Why did Confederation Win? Or Why did the Anti-Confederates Lose?
In sorting out the factors which explain the result of the 1948 referendums,
it is important to distinguish the background forces which were at work in
the late 1940s, and well as the more immediate and perhaps more obvious
factors which came into play during the campaigns.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were emerging from a tumultuous time in
their country's history. The Great Depression had caused great hardship,
and had brought about a financial crisis which ended responsible government.
Then, suddenly, the second world war had brought about full employment, higher
incomes and real prosperity.
|St. John's, ca. 1939.
The struggling country of Newfoundland was hit extremely hard by the Great Depression, which began in 1929.
Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador (Gustav Anderson
Collection), St. John's, Newfoundland. From Carmelita McGrath and Kathryn Welbourn, Desperate Measures:
The Great Depression in Newfoundland and Labrador, The Newfoundland and Labrador Adult
Basic Education Social History series, Book 4 (St. John's, Newfoundland: Writers' Alliance of
Newfoundland and Labrador, ©1996) 27.
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Thousands of Newfoundlanders had enlisted in the
armed forces, and hundreds more found work on the mainland. The American and
Canadian bases served as showcases for the North American way of life.
It is not surprising that many Newfoundlanders were dubious about returning
to responsible government, which they associated with the Depression, with
poverty, and with political scandals. They were ready to think about a new
start as a part of Canada, which seemed to offer both security, and a way to
keep the higher standard of living to which the war had introduced them. And
Canada was no longer a foreign country. Some 26,000 Newfoundlanders lived there,
and there were many other ties.
The Depression and the war made confederation possible, but even so, in 1946 most
Newfoundlanders were probably still anti-confederates, if they had any opinion at
all, and expected a return to responsible government. But since there were no
democratic institutions, it was the British government which controlled events,
not Newfoundlanders. And the British, together with the Canadians, decided that
confederation should be the solution, if possible, to what they called "the Newfoundland problem".
Hence the setting of the stage to give confederation a chance.
But who would be the confederate actors? Two obscure, second rank figures emerged -
Joseph Smallwood and Gordon Bradley, each of whom had concluded that Newfoundland's
future lay with Canada. Their contribution was indispensable. Smallwood was the more
vocal and prominent, as propagandist, campaigner and organizer. But Bradley played a
vital role as chairman of the National Convention, and made other important contributions.
||J.R. Smallwood campaigning for Confederation.
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (J.R. Smallwood Collection 075, Photo
5.05.321), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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If they and their confederate allies won, it was in part because of their determination,
discipline and organization. But they were helped by the British and the Canadians, and
also by the failure of their opponents to fight an effective campaign. The
anti-confederates failed to assess the situation accurately. They appear to have
assumed that a return to responsible government was certain, and were not adequately
prepared for the 1948 referendums.
The anti-confederates were divided, badly organized and poorly led. Had they not been,
had they been able to run as professional a campaign as the Confederate Association,
they would probably have been the victors. As it was, they allowed Smallwood to convince
a majority of the electorate that Canada and the confederates could do more for Newfoundland
than the St. John's-based, merchant-oriented members of the Responsible Government League.
In 1948, it was not just that the confederates won: the anti-confederates allowed them to win.
|Flag hung in sorrow, 1948.
There was much jubilation on the confederate side after they won the second referendum
in 1948. However, many patriotic Newfoundlanders declared it to be a dark day in
Newfoundland's history. In their grief, some anti-confederates flew flags at
half-mast outside their homes and businesses to symbolize mourning.
From Joseph R. Smallwood,"The Story of Confederation,"
The Book of Newfoundland, volume III (St. John's, Newfoundland: Newfoundland
Book Publishers, ©1967) 101.
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©1997, J.K. Hiller