While I was buying a ticket Saturday afternoon to tour the archaeological dig of Chateau St. Louis, the remains of the original fort and governors’ houses in Québec City, I was wished a “bonne fête” (happy holiday). The Parks Canada employee had to remind me that “c’est le quatre Juillet!” (“it’s the Fourth of July!”) Duh. I had spent all morning and most the afternoon at the Cathedral on a top-secret mission, and I think my brain was working so hard trying to speak and read French again that the American holiday fell completely out of my consciousness.
Having spent Independence Day weekend with our Francophone neighbors to the North, I may be particularly susceptible to this argument by Dylan Matthews, “3 Reasons the American Revolution was a Mistake.” After all, the people of Québec famously refused Benedict Arnold’s kind offer to join with their southern neighbors to throw off the yoke of British tyranny. The legacy of more than a century of warfare with rabidly anti-Catholic New England colonists made Anglo-Americans unreliable allies in the eyes of most Canadians, to say the least.
Here’s Matthews’s argument, in brief–first and foremost, slavery ended sooner in the British empire, and he uses Canada as a compelling counter-example for U.S. Americans to consider:
Abolition in most of the British Empire occurred in 1834, following the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act. That left out India, but slavery was banned there too in 1843. In England itself, slavery was illegal at least going back to 1772. That’s decades earlier than the United States.
This alone is enough to make the case against the revolution. Decades less slavery is a massive humanitarian gain that almost certainly dominates whatever gains came to the colonists from independence.
Second, the American Revolution was really bad for First Nations peoples–not that Canada’s record is awesome, just less awful than U.S. imperial expansion:
And, unsurprisingly, Canada didn’t see Indian wars and removals as large and sweeping as occurred in the US. They still committed horrible, indefensible crimes. Canada, under British rule and after, brutally mistreated aboriginal people, not least through government-inflicted famines and the state’s horrific seizure of children from their families so they could attend residential schools. But the country didn’t experience a Westward expansion as violent and deadly as that pursued by the US government and settlers. Absent the revolution, Britain probably would’ve moved into Indian lands. But fewer people would have died.
Finally, although I agree with Matthews that “earlier abolition alone is enough to make the case against the revolution, and it combined with less-horrible treatment of American Indians is more than enough.” But as he notes, “it’s worth taking a second to praise a less important but still significant consequence of the US sticking with Britain: we would’ve, in all likelihood, become a parliamentary democracy rather than a presidential one.”
And parliamentary democracies are a lot, lot better than presidential ones. They’re significantly less likely to collapse into dictatorship because they don’t lead to irresolvable conflicts between, say, the president and the legislature. They lead to much less gridlock.
They’re also more democratic:
The Westminister system of parliamentary democracy also benefits from weaker upper houses. The US is saddled with a Senate that gives Wyoming the same power as California, which has over 66 times as many people. Worse, the Senate is equal in power to the lower, more representative house. Most countries following the British system have upper houses — only New Zealand was wise enough to abolish it — but they’re far, far weaker than their lower houses. The Canadian Senate and the House of Lords affect legislation only in rare cases. At most, they can hold things up a bit or force minor tweaks. They aren’t capable of obstruction anywhere near the level of the US Senate.
So is Canada the very picture of oppression? Far from it! In fact, Canada is a nation that offered its citizens national health insurance nearly seventy years ago; they had a woman Prime Minister more than twenty years ago; and while rates of gun ownership are high (they’re #13 vs. the U.S., which is #1 in the world), the risk of gun homicide (let alone random mass-murder) is quite low. Furthermore, equality before the law is guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including sex and disability, two categories of people–more than half the population–not included in the U.S. Constitution and its amendments.
What reasonable person wouldn’t prefer Canada to the U.S.?
That said, I’m not going to emigrate anytime soon, although according to a friendly Canadian guard I met a few years ago at the Jackman, Maine border crossing, I (along with any children I might have) am apparently entitled to claim Canadian citizenship because I’m married to a man who is the son of a Canadian-born mother. (Take that, Uncle Sam! There’s a better, friendlier country that encourages its southern neighbors to move on up.)
But Canada is not my country, and while I admire its achievements, it’s my responsibility to try to improve my community and my nation, right and wrong, to tweak an old expression.