Prospectus for a periodical paper
This is a translation of the prospectus which launched the paper Le Canadien in 1806, the paper being launched essentially to avenge the honour of the Canadian name, calumniated in the tory paper The Quebec Mercury.
Since a long time already, people who love their country and their government have quietly regretted that the rare treasure that we have in our constitution1 remains so long hidden, for lack of using the liberty of the press, whose purpose is to spread light on all its parts.
This right that an English people has, under such a constitution, to freely express their feelings on all public acts of their government, is the central part of the machine.
The exercise of such a redoubtable censorial power on all those who are responsible for the administration, is what ensures the good exercise of all the parts of the constitution, and especially the precise execution of the laws; this is what the liberty of the Englishman is made of, liberty which is now also that of the Canadian.
This power is so essential to liberty, that the most despotic state where it would [successfully] be introduced would as a result become a free state; and that, on the contrary, the freest constitution, such as that of England, would suddenly become despotic, solely by the cutting off of this power.
It is this liberty of the press which renders the constitution of England suitable to produce the happiness of the people who are under its protection. All governments must have this goal, and perhaps all would wish to obtain it, but all do not have the means to it. The despot knows the people only through the portrait that his courtiers make of them, and has no other advisers but them. Under the constitution of England, the people have the right to make themselves known by themselves through the means of the liberty of the press, and by the free expression of their feelings, all the nation becomes, so to speak, the private adviser of the government.
The despotic government, always badly informed, is unceasingly exposed to awkwardly run up against the feelings and the interests of the people whom he does not know and to cause them, without wanting it, evils and violences which he only sees when it is too late to cure them, from where it comes that these governments are prone to such terrible revolutions. Under the constitution of England, where nothing is hidden, where no constraint prevents the people from freely saying what they think, and where the people, so to speak, think out loud, it is impossible that similar disadvantages may take place, and that is what makes the astonishing force of this constitution which was not harmed, when all the constitutions of Europe were upset one after the other.
Liberty of the press, in making the people known to the one who governs, makes the people know the excellence of their government, and makes them continuously witness the good that it makes; by the share the people take in it, they grow attached to it, grows affectionate towards it, and see it as their own; and for this reason one should not be astonished if the people that have enjoyed such a constitution are always ready to sacrifice all to defend it.
The continual communication between the government and the people, maintained by the liberty of the press, unite them closely by feelings, and forms this so desired whole, but so seldom obtained in the formation of states.
In one word, by the liberty of the press, the constitution of England is, one could say, a constitution that does not fear the eye nor the scrutiny of the subject.
By continuously representing the general interest and maintaining a continual communication between all the parts of the people, the liberty of the press erases the divisions and the factions which are always maintained by prejudice, which itself is maintained by insulation and lack of communication. One only hates someone else because one does not know that other person; the one who looked at his fellow-citizen through the eyes of his old prejudices, ends up laughing at his own simplicity when he comes to known him.
But, so that the exercise of the liberty of the press may have these good effects, it needs to be general for all sides. If it were controlled by a single party, it would have a very contrary effect, it would only serve to create odious divisions, to maintain on one side unjust prejudices, and to make the other feel deeply the injustice of calumny, without leaving him the means to repel it.
The Canadians, as the newest subjects of the British Empire, are particularly interested in not being ill represented.
Not too long ago we saw them being condemned by dark insinuations in a paper published in English2, without enjoying the liberty to insert a word of reply in it; and that all the while a certain party was indecently praising the liberty of the press in the illiberal exertions of this paper.
If the Canadians do not deserve these insinuations, the liberty of the press, to which they also have a right, offers them the means to avenge the loyalty of their character, and to defy the envy of the party opposing them, to come under the light of day with the evidence of what it is putting forward.
They may find it beneficial to dissipate the prejudices entertained by this envious party in the mind of a number of the old subjects of His Majesty with who they have to live in unity in this country; it is their interest especially to erase the bad impressions that the secret blows of this party's malignity could have made in the mind of the subjects of His Majesty in England, and perhaps even in that of His Majesty; and it is the more their interest since the benefits they received would make them guilty of ingratitude; and they would deserve to lose these benefits and the advantages of their constitution if these insinuations were true.
One made them crimes, one even made it a crime for making use of their native tongue to express their feelings and to have justice rendered to them, but charges only terrify the culprits; the sincere expression of loyalty is loyal in all languages; that of disloyalty, of lowness and envy, that which sows division between fellow-citizens who have to live as brothers, is equally dishonourable in all languages. It is not the tongue, it is the heart that one must look; the one who does not feel disloyal has nothing to fear.
Fiat justitia ruat caelum.3
This will be the motto of the paper. LE CANADIEN will be its name. It is the name whose honour is to be avenged.
This publication, already encouraged by people who cherish the honour of their country and the support of their constitution, is offered to the Canadians to make them enjoy the liberty of the press. It is to them to support it. May they express themselves freely in it and they will be known such as they are.
THE PAPER will contain four pages in quarto and will come out every Saturday beginning on the 22nd of the present month.
The price of the subscription will be ten chelins per year, in addition to the delivery charge which would be 40 sols per year. Those who will not cancel their subscription at the end of the year will be supposed to continue it for the following one.
Subscriptions are received in Québec by CHARLES ROI, printer of the paper, and in other places by persons who will be announced later.
All correspondence should be addressed to the printer free of port charge.
* There is a box opened to receive the correspondence of those who would like to remain anonymous.
It should not be necessary to mention that nothing contrary to religion, good mores or the interest of the State will be admitted on the paper.
QUÉBEC: printed and published by CHARLES ROI, November 13, 1806.
2. The said paper is The Quebec Mercury. It began publishing on January 5, 1805. Its name refers to Mercury, the Roman god of trade and travelling. Its motto was mores et studia et populos et proelia dicam, a quote from Book IV of Virgil's Georgics which means "[a nation's] traits, its bent, its battles and its clans." Today the paper can be consulted online through the Web site of Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.
3. Justice be made, though the sky may fall.