Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation explores the ways that Canadians were portrayed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century American press and considers how those portrayals intersected with and reinforced the development of early American identity. Building on the concepts of “othering” as identified by Edward Said and “imagined communities” as identified by Benedict Anderson, I argue that American newspapers othered Canadians as a means of reinforcing cohesion within the early American imagined community. Many historians have explored the ways that early Americans othered their French, British, Indigenous, and Black neighbours in constructing their own unified American identity, but these studies have not explored the role that the othering of Canadians also played in this process. Canadians mattered to Americans because they served as an ideal foil, or negative example, against which to define the American identity. As North American subjects of European colonial empires, Canadians were more American than Europeans, yet more European than Americans. The Canadians’ origins were also diverse, including French, English, American, and Indigenous peoples, and so provided many different national and racial foils against which to compare White Americans. Positive comparisons emphasized the shared qualities American newspapers felt were properly American, while the much more numerous negative comparisons highlighted the aspects of American identity that made it superior to its northern neighbour. Though portrayals of Canadians oscillated between positive peaks and negative valleys throughout the period between the French and Indian War and the War of 1812, the majority of depictions were negative, and remained consistently so throughout the era. This dissertation traces the origins of these negative portrayals back to the French and Indian War, and argues that the methods that American newspapers used to paint the Canadians as an enemy other pioneered many of the approaches that were later utilized during the Revolution and the War of 1812. Canada has often been an afterthought for modern Americans, but in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Canada mattered to Americans greatly. In their depictions of Canadians, early Americans often defined their emerging identity against what it was not: not British, not Indigenous, and not Canadian.
Summary for Lay Audience
This dissertation explores the ways in which the American press portrayed Canadians between the French and Indian War and the War of 1812, arguing that American newspapers often used depictions of what they perceived as the Canadian identity to help define the American identity by contrast. The late eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century were pivotal years for the formation of American group identity, and through that era, Canadians were an important point of comparison for American newspapers that sought to explore what made an American. Canadians mattered to the American press because they represented a useful negative model against which to define the American identity. Americans also defined their identity against the British empire which they broke away from in the American Revolution and against the Indigenous nations which surrounded them, but these comparisons were not sufficiently precise. As European settlers living in America, the Canadians were far more like Americans than were the British or Indigenous peoples, and as such, Canadians served as an important foil, or negative example, against which to define what made an American. Throughout the era between the French and Indian War and the War of 1812, Canadians mattered to Americans, but this significance has not been fully recognized by scholars. The majority of the portrayals of Canadians that appeared in the American press were negative, and though there were moments when American public opinion of Canadians turned positive, images of Canadians were typically used as an anti-model against which to define the American identity. This dissertation traces the roots of this trend to the French and Indian War and argues that the ways that American newspapers sought to portray Canadians as being outside the American identity had a long shadow which stretched through the American Revolution and to the War of 1812. Today, Canadians are often viewed as defining themselves against their southern neighbours, but in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was Americans that, in part, defined their group identity against the Canadians. In this way, Canada mattered, and mattered in ways that scholars are just beginning to explore.
Bayer, Jonathan, "“The Dignity of Being Called Americans”: American Identity and Portrayals of Canadians in the American Press, 1754-1812" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9465.