The Reciprocity Treaty of 1854
The Reciprocity Treaty of 1854
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Great Britain's abrogation of protective tariffs in 1846 led Canada to look for new export opportunities for its products. So it turned to its neighbour to the South, the United States.

Historical Context
The health of the Canadian economy has always been linked in great part to its exports. Until the middle of the 19th century, Great Britain and its empire, which was comprised of various colonies, including Canada, benefited from a protectionist economy based on a system of preferential tariff rights. This system imposed higher customs duties on products coming from territories outside of the British Empire. However, this system became increasingly disputed and in 1846, Great Britian abrogated the Corn Laws that accorded advantageous customs duties to Canadian agricultural producers. Needing a new market to sell its products to, Canada turned toward the United States, with which it tried to sign a reciprocity treaty.

Summary of the Conflict
By 1847, the economic situation was very bleak in united Canada (the colony that had united Upper and Lower Canada since 1840). Lower Canada was going through a depression and closures and bankruptcies were on the rise. Many people, including William Hamilton Merritt, believed the solution to these economic woes lied in the signing of a reciprocity treaty with the Americans, arguing that it would improve economic trade between Canada and the United States. Lord Elgin, who was governor general at the time, made several attempts to convince Washington to sign such a treaty, but the Americans were not interested because they did not see the economic advantages of such an agreement. The pro-slavery States feared that this treaty would lead to the annexation of Canada and swell the ranks of abolitionist States. But the fisheries issue gave momentum to the eventual signing of the reciprocity treaty. In exchange for granting American fishermen access to Canada's coastal waters, Washington agreed to sign the treaty in 1854. If the American Civil War provoked a certain amount of hostility among Americans toward the British, it was the pressure from America's protectionist circles that led the United State to abrogate the treaty in 1866. The necessity of having to find a new market to sell off products from British colonies was one of the factors that led to the creation of the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

Concepts
Exports
Merchandise produced in one country and sold in another.

Protectionism
Policy of imposing stiff
customs duties in order to protect the national economy from foreign competition.

imports and exports of products with its colonies to the detriment of other countries by charging its colonies lower customs duties.

Abrogation
To nullify a law, agreement,
treaty, regulation, etc. Synonyms: cancel, break, revoke, suppress.

Customs duties
Tax imposed on a country's
imported or exported goods. In the 19th century, customs duties were the main source of revenue for Canadian governments.

Reciprocity
Reciprocal reduction of
customs duties charged on goods exchanged between Canada and the US.

Treaty
Legal agreement between two governments for establishing certain rules or decisions.

Pro-slavery
Qualifier that applies to Southern American States (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, etc.) that supported slavery.

Annexation
In this context, it refers to Canada joining the United States. Extreme form of continentalism.

Abolitionist
Qualifier that applies to, among other things, Northern U.S. States (Maine, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, etc.) that were in favour of abolishing slavery.

Fisheries issue
Dispute between Great Britain and the United States regarding access to Canadian coastal waters for American fishermen. In 1852, both Great Britain and the United States sent war ships to protect their fishermen and a confrontation was barely avoided.

American Civil War
Civil war fought in the United States between 1861 and 1865 between the Northern (
abolitionist) States and the Southern (pro-slavery) States. The Southern States, supported by Great Britain, lost to the Northern States.

Protectionism
Policy of imposing stiff
customs duties in order to protect the national economy from foreign competition.

Confederation
Movement that led to the creation of modern Canada in 1867 by grouping the colonies of united Canada (Quebec and Ontario) with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The Confederation abolished the
customs duties that existed between the colonies.