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The St. Lawrence Seaway : Canadian ultimatum and American participation Xavier, Michael Robert


Since the dawn of the twentieth century, the governments of the United States and Canada had been negotiating for the joint development of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system to allow ocean vessels to sail up the St. Lawrence River from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. At first the Canadians were reluctant to participate with the United States in such a project. It was, however, the United States Congress which proved to be the major stumbling block for the seaway project. Long after the Canadians had been won over to the plan, the American Congress continued to delay its approval. For over twenty years, Washington's powerful anti-seaway lobby, composed chiefly of railroad and coal interests, the East and Gulf Coast ports, and American maritime interests, were successful in stalling the project. However, the situation began to change after the Second World War. The experiences of this war and the Cold War which followed, had drawn the two countries closer together both militarily and economically. Moreover, the unparalleled expansion of the Canadian economy made it imperative for that country to develop the navigational and power potential of the St. Lawrence. Because of the increasing depletion of vital resources, especially iron ore, the United States had grown more and more dependent on Canada for such essential materials required by American consumer and defense industries. The St. Lawrence Seaway would assure the Midwestern industries of a constant cheap supply of these resources. This paper investigates the way in which the changing circumstances of the post-war years affected the decisions of the United States Congress on the St. Lawrence Seaway project. Drawing heavily from the Congressional investigations and debates, it tries to determine the situation in Congress, and especially in the Senate, the main battleground in the debate over the St. Lawrence Seaway. It tries to establish the significance of the Canadian ultimatum, and of the arguments of national defense and security, in changing the Congress' attitude on the project. Moreover, it looks at the various factors affecting the 1954 vote on the seaway. 1952 proved to be the turning point. Elections held in the United States that year brought a new Republican administration into Washington together with a Republican majority in Congress. In Canada patience had worn thin, and the prime minister issued an ultimatum to the Americans - either they join in the project shortly, or the Canadians would build it on their own. The impact of this ultimatum had all the more force because the post-war economic boom in Canada had made that country confident and capable of taking on the project alone. Truman's ready cooperation had, as well, helped to facilitate the joint development of the power project, a pre-requisite of the "all-Canadian" seaway. This ultimatum acted as a catalyst in achieving Congressional approval of American participation in the St. Lawrence Seaway. By making the old economic arguments irrelevant, it allowed the debate to be concentrated on the issue of national security. Together with the "Cold War" mentality prevalent in the United States at the time, it created a situation in which the new president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, could use his enormous influence as president, and his prestige as a military hero, to their fullest advantage in influencing Congress. Faced with the Canadian ultimatum and the need to have a voice in the control of the important waterway which would transport iron ore and other vital materials to American Midwestern industries, the Congress overcame its inertia and approved a limited seaway role for the United States.

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