Date Awarded

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Hiroshi Kitamura

Committee Member

Kathrin Levitan

Committee Member

Cindy Hahamovitch

Committee Member

Dan Margolies


In the summer of 1866, members of the Fenian Brotherhood—an Irish American nationalist organization—crossed the border into Canada and seized control of Fort Erie. Although British and Canadian forces reclaimed the area a few days later, the invasion exposed the consequences of empire for the state and the people it marginalizes. The Fenians were products of British Empire, their identity grounded in the resistance to the colonization of Ireland. But they were also active participants of American Empire, trying to further American expansion, inspired by politicians who publically advocated for continental hegemony. By invading Canada, the Fenians believed that they were pursuing a noble cause, left unfinished in the American Revolution, to end British rule in North America. They did not consider that the majority of Canadians wanted to maintain their imperial relationship with Britain. This dissertation examines the Fenian invasions of Canada through the lens of empire so as to better understand the environment from which the they emerged, and how they were able occupy Canadian territory (even if only for a few days). Although originally intended as a financial support organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Dublin, the Fenians became a powerful organization with its leaders publically declaring their intentions to attack Canada. However, their efforts did not result in the annexation of Canada to the U.S. Instead, the Fenian invasion of Canada played a key role in pushing the provinces further into the British imperial fold, culminating in the Canadian Confederation in 1867 and the official recognition of Canada as a Dominion in the British Empire. . Although the Fenians were unsuccessful, their story is vital to the history of America in the world. It exposes the repercussions of the imperial process—particularly how state expansion inspires filibustering violence among its citizens. It also underscores the importance of examining transnational movements and how they impact and are shaped by empire. The rise and fall of the Fenian Brotherhood was tied to the expansion of both the British and American empires. The Fenian invasion of Canada also led to the organization’s decline, but it served a vital purpose in how it impacted the evolution of the Irish nationalist movement both in Ireland and America.



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