The following is a talk I gave to the Cuernavaca expat community for a joint celebration of Canada Day and Independence Day, July 4, 2019.
My friends, it is altogether fitting that we should celebrate American independence jointly with Canada Day. The two countries share the longest unmilitarized border in the world. The volume of trade between the two nations is over 600 billion dollars a year. More trade passes just between Windsor Ontario and Detroit Michigan than all of U.S. trade with Japan. Few neighboring countries in the world can boast of such a long and amicable partnership.
Canada Day is not a celebration of Canadian independence, but rather the passage on July 1, 1867, of the British North American Act, joining three separate Canadian provinces into a unified Dominion called Canada, within the British Empire. In 1882, the July 1 Dominion Day was renamed Canada Day, or Fete du Canada in Quebec. Thus, the anniversaries of Canadian unification and American independence fall within a few days of each other.
Most Canadians and Americans don’t know a great deal about each other’s history. Canadians learn more about the U.S. because of overwhelming domination by the American media, especially movies and television. The few Americans who pay much attention to Canada are probably hockey fans. Many Americans are not aware of significant social and cultural differences. During the election campaign of 2008, some conservative Americans announced they would move to Canada if Obama were elected, seemingly unaware that millions of Canadians were more liberal than Obama. Canada approved same-sex marriage nationally 14 years ago, earlier in some provinces. Dare I mention health care?
It should surprise no one that the many decades of friendship have been marred at times by border disputes and conflicts over issues like tariffs, fishing rights, and oil pipelines. Indeed, cross-border friendship had a very slow start. During the American war for independence, thousands of Tories, British Loyalists, deserted the colonies and moved to Canada, bolstering Canadian royalists.
During the War of 1812, there were frequent cross-border military skirmishes including British support for First Nation (Indian) attacks on western settlers. Epic naval battles were fought on the Great Lakes. When Great Britain and its allies defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, over-taxed Brits longed for peace and British merchants exerted pressure to restore trade with the former colonies. The Treaty of Ghent restored peaceful relations without any changes in territory and demilitarized the Great Lakes.
Between 1866 and 1871, there were a number of armed attacks on Canada from American soil by radical Irish-American Fenians. They hoped to hold Canada hostage to force Great Britain to grant Irish independence. In June 1866, for example, over 1000 Fenians crossed the Niagara River near Buffalo and marched toward Canada’s Welland Canal. The initial rout was embarrassing for the Canadian militia until reinforcements drove the Fenians back across the river where they were intercepted by an American gunboat and taken into custody by the U.S. Navy. The Andrew Johnson administration did not respond quickly to such violations of neutrality, probably because of resentment over British support for the Confederacy. Ironically, the Irish Republican military incursions helped develop a sense of Canadian nationalism and galvanize support for the unification of Canada.
During the U.S. Civil War, despite divided British public opinion, some cabinet officials and members of parliament sympathized with the Confederacy. British textile plants and a prosperous export industry depended on Southern cotton. British ships ran Union blockades, and British-built ships sold to the Confederate navy wrought considerable damage to Union vessels.
After the Union victory, the U.S. demanded compensation for damages. Some expansionist politicians in Congress insisted that Britain pay up by ceding Canada to the United States. Johnson’s Secretary of State William Seward said he would be satisfied with the cession of just British Columbia and parts of present-day Manitoba and Nova Scotia. (The threat strengthened Canadian nationalism and sparked a move to welcome British Columbia into the Dominion).
With the transition to the Ulysses Grant administration, cooler heads prevailed and the 1871 Treaty of Washington, turned the dispute over to international arbitration. In 1872 Britain agreed to pay 15.5 million dollars in damages to the U.S. The accord set a remarkable precedent for arbitration of international disputes and initiated a movement toward codification of international law, culminating in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and subsequent protocols. The accord marked the beginning of an enduring alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
Complete Canadian independence from Great Britain lagged until December 1931 when the Statute of Westminster removed the power of the British Parliament to legislate for Canada. Finally, the Canada Act of April 1982, relinquished the right of the Parliament to amend the Canadian constitution, consummating Canada’s complete sovereignty and independence.
American independence came much earlier, but it was only proclaimed, not completed by the Declaration signed on July 4, 1776. A unified, independent Republic had to await British military surrender in 1781 and the Treaty of Paris of 1783.
