A History of Canadian Wealth/Chapter VII
The insurrection, in 1837-1838, led by William Lyon Mackenzie in Ontario and by Papineau in Quebec, was intrinsically one of upspringing capitalist forces, but superficially its character was composite, blending a variety of factors and elements. It is not the purpose here to give any perfunctory chronological or personal narrative of that movement, but to present an outline of the vital economic causes and results.
Grievances of the Rebels
The proclamation issued by Mackenzie, as Chairman pro tem of the insurrectionary Provincial Government of the State of Upper Canada, began by denouncing the “ blighting influence of military despots, strangers from Europe ruling us, not according to laws of our own choice but by the capricious dictates of their arbitrary power.
“ They,” read on the proclamation, “ have taxed us at their pleasure, robbed our exchequer and carried off the proceeds to other lands — they have bribed and corrupted ministers of the Gospel with the wealth raised by our industry — they have, in place of religious liberty, given rectories and reserves to a foreign priesthood, with spiritual power dangerous to our peace, as a people — they have bestowed millions of our lands on a company of Europeans for a nominal consideration, and left them to fleece and impoverish our country — they have spurned our petitions, involved us in their wars, excited feelings of national and sectional animosity in counties, townships and neighborhoods, and ruled as Ireland has been ruled, to the advantage of persons in other lands and to the prostration of our energies as a people. . . .”
Then declaring the movement a separatist one, the proclamation enumerated the reforms sought. These included a legislature chosen by the people, free press, civil and religious liberty, free education and other changes not the least significant of which was that of “ freedom of trade — every man to be allowed to buy at the cheapest market and sell at the dearest.”1—the very quintessence of rising capitalism, the moving principle of which was abolition of monopoly and of all feudal restraints, and the assurance of unfettered access to all resources and markets and of unhindered competition.
In Lower Canada the proclamation issued by Dr. Robert Nelson, president of the insurrectionary party, declared for repudiation of all allegiance to Great Britain and provided for 17 different reforms.
Among these were : A Republican form of government ; all citizens to enjoy the same rights, and Indians were to be no longer disqualified civilly ; dissolution between Church and State ; abolition of feudal or seignorial tenure of land “as if such a tenure had never existed in Canada” ; imprisonment for debt no longer to exist except in such cases as should be specified by Act thereafter ; sentence of death no longer to be passed or executed except in cases of murder.
Other reforms called for were freedom of the press, trial by jury, general and public education, elective franchise and the like. Another provision of the proclamation declared that “all Crown lands, also such as are called Clergy Reserves, and such as are nominally in possession of a certain company of landholders in England, called the ‘British American Land Company,’ are of right the property of the State of Lower Canada,” except such parts as were bought by persons and held in good faith.2
Capital to Have a Free Hand
One of the main pleas of the insurrectionists was that capital should have a free hand, especially in the line of development of resources, the establishment of manufactories and of modern systems of navigation and transportation. They pointed to the astounding development of transportation, trade and manufacture in the United States, and asked pointedly why it was that Canada should be so backward ? Answering themselves, they replied it was because of the surviving feudalistic conditions which, variously in both Quebec and Ontario placed monopolies of trade and of land in the hands of the Church, seigneurs, officials and companies (largely absentee), and because of the feudalistic laws incompatible with the requirements of an age, the spirit of which was individual enterprise and full personal freedom of trade.3
In his elaborate report, Lord Durham enumerated some of the grievances. By an Act passed in 1837, he wrote, difficulties were thrown in the way of the employment of capital in banking, and that the banking laws tended to preserve the monopoly held by the few chartered banks in Canada.4 No man had a right to vote at elections until he paid the whole of the purchase money for public or Clergy land, and as it generally took a period of from four to ten years, he had to wait long before he could vote.5 There were complaints of great impediments to industrial progress.6
Old laws prohibiting the importation of particular articles except from England — laws which originally had been passed to protect the privilege of monopoly in Canada — still prevailed, although the English monopoly had been removed ; the result was that almost all of those particular articles used in Ontario were smuggled across the frontier.7
But interwoven with this general character of the insurrectionary movement were a diversity of other factors which ; although extraneously religious or sentimental, were in reality largely of a distinct economic nature.
