ABOUT THIS BOOK
How the United States began to mature and establish itself as a nation contributing to international law
Long after Americans and Britons signed treaties ending the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, ill will between the two nations simmered under the surface of their relations and periodically boiled over. In the mid-nineteenth century, Americans were still squabbling with the British and their subjects in Canada over borders, sovereign rights and responsibilities, and the American republican experiment.
Some of the antagonism arose from a fundamental difference in attitude toward democracy. Britons believed that democratic government was inadequate to control the baser elements of a population. Further, they disliked the aggressiveness and arrogance of their former colonists. Americans sensed and resented this contempt; in turn, they regarded British aristocratic pretensions with scorn and believed that country sought world domination. In view of such attitudes, even relatively minor incidents threatened to erupt into violence between the two nations. Such was the case in 1837, when British troops set fire to the American steamer Caroline in American waters, killing a United States citizen, and in 1840, when the state of New York arrested a Canadian, Alexander McLeod, for the murder.
These events, taken together, are not simply examples of diplomatic relations or political problems for particular administrations. The dash of attitudes and loyalties along the American-Canadian frontier also demonstrates the instability of the border region, socially as well as politically, and conflicting motives of patriotism and political opportunism in both the American and British governments. Thus, the Caroline and McLeod affairs, occurring as they did at a pivotal moment in American history, reveal how the republic began to mature in its relations with its long-established forebear, refined its own definitions of state and federal powers, and established itself as a nation contributing to, as well as influenced by, international law.