An Impartial and Authentic Account of the Civil War in the Canadas/Chapter III

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An Impartial and Authentic Account of the Civil War in the Canadas
Chapter III. Executive Expedients. — Martial Law.

Table of Contents | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII | Chapter VIII | Chapter IX | Chapter X

Arming the Volunteers — State of Montreal in November — A Monitory Proclamation — How received by the Anti-popular party — Probable effect on the Liberals — Magistrates' Address — The Rewards — The Charges — Proposal to call the Assembly together — Rejected — Proceedings preliminary to proclaiming Martial Law — The Proclamation — Lord Gosford's Resignation.

The last chapter was exclusively devoted to the detail of the combined military movements upon St. Denis and St. Charles, and to such of the events connected therewith as were confined to that locality. The time occupied, it will be remembered, was the last week of the month of November.

In the present chapter, we shall describe the various measures which the local government at the same time adopted, for the purpose of strengthening its own position, so as to enable it the more effectually to prevent any further outbreak ; or in the event of such an occurrence, to put it speedily down. We have reserved the narrative of these measures for a separate chapter, in order to avoid breaking in upon the story told in the last.

The formation of volunteer corps in Montreal we have already alluded to,46 but, to render the history complete, it is necessary that we should carry our narrative somewhat back. As early as December, 1836, that portion of the population opposed to the views of the Assembly had evinced a strong desire to obtain arms and accoutrements from the government. Application had been then made by a body of young men of the "constitutionalist" party to be formed into a rifle corps ; but Lord Gosford perceiving, in all probability, that the granting of such a request would be nothing more nor less than arming one portion of the population against another, very properly as it seems, refused the request.

In the month of September last, an application of a similar character was made by more than 300 inhabitants of the city of Quebec. This application was refused on the 7th of October, and Lord Gosford, writing to Lord Glenelg, on the 12th of the same month, states his motives for so refusing, in the following words : —

I still thought it prudent to decline, at the present, proposals that could not have been accepted without incurring the risk of applications of the same nature from other quarters, which it might have been dangerous to grant, but difficult to refuse, had this been entertained ; nor without giving rise, both in the province or elsewhere, to inferences that the strength and progress of the agitators are greater than they really are, and that the local executive was in a state of alarm, inferences which it is one, of the great objects of the movement party to create, and to disseminate as widely as possible.47

We can find no official documents among the parliamentary papers on Canada, recently published, showing at what precise time Lord Gosford's scruples were overcome. The cavalry employed in the middle of November, as "mounted police," or "special constables," had been for many years in existence as we have already stated. The first mention we find of arming the party opposed to the Assembly was about the time that it was determined to employ military force in making the arrests. From that time, the arming of the constitutionalists went on rapidly, so much so, that, on the 27th of November, the Montreal Courier, one of the papers of that party, was enabled to announce as follows : —

The four volunteer battalions muster considerably above 2000 men. All are now armed and officered, and a large proportion of the companies have gone through some little drilling. By the time the river closes, they will make a pretty garrison.

For the purpose of arming these volunteer corps, 6000 stand of arms had been transmitted to Montreal from the armoury at Quebec.

On the 24th of November, Sir John Colborne, in a letter to Lord Gosford, communicating Colonel Gore's defeat, expresses himself as follows :

The civil war has now commenced, and I intreat your lordship to form volunteer corps at Quebec, and to raise a corps for general service.

In compliance with this request, Lord Gosford immediately sanctioned the "embodying, and paying as troops of the line, 800 men, for the purpose of assisting until the 1st of May next, in the performance of garrison and other military duties, and as required for the security of the fortress in case of attack."

The principal conditions between the government and the corps were, that they should be furnished with arms and accoutrements by the government, and that such of the men as might be found to require them, should be furnished with great coats, to be delivered up or accounted for, when the corps should be disbanded.

That the officers should be appointed by the governor-in-chief, that they should rank junior to all officers of their respective grades in the line, and that none should be considered as having any claim to half-pay or other allowance in right of their commissions, after the corps shall have been disbanded.

That the men should be between nineteen and fifty ; five feet three inches and upwards in height, and subject to approval by the governor. Finally, that the pay and rations should be the same as those allowed to her majesty's regiments of the line.49

"On similar conditions," says Lord Gosford in his despatch of the 30th November,50 "an additional number of 250 for the artillery service, have, on the application of the officer commanding that force, and on recommendation of the commandant of the garrison, been also organized. I have further sanctioned the formation of volunteer corps in this city and elsewhere, furnishing them only with arms and accoutrements, which are to be returned when the occasion for which they are supplied shall have ceased to exist. These measures, in which Sir John Colborne has concurred, were the more necessary, as troops from the Lower Provinces might not, at this particular period of the year, be enabled to come to our assistance for some time, although three expresses have been furnished by Sir John, to urge their making the attempt, and by the existing law, the militia of the province can, I believe, be called out only in case of war with the United States, or invasion, or imminent danger thereof."

The result of these measures was, that by the 12th of December, the day previous to the marching of the troops upon St. Benoit and St. Eustache — an expedition which will be found described in a subsequent chapter — the armed volunteers throughout the province were as follows : —

Cavalry 257
Artillery 72
Infantry 8573
Total51 8902

We have already mentioned,52 that after the defeat of Colonel Gore at St. Denis, a considerable degree of alarm, amounting to something very like panic, exhibited itself at Montreal.