Other Causes of the Uprising.
Irritated at the refusal of the Church of England clergy to recognize them as an established Church, the Scotch Presbyterians gave much support to Mackenzie ; this anger at the Church of England clergy was based not upon the mere refusal of a formal recognition, but because of the absence, of such recognition, which manifestly would have been a prima facie admission that the Presbyterians had an equal right in the allotment of the Clergy Reserves.
The middle and the working classes complained that the district assessment law was expressly devised to tax them and favor the rich ; that the rich not only did not pay their due proportion of the taxes but actually paid less than did those in “ middling circumstances.”8 There was a close monopoly of the professions which turned many of the professional newcomers in favor of the insurrection. A British surgeon, licensed in England, could not practice without the consent of the Ontario Board of Examiners. An attorney coming from elsewhere, had to submit to an apprenticeship of five years before he was allowed to practice. Barristers, too, hailing from other parts complained of the discriminations put upon them by Ontario laws.9
During the course of the insurrection, the clergy of the favored denominations, professing to speak in the name of God, made the strongest efforts to break down the movement, exhorting the people that they must yield submissively to constituted authority.
At a dinner given on July 25, 1837, to 140 of the Roman Catholic clergy, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal was reported to have said that the clergy “ were to represent to their parishioners that it is never permitted to revolt against lawful authority, nor to transgress the laws of the land ; that they are not to absolve in the confessional any indication of the opinion either that a man may revolt against the Government under which he has the happiness to live, or that it is permitted to break the laws of the country.”10 So ran on this admonishing address.
These were, to be sure, traditionally hierarchic instructions, but they were a curious product considering that when feudalism was in its last stages a little later, and capitalism rising triumphantly, the Roman Catholic Church and clergy were among the original native investors in capitalist enterprises. With the various reforms demanded, including the abolition of the death sentence for all except capital crimes, the clergy evinced no sympathy.
The insurrection was put down, but it produced many changes, some immediate, others gradual. Imprisonment for any debt under £10 was not abolished until 1849, and other reforms were slowly enacted.
Emigration of Peasants and Workers from Canada
One of the immediate results of the insurrection was the great increase of emigration from Canada to the United States, beginning principally after the insurrections of 1837 and 1838. This emigration included both agricultural population as well as that of the workers of the cities ; and the exodus increased year after year.
The lumber market was vastly overstocked ; thirteen millions more feet of lumber were produced in 1846 than the market demand justified.11 Large fortunes had been made in the lumber trade, and the activity had continued on the supposition that further great quantities would be required in the construction of railroads abroad and at home.
Workmen of the cities of Quebec and Montreal, formerly engaged in lumbering, now left in considerable numbers for the United States ; there were few manufactories in Canada to employ this labor, and, perforce, they had to drift elsewhere. The same cause led to the exodus of laborers and raftsmen. Another class of emigrants from the Province of Quebec were young men “of good families” who could not afford to buy land at the prevailing high prices. These families were subject to the indignities of the caste system and to the “ exactions of the landed proprietors who impose even heavier conditions than the seigneurs. They hire themselves in the manufactories or on the farms of the United States.”
Still another division of migratory workers were the poor families settled on the seignories. These families were forced by debt to emigrate after having sold their lands and moveables, or after their paltry effects had been sold by officers of the law. Such workers, too, sought work on the farms or in the factories of the United States, “frequently at heavy, hard and bodily labor.”12
More than three-fourths of the Canadians in the United States belonged to the working class. There they were employed in mills, manufactories or as simple laborers, and were living “ in a state of degradation really humiliating to our country.” Dismayed at losing so many of their parishioners, the priests bitterly complained that many of the seigneurs had refused and still refused “ to encourage the establishment of profitable works and useful manufactures for the country, in order to retain exclusively without profit to themselves or the public, the numerous water powers owned by them, and for which they are offered reasonable prices.”13 The committee investigating the startling migration depended much upon the testimony of priests, who, it was critically pointed out in some quarters, had nothing to say of the exactions of the Church.
