Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lincoln Statue in Canada

This decade marks the 150th anniversaries of the Civil War and of Confederation.   Indeed, the creation of the Dominion of Canada was one of the consequences of the war.  Yet there are few Civil War memorials in Canada, the most famous being one in Kincardine, Ontario to Dr. Solomon Secord.  The great-nephew of War of 1812 heroine Laura Secord served in the Confederate States Army.  But this is to one man.  Otherwise, therefore, almost no reminders exist north of the border of the great conflict in which thousands of British North Americans fought and which spawned their own country.  The time has come for more action.

I propose that a statue of Abraham Lincoln be constructed in Canada, preferably at a prominent site such as Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  As far as I know, only two US presidents have memorials in Canada.  In the wake of his tragic death, ones to John F. Kennedy appeared in several places.  More recently, and much belatedly, Quebec City has one to Franklin D. Roosevelt in honor of the great Allied conference there in 1943.  It appears that there's a certain indifference in Canada to implanting American figures on their landscape, despite nearly two centuries of peace.  In fact, in the 1850s, the town of Almonte, Ontario was named for a Mexican general who fought against the United States.  Surely one of the great Lincoln would remedy this deficit.

I'd select the style like that of the Lincoln monument at Parliament Square in London.  A standing figure, left hand on his lapel, as if he was just about to give one of his famous speeches.  On the front "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: President of the United States of America 1861-1865." On the rear: "Friend to Canada."  On each side, citations from the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural.  An alternative style would be his sitting pose in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

I'd like for such a monument should spark debate on the importance of the Civil War in Canada as well remind people of the need to maintain the binational relationship carefully maintained since.  For the first half of the 19th Century, cooperation mixed with tension, leading to considerable anti-Union and pro-Confederate sentiment in Canada.  From 1867 onwards, peace has prevailed in North America, to the point where the 49th Parallel has been called 'the longest undefended border in the world.'  Lincoln had a large part in the creation of this situation, one that should not be forgotten or taken for granted.


  1. On October 27, 2013, an anonymous commenter tried to post a one word reply to this story. The word they used was inappropriate but it was in the vein of bovine scatology. I take it someone disagreed with my idea for a statue to President Lincoln in Canada. I invite them to respond again with more detail and decorum.

    1. I celebrated graduation from college in 1964 with a bike ride from Northern New Hampshire through Montreal to Quebec City and return. In Montreal, my friend and I encountered an historian from McGill who said he was campaigning to create a monument to Abraham Lincoln. He argued that Canada could well have become part ot the US if it weren't for the Civil War, creating a political environment that did not support the union. Your campaign has a long, and I suppose frustrating, history. I enjoyed reading about your quest.

    2. Thank you for commenting. I am glad to hear that I am not alone in having this idea. Your professor's idea is interesting. He presumes that the Civil War would not have happened. Most, myself included, say how Canadian confederation occurred because of the Civil War. They cling to an old belief concocted by proponents of confederation that the colonies had to come together for the common defense after many U.S. officials (they claimed) looked to capture Canada after the war. The Fenian Raids appeared to sustain their arguments, even though U.S. officials cracked down on them as strongly as the Canadian militias did. The dispositions of the U.S. Army after the war, however, prove that the menace never existed. The few who remained in service after general demobilization in the summer of 1865 served far from the northern border. They were more interested in the French in Mexico than the British in Canada. But the notion of the U.S. being some sort of natural enemy or competitor to Canada remains popular in a country with no culture of its own.

      The American influence on Canada has, I argue, been more positive and helpful. The first constitution embraced a federal structure, the second country in the world to adopt such a system - the first guessed it, the United States. Even before that, the 1837 rebellions drew inspiration from Jacksonian democracy then growing in the U.S. While British and colonial authorities crushed the uprisings, they later and more quietly adopted their ideas. Since the Civil War, Canada has gradually moved closer to the U.S. There has always been movement between the two. New England has had large French Canadian communities for two centuries - note Calixa Lavellee, the man who composed "O Canada" who served in the Civil War. If any one event marked a turning point, it was the First World War, when funding the war required the Canadian government had to go to Wall Street. Since then Canada has become the closest planet in the U.S. orbit - to its extraordinary benefit. I reject these ideas of "selling out" to the U.S. - it was more like Canadians bought into it.

      My plan for a Lincoln statue is to symbolize a more balanced approach to Canada-U.S. relations. Generations of "nationalist" writers have tainted the popular imagination for too long. It has been the greatest blessing history and geography gave to North Americans. The monument would, I hope, start a new debate along those lines.


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