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Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada? Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?

07-02-2014 , 01:54 PM
There is no doubt that America in the 1800s was set on expanding its borders as much as possible and thus massacred and stole the land from natives and went to war with Mexico to gain territory. Why did the US never set its sights on Canada aside from the war in 1812? It seems like it would have been in its character to do so.
07-02-2014 , 02:40 PM
Aside from the fact that the Brits were a lot tougher than the First Peoples or the Mexicans?

Americans, and people in general, rarely conquer land for the sake of merely conquering it. What particular strategic objectives could they achieve by conquering Canada?
07-03-2014 , 12:43 AM
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Originally Posted by jokerthief Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
There is no doubt that America in the 1800s was set on expanding its borders as much as possible and thus massacred and stole the land from natives and went to war with Mexico to gain territory. Why did the US never set its sights on Canada aside from the war in 1812? It seems like it would have been in its character to do so.
Aside from several attempts during the War of 1812, none of which was ultimately successful, most were military disasters and and only one of which was tactically successful, the US had also tried and failed during the Revolutionary War. So one reason might be that the US were tired of getting their butts handed to them.

However there are a bunch of other reasons.

After the War of 1812, the Brits invested heavily in military protection of Canada. Halifax became one of the most fortified ports in the world. The Brits undertook what was then the world's largest civil engineering project since the pyramids to construct the Rideau Canal, in order to provide secure interior communications. The US realized it would be even more difficult to capture Canada than during the War of 1812. Also they realized that during the War of 1812 Britain was concentrating on the problem of Napoleon. Once he was defeated, British forces were freed up to campaign along the US east coast without effective American resistance. Once Napoleon was finished off in 1815, Britain faced no major threats for decades, yet had what was reputed to be the best army in the world, while US forces were generally garbage until they learned their trade in Mexico. It wasn't until after WW I that the US surpassed the British Empire in military power.

While there was undoubtedly ongoing support for a conquest of Canada amongst frontiersmen and Irish immigrants, there was a decided hostility to the idea in the US states bordering Canada. Canada was their biggest trading partner. They shared cultural and family ties with Canada. In fact, during the War of 1812, antipathy in upstate New York to the US war effort was a major problem for the US forces. On a larger scale, the US was tied quite closely to the UK. Besides a shared language, culture and history, they had strong trade and diplomatic links. While alliance with France had been expedient for both parties during the Revolutionary War, with the destruction of Napoleon's empire, Britain was a much more useful ally than France. Spain and its former colonies seemed much more ripe for the plucking.

And finally, of course, there's the weather. Where would you prefer to spend your winter campaigning: San Antonio and Havana, or North Bay and Chicoutimi?
07-03-2014 , 12:55 AM
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Originally Posted by DoTheMath Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
Aside from several attempts during the War of 1812, none of which was ultimately successful, most were military disasters and and only one of which was tactically successful, the US had also tried and failed during the Revolutionary War. So one reason might be that the US were tired of getting their butts handed to them.

However there are a bunch of other reasons.

After the War of 1812, the Brits invested heavily in military protection of Canada. Halifax became one of the most fortified ports in the world. The Brits undertook what was then the world's largest civil engineering project since the pyramids to construct the Rideau Canal, in order to provide secure interior communications. The US realized it would be even more difficult to capture Canada than during the War of 1812. Also they realized that during the War of 1812 Britain was concentrating on the problem of Napoleon. Once he was defeated, British forces were freed up to campaign along the US east coast without effective American resistance. Once Napoleon was finished off in 1815, Britain faced no major threats for decades, yet had what was reputed to be the best army in the world, while US forces were generally garbage until they learned their trade in Mexico. It wasn't until after WW I that the US surpassed the British Empire in military power.

