United States South America North America

Continentalism refers to the agreements or policies that favor the regionalization and/or cooperation between nations within a continent. The term is used more often in the European and North American contexts, but the concept has been applied to other continents including Africa, Asia and South America. In North American history, continentalism became linked to manifest destiny and involved merging continental expansion with international growth under the policy making of William Seward.

Continentalism in Europe

Continentalism in North America

United States

Historically, the United States of America saw itself as a blossoming continental nation-state. Accordingly, the first governing body for the North American colonists was called the Continental Congress,[1][2] which sought to receive delegates from across the British colonized areas of the continent, including the future Canadian provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia.

Continentalism in the United States was developed through the expeditions and experiences of frontier expansion on the American frontier. In the nineteenth century, the ideology of continentalism became internationalised by the growing concept of Manifest destiny, to create a belief amongst state and commercial leaders that the United States would help spread Western civilisation from Europe to the rest of the world.[3] Between 1840–1898, American continentalism began to involve ideas on overseas expansion, which would go on to influence the imperialistic foreign policies of Roosevelt and McKinley.[4]

Early United States continentalism involved the gradual absorption of North American territory into the U.S. nation state. There were various struggles of independence and expansionism in the United States between 1776–1865, including American settlers battling indigenous natives and efforts to buy territory from European superpowers such as in the Louisiana purchase. American continentalism became an issue with global implications from the mid-nineteenth century as the United States grew as an economic and political power. Continental disputes with Canada were based on America vying for greater global economic power to challenge the British dominated marketplace, as they sought to retain commercial control of Canadian natural resources and agriculture.[5] One benefit of the 1867 Alaska Purchase noted by Secretary of State William H. Seward was that it would make trade with the East easier, as he viewed that making America politically central would allow them to intercept European and Eastern trade effectively.[6] This idea of using the geographic advantages of the North American continent to intercept trade was mimicked by non-state actors, such as Perry Collins in 1865 who attempted to create a telegraph line stretching from British Columbia to Alaska and Siberia.[7]

Continentalism was replaced by a more colonialist approach to American foreign policy in the 1901 Insular Cases. The Supreme court rulings decreed that citizens from the newly acquired territory of the Spanish–American War did not have the constitution applied to them, however they were controlled by the U.S. judiciary. Within the United States, this led to a growth in Nationalism due to the ideological separation between the nation and new territory it was colonising. Most of the inhabitants of the United States, if not all, call themselves "Americans" as a demonym, and say America to refer to the country instead of the continents of North and South America. For a more extensive discussion over this polemical case, read the main article: Use of the word American.


In Canadian political history, continentalism has referred to policies that emphasize Canadian trade and economic ties within the North American continent, particularly the United States, over those with the United Kingdom and the British Empire. In the 19th century, continentalism was one of the three main theories of Canadian nationality, the others being pro-British Imperialism, and Canadian independence.

The most extreme form of continentalism is annexationism, which advocates all or part of Canada joining the United States. Opponents of continentalism often argue that stronger ties with the United States could eventually lead to annexation, and that this is to be feared. Continentalists themselves may or may not be in favour of continuing to deepen ties with the United States beyond the economic and into areas like a customs union, common currency or political union.

The traditional proponent of continentalism was the Liberal Party of Canada, and particularly farmers and resource industries that advocated reciprocity (i.e., free trade) with the United States. The 1911 federal election was fought over the issue of a reciprocity agreement that the Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier had negotiated with the United States, with the Conservatives of Robert Borden opposing reciprocity. The Conservatives won the election and cancelled the agreement.

However, the Progressive Conservative Party took on many continentalist policies beginning during the Brian Mulroney government in the 1980s, which promoted and successfully signed the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and, later, the North American Free Trade Agreement. These policies were maintained by the Liberal and Conservative governments that followed.

Continentalism today is seen in both negative and positive terms. Canadian economic nationalists typically oppose continentalism. Opposing this, many pro-market libertarians and neo-conservatives tend to favour it, on the grounds that it opens up commercial and economic opportunities, allowing free trade between nations. As this process is taking place in parallel with and as part of a broader economic globalization, the increasing trade between Canada and the United States is not generally seen as a threat to Canadian sovereignty.

Continentalism in Africa

Continentalism in Africa, commonly referred to as Pan-Africanism, is a sociopolitical world view, philosophy, and movement that seeks to unify native Africans and members of the African diaspora into a "global African community".[8] Pan-Africanism calls for a politically united Africa.

Modern Pan-Africanism began around the beginning of the twentieth century. The African Association, later renamed the Pan-African Association, was organized by Henry Sylvester Williams around 1887, and the first Pan-African Conference was held in 1900.[9][10][11]

Continentalism in South America

Continentalism in South America is linked to and associated with Bolivarianism'; a set of political doctrines that enjoys currency in parts of South America, especially Venezuela. Bolivarianism is named after Simón Bolívar, the 19th century Venezuelan general and liberator who led the struggle for independence throughout much of South America.

Modern support for "Bolivarianism" is centered in Venezuela and maybe partly responsible for the increased momentum and recent founding of USAN. The Union of South American Nations (Dutch: About this soundUnie van Zuid-Amerikaanse Naties  - UZAN, Portuguese: União de Nações Sul-Americanas - UNASUL, Spanish: Unión de Naciones Suramericanas - UNASUR) is an intergovernmental union integrating two existing customs unions: Mercosur and the Andean Community of Nations, as part of a continuing process of South American integration. It is modeled on the European Union.[12]

See also


  1. ^ United States Articles of Confederation and Perpetual "Union"
  2. ^ Website detailing the history of the United States "Continental Army" formed by the "Continental Congress" Son of the South
  3. ^ Vevier, Charles (1959). "The Collins Overland Line and American Continentalism". Pacific Historical Review. 28 (3): 237–253. doi:10.2307/3636469. ISSN 0030-8684. JSTOR 3636469.
  4. ^ Vevier, Charles (1960). "American Continentalism: An Idea of Expansion, 1845-1910". The American Historical Review. 65 (2): 323–335. doi:10.2307/1842872. ISSN 0002-8762. JSTOR 1842872.
  5. ^ HANNIGAN, ROBERT E. (1980). "Reciprocity 1911: Continentalism and American Weltpolitik". Diplomatic History. 4 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.1980.tb00332.x. ISSN 0145-2096. JSTOR 24910570.
  6. ^ Vevier, Charles (1960). "American Continentalism: An Idea of Expansion, 1845-1910". The American Historical Review. 65 (2): 330–331. doi:10.2307/1842872. ISSN 0002-8762. JSTOR 1842872.
  7. ^ Vevier, Charles (1960). "American Continentalism: An Idea of Expansion, 1845-1910". The American Historical Review. 65 (2): 323–335. doi:10.2307/1842872. ISSN 0002-8762. JSTOR 1842872.
  8. ^ Campbell, Crystal Z. (December 2006). "Sculpting a Pan-African Culture in the Art of Negritude: A Model for African Artist" (PDF). The Journal of Pan African Studies. 1 (6). Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  9. ^ "The History of Pan-Africanism". Archived from the original on 2008-08-14.
  10. ^ Article in which the authors asks about the importance of "Continental Union" for Africa
  11. ^ Fletcher, Pascal (July 3, 2007). "African leaders agree to study continental union". Reuters. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  12. ^ Fox News Report calls the Union of South American Nations the formation of a "Continental Union" Fox News