The War that Never Happened: The Aroostook War

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The Aroostook War never happened, but it certainly mattered. To the west, a few thousand New England militiamen walked north through Maine, some funding was appropriated, and one militiaman died of measles. To the east, New Brunswick moved some troops up the Saint John River and mobilized some local irregulars itself. Administrators of the disputed area from both sides were arrested, and confined, respectively, in Houlton and Fredericton. Fighting never broke out, and by the end of the winter of 1839, both American and colonial forces had withdrawn from the area. Daniel Webster and Lord Ashburton’s treaty in 1842 was mutually acceptable to both Britain and the United States, and by then Aroostook had faded from all but the most local newspaper headlines.
Despite Democrat and popular newspaper agitation, along with the state’s rights movement power in Maine at the time, the war never went hot. However, it did have long-standing political consequences in both New Brunswick and Maine. State Democrats and legislature-controlling Whigs found themselves in a strange allegiance with Southern Democrats including Henry Clay and John Calhoun against Democrat president Martin Van Buren, who was bust trying to avoid a repeat of the Caroline affair. This marked the beginning of twenty years of Democrat dominance in Maine.
In New Brunswick, the consequences of the non-war were more subtle. Government was not solidified or taken control of by any particular interest party, but the completion of a military road that would have been impossible if the Americans received the upper Saint John River’s watershed connected New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to the rest of what would shortly become Canada. It also made the colonies far less open to invasi...

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...trary and focussed on smoothing over tempers in London, Fredericton, Washington and Augusta rather than empowering local government for a small collection of lumbermen and farmers. The outcome was barely acceptable in Maine and a relief everywhere else.
If the war had actually led to major bloodshed, it would have been a smaller-scale version of the fighting around Niagra during the War of 1812 almost forty years earlier. Tit-for-tat village burning, destruction of crops, and British naval invasion of New England from Halifax would have benefited no party involved and would have lead, in an absence of an immediate and decisive victory by either side, to even more conflict over the disputed area in the future. The Aroostook ‘War’ that actually happened was the best outcome for the British military, the American government, and the Maine Democrat political machine.

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