While there was undoubtedly ongoing support for a conquest of Canada amongst frontiersmen and Irish immigrants, there was a decided hostility to the idea in the US states bordering Canada. Canada was their biggest trading partner. They shared cultural and family ties with Canada. In fact, during the War of 1812, antipathy in upstate New York to the US war effort was a major problem for the US forces. On a larger scale, the US was tied quite closely to the UK. Besides a shared language, culture and history, they had strong trade and diplomatic links. While alliance with France had been expedient for both parties during the Revolutionary War, with the destruction of Napoleon's empire, Britain was a much more useful ally than France. Spain and its former colonies seemed much more ripe for the plucking.

And finally, of course, there's the weather. Where would you prefer to spend your winter campaigning: San Antonio and Havana, or North Bay and Chicoutimi?
Just to add a little more to this, the Louisiana Purchase probably kept the United States busy with new land and consolidating control over it.

Also, to have a war of conquest in a democracy (and probably in many non-democratic countries as well) you usually need an excuse to go to war. With Mexico, the southern border between Texas and Mexico was in dispute, thus an excuse for war was there even though not everyone in our Congress accepted it. But with Canada, the disputed border in the Northwest was worked out, thus the excuse to head into Canada again was not there.

Best wishes,
Mason
07-03-2014 , 01:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Mason Malmuth Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
Also, to have a war of conquest in a democracy (and probably in many non-democratic countries as well) you usually need an excuse to go to war. With Mexico, the southern border between Texas and Mexico was in dispute, thus an excuse for war was there even though not everyone in our Congress accepted it. But with Canada, the disputed border in the Northwest was worked out, thus the excuse to head into Canada again was not there.
It could have gone that way, had Britain called Polk's "54-40 or fight!" bluff. But there was far less interest in Canada than Mexico, since slavery was undoubtedly off the table in any Canadian acquisitions, which couldn't necessarily be said of Mexico (even though the ensuing debate over its expansion led directly to civil war). We shouldn't forget the critical link between pro-slavery forces and expansionism in the first half of the 19th century.
07-03-2014 , 05:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Turn Prophet Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
It could have gone that way, had Britain called Polk's "54-40 or fight!" bluff. But there was far less interest in Canada than Mexico, since slavery was undoubtedly off the table in any Canadian acquisitions, which couldn't necessarily be said of Mexico (even though the ensuing debate over its expansion led directly to civil war). We shouldn't forget the critical link between pro-slavery forces and expansionism in the first half of the 19th century.
Hi Prophet:

This is a good point. When looking at history, things are often more complex than they seem.

Best wishes,
Mason
07-04-2014 , 12:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Turn Prophet Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
It could have gone that way, had Britain called Polk's "54-40 or fight!" bluff. But there was far less interest in Canada than Mexico, since slavery was undoubtedly off the table in any Canadian acquisitions, which couldn't necessarily be said of Mexico (even though the ensuing debate over its expansion led directly to civil war). We shouldn't forget the critical link between pro-slavery forces and expansionism in the first half of the 19th century.
It's disputed whether Polk ever used the phrase as it was coined after his election.

Early in 1845, the British Government called the '54 40 or fight' bluff by letting it be known they were preparing to commission 30 reserve warships for use on the US Eastern seaboard in case of war.
An effective counter bluff, as neither side really wanted war because the potential economic damage to both sides outweighed any possible gain.

The settlement along the 49th parallel finally agreed upon was originally proposed in 1818, and widely viewed by Western Democrats as a sell-out by Polk.
Their view was that, as a Southern slave owner, he had more interest in Texas as a potential slave state than he had in Oregon - a no-slavery state.



In the wider context of why the US didn't conquer Canada, there were several border disputes that had the potential to spark a war, but trade trumped all these border disagreements.
Post 1812, every border dispute was resolved by negotiation or 3rd party arbitration.