Yet another matter disquieting to the shippers was the fleeing of large numbers of seamen to the United States. Of 20,164 seamen at the port of Quebec in 1846, there were 3,549 desertions. The ship masters, studiously seeking to throw the blame upon anybody other than themselves, accused the taverns and tippling houses of luring the seamen, getting them drunk and robbing them. But between the exactions of crimp and shipping master, the seamen were effectively despoiled before any other agency plundered them ; if in debt, as they usually were, they were imprisoned ; if they deserted, the force of a special police hunted them down, and if they were detected, threw them into loathsome jails.14
At this time, it would appear from a legislative return, the seigneurs or the owners of seignories owned 7,496,000 acres of land in Lower Canada, and the Jesuits’ estates, not appropriated by the Government, covered 664,080 acres. In 1831 one in every 399 persons in Lower Canada was living upon alms ; in 1844, one in every 151 of the population was a recognized pauper subsisting upon alms. “ This shows a fearful increase in pauperism,” said the report. The number of illiterate children was astonishing.15
Despite the rebellion of 1837-1838 the Clergy Reserves were extremely safe from forfeiture or confiscation, and likewise the lands of the Canada Company and the British American Land Company.
But the contesting Protestant denominations gained their point. The legislature of Upper Canada in 1840 passed an Act distributing the lands among the various Protestant sects, but this Act was disallowed (or vetoed) ; and in the same year an Imperial Act decreed that the funds from the sale of the land were to be distributed in the proportion of 2 to 1 between the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians. As for the remainder of the Clergy Reserves to be sold, one-third of the proceeds were to go to the Episcopalians, one-sixth to the Presbyterians, and the remainder to be divided among the other denominations. Originally, it may be said, the Presbyterians had been excluded, but, contesting the case in the courts, had obtained a favorable decision in England.
Clergy Denounce Alienation of Their Land Reserves
This proposed arrangement by no means satisfied the large party intent upon obliterating the Clergy Reserves. This party comprised settlers and lumber and other capitalists.
When, in 1850, a Bill was introduced in the Legislative Assembly of Canada to alienate the vested interest held by the Clergy in the revenue from the sale of the reserves (although insuring them stipends), the prelates of the Episcopal Church raised a mighty protest, vociferously calling the measure an “ infidel ” one. In a circular to the Clergy, Archdeacon Stuart of Kingston, and the Archdeacon of York, denounced the move as one “ of direct spoliation of the Church,” and as “ flagrantly wicked and unjust.” The clergy were advised to get together impressive petitions, and were told, that if the Church members would “rise and speak in the might of their righteous cause . . . their voice would soon drown the cry of the evil-minded and ungodly faction which aims at her destruction.” The petition read that “ your petitioners would regard the success of such an attempt as a national sin of the deepest dye and a grievous moral degradation.” These petitions were to be forwarded to the Lord Bishop of Toronto before he left for England.16
On September 17 and October 18, 1852, Mr. Brown moved a motion in the Legislative Assembly that inasmuch as the Protestant Clergy had got by fraud or error 300,000 acres of land in Upper Canada, and 227,559 acres in Lower Canada — in all 527,559 acres — that measures should be taken to recover the funds paid for these particular lands.17 Whereupon, the Episcopal Bishops of Quebec, Toronto and Montreal successfully protested against this “ proposed confiscation.”18 In 1854 an Act was finally passed alienating from the Church all vested rights in the Reserves, but leaving the clergy certain stipends and allowances “ during their natural lives and incumbrances.”
They Get Nearly Four Million Dollars
From 1814 to 1854 the clergy had received $2,181,319 from the revenues from the Clergy Reserves. Of this sum the Episcopalian Church in Upper and Lower Canada pocketed much the greater share — £309,482 sterling in round figures. To the Presbyterian Church and Synod, £90,891 sterling had been paid, and to the Roman Catholics in Ontario about £40,000. The Methodists were allotted £21,855 sterling.
After the passage of the Act of 1854, abolishing the Clergy Reserves, a further sum of $1,662,678 was paid to the clergy. Of this sum the Episcopalian Church at Toronto received £188,342 sterling,19 the share of the Presbyterians was £127,448 sterling, and the Roman Catholics received £20,932 currency.