It should now be mentioned that Montreal, though not the capital, is the commercial metropolis of the Canadas. It is situated on an island of the same name, formed by the mouths of the Ottawa, or Grand River. Isle Jesus lying north, and Isle Perrot, a smaller island, on the west. It is the nead of the ship navigation of the St. Lawrence, the broken waters of La Chine rapid being immediately above it. Its precise position will best be learned from the Map.

At the census of 1831, the cities of Quebec (the capital) and Montreal, were about equal in population, but the rate of increase being greater in the latter than in the former, and several circumstances having occurred to move a portion of the trade formerly enjoyed by Quebec to Montreal, the growth of the latter city has received a further impetus, and it is now computed to contain about 40,000 inhabitants.

Formerly Montreal was fortified, but no vestiges of the defences now remain, the citadel hill having been levelled a few years since to make way for some handsome private residences. The town within the ancient limits is small, but it is surrounded by extensive suburbs, containing the great mass of the population. These suburbs are the Quebec on the north-east (down the river); the St. Louis on the north; the St. Lawrence on the north and north-west ; the St. Antoine on the west ; and the Recollect suburbs, and Griffintown on the south-west and south (up the river) ; of these, Griffintown contains the business quarter towards the mouth of the La Chine canal, whilst the St. Lawrence suburbs open a communication with the back of the Island, and the country lying north-west of the city.

The Island is generally level, but immediately behind the city, and commanding it, is an isolated mountain from which the Island and city take their name. A few pieces of artillery and mortars in this hill (for although called the mountain,53 it is no more) might destroy Montreal. It is from this quarter that the town is especially assailable, numerous streets running in parallel lines towards the mountain, and communicating with high roads towards the country where the insurgents were said to be in force. When the news of the defeat arrived, it was apprehended, that a descent might be made on the city. The mass of the population were known to be favourable to the politics of the Assembly, and it was therefore concluded, that the appearance of a force on the northern side of the city would be a signal for a general rising. This probably accelerated the arming of the volunteers, and it certainly led to the barricading of the streets of the St. Lawrence suburbs. There is only one thing against the reasonableness of the expectation of a rising, namely, that the Canadians of the cities do not often possess arms. Such a rising might nevertheless have taken place, but it would certainly have led to a frightful slaughter at the hands of the armed volunteers, who, as we shall hereafter see,54 are not to be restrained when let loose upon their political opponents.

At this time, as we are informed, Montreal presented a curious appearance. Armed men appeared in every corner of the streets. A gun or a sword was the evidence of attachment to the existing order of things ; or to speak in Colonial parlance of "loyalty ;" whilst to walk about unarmed, was taken as strong presumption of disaffection. An English gentleman, who of course, wanted all motive to the amusement of Canadian rebel shooting, has described to us his position at that time as being sufficiently painful. As he walked along the streets, armed men scowled suspiciously at him ; he was constantly talked at as he passed along, by knots of lounging striplings, and once was howled at by a "loyal" mob. All this should not be wondered at, — it was the result of alarm. All who were not with them they deemed to be against them, and the partizanship of a native Englishman, they looked upon as their right, in return for what they religiously believed to be their loyalty. In order to account for this state of the public mind, it should be here observed, that the most exaggerated rumours were brought to Montreal, and perhaps even generated there, respecting the numbers, character, and proceedings of the insurgents. It was at one time stated that 4000 men were in arms at St. Charles. Colonel Gore stated that 3000 were reported to be at St. Denis, though he himself did not believe there were 1500, the fact being, that he was assailed by just so many armed men, as could occupy the windows of the houses, near his point of attack. Again, 2000 men were stated to be at Grand Brulé. The armed men at the rescue, stated ultimately at 60 men, were at first said to be 300 ; indeed, whenever armed men appeared, they were counted by the hundred, and sometimes by the thousand. The accounts which appeared in the Vermont papers also bore the same exaggerated character. It is unnecessary to remind the reader, that having the benefit of time and distance, we have been enabled to build our narrative on more authentic statements ; but in accounting for the state of alarm, which prevailed during the latter half of November, and the first half of December, we must not leave these reports out of calculation, and we may further assume that they had their effect on the minds of the civil and military authorities, as we have seen in one case detailed in the last chapter.

In the midst of the military operations, the executive did not wholly neglect to address itself to public opinion. On the 29th of November, Lord Gosford issued, what in a subsequent despatch is called "a monitory proclamation." This document, after attributing the "blind and fatal excitement," to the "machinations of evil designing men," which had at length succeeded in implicating a part of a hitherto peaceable and loyal population in the first excesses of a reckless and hopeless revolt," continues as follows : —

As the representative of our most gracious sovereign, I now most solemnly address myself to the inhabitants of this province, but more especially to the misguided and inconsiderate population on the river Richelieu, in the district of Montreal. I address myself to your good sense and your personal experience of the benefits you have received, and of the tranquillity you have so long enjoyed under the British government. You possess the religion, the language, the laws, and the institutions, guaranteed to you nearly seventy years since. You know not the burthen of taxes ; the expense of your military defence is defrayed by Great Britain ; the prosperity and happiness which have hitherto pervaded this province, proclaim honourably and undeniably the political wisdom which watches over your safety, encourages your commerce, and fosters your rising industry. The spontaneous confidence of the British Parliament bestowed on you a constitution ; your representatives complained of grievances — their complaints were promptly and fully investigated ; grievances when proved to exist were removed at once ; redress, the most ample, but unavoidably, gradual, was unreservedly promised ; and up to this moment that promise has been scrupulously observed ; but the demands of your leaders are insatiable — the language of reform has speciously concealed the designs of revolution.