Much has been written about the spirit of 1776, the notion that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights. The creation of a republican form of government astonished the old world where monarchies and absolutist regimes prevailed. Repercussions followed swiftly, most notably the French Revolution of 1789.
The ideals proclaimed in 1776 initiated a rallying cry around the world in the enduring crusade against tyranny and absolutism. We know that many of those ideals were not realized without agonizing national struggles and even a civil war, and much remains before equal justice for all is fully guaranteed. Some of the values of 1776 and the Constitution of 1787 were merely lofty goals. But if you don’t set lofty goals, how would you know when they have yet to be fulfilled?
In subsequent years, both Canada and the United States attained international admiration and respect. They offered refuge for millions of immigrants escaping poverty and oppression, seeking opportunity in the new world. That phenomenon is still ongoing.
With their common heritage in pursuit of democratic values, Canada and the United States in due course forged a sturdy alliance. Canadian forces shed blood alongside Americans in two world wars and the Korean war, but Canada disagreed with the U.S. on Vietnam. Canadians sent limited support to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not without strong opposition at home.
Alliances, like marriages, can have their ups and downs. A Gallup poll in January 2018 reported that the number of Canadians with favorable views of the U.S. presidencies dropped by over 40 percent between the Obama and the Trump administrations, from 64 percent favorable to just 23 percent. Some believe gloomily that bilateral relations have suffered a permanent setback. I prefer to be optimistic, encouraged by the knowledge that previous discord has always been transitory.
In Mexico, we have been fortunate to enjoy remarkable harmony between expat groups. There are an estimated one million Americans living and working in Mexico, perhaps 300 thousand to a half million Canadians. (Canadians tend to be more part time due their government’s rule that they must spend 180 days in Canada to retain residency and health care coverage).
Here in Cuernavaca, Canadians and Americans comprise the largest segment of the expat community which also includes Germans, Brits, Dutch, Danes, Italians, and others. What all these foreign residents have in common is their love of Mexico. Perhaps the best example of American affection for Mexico is that of onetime Cuernavaca resident U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow. His story is an inspiration for our expat community.
Dwight Morrow arrived in Mexico in October 1927 at a time of crisis and tension between the U.S. and Mexico. The conflict arose from Mexico’s revolutionary nationalism including the confiscation of foreign property, threatening the claims of U.S. investors, property owners, and oil producers. The previous ambassador, James R. Sheffield (the subject of my doctoral dissertation) denounced Mexican violations of international law and even urged military intervention.
Many in the U.S. viewed Mexico as lawless, violent, unstable, backward, and Bolshevist. Sheffield’s resignation due to frustration over State Department inaction gave both Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Plutarco Elías Calles an opportunity to change course without losing face. Morrow was a personal friend of Coolidge; the two had been classmates at Amherst College, so he had a freer hand than career diplomats bound by more formal rules of diplomatic practice.
Morrow had proven his friendship with Mexican negotiators during his work for J.P. Morgan in bilateral debt deliberations. Before he left the States he remarked: “I know what I can do for the Mexicans. I can like them.” His engaging personality and authentic sincerity helped him negotiate a relaxation in the tensions, although some disputes were merely postponed. Mexico nationalized U.S. and other foreign oil holdings in 1938.
Early in his tenure at the embassy in Mexico City, Morrow visited Cuernavaca for a lunch at the home of the British Ambassador Esmond Ovey and he fell in love with the city. He and his wife Elizabeth bought property and built a weekend home here, Casa Mañana, so-called because whenever Mrs. Morrow asked the masons when something would be finished they told her “mañana.” The house was later abandoned for over 40 years, but restored in 1992 and opened as the restaurant India Bonita. In the entryway you will find Morrow family photos from their time here.
The Morrows spent weekends visiting city markets and neighboring villages, collecting pottery, textiles, and other handicrafts, a timeworn pursuit for visitors to Cuernavaca. As Morrow’s relations with President Calles grew more cordial, he hit upon an idea to bolster the momentum. He invited the most famous American at that time, the celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh, to make a goodwill visit to Mexico. Morrow had become Lindbergh’s informal financial adviser.