The total in dollars of all payments to the clergy from 1814 to the final settlement after 1854 was $3,843,997.20
Thus passed away the vested right of the Protestant clergy in those munificent grants of land the retention of which and the revenue from which they had so long held to be all-essential to their orthodox activity. By no means was the abolition of the Clergy Reserves a pleasant matter for the Protestant clergy ; they pathetically complained that it left them without solid, revenue-producing property, while the economic power of the Roman Catholic Church was left unimpaired.
Seminary of St. Sulpice Retains Its Estate
This plea was, indeed, true. The force of the insurrection had come and gone without derogating in the slightest from the power of that Church.
Against the Seminary of Montreal (or St. Sulpice) there had long been a bitter undercurrent of opinion in Montreal and elsewhere. Frequently — in 1789, 1804, 1811, and in other years — the legal opinions of the high law officials of the Government were adverse to the claims of the Seminary. But some powerful influence intervened ; these adverse opinions were never enforced in the form of judicial decisions.21
The Seminary claimed to own, and it held, the seignory of St. Sulpice in Assumption County, and the Seignory of the Lake of the Two Mountains on the Ottawa ; while in the city of Montreal it held three properties of 1,280 acres of land in all — then mostly on the outskirts of the city or at the back of the Island, but in more modern times largely in or near the very center of that city. The Seminary was run by twenty members, “ all in Holy Orders,” and had four attached priests. Its college contained 1,511 scholars. It exercised feudal rights and demanded payment of feudal burdens ; it had an income of about $33,500 a year ; and there were also (in 1836) debts of 134,000 or $170,000 due it. The inhabitants of Montreal complained of its exactions and usages, and remonstrated that its farm of St. Gabriel of 300 acres on the western border of the city was used for tillage, thus checking all improvements on that side of Montreal.22
An Act of Incorporation
By the stroke of a pen, the priests of the Seminary of St. Sulpice obtained full legal title to their real estate holdings, much of which are untaxed and which, as we have said, are of such great value today.
This confirmation was secured by the passage of an Act, in 1839, during Lord Sydenham’s administration as Governor-General.
The Act created the Ecclesiastics of the Seminary of St. Sulpice into a corporation, confirming their title, and provided that the Seminary should commute, at certain prescribed rates, with their censitaire tenants whenever required for all seignorial rights, dues and burdens, thus gradually extinguishing seignorial or feudal dues. The Act further required the Ecclesiastics of the Seminary to invest surplus funds derived from these settlements or from sales of lands in public stocks of Great Britain or its Colonies, but allowed £30,000 to be applied in the purchase of houses, lands and other immovable property for income purposes. Finally, the Ecclesiastics of the Seminary of St. Sulpice were to furnish, whenever required, a statement of its estate, income, debts and expenditure to the Governor, Lieutenant-Governor or other person administering the Government 23 — a provision which, so far as we can ascertain, has never been carried out ; a public statement of the revenues, income, expenditure and investments of the Seminary of St. Sulpice would undoubtedly disclose some highly edifying facts as to the present wealth and investments of this holy incorporated institution.
Revenues of the Catholic Church
The stripping of the Episcopal clergy of their vested rights in ecclesiastical land grants caused far more trepidation among that clergy than if their entire 39 articles of faith had been abolished.
Sadly, Bishop Strachan had, by way of comparison, pointed out the great entrenched wealth of the Roman Catholic Church left unimpaired by the changes in process. It had, he said, its regular system of tithes and dues, with parsonages, glebe and other endowments ; hence had increased in efficiency, wealth and importance. He estimated that the Roman Catholic Church in the Province of Quebec had a revenue of £125,000 a year, a sum then representing a money capital of £2,500,000. At the very low price of six shillings and eight pence an acre, he further said, its extensive land ownings represented a capital of £700,000. He complained of “ the readiness with which Lord Sydenham gave title to a few monks of St. Sulpice, covering the whole city and island of Montreal, with the consent of the Imperial Government, received or implied. . . .”
At the same time that the vested rights in the Clergy Reserves were blotted out, measures were also taken to abolish feudal rights and dues in Lower Canada.
The Onerous Feudal System
It had long been seen that unless this was done, the full unshackled development of capitalism would be greatly impeded. A committee of the Legislative Assembly inquiring into the operation of feudal tenures had reported in 1843 that the system was “ in many respects vicious and productive of extreme injury.” The feudal tenant not only had to pay heavy dues, but the many reservations to which he was compelled to submit by his lord deprived him of the free use of his land as proprietor. In many instances he was subjected to fines for neglect of certain feudal services, — in some cases, services of mere form. Thus his condition was fettered.