Interestingly, at the 1903 arbitration panel to finally resolve the border dispute between Alaska and Canada (inherited from Russia with the Alaska purchase) the British delegate voted with the US against the Canadians.
07-05-2014 , 11:12 AM
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Originally Posted by jokerthief Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
There is no doubt that America in the 1800s was set on expanding its borders as much as possible and thus massacred and stole the land from natives and went to war with Mexico to gain territory. Why did the US never set its sights on Canada aside from the war in 1812? It seems like it would have been in its character to do so.
Have you ever been to Canada? It's a nice enough place today, but it was a lot less fun before the invention of electricity and indoor heating. It's a vast land area which was (at the time) mostly uninhabitable. Compare this to the vast swaths of land that the US was digesting in the 1800's and it makes a ton of sense.

Also as many other posters in this thread have pointed out that would mean another war with England, which in the 1800's would have been a pretty terrible idea.
07-06-2014 , 01:26 AM
You tried to take Canada. We fought you off, took Washington DC and burned your White House to the ground.

The real question is, how come Canada did not take the US as a territory? We could have solved all the worlds problems. Instead, like typical Canadians, we were too nice.

Last edited by powder_8s; 07-06-2014 at 01:37 AM.
07-06-2014 , 01:28 AM
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Originally Posted by BoredSocial Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
Have you ever been to Canada? It's a nice enough place today, but it was a lot less fun before the invention of electricity and indoor heating.
Same can be said about the South and air conditioning. Would you live in FLorida with no AC?
07-06-2014 , 01:35 AM
responses up to the jealous canuck were all damn interesting and educational, thanks to all.
07-06-2014 , 01:40 AM
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Originally Posted by BoredSocial Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
Have you ever been to Canada? It's a nice enough place today, but it was a lot less fun before the invention of electricity and indoor heating. It's a vast land area which was (at the time) mostly uninhabitable. Compare this to the vast swaths of land that the US was digesting in the 1800's and it makes a ton of sense.
The Canada that would have been subject to invasion has never been much different in habitability from the adjacent parts of the US. During the first half of the 1800s, "Canada" meant the thin inhabited strip of southern Ontario and Quebec, and the lower St. Lawrence and Ottawa valleys. This area was quite similar to the adjacent parts of Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. I expect many an upstate New Yorker of the time would find Canada more hospitable than New Mexico or Idaho. As the US spread westward, so did Canada, and by the time what is now southern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta were under Canadian administration and their invasion could be considered part of a conquest of Canada, Americans realized those parts were little different from the Dakotas and Montana. So I think you are over-emphasizing the factors of climate and scale.

I'd suggest the most important factors inhibiting invasion, in declining order of importance were:
  • the military risk of engaging the world's most powerful empire
  • the advantages of friendly relations relative to the advantages of conquest
  • the degree of cultural identification of most Americans with British subjects as opposed to with First Nations and Latin Americans
  • the availability of easier pickings to the west and south
  • the appeal of conquest to frontiersmen and slavers (who were situated west and south) vs the appeal of trade to settled agrarian and urban inhabitants (who were in the north and east).
07-07-2014 , 06:36 PM
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Originally Posted by powder_8s Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
Same can be said about the South and air conditioning. Would you live in FLorida with no AC?
In a heartbeat. Massively subzero temperatures are MUCH more dangerous than any temperature ever recorded in Florida. Also Florida and the rest of the south had a much longer growing season which made them vastly more economically viable than any part of Canada during the 1800's.
07-09-2014 , 05:40 PM
Seems like this could all be summed up with the phrase too much to lose too little to gain. We already had fishing rights in the North Atlantic too, didn't we?

To me, the real question is why, with all the cultural and economic ties, not to mention geographical proximity, did we not move gradually to union, rather than outright conquest. I've never seen or heard this question addressed, so it must be a stupid one, but it seems like something the British must surely have feared and actively sought to counter.
07-16-2014 , 10:04 PM
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Originally Posted by KissMyRaggedAce Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
To me, the real question is why, with all the cultural and economic ties, not to mention geographical proximity, did we not move gradually to union, rather than outright conquest. I've never seen or heard this question addressed, so it must be a stupid one, but it seems like something the British must surely have feared and actively sought to counter.
This seems like a very good question to me.
07-17-2014 , 07:17 PM
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Originally Posted by KissMyRaggedAce Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
To me, the real question is why, with all the cultural and economic ties, not to mention geographical proximity, did we not move gradually to union, rather than outright conquest. I've never seen or heard this question addressed, so it must be a stupid one, but it seems like something the British must surely have feared and actively sought to counter.
I'll confine my answer to the period from 1783 to 1867. After Confederation, the Canadian reasons change.

