James Mason and the Trent Affair

Someone should write a drama called, “The Trent Affair” starring James (Neville) Mason perhaps (yeah, I know he is no longer with us), because there was a “Trent Affair” and James Mason was a real character in it. Canada became involved to such an extent that the Macdonald-Cartier government was defeated on May 20, 1862.

During the American Civil War a British ship, the Trent, sailed from the United States.  James Mason and John Slidell, southerners on their way to take up ambassadorial posts for the Confederates in Europe, were on board.  A Northern warship stopped the Trent on the high seas and took them off.  Britain was so angry there might have been war if the Prince Consort had not toned down a note sent to Washington by Prime Minister Palmerston.

In the event of war, Canada would have been attacked by the Northern armies.  Fortunately, President Lincoln felt that they had all they could do to defeat the South, and Mason and Slidell were freed.

Meanwhile, Britain had rushed 14,000 troops to British North America.  They landed in winter, and marched to Quebec on snowshoes.  It must have been a comical sight — British soldiers trying to wade through Canadian drifts on snowshoes!

In the midst of the excitement, a bugaboo of many years raised its ugly head: conscription!  The Macdonald-Cartier government called out the militia of 40,000 men.  Many of them were farmers from Canada west (Ontario) and turned out with shotguns and pitchforks, confident that any Canadian could lick seven Americans!

The government proposed a militia bill providing for compulsory military service to raise an extra 30,000 men.  Feelings ran high in French Canada.  Why should they fight Britain’s wars?  In any case the danger was over.

When the militia bill came up for the vote on May 20, 1862, a bloc of French-Canadian members of the Macdonald-Cartier party voted against it.  A new government was formed under John Sandfield Macdonald and Louis Victor Sicotte.  It lasted for only one year, then Macdonald-Cartier were returned.  Strangely enough, Cartier died in London, England, on May 20, exactly ten years after the defeat of the militia bill.

To learn more about the militia bill and Macdonald-Cartier, I’ve found a few places for you to read. There’s the Canadian Encyclopedia, and for a treat, go to the New York Times for an article

English: James Mason Français : James Mason
James Mason (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

reprint from May 29, 1862. You may also like to learn about Sir Geoge-Étienne Cartier at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.


  1. Lincoln is also to thank for toning down the response his Secretary of State, William Seward, want to send to the British in response.

    Thank goodness you’re here! I am, like most Americans sadly, rather ignorant about Canadian history. I look forward to reading more.


  2. I though Mason was fictitious character. Tk, if you think you are having a hard time clicking on the links, so do I. Anyway, Happy Victoria Day. 😛


    • Now it’s my turn to say that the links work for me … let’s just agree that the computers “out there” are thinking that they all want to celebrate this long week-end with us, and that’s their way of doing it 🙂

      And a very happy Victoria day to you, Perpetua! 🙂


      • I was about to post about my niece Victoria. Mom and daughter are oppose to it. Can’t comprehend their mentality when daughter has FB friends over 1K and YouTube. Go figure. Are you off?


        • Am I off?
          I suppose the “kids” today posts stuff, it’s one thing; but to post something, anything, about them is something else. Yeah, I don’t understand it either sometimes.


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