“ Instead,” went on the committee’s report, “ of being able to add to his resources by developing such advantages as his soil or its natural position may present in the free exercise of mechanical skill, he is bound to the land for the mere purpose of cultivation, and is dependent on its return for a precarious substance.”
Thus, the committee added, if he possessed a mill site, or a spot of land favorable to the construction and operation of machinery, he was prohibited from using it. The reservations in his deed of concession deprived him of the advantage of it, except at a heavy cost. If his crop failed him, he would have to remain in a state of indigence, although able and willing to better his condition by mechanical pursuits. Hence, he was kept in a perpetual state of feebleness and dependence. “ He can never escape from the tie that binds him and his progeny forever to the soil — as a cultivator he is born, as a cultivator he is doomed to live and die.”
By this means, the committee commented, “ all progressive improvement in the country is checked ; its resources for Advancement in the arts of civilized life are in the hands of the seigneurs, and they may alone reap the advantage.” Every time that land property was sold, the seigneur had to receive his feudal mutation fines of one-twelfth, one-eighth or one-quarter on the price. This fine was levied also on the tenant’s improvements, “ thereby taxing his industry to an unlimited extent.” The committee said of the mutation fine that “ although principally oppressive in the towns and villages, it paralyzes the whole country by its influence, for, by affecting property in the towns and populous villages, the seats of wealth and intelligence, its baneful influence is extended in every direction.”
Persisting Feudal Servitudes
There were also exercised the feudal rights of preemption, retrait and that of corvee,— or forced day’s labor,— hindering the improvement of the country. The retrait, when misapplied, prevented free conveyance or transfer of property — thus negativing an absolute essential of the development of capital and resources. The corvee was “ odious, and humiliating to man, a badge of servitude ”; in many instances, the committee reported, corvees had been illegally superadded to the original deeds of concession.”24
Lording it completely over their possessions, many of the seigneurs, at the same time, profited richly by the large sums they received for the right that they gave to lumber firms or companies to cut and saw logs on their seignories. But the lines of the seignories and other timber concessions were often indefinite ; and when competing forces of lumbermen tried to lumber on disputed territory, “most of the parties were left to fight the matter out by physical force — the forces being brought on the ground for the purpose.”25
That the seigneurs, both French and English, enforced every iota of their feudal rights against their tenants is evident from the statement of the number of executions lodged in the sheriff’s office at Montreal at the instance of the seigneurs. From October 5, 1839, to October 5, 1842, there was a total of 3,440 executions.26 In turn, the sheriffs extorted fortunes in fees from the misfortunes of these impoverished peasants and manual workers. A committee of inquiry reported in 1849 that Sheriff Coffin of the District of Montreal had a “prodigious income.” Likewise other sheriffs reaped fortunes wrung from the scanty means of the poor and unfortunate, whose chattels and other goods were pitilessly seized by the bailiffs at the command of the sheriffs “ who charged 20, and often 30 shillings for a writ, although five shillings would have been enough.”27
In other official reports further facts are set forth as to the merciless rigidity with which hard laws were enforced against the poor ; at every turn the impoverished peasant and laborer were harshly proceeded against.
Feudal Rights Abolished
All of the aforesaid feudal rights and privileges of the seigneurs were abolished by successive measures and means, beginning with an Act passed by the Legislative Assembly in 1854, providing for the suppression of feudal tenures and duties. Surviving in Canada more than 60 years after its abolition by the French Revolution, feudalism had to break down under the irresistible advance of its successor, capitalism. But there was a marked difference between the fate of the French feudal lords, and the good fortune of the Canadian seigneurs. The one faced confiscation and exile or the guillotine ; to the other a sum of more than $10,000,000 has been paid,28 directly and indirectly, since 1867 for the taking away of those “ ancient rights ” which for more than two centuries had prevailed intact.