I have thus far deemed it my duty to explain the injustice and inadmissibility of the objects for which your leaders contend, and for the attainment of which they would wantonly sacrifice you and your families. The traitorous designs of these political agitators have bean at length unmasked ; I now, therefore, call upon those who have been thus far deluded, to listen to the language of reason, sincerity, and truth — listen to the language of your respectable and trustworthy clergy — listen to the representations of those worthy and loyal proprietors, whose interests are identified with your own; and whose prosperity, in common with yours, must ever be graduated and governed by the internal tranquillity of this province. Return to that allegiance to your sovereign, which you have now, for the first time, violated ; and to that obedience to the law, which you have hitherto invariably maintained. Spurn from you your insidious advisers — reject, with abhorrence, their self-interested and treasonable counsels — leave them to that retribution which inevitably awaits them — retire to your homes, and to the bosoms of your families — rest assured that a powerful and merciful government is more desirous to forget than to resent injuries ; and that within that sanctuary you will experience no molestation.

This proclamation, the object of which was to detach the people from their political leaders, gave great offence to the party opposed to the Assembly — the "well-affected" party. The Montreal Herald, the organ of that party, after observing that Lord Gosford "has a happy knack of ruining the country by proclamations," assails his Lordship in a strain of bitter invective for that which, we are quite sure, the British reader will consider an estimable feature in the document, we mean the humane assurance with which we have closed our quotation. From this commentary we shall make a few extracts, for the purpose of showing the difficulty of satisfying the "well-affected."

His third proclamation has sown the seeds of future insurrection, by promising that all the rebels, without one distinctly specified exception, 'will experience no molestation.'" His Lordship's conduct reminds us of a little anecdote, to the effect that his Lordship's countryman, Dick Martin,55 had ridden a horse to death, with a view to prevent the baiting of a jackass. Equally regardless of the nobler creatures (the Herald's party), their respective victims, Richard exclaims, oh, the poor jackass ! and Archibald,56 oh, the poor habitans !

After stating, that so long as "certain ruffians of his Lordship's pet race — his French allies" — had the best of it, no proclamations were issued, the Herald continues —

But now a change comes over the spirit of his Lordship's dream. At St. Charles, the French allies fared but badly, and then and not till then, is issued a proclamation. Oh, the poor jackass ! Oh, the poor hahitans ! Are not these undeniable facts sufficient to justify an assertion, which we repeatedly heard on Saturday last, that the Earl of Gosford is at heart a rebel.

* * * * * * *

Let us now consider, as definitively as possible, the extent of his Lordship's promised pardon ; that pardon seems to be offered to all but 'a few evil-minded and designing men,' who, by way of an elegant variety, are elsewhere styled 'leaders,' 'political agitators,' and 'insidious advisers.'

Now every person, whose sentiments are known, is willing and anxious that a certain degree of clemency may be extended to all who may have been mere tools ; but we cannot admit that the 'leaders,' and so forth, are accurately described as 'a few evil-minded and designing men.' It is not the execution of the six or eight demagogues, to whom his Lordship manifestly alludes, that can restore and preserve the tranquillity of the province. Every local agitator, of every disturbed parish, must be tried, and, if convicted, must he deprived of all his property, and hanged. It is thus that the actually guilty will be struck down, and the probable causes of future turbulence be cut off;

Now let it be observed, that this truly revolting language is the expression of the feelings of a class; the party among whom the paper in which it appeared extensively circulates, is that which is opposed to the assembly. It is this party into whose hands, arms have been placed. Our readers cannot but shudder when they picture to themselves the possible consequences of the possession of power by men who can relish such sentiments.57

The proprietor and editor of this paper are liable to be called on to serve on juries. They belong to the class out of whom a Montreal jury would certainly be chosen. Of their fitness for that office, where a political offence was to be tried, let the above extract, and the note below, enable the reader to judge. As Englishmen, we cannot but have a sort of constitutional horror of martial law ; but we submit with deference, that a court of English officers would be a safer tribunal than one composed of such men as the author of these truly revolting passages.

