several other agents who played a role in American politics and foreign relations in the 1850's and 1860's—certainly in Canadian-American relations. In the early 1850's, Israel D. Andrews had been a very active lobbyist in both countries in favor of the Reciprocity Treaty, and he was still busy offering his services in the 1860's. Much more active for a longer period of time and in quite varied ways was James Wickes Taylor, who was employed as an agent for both the Treasury and State Departments, as a representative of Northern Pacific interests, and as a reputed expert in Canadian-American affairs; in 1870, Taylor was appointed American Consul at Winnipeg, but he did not cease his efforts on behalf of St. Paul and Northern Pacific concerns.3 In short, given the expansionist economy and continental ambitions enjoyed by many Americans in the mid-nineteenth century, the rising complexity of the political process in Washington and other American centers, and the broadening international horizons of the United States, die situation was ripe for the employment of important, if less noticeable, figures on the American political scene—namely, lobbyists and unofficial political agents who would attempt to influence the direction and nature of American policy. This was particularly true in the case of Canadian-American relations. But the problem was complicated by the colonial status of the Provinces. Great Britain was still the diplomatic voice of the Empire and the British minister in Washington addressed himself to all British problems, including those of the North American colonies. They themselves could have no official diplomatic representatives of their own. Yet Canadian discussions with Washington via London and through a diplomat who 2 Lobbyists, by the nature of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 53-70
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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