In summary: not enough to gain and too much to fear.

Too many Americans (c.f. BoredSocial) would look on Canada as a frozen wasteland of little value. And unlike in the US, significant minorities were guaranteed distinctive treatment - an approach the US government was loath to adopt. French Canadians were guaranteed language and religious rights, and a distinct legal system. Canadian First Nations were generally killed off by disease and neglect alone, rather than with the additional help of bullet and sabre. American authorities understood that any union which proposed to abolish such advantages would be popularly opposed in Canada, yet special treatment for Canadians would not have played well in the original states.

On the Canadian side of the border, union had a lot less to offer and a lot more to fear. Canadian society in the early to mid 19th century was made up primarily of three cultural groups: the English (which included many Scots and some Irish), the French Canadiens, and the First Nations. Each of these groups had their own reason to fear Union.

A significant portion of English elites were either British administrators, who had no reason to wish to diminish the holdings of the British Empire but whose very livelihood and power stemmed from a continued British administration, or descendants of American colonists who were hounded out of the US for maintaining their loyalty to the King during the Revolution. Having been persecuted for their loyalty, these United Empire Loyalists were determined not to cheapen their ancestors' choices by turning coat a generation or two later.

While French Canadiens were no great fans of British administration, they generally felt that they were further ahead with the accompanying language, religious and legal rights guaranteed under British administration than they would be under the likely assimilation they faced in the event of a union with the US. It is no coincidence that French-speaking regiments played key roles in the repulsion of American invasions of Quebec / Lower Canada during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

And obviously the First Nations had only to look at the many decades of genocidal war waged on them by the Americans, in contrast to the peace they found north of the Medicine Line, to know which side their bannock was buttered on.
07-18-2014 , 06:10 PM
Great response, thanks. Seems those cultural ties weren't quite there after all, and the French Canadians were our best bet but those invasions really were disasters all around
07-19-2014 , 02:13 AM
To cold.
07-21-2014 , 07:18 PM
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Originally Posted by KissMyRaggedAce Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
Great response, thanks. Seems those cultural ties weren't quite there after all, and the French Canadians were our best bet but those invasions really were disasters all around
The cultural ties were there. There were strong enough to encourage trade, peaceful settlement of disputes after 1814 and alliances and diplomatic cooperation. They were not strong enough to overcome fear and self-interest wrt to a union.

The French were probably not the best bet for union. They feared assimilation too much. Rather, for most of the time since the Revolution, the best bet came from English speakers outside of the elites.
07-22-2014 , 09:54 PM
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Originally Posted by DoTheMath Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
The cultural ties were there. There were strong enough to encourage trade, peaceful settlement of disputes after 1814 and alliances and diplomatic cooperation. They were not strong enough to overcome fear and self-interest wrt to a union.