As the popular papers are destroyed, it is difficult to say what feelings the proclamation is calculated to excite in the minds of the Assembly and its friends. The humanity of the pledge with which it concludes, will but ill compensate for the continued proscription of the "leaders" to whom the people have shewn so strong an attachment. The "benefits," too, Lord Gosford recites, have often been conjured up before the Canadians, without producing that strong sense of gratitude which many, and Lord Gosford among the number, seem to think they ought to excite. As to religion, and other rights, guaranteed to them, they consider it as the mere performance of a solemn promise, and therefore not a matter of merit, especially as they accuse the imperial government of withholding some benefits, to which they deem themselves entitled. The prosperity they enjoy, those who think about the matter, are conscious that they owe, not to the government, but to the productiveness of industry in a new country ; moreover, the Canadians sometimes cast their eyes towards the neighbouring states, where they see prosperity without the "political wisdom" to which Lord Gosford alludes ; the grievances, which his Lordship asserts to have been redressed, the Canadians consider the very point in dispute ; and they would perhaps open the reports signed by his Lordship, as one of the commissioners, and point out many severe cases of grievance admitted to be still in existence.

Thus, whilst the proclamation has excited the animosity of one party, it does not seem calculated to produce much effect on the other. The Lower Canadian insurgents appear to have been subdued by the arms of the military, without being convinced by the statements of the proclamation. Lord Gosford himself seems to be of this opinion. "What may be the effect of this address," says his Lordship,58 "upon the minds of the misguided peasantry, it is difficult to say ; they have disregarded my former warnings, the pastoral letter of their countryman, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal,59 and the peaceful advice of their clergy, and it may be that my present proclamation will meet with no better reception."

Another monitory document was circulated a few days before Lord Gosford's proclamation, which, owing to the character of the parties whence it emanated, was not likely to have any effect. It is an address signed by fourteen French Canadian magistrates, all, with one exception, obnoxious to their fellow countrymen as enemies of the Assembly, and friends of their enemies; and that one exception, once one of the most popular men in Canada, is likely to become obnoxious by this his last act. This address warns the people of "certain perfidious men who have pushed on isolated individuals to commit acts unworthy of men who know how to respect the public peace and the laws." It then advises them to return to their homes, and to rely on the protection of the British government, reminds them that "the vengeance60 of the laws will be equally prompt and terrible," and concludes by stating, that they who call the people back to peace, believe themselves to be the most devoted servants of their country.

Immediately after issuing the monitory proclamation of the 29th November, which, it seems to have been expected, would cause the people to abandon their leaders, "with the advice of the executive council, and on the recommendation of the attorney-general," his Lordship issued three proclamations, offering rewards for the apprehension of twenty individuals, of whom the following is the list, with the sums offered : —

L. J. Papineau (Speaker) £1000
Dr. W. Nelson 500
T. S. Brown 500
E. B. O'Callaghan, M.P.P. 500
J. J. Girouard, M.P.P. 500
C. H. O. Cote, M.P.P. 500
J. T. Drolet, M.P.P. 500
W. H. Scott, M.P.P. 500
E. E. Rodier, M.P.P. 500
Amury Girod 500
Jean O. Chenier 500
P. P. Demaray 100
J. F. Davignon 100
Julien Gagnon 100
P. Amiot 100
T. Franchère 100
L. Perrault 100
A. Gauvin 100
L. Gaulthier 100
R. Desrivières 100

The charge against all these persons is that of high treason. What evidence, or what affidavits the executive may have, it is impossible to say ; at present, nothing appears in the papers laid before parliament or elsewhere to warrant the charge against many of the names on the list. Some have appeared in arms; they have, doubtless, rendered themselves amenable to such a charge ; but others are not even known to have appeared in the disturbed district. M. Papineau and Dr. O'Callaghan in particular, have been charged with abandoning the people, because they were not among the combatants at St. Denis. Lord Gosford calls them "the criminal leaders of this reckless insurrection ;"61 the Montreal papers hold similar language, yet, with strange inconsistency, call the same men hard names, such as "skulking poltroons," because they have not been "leaders of this reckless insurrection." Leaders they were, but it was of the moral resistance of the people ; that they have embarked in the recent insurrection is, we repeat, no where proved by the evidence hitherto made public.

In the early part of the month of December, an attempt was made by some of the members of the Assembly to induce Lord Gosford to call the legislature together. This measure originated with M. Lafontaine, member for Terrebonne; Mr. Leslie, member for the east ward of Montreal; and Mr. Walker, an advocate, who had been M. Papineau's opponent at the last election, and who, in 1835, was the constitutional delegate to this country. Mr. Lafontaine had during the summer, refrained from attending the public meetings which had taken place ; and although an active and influential member of the majority, may probably have deemed himself somewhat less obnoxious to the ruling party, and to Lord Gosford, than those who had so attended; Mr. Leslie being a mild and benevolent man, and therefore much esteemed, even by those who were opposed to him in politics, would give weight to the application, whilst the association of Mr. Walker, with two gentlemen of the popular party, may probably have been designed to strip the application of all suspicion that it emanated from the most uncompromising section of the liberals.

It does not appear from any document, either public or private, to which we have had access, that they were delegated by any body of individuals ; but on their arrival at Quebec, they were joined by twelve members of the Assembly, Mr. Walker having there, as it should seem, ceased to act with them.

The ground of their demand, that the Legislature should be called together, was simply this ; that Lord Gosford having remodelled the Council very recently, he ought, if consistent, to call the Assembly Council together, in order to ascertain if it were possible for the two legislative bodies to act together.

