Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

When Canada was invited to join the United States

March 1, 2013 by NCC Staff


One mostly forgotten part of the Articles of Confederation, America’s first Constitution, was an open invitation for Canada to join the United States, with no strings attached.

America Invades Canada 1775
America invades Canada, 1775.

The invitation was officially made on March 1, 1781, when the Articles were ratified as Maryland became the 13th and final state to approve them. But some of the Founding Fathers had their eyes on a 14th state: Canada.

The desire to add Canada to the union was so strong that American negotiators at the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, asked that Canada be ceded to the United States as part of the treaty. The demand was later dropped and the treaty was signed in 1783 as Britain formally ended hostilities with the newly formed United States.

The formal invite to Canada was unique and came in the form of Article XI of the Articles of Confederation:

“Canada acceding to this confederation, and adjoining in the measures of the United States, shall be admitted into, and entitled to all the advantages of this Union; but no other colony shall be admitted into the same, unless such admission be agreed to by nine States,” the document says.

At the time, Ontario and Quebec made up what was called Canada.

That provision allowed the residents of Canada to petition the United States for immediate inclusion in the United States, assuming the Canadians had ended their relationship with the crown. It excluded other British colonies, which would need a vote from the Confederation Congress.

According to Canadian census records, the population of Canada in 1784 was an estimated 166,000 residents. It included loyalists who had fled the United States.

Compared to population estimates for the American colonies from 1780, Canada would have ranked ninth or even possibly 10th in population if it had joined the United States.

The invitation stood open until the proposed (now current) U.S. Constitution was ratified in June 1788 and a new government took office in March 1789.

In any event, there seems to have been little interest among the British colonists in Canada to leave the crown and join their rebellious neighbors to the south. During the American Revolution, the Continental army tried to invade Canada and was repulsed.

The British crown passed its own Constitutional Act of 1791, defining the regions of Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec). The act helped to attract more American immigrants to Ontario and Quebec.

The relationship between the British, their Canadian colonists, and the United States remained strained after 1789, and it was a core political issue in America until the end of the War of 1812.

A second invasion of Canada failed in the War of 1812, as British troops and militia forces made up of loyalists who had left the United States defeated another invading American army. The British retaliated by burning the White House and the Capitol in Washington.

Since then, the idea of Canada joining the United States has become a moot point.

A 2004 poll from Leger Marketing in Canada showed that only 7 percent of Canadians had any interest in a merger with the United States. The group also polled United States residents, with 19 percent interested in a combined United StatesCanada. Only 29 percent of Canadians thought they had a lot in common with Americans.

In an interesting footnote, there is a small group of people who believe the current Constitution was never properly ratified under the terms of the Articles of Confederation. So that invitation to join the United States could be open, but it’s unlikely it would be accepted.

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