The French were probably not the best bet for union. They feared assimilation too much. Rather, for most of the time since the Revolution, the best bet came from English speakers outside of the elites.
This is really interesting to me. I've always had this sense of Canada and us having this sundered brotherhood, like we belong together but for some reason aren't. I wonder how our cultural closeness today compares to back then, and I also need to read more on the French-Canadian influence in Vermont and Maine. If French speaking Canadians wanted no part of us back then, yet their influence is still strong today, does that mean its a more modern development or were the ones who ended up with us just on the wrong side of the dividing line when the treaties got drawn up and the border was firmly established? Or maybe it just means that the culture across the border was so strong it seeped into adjacent territories.
07-23-2014 , 07:41 PM
I don't really have anything to add, but do have a question, and who knows maybe it will add to the discussion. What would the strategic advantages of conquering Canada have been? Are there any strategic military advantages to having Canada as a US territory today? Like if we would have conquered it back then how would that affect or military operations today besides simply having a larger standing army?
07-24-2014 , 09:02 AM
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Originally Posted by nab76 Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
I don't really have anything to add, but do have a question, and who knows maybe it will add to the discussion. What would the strategic advantages of conquering Canada have been? Are there any strategic military advantages to having Canada as a US territory today? Like if we would have conquered it back then how would that affect or military operations today besides simply having a larger standing army?
It's difficult to see what strategic advantages the conquest of Canada brings to the US given that the US/Canadian border is the longest non fortified border in the world. If it were a hostile border that needed to be wired, mined and patrolled then the list is obviously vastly different. Anyway,first thoughts and I come up with these two, although there may be many more I've overlooked.


A larger population pool from which to draw when recruiting for the armed forces. Canada would add about 10% to the manpower pool.

Missile strike forces positioned much further north during the Cold War ready to attack the Soviet Union.
Although, given that Canada was allied to the US and hosted early warning radars and other facilities, I'm not certain that this really changes that much.



There are other major and minor fallouts to consider though including:

An even larger manpower pool available to the North in the Civil War.

The absence of Canadian forces on the allied side during WW1 between 1914 and 1918. The first Canadian division joined the line in Feb 1915, rising to 4 divisions and supporting arms by October 1916.
Over 620,000 Canadians served in the forces during that war, a huge commitment from a population of around 8 million at the time.
Their absence in the first three years of the war could likely have tipped the balance and seen a victorious Germany.
Notable actions fought by the Canadian Corps include the Second battle of Ypres 1915 and the capture of Vimy Ridge 1917.

The absence of Canada as a safe haven during the Vietnam war.
Around 30,000 draft dodgers/deserters went to Canada during the war.
07-24-2014 , 06:15 PM
United States would be the biggest exporter of maple syrup.
07-26-2014 , 08:15 PM
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Originally Posted by wiper Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
responses up to the jealous canuck were all damn interesting and educational, thanks to all.
LOL at this boorish American hog. I know it hurts that you've never conquered us. That's because you were busy fighting yourself and the Natives while we were chilling and making you pay our defense budget tab.

We were busy being first in the two World Wars while you were busy being racists pussies. You can't conquer **** wiper.
07-27-2014 , 11:12 PM
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Originally Posted by KissMyRaggedAce Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
I've always had this sense of Canada and us having this sundered brotherhood, like we belong together but for some reason aren't.
Well in a sense there was a sundered brotherhood. In 1770, the small English-speaking minority population of Canada was culturally very similar to the English-speaking majority in the 13 colonies They were in fact mostly colonists of British origin, indeed many had been born in Britain or English colonies. Most would identify themselves as British, rather than American or Canadian. They spoke the same language, shared similar lifestyles, and held similar worldviews.

The sundering was the American renunciation of Englishness and of the English Crown. The Revolutionary War was essentially a civil war between English who wanted to become independent of the Crown and English who remained loyal to the Crown. A considerable number of those who fought for the King were American colonists who would not accept the treason of the revolutionaries. When they lost, many fled to Canada to avoid being massacred, tarred and feathered and/or expropriated. (The term "to lynch" stems from the extrajudicial punishment of Loyalists by "Patriots" during the Revolutionary War, subsequently legalized by Congress after the war.)