Mr. Lafontaine and Mr. Leslie appear to have waited upon Lord Gosford on the 4th or 5th of December. Their verbal communication was afterwards reduced to writing, and signed by the following members : —

V. Têtu. P. M. Bardy. J. F. Deblois.
A. Berthelot. L. T. Besserer. A. N. Morin.
H. T. Huot. J. Leslie. J. A. Tachereau.
L. Methot. L. H. Lafontaine. H. Dubord.
A. C. Tachereau. A. Godbout.

In this shape, it was presented as an address to Lord Gosford ; it met with an immediate refusal ; and the same afternoon martial law was proclaimed. Lord Gosford's view of the matter is embodied in the following extract from his despatch to Lord Glenelg, dated 23rd December, 1837.

I have recently received an address, dated the 5th instant, from the members of the House of Assembly, whose names are mentioned in the margin, urging me immediately to convoke the provincial parliament, as the only efficacious remedy, in their opinion, for the re-establishment of peace and harmony in the country ; but as this application expressed the individual opinions of only 14 out of the 90 members of the House; and as I did not conceive on general grounds that such a course of proceeding would, under existing circumstances, be either prudent or advisable, I declined to adopt it. Indeed, it would have been a virtual disfranchisement for the session, of several counties, whose members are either in gaol, or fugitives, under the charge of high treason, and for the apprehension of many of whom a reward has been offered. Besides, any measures adopted by the local legislature under the present position of affairs, would probably be hereafter considered as the result of a constraint produced by recent events, an impression that could not fail to destroy in the public mind those feelings of confidence and respect which the proceedings of a legislative body ought at all times to command.62

We can find nothing to object to, considering all the circumstances of the case, in the determination on the part of the governor. If it had been contemplated to accompany the calling together of the Assembly with a general amnesty, it might have been attended with the most beneficial effects. The insurrection having ceased in the country watered by the Richelieu, such a measure of conciliation, nay, of clemency, would have strengthened Lord Gosford's government more than any course of coercion. It would have been a true conquest of the Assembly ; and, although we are convinced that no government but one which is purely elective in its character, can ultimately succeed in America, the immediate effect would have been the generation, to a certain extent, of a yielding disposition on the part of the Assembly. We have been assured that the recal of the exiled members formed part of the plan of Messrs. Lafontaine and Leslie, but it does not appear to have been so understood by Lord Gosford. His Lordship distinctly states the fact of some members being in gaol, and others in exile, as a ground for refusing. The absentees numbered most of the members for the Montreal district, including the Speaker; it does not appear that on the whole, above sixty members were in a condition to attend, so that we do not see how Lord Gosford could well have complied with the doubtless well-intentioned request, without an amnesty, which he does not seem to have been disposed at that time to grant.

The proceedings relative to the declaration of martial law next demand our attention. For some time, the newspapers of Montreal had been loudly calling upon the executive to resort to this extreme measure, to which, however, his Excellency for some time exhibited a proper reluctance. This reluctance, natural enough to an Englishman, but which the colonial governing party could not comprehend, much less appreciate, gave rise to a report that the power to proclaim martial law, usually inserted in the commissions of colonial governors, had, either through inadvertence or design, been left out of that of Lord Gosford. Whether this be or be not the case, we find his Lordship addressing Lord Glenelg, as early as the 6th of November, to the following effect : —

I have used, and am still using, every endeavour to arrest the progress of anarchy and confusion that is spreading, with great rapidity, throughout the district of Montreal ; but I find the ordinary powers of the executive quite insufficient for the purpose.

This may have been intended to prepare the imperial government for the resort to "extraordinary powers ;" and whether such powers were included in Lord Gosford's commission is of little moment, inasmuch as no governor would feel any hesitation in usurping such powers, knowing that it is a principle of the administration of the colonial office, to protect their governors in all acts against the people. A bill of indemnity63 for the proclamation of martial law would, in the case supposed, be sure to await Lord Gosford on his return to this country.

On the 20th of the same month, the Executive Council met for the purpose of deliberating on the same subject. At this meeting, M. Debartzch was present, and as the insurgents at St. Charles had only a few days before held him in durance in his own house,64 it was not wonderful that he should desire the adoption of an extreme measure. In short, of the five persons who assisted at this deliberation, no less than three were of the apostate class — a class which seems perpetually on the alert to do some overt act of loyalty, in order, we suppose, to destroy all suspicion of the possibility of a backsliding to liberalism. The result of their deliberation was as follows : —

It was ordered, with the advice of the board, that inasmuch as the civil authorities in certain parts of the district of Montreal are unable to carry the law into effect without the aid of the military force, it will become expedient, should such a state of things continue, to declare those parts of the said district in a state of insurrection and rebellion.

Still Lord Gosford hesitated, being all the time subject to the violent abuse of the Montreal anti-popular papers,65 whose cry was continually for blood. At this time, no intelligence of the transactions at St. Charles and St. Denis had reached Quebec; as they had been undertaken, not by order of the executive, but by the commander of the forces, at the demand of the law officers of the crown, and on his own authority. Immediately after these transactions, the magistrates of Montreal had a meeting, at which the following resolutions were passed : —

That the standard of rebellion has been raised in various portions of this district, and considerable bodies of armed men have assembled, under the command of persons who have publicly declared that their object was to upset the government of this province, and to sever its connexion with the United Kingdom, and who have fired on and killed a number of her Majesty's troops while executing the orders of the civil government.

