Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bill Deacon and the Annexation Debate in Canada

Deacon's Take on the Annexation Debate in Early Canadian History

The debate over annexation had deep roots, but during Bill Deacon's time, it would take on a more pronounced tone. It would also make the cause of Canadian nationalism, of which Deacon was its most ardent supporter, doubly more difficult given that the Imperial as well as the American connections had to be broached. For Deacon, as he stated his goal so eloquently:

“By pure instinct at first, and later consciously and deliberately, I have tried to be an intellectual and moral brick in an invisible wall protecting this germ civilization from too great dominance by the two sizable and proximate English-speaking nations...We must not be a cheap copy of Britain or the U.S.A.32”

In his Poteen, Deacon attempted to include a concise collection of essays that sought to capture the totality of the debate, as he saw it, as well as his to make nationalist plea to discard such debates in favor of turning inwardly to discover and develop a true national character.

Deacon firmly believed that imperial relationships, whether of a formal or informal nature, had to be reduced given the nefarious effect they tended to have on the Canadian national character. In the “First Histories of Canadian Literature,” Deacon laid out what he considered to have been the historical restraints on the development of a Canadian cultural character: “the more or less natural indifference of English and American critics and readers to the state of culture in British North America has had the result of impressing upon Canadian writers a sense of their inferiority.” But it is the topic of a potential political union with the United States that impresses on Deacon's imagination the most in his book Poteen.

In “The Bogey of Annexation,” Deacon argues in effect that annexation is not a viable option for Canadians, that it is but a chimera of an overenthusiastic and mistaken American imagination. He goes on to give a brief history of Canada looking at its relationship with the empire and the roots of Canadian nationalist sentiment. In Deacon's version of events, Canada's history has been one of the continuous and inevitable progress towards complete autonomy - “a logical conclusion” - and where both Americans and the British have consistently undermined Canada's ability at forging ahead on its own; where the American businessman reads “a few snatches” from papers, “squint[s] at the map of North America,” and counts the days until total annexation is achieved.

Deacon's hyper-nationalism did not allow him to evaluate the true national character that many Canadians continued to have during his time; it was not a true romantic love for the British empire but rather a necessity that arose due to American encroachments. In fact, Deacon appears to revel in the anti-American sentiment that has existed in history; one “need only review the history of the reciprocity negotiations of 1911 to find proof.” The end result for Deacon is that Canadians do not see any value in annexation and that complete autonomy or independence should be the only chartered territory. The rest of the articles in Poteen, like “What a Canadian has Done for Canada” serve to bolster his previous arguments by showing the maturation and ability of Canadian literary talent to stand up on its own; a heritage to be celebrated and improved upon, not denied.

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