1. This proclamation was published in full in the Toronto Mirror, Dec. 30, 1837. The tempting reward of 300 acres of the best public lands was held out as an inducement to each volunteer. “Tens of millions of these lands, fair and fertile, will be speedily at our disposal with the vast resources of a country more extensive and rich in natural resources than the United Kingdom and old France.”
2. Republished from the Montreal Herald in the Toronto Mirror, March 17, 1838.
3. The mercantile community in Montreal and elsewhere, many of whom catered to the seigneurs and other landed proprietors, opposed the insurrection. “The Daily Advocate,” read a letter of the times, “has ceased to exist, all the mercantile community having withdrawn their support on its change of front ; its staff has now joined the revolutionary journal, the Vindicator. The destruction of the British American Land Company is one of their principal objects.”—Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 877.
4. Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Vol. X, p. 61.
6. Ibid., p. 66.
7. Ibid., p. 67.
8. From the Upper Canada Herald, republished in the Toronto Mirror, Dec. 27, 1839.
9. Lord Durham’s Report, Imperial Blue Books, etc., Vol. X, p. 61.
10. Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Vol. A, “Confidential,” 1828-1837, Unnumbered Doc., p. 4.
11. Report of Select Committee on the Lumber Trade, Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, 1849. In 1846 the quantity of square timber brought to Quebec was 33,300,463 feet ; the quantity exported was 24,242,689 feet.
12. Report of the Select Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Causes and Importance of Emigration, etc., Appendix to the Eighth Vol. of the Journals of the Legislative Assembly, Province of Canada, 1849, Vol. I, Appendix A.A.A.A.A. (The pages of this document are not numbered.)
14. Report of the Special Committee on the Act for Regulating the Shipping of Seamen, Journals of the Legislative Assembly, etc., 1849, Appendix to the Eighth Vol. (Pages not numbered.)
15. Report of the Board of Registration and Statistics, etc., Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Prov. of Canada, 1849, Appendix to the Eighth Vol., Appendix B, Vol. III.
16. Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Vol. XVIII, pp. 2-3, of enclosed document, Clergy Reserves in Canada.
17. Ibid., pp. 30-31. Further Correspondence on Clergy Reserves in Canada.
18. Ibid., p. 32.
19. Bishop Sweatman of Toronto so stated it, but Archdeacon Dixon of Niagara estimated the amount at £184,342. It was paid to the Church Society of Toronto (the Church of England clergy). See History of the Church of England in Ontario, by Bishop Sweatman of Toronto, and the Rev. William A. Clark, in Canada ; An Encyclopedia of the Country. Sweatman wrote that, “by a noble act of disinterestedness, all of the clergy but one agreed to leave their shares as a permanent endowment of the Church, receiving the interest only for their lifetime.” (P. 334.)
20. Editor’s Notes on the History of the Clergy Reserves, by Castell Hopkins, in Canada ; An Encyclopedia, etc., Vol. III, pp. 154-155.
21. In their fifth report to the British Government, Lord Gosford, Charles Edward Grey and George Gipps, Lower Canada Commissioners, reported in 1836 that all of them were agreed in the opinion that after the British Conquest, the Seminary of Montreal had no valid title or standing, but was dependent wholly upon the pleasure of the Crown. But they recommended that the Seminary’s title be confirmed.—Imperial Blue Books on Affairs Relating to Canada, Vol. A, 1837, pp. 145-146.
22. Imperial Blue Books, etc., Vol. A, 1837, p. 145. Many years before this, the value of the estates of the Seminary of Montreal was calculated at £2,000 a year, besides large tithes in grain and seignorial dues on mutations of property “which, in the Seignory of Montreal, comprehending the whole of the Town, must amount to a large sum.” Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., Note C., p. 55.
23. Ordinances of the Special Council, Lower Canada, pp. 520-524.
24. The above are some extracts from the Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the State of the Laws and Other Circumstances Connected with the Seignorial Tenure, Laid before the Legislative Assembly, Quebec, October, 1843, pp. 69-70.
25. Report of the Select Committee on the Lumber Trade, Appendix to the Eighth Vol. of the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Canada, 1849, Vol. I, Appendix, P.P.P.
26. Titles and Documents Relative to Seignorial Tenure, etc., 1843, p. 175.
27. Appendix to Eighth Vol., Vol. I, Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, 1849, Report of the Committee, A. Gugy, Chairman.
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