That there is reason to apprehend that an extensive system of insurrection is in active progress of organization in this district, conducted by persons notoriously disaffected to her Majesty's government, who, the regular forms and process of civil law do not permit being immediately arrested and brought to punishment, thereby endangering the safety of the city,66 and the lives and properties of her Majesty's subjects throughout the district.

That the magistrates, now in special sessions assembled, do represent to his Excellency the Governor-in-chief, that, in their opinion, the exigencies of the times require that this district be placed under martial law.67

The sanction afforded by the above resolutions to the declaration of martial law by the Governor, seems afterwards to have been deemed by the magistrates of insufficient force ; they therefore met a second time, on the 4th of December, and passed the following resolutions, in the way of explanation.

That, in the opinion of this meeting, the turbulent and disaffected persons who have incited the peasantry to rebel against her Majesty's government, have been led on and encouraged in their career of crime by a firm belief that whatever might be their political offences they would not be declared guilty by any jury impannelled in the ordinary course of law ; that the great mass of the population in this district having been engaged in aiding and abetting the late treasonable attempts, a fair and impartial verdict cannot be expected from a jury taken indiscriminately from the legally-qualified inhabitants ; and that, unless measures are adopted to ensure the equal dispensation of justice, few, if any, even of the most guilty among the rebels will receive the punishment justly due to their crimes ; while the loyal and well-disposed will continue to be exposed to persecution and outrage from those who believe themselves to be beyond the reach of legal retribution.

That the faithful and attached subjects of her Majesty in this district, who have proved their fidelity by a zealous support of the government in times of peril and difficulty, are entitled to claim adequate protection from the executive of the province ; and that this meeting declares its deliberate conviction, that the only effectual mode of granting that protection, and of arresting the progress of crime and of social disorganization is to place this district under martial law.

It will be seen that in the first of these latter resolutions, the magistrates assert that "a fair and impartial verdict cannot be expected from a jury taken indiscriminately from the legally qualified inhabitants ;" on the other hand, we have seen the leading men of the popular party flying from the city under the impression that the courts offered no protection to them68. Here, it seems, we are thrown into a strange difficulty. We have two adverse political parties, both complaining of the constitution of the judiciary, the one because a jury would certainly be in favour of the insurgents, and the other because a jury would as certainly be against them — the latter backing their opinion by declining to trust themselves to that which the magistrates declare to be certainly in their favour. This conflict of adverse opinions leads us to infer, that a jury in Canada is as uncertain a matter as a House of Commons' Election Committee. Look at its constitution, and the result may at once be foretold. So also of the Canadian jury ; look to the mode of impannelling it — to the original source of its construction — and, in the case of political offences, the result may at once be predicted. With the protection of the Statute for Summoning Juries, which was in force from 1832 to 1835, it must be admitted that the government would have found it difficult to obtain a verdict. But that law, let it be remembered, exists no longer, so that the will of the sheriff (an officer belonging to the same political party as the magistrates) prevails. This the political leaders of the Canadians had long contemplated. They knew that, in a political trial, on a former occasion, the jury was chosen out of a single parish — La Chine, inhabited almost wholly by men of the anti-popular party ; this forbade the idea of chance, and convinced the leading men that a packed jury would be their portion69. Now, whether the impression were correct or not, it must be evident that their state of mind on the point must have been very different to that what the magistrates supposed. If therefore the latter had no other reason to demand martial law, they seem to have recommended a truly odious measure somewhat rashly. Secure of a jury favourable to their views, they might have saved themselves the extreme unpopularity of making such a recommendation.

Whilst they have underrated the favourableness to their views, of a jury nominated by a crown-made sheriff, they may also have overrated that of a court-martial. If a court-martial even condemn a few of the most active of those taken in arms, it is quite certain that such a tribunal would be slow to imbrue its hands in blood to the extent demanded in the extracts we have given in this chapter70. Earnestly is it to be hoped that neither judicial slaughter nor confiscation will be resorted to. In political strife, it is a poor weapon compared with clemency. The blood of political martyrs cannot be wiped out ; it is calculated, sooner or later to re-arm a tranquillised population. Clemency, on the other hand, achieves a long-enduring victory. However much, therefore, it may disappoint and dissatisfy the constitutionalist party in Canada, who deem it so important that "the rebels should receive the punishment due to their crimes,"71 — "that every local agitator should be hanged, and his property confiscated ;"72 we feel quite sure that our English readers will join us in the hope that the noble maxim before quoted — "Vengeance is unknown to the law,"73 will not be found excepted in the case of martial law.