Many Americans are aware of the deep divides that remained in US society, especially the resentment of the losing southerners, for about a century following the Civil War of the 1860s. It should not be so hard to imagine a similar resentment felt by the refugees of the losing side in the civil war of ninety years earlier. However, in that earlier case, an international border and an independent sovereignty remained to perpetuate the alienation. In many parts of Canada, newly arrived Loyalist refugees suddenly became the majority population, and the foremost amongst them became the opinion leaders and political leaders in much of Canada. For instance, the commander of the Loyalist army unit The Queen's Rangers became the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KissMyRaggedAce Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
I wonder how our cultural closeness today compares to back then, ...
Cultural closeness, and/or awareness of cultural difference has ebbed and flowed over time. Before the American Revolution, there was essentially a cultural identity between English Canadians and English residents of the 13 colonies. The Revolutionary War suddenly cast each group as "the other" in the other group's eyes. After the war, a generation of trade and cross-border immigration weakened the alienation and reinforced the familiarity between the two societies, but the American attempts at conquest during the War of 1812 resurrected Canadian fear and hatred of their traitorous and treacherous neighbours to the south.

Two generations later, Canada peacefully graduated from colonial status, becoming the first independent Dominion under the British Crown. This gave Canadians an identity of their own to look to, rather than a choice between distant Britain and the familiar southern neighbour. However, leading up to Confederation and for another generation thereafter, a significant portion of immigration to Canada came from or through the US.

Waves of immigration to Canada from continental Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century diluted the cultural ties to Britain, but institutionally Canada certainly identified much more strongly with Britain than the US through at least the first third of the twentieth century.

Immigration to Canada since WWII has overwhelmingly come from countries with few cultural ties to England or America, so to many newer Canadians, the differences between Canada and the US are a lot less apparent than the differences between Canada and their ancestral home. At the same time, US domination of cultural propagation industries such as movies and music has increased the imprint of American culture around the world but perhaps more so in Canada than anywhere else.

I'd suggest the view that Americans and Canadians share an identity or brotherhood is more commonly held by Americans than Canadians. Among Canadians it is probably most common among those who are relatively unaware of Canadian history, families of more recent immigrants, and paradoxically, those who are less comfortable with having newer immigrants.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KissMyRaggedAce Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
... and I also need to read more on the French-Canadian influence in Vermont and Maine.
The French influence in the US stretches far beyond Vermont and Maine. The names Des Moines, Detroit, Illinois, Duluth, Grand Tetons, Boise, Saint Louis and Louisianne are a few of many available reminders of the extent of French settlement in what is now the US from before the English or their American descendants settled there. The French were the first to settle almost all the continental US outside the initial Spanish colonies to the south and the English/Dutch strip along the eastern seaboard.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KissMyRaggedAce Why didn't the US try to conquer Canada?
If French speaking Canadians wanted no part of us back then, yet their influence is still strong today, does that mean its a more modern development or were the ones who ended up with us just on the wrong side of the dividing line when the treaties got drawn up and the border was firmly established? Or maybe it just means that the culture across the border was so strong it seeped into adjacent territories.
It depends. Resistance to cultural assimilation is always most effective where the resistors have the critical mass necessary to preserve their own culture. American policy has always been assimilationist except when it has been genocidal. The advent of mass communications makes it harder for small isolated communities to survive with a distinct cultural identity.

So in the US it was essentially impossible for French communities to survive well into the 20th century even where the French had arrived first. In parts of Canada, the French retain a local or regional majority of sufficient numbers to be culturally self-sustaining. Add in the fact that the numbers on the ground gave the British in Canada no real choice but to allow linguistic, educational, religious and legal separateness, following the conquest of Canada in 1755-60. This separate treatment has become constituionally entrenched, so resistance to assimilation becomes a lot easier for the French in those parts of Canada where they retain a significant proportional presence.

While French immigration to North America slowed to a trickle following their loss in the Seven Years War, there were multiple periods of French migration from northern North America to the US, both before and after US Independence. Three main occurrences were the destruction of the Acadian colony, expansion of the fur trade across the continent (which was mostly accomplished by French labour under Scottish administration), and a migration of surplus population from impoverished Quebec farms to newly industrialized parts of New England during the period 1840-1930. In the latter two cases economic factors outweighed cultural security concerns, and the first was thought to give a greater opportunity to preserve culture (and life) than staying in place.

      
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