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The U.S.-Canadian Border Previous Next
Digital History ID 3262


Today, the 4,000 mile United States-Canadian border is one of the most peaceful international boundaries in the world. During the decades before the Civil War, however, the border between the United States and British America was the scene of constant tensions. One source of contention was the eastern boundary. In 1837, many Americans viewed an insurrection in eastern Canada as an opportunity to annex the country. Americans who lived near the Canadian border aided the rebels, and in one incident several hundred western New Yorkers crossed into Canada and attacked a band of British soldiers. Subsequently, Canadian officials crossed the U.S. border, killed a Canadian rebel, and burned an American ship, the Caroline, which had supplied the rebels. When Americans demanded an apology and reparations, Canadian officials refused. Almost immediately, another dispute erupted over the Maine boundary, as American and Canadian lumberjacks and farmers battled for possession of northern Maine and western New Brunswick.

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 settled these controversies. The treaty awarded the United States seven-twelfths of the disputed territory in Maine and New Brunswick, and adjusted the Canadian-United States boundary between Lake Superior and Lake of the Woods. In addition, Britain expressed regret "that some explanation and apology...was not immediately made" for the burning of the Caroline (without explicitly apologizing for the incident). The treaty also settled other disputes between the United States and Britain. Most notably, the United States agreed to station ships off the coast of West Africa to apprehend illegal slave trading vessels carrying the American flag. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty left one major border controversy unresolved: the Canadian-American boundary in the Pacific Northwest.

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