The story of Confederation had reached a dead end. New Brunswick had voted against the entire scheme, and, without New Brunswick as a physical link between the Canadas and Nova Scotia, there could be no effective union of British America. The effects of this rejection by New Brunswick had implications for the Province of Canada beyond the ending of the Confederation dream. Under the terms of the Great Coalition, which had brought together the political enemies of George Brown and John A. Macdonald, if Confederation was not achieved within a certain time frame, that plan would be dropped and a federation of Upper and Lower Canada, Ontario and Quebec as they would become, would be pursued instead. Disappointed and disillusioned, Brown dropped out of the coalition government in December, 1865, and went back to his family and his other love, the Globe newspaper.
But two possible bright spots remained after the shock of the NB election had faded. The first was that the new government in that province was not as united as it seemed. Some opposed Confederation entirely, while others objected to specific terms of the scheme hammered out in Quebec. Yet others were more interested in being on a winning political side and would switch sides according to how the public wind blew.
The other source of hope was the vital fact that the British Government had adopted Confederation as a desirable goal for its own purposes, and had no intention of allowing an election in New Brunswick to stand in its way. Almost immediately, the Lieutenant-Governor, Arthur Gordon, was instructed to do what he could to reverse the electoral result, aided, as it happened, by large sums of Canadian money, or, as it was called, “the needful”. It had also become widely known that the Imperial Government wanted Confederation, and this had a big impact on a very loyal population. Using some rather high-handed manipulation and misrepresentation, Gordon managed to incite the resignation of the anti-confederate government and forced a new election which took place in May and June, 1866, and resulted in a major victory for Confederation. Supporters of the scheme took 41 seats, compared to just 8 for opponents.
But there was another aspect to the election that was highly significant. The ending of the American Civil War had, at first, seemed to remove the threat of an invasion from below the border, a threat that had been made often during the conflict. But the Americans were preoccupied with recovery and reconstruction than with British America and the danger seemed to have passed. But the ending of the war also brought about the disbanding of the armies, and thousands of these battle-hardened veterans, retaining their arms, had added to the ranks of an organisation known as the Fenians. This was an Irish-American group intent on winning Irish freedom by invading Ireland in force.
The organisation had experienced an extremely bitter split at the end of 1865, with the Senate wing, as it was called, advocating an invasion of Canada, rather than Ireland, as way to bring Britain to negotiate Irish freedom. From December, 1865, rumours began to spread that this faction were planning to invade New Brunswick. Canadian Government correspondence suggested that the Americans should be induced to move troops to border areas to prevent such a raid. Then, in April, as the New Brunswick people were preparing to vote for or against Confederation, a group of Fenians arrived on their border announcing that they had come to save new Brunswick from Confederation. For two weeks, the Fenians marched back and forth on their side of the border, giving time for the Americans to bring troops and ships to the border to prevent any intrusions into New Brunswick. It all worked out as the Canadians had hoped, and that created suspicions about the “raid”.
To begin with, it was the wrong Fenians who threatened invasions. These were not the Senate wing, eager to invade British America, but the faction they had split from over that very policy. Not only that, but the “invaders” were led by a man, Bernard Killian, who had worked for Thomas D’Arcy McGee in the US, and many claimed that he had been working for McGee and Macdonald in an effort to both force through Confederation in New Brunswick, and to discredit Fenianism in Canada. What is a fact is that Killian was later put on trial by the Fenians on charges of being in the pay of McGee, and was found guilty!
The important thing was that Confederation was back on track, however delayed it may have been. In June, 1866, it seemed the way was once again clear. Then came a real invasion, and for the last time, Canadians died defending their country from invasion – by the Irish.