In December 1927, Lindbergh added drama to the invitation by making a non-stop solo flight over uncharted territory. He got lost and 200 thousand people awaiting his late arrival at Balbuena airport in Mexico City were terrified by a long delay, thinking he might have crashed. But Lindy found his way by swooping down to read the signs on railroad terminals. It’s claimed that he saw a sign “caballeros,” (men’s room) but there was no city by that name on his map. But eventually he found a sign that said Hotel Toluca and he winged his way to Mexico City where he received a tumultuous welcome and the keys to the city.
Morrow invited Lindbergh to Casa Mañana where the boyishly handsome flyer made quite an impression on the Morrow daughters. He returned to Cuernavaca a year later and took off with daughter Anne, literally. She became Anne Morrow Lindbergh in May of 1929 and her memoirs relate fond memories of their time together in Cuernavaca. Sadly, it was their baby son who was kidnapped and murdered in March 1932.
This was a time of intense conflict between Church and State in Mexico, climaxing in the Cristero Rebellion in which devout Catholics engaged in bloody skirmishes against the forces of the anti-clerical Calles regime. Morrow was lauded for his mediation that led to a peaceful agreement between the two sides in June 1929.
One day in 1929, a parish priest in Cuernavaca asked Morrow for a donation to help paint the church and the ambassador gladly contributed. Then he realized he might be accused of siding with the church and decided he had better give a gift to the state as well. Morrow decided to donate murals to the Morelos state government offices then in the Cortés Palace. Although Diego Rivera was a militant communist, Morrow paid him with money from his own pocket to paint the magnificent frescos that decorate the Cortés Palace, now Museo Cuauhnáhuac. (Rivera’s contract with a capitalist financier caused a rift with the communist party that expelled him. Rivera claimed he resigned over disagreements).
In 1930, Morrow resigned his ambassadorship when he was named Senator from New Jersey on the death of the incumbent. He was later elected in his own right, but his political career ended abruptly with his untimely death in October 1931. In 1935, the Cuernavaca municipio honored him by renaming the street outside Casa Mañana Calle Dwight Morrow, perhaps the only street in the world named for an American ambassador.
Morrow’s decency, courtesy, civility, and social graces earned deep-seated admiration from his Mexican hosts. He exemplified the friendship and respect indispensable for good neighbors. That is why it is so pleasing to see Morrow’s legacy carried on by so many of you in our expat community. Americans, Canadians, Brits, and others welcome Mexicans to your homes and to your social events. You donate to Mexican charities, orphanages, and animal asylums, and some of you have even established foundations to support beneficent causes. Of course, at times we become exasperated over different Mexican conceptions of time and efficiency, and we often deprecate their driving, but, like Ambassador Morrow, we like Mexicans.
There’s a wonderful proverb (allegedly written originally about Spain), that when God created Mexico, he gave it magnificent mountains, lush rain forests, spectacular beaches, and beautiful people; but he didn’t give it a good government because then it would be heaven on earth.
To my mind, it is altogether fitting that we celebrate Canada Day and Independence Day basking in the warmth of Mexican hospitality. After all, Mexicans have told us over and over, “Esta es su casa,” and we have taken them at their word. As we celebrate our national days enjoying the bonds of friendship between Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans, my heartfelt wish is that we can all share part of the “spirit of ’76;” that we can truly live the words of America’s most beautiful patriotic song:
America, America, God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with….
From sea to shining sea.
Most material on Canadian history comes from online searches; just google topics like Canada Day, British North America Act, Statute of Westminster, and so on. I relied on many excellent essays on Wikipedia.
Sections on U.S.-Canadian relations and U.S.-Mexican relations come from class notes from my thirty years teaching U.S. History, History of Mexico, and U.S. Latin American Relations.Teachers don’t footnote their lecture notes so most sources are long lost. But I did use material from the following sources:
James J. Horn, “Diplomacy by Ultimatum: Ambassador Sheffield and Mexican-American Relations, 1924-1927,” Doctoral Dissertation, SUNY Buffalo, 1969.
Harold Nicolson, Dwight Morrow (1935), recent editions on Amazon.com.
A Scott Berg, Lindbergh, (1998), winner of the Pulitzer prize and highly recommended.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Bring Me A Unicorn: Diaries and Letters…1922-1928 (1971).