'America for Americans'

SOMETIMES, especially of late years, a Canadian who happens to be domiciled in the United States has a momentary image of himself as a man without a country, or rather, without a continent; he experiences much the same symptoms as Mr. Leacock associates with the sartorial disease of fractura suspendorum, or broken suspenders — a sinking feeling accompanied by a sense of loss. For he listens to Senator X’s announcement that ‘America’ will or will not intervene in Europe; he learns how Representative Y thinks ‘America’ ought to improve Mexico; he sees moving-pictures of an Olympic hockey match in which Canada beat ‘ America ‘; he reads of what ‘America’ is doing for Christ in the financial report of the Southern Baptist Church; he hears, with concern for dear ones in Ontario and Saskatchewan, that Kansas reformers hope to carry a bill in Washington to banish cigarettes from ‘America.’

Everywhere, in conversation, in newspapers, in books, ‘America’ means the United States; Canada as an integral part of the continent does not seem to exist in the average ‘American’ mind — not to mention the spacious tract named South America. And this habit is not confined to the duller classes; Professor Sherman, for instance, writes a book of brilliant essays on aspects of life and letters in the United States, and entitles it The Genius of America.

This little article is not meant to stir up war; it is only a modest inquiry into the mysteries of nomenclature and mental habit and perhaps patriotism. Canada has eight million people or so, and the United States something over a hundred million, and the relative importance of the two countries is, at present, in about the same proportion. But in a few generations the disparity may be rather less, and even now Canadians may feel a certain goodhumored reluctance to resign their share of the continent to a great neighbor. After all, Canada occupies quite a respectable strip of territory, and, on the map, which, like the grave, levels all distinctions, it is certainly half of America.

There is of course a difficulty in such a name as ‘United States.’ However inspiring in itself, for rhetorical and adjectival purposes it is clumsy. When on Independence Day a Congressman or Chautauqua orator runs his hands through his hair and cries ‘What is America’s answer?’ the effect on patriotic bosoms is vastly more thrilling than ‘What is the United States’s answer?’ And you can’t thump yourself (or somebody else) on the chest and say, ‘I’m a hundred-per-cent United Stateser,’ or, ‘ I speak United Statesish’ — which last, as someone has said, sounds like the housemaid mopping the front steps. With the adjective American, as applied to men and things of the United States, one probably can’t quarrel; it seems unavoidable — since Mr. Mencken’s circumlocutions are too long for daily use. Yet it is rather odd that while an Englishman or a Frenchman or a Dutchman is a European, a Canadian or a Mexican or a Brazilian cannot call himself an American (much less a hundred-percent American) without being quite misunderstood. As for the noun America, as synonymous with the United States, that cannot be justified at all, for the book of books has laid it down that a part is not equal to a whole.

Many good people in the United States have some astonishing notions about Canada. I have talked to some — voters — who knew that Queen Victoria now reigns in Montreal, the national capital; as citizens of a free country, they felt a little sorry for me, one of many ground under the heel of despotism. One widespread delusion, nourished by the movies and the redblooded school of fiction, represents all Canada as a wilderness of ice and snow, where virile American heroes, in the Canadian business suit of furs, revolvers, and snowshoes, breathe husky and virile proposals into the fur earlappers of pure, ardent, courageous heroines, in the great silences of the North Country, under the Northern Lights and the malignant eyes of a lynx crouching in a tree. A young woman from Georgia once gurgled with delighted fear at the thought of my driving through the Canadian woods. It was vain to protest that I had never driven anything wilder than a Buick, that I had never seen gray wolfish shapes gliding among the tree trunks that was only the modesty of a strong, silent man. She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I — well, what average male of sedentary pursuits would rudely insist on destroying a gushing damsel’s picture of himself as a strong, silent man?

But when individual Canadians achieve fame in the United States, ‘America’ takes them warmly to her heart and appropriates them henceforth as Americans. Sir William Osler was, and Llewellys Barker is, ‘the great American medical authority. Bliss Carman appears in Mr. Untermyer’s anthology of American verse. How many readers of the Saturday Evening Post are aware of the Canadian origin of such typical American figures as the following, who, in various ways, adorn or have adorned the American scene: Franklin K. Lane, Jacob Gould Schurman, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Willard Mack, Arthur Stringer, Harvey O’Higgins, Frank L. Packard, Charles G. D. Roberts, Theodore Goodridge Roberts, George Pattullo, Alan Sullivan, Maud Allan, Elinor Glyn? Distinguished Canadian professors, if professors mattered, might be enumerated by the hundred; they infest practically every American college. Some celebrities who remain in Canada preserve their national roots intact, at least partly. I have seen Mr. Leacock’s contributions to the gayety of nations welcomed in American literary and college journals as emanating from ‘Magill University, Toronto’ — as who should say ‘ Harbard University, New Haven.’

However, Canada is growing more familiar to citizens of the United States. Thanks to prohibition, hospitable Quebec has become the oracle of Bacbuc for thousands of pious pilgrims, from Maine to California; and all summer long, motorists speeding along the nort hern side of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence begin to ask, soon after leaving Toronto, ‘How far is it to Montreal?'

The web of Canadian life is highly colored by American influence. There are some real, and countless surface, similarities of tone and temper, both good and bad. We suffer the familiar maladies of ‘American’ civilization, though in a less aggravated form. Our breakfast food comes form Battle Creek, a portion of our intellectual food from Hollywood, another portion from New York. Canada, as the weaker vessel, naturally receives much more than it gives, and is not wholly blessed thereby. But in spite of the apparent identity of Canada and the United States in their ways of life and thought, Canada in its civilization is not merely the most northern state in the Union. Canada has a distinct individuality, which Canadians feel, and feel deeply.

This Canadian quality has not got into literature very much, but it is beginning to; and there is a real and not insignificant school of Canadian painters.

So, with much that is ‘American,’ and much that is English, and much that is its own, that part of America which is Canada might well join an AntiLucy-Stone League of Nations and gently insist on sharing its betterhalf’s name.