The magistrates' resolutions of the 4th of December, probably arose out of the Governor's tardy compliance with those of the 27th November, for instead of martial-law, on the 29th, the monitory proclamation made its appearance ; before the second set of resolutions left Montreal for the seat of government, however, martial law had been determined on. On the 4th of December, the Council met for the express purpose of sanctioning the measure, and the following is a minute of their proceedings : —

His Excellency laid before the board, the attorney and solicitor general's opinion, and report upon the right of the crown, to declare martial law, together with the attorney-general's draft of a proclamation, dated 28th of November, 1837, declaring the district of Montreal under martial law ; and as it appears by the attorney and solicitor-general's report, that the functions of the ordinary legal tribunals may be considered as having virtually ceased in the district of Montreal, and that scarcely in any part thereof, process of any description can be served, or writs executed by the ministry of the civil officers ; —

It was ordered, with the advice of the board, that the attorney-general's draft be adopted; and that a proclamation do accordingly issue, declaring the district of Montreal under martial law, and empowering, the proper authorities to carry it into effect.74

Proclamation to the above effect was accordingly made the next day, Lord Gosford having previously transmitted to the colonial minister his motives and feelings on the subject to the following effect : — "It has become a serious question with me, whether the insurgent localities should not, as a matter of absolute necessity, be placed under martial law; and I cannot help expressing a fear that I shall be compelled, though with the deepest reluctance, ultimately, and perhaps almost immediately, to resort to this severe, but if matters do not mend, indispensable measure. Indeed the great majority of the magistrates of the city of Montreal in formal session, have recently addressed me urging its immediate adoption."

With the proclamation, and a commission authorising Sir John Colborne to execute martial law, a letter of instructions was also written from which the following is an extract of the material portion : —

It is his Excellency's earnest hope that the declaration of martial law will of itself strike such a salutary terror into the hearts of the disaffected in that district, as will obviate the necessity of having the recourse to these extreme severities, the execution of which is hereby confided to you, and to which, in the present dangerous crisis, and in the absence of all other remedy, his Excellency most reluctantly is compelled to resort.

I have it therefore in command75 from his Excellency to instruct you, that in all cases wherein the unlimited power with which you are now entrusted can be exercised in co-operation with, or in subordination to the ordinary laws of the land ; and that in all cases where from local circumstances, or from a prompt return to their allegiance, the deluded inhabitants of any part of that district display an honest contrition for their past offences, you will revert at once to the assistance of the civil authorities, and impress upon a misguided people the conviction, that her Majesty's government hi this province is equally prompt to pardon the repentant, and punish the incorrigible.

These instructions will alleviate, in some degree, the apparent severity of a measure which the present painful emergency imposes on his Excellency, and will relieve you from any responsibility which might otherwise arise out of the exercise on all fitting occasions of that leniency, which his Excellency feels assured is so congenial to your feelings.

In a despatch addressed to Lord Fitzroy Somerset, dated 7th December, Sir John Colborne thus states the spirit in which it was his intention to administer martial law.

"I beg to assure the general commanding-in-chief, that although the governor-in-chief, has considered it necessary to declare the district of Montreal under martial law, I shall, on every occasion, avail myself of the assistance and advice of the civil authorities in carrying into effect such measures as may be required to restore order, and to protect the property of the loyal inhabitants."76

From this time, and perhaps even from an earlier date, Sir John Colborne may be considered as governor-general. Up to the date of the latest despatches which have been printed,77 Lord Gosford continued to address the Colonial Secretary as governor, whilst Sir John Colborne's military despatches are addressed only to the Military Secretary, Lord Fitzroy Somerset ; but Lord Gosford appears, on most occasions, to have acted with the advice of the commander of the forces, besides which, Lower Canada being virtually reduced to a military government, the chief power has necessarily fallen into Sir John Colborne's hands.

For some time previous to the breaking out of the insurrection, Lord Gosford appears to have been desirous of being recalled, and we may add, the Colonial Office equally desirous of recalling him. On the 14th of November, which be it remembered, was about the time the executive struck the first blow,78 Lord Gosford addressed to Lord Glenelg, the following short despatch.

Finding from the system pursued by the disaffected in this province, that the decisive measures I have recently submitted for your consideration, become every day more necessary, it naturally occurs to me, that if it should be determined to take a strong course of proceeding, you might feel desirous to entrust the execution of your plans to hands not pledged as mine are to a mild and conciliatory line of policy. As I stated in a former letter, I would not shrink from difficulties, nor wish to take any step that would in the least degree embarrass her Majesty's ministers ; but I owe it to you, to myself, and to my sense of public duty, fairly and honestly to declare my conviction, that any alteration that may take place in the policy to be observed towards this province, would be more likely to produce the desired result if confided to a successor, who would enter on the task free to take a new line of action, without being exposed to the accusation of inconsistency, which just or not, must always prove injurious to the beneficial working of any administration. My continuance here to this time has been, as you are aware, solely on public grounds ; had I been influenced by private considerations, I should long ere this have solicited my recal, but the principles by which I was actuated, would not admit of an abrupt application of this nature; I therefore confine my communication on this head to acquainting you, that my private wish was to return home, but leaving it entirely to you to take the course you might think best calculated to promote the public service. I can now, however, assign reasons of a public nature for wishing to be relieved, which I could not well have done sooner ; and should you admit their validity, I trust that after what I have said, you will feel no hesitation as regards myself in making such arrangements as you think desirable.79

This despatch reached England about the 20th of December last, but more than three weeks previous to its receipt, Lord Gosford's recal had been determined on. On the 27th of November, Lord Glenelg, after adverting to "the disinterested manner" in which his Lordship "had left to her Majesty's ministers, the entirely free and unembarrassed discussion of the question ;" as to his "continuance in office" or his "retirement from it," continues as follows : —

At the same time, it is impossible not to perceive that the course of policy which must now be pursued, will be more conveniently followed out by one less implicated than yourself, in the events of the last few years. Merging therefore, in a sense of public duty, all personal considerations, we have felt ourselves under an obligation to avail ourselves of the generosity with which you have placed the disposal of your office at the unembarrassed discretion of her Majesty's ministers, and to advise her Majesty to relieve you at once from the government of Lower Canada . . . Enclosed is a despatch which you will deliver to Sir John Colborne, on whom, in conformity with the terms of the commission, the administration of the government, until the arrival of your successor, will devolve.

From this time forward the despatches of Lord Glenelg have been addressed to Sir John Colborne, and by the first or second week in January, Lord Gosford, we shall most probably find, will have ceased to exercise the office of governor in any way. The civil government of Canada, having been virtually destroyed by the proclamation of the 6th of December, Sir John Colborne will, most likely, remain at Montreal, as long he deems his presence, in the slightest degree, necessary.

Lord Gosford's desire to be recalled cannot be wondered at. His position must, for a long time, have been painful in the extreme. He went out to Canada with the reputation of being a liberal man ; he was, moreover, the representative of a liberal government ; he permitted it to be understood that his instructions were also of the most liberal character ; in short, all his talk was of liberality and conciliation. Presently, Sir Francis Head published his Lordship's instructions with his own, when it was found that there was not a single line which the majority of the Assembly deemed of a liberal character.80 The consequence was, that the Assembly from that moment believed themselves deceived ; they believed most firmly that Lord Gosford and the Colonial Office, had unequivocally lent themselves to a conspiracy to obtain a vote of supplies. The first feeling of the Assembly had been that of excessive indignation; that feeling, however, at length gave place to unconquerable distrust. The consciousness of being thus regarded, must, under any circumstances, be sufficiently painful.

Whilst he is thus obnoxious to the Assembly and people of the province, he is by no means popular with the Assembly's enemies — the anti-popular party.

In Canada, there can be no middle term, no neutral ground in politics. The social equality of the people converts them into a state of natural democracy, whilst on the other hand, the forcible maintenance of power in the hands of a minority, renders them from their mere weakness, intolerant of any countenance given to the governed many. Fear, in short, must always render a minority clad with undue powers, tyrannical. We see it in Ireland — in the slave-states of America — in all of our Colonies where we have attempted to raise a forced aristocracy. Let us not wonder, therefore, that the bare idea of conciliation made the whole governing party, Lord Gosford's enemies. His assumption of the office of governor was the signal for the most virulent attacks in all their papers; and almost the last sound heard within the walls of the House of Assembly, was a diatribe against the governor — not from the mouth of Papineau, O'Callaghan, Lafontaine, or Perrault, the orators on the popular side ; but from that of Andrew Stuart, the best and most honourable, as well as the most eloquent man of the anti-popular party.

Lord Gosford's longing desire for recal was therefore, in all probability, generated not a great while after his arrival. In his private letters to Lord Glenelg, he appears to have expressed that desire pretty frequently; at length the supposed necessity for a more coercive line of policy affords an excellent opportunity to ministers of carrying their mutual desires into effect.

Lord Gosford appears throughout to have been utterly unfit for his office. On what ground he was appointed, it is difficult to say. All that was previously known of his Lordship was, that he had shown firmness in one particular case at Armagh. But that case presented no great difficulty ; popular opinion had been for some time setting against the orange institutions, and in opposing them, he merely permitted himself to be borne along with the tide. Backed by popular opinion, it is not difficult to be firm ; but it requires far other powers to deal with two excited parties contending for the mastery, as in Canada. Such powers Lord Gosford has certainly not exhibited.

We have now brought to a conclusion the narration of the executive measures of the government of Canada, connected with the insurrection. In the next chapter, we shall return to the further military operations on the River Richelieu.


46. Chapter i. p. II.

47. Par. paper. No. 72, p. 65.

48. From the same paper, we learn that, at the funeral of Lieutenant Weir, 7th Dec., 1837, "A military gentleman stood at the Quebec gate, as the procession passed, and counted 3154 men under arms, exclusive of officers; of these very few, comparatively, were regulars, owing to the absence of the greater part on duty out of town."

49. See these conditions given at length in Par. paper. No. 80, p. 1 1 .

50. Ibid. p. 9.

51. The regular troops exceeded 4000, making in all about 13,000 men at Sir John Colborne's disposal.

52. Vide, Chap. ii. p. 33.

53. It is so called, though erroneously, from the word Montagne ; what we mean by the word mountain, the French express by the word, mont.

54. Chapter v.

55. Meaning the member for Galway.

56. Archibald Acheson, Earl of Gosford.

57. This is the same paper from which the following extract found its way into the London papers, and elicited expressions of their astonishment and disgust. It was copied, with approbation, into other papers, of the "well affected" party. "The punishment of the general leaders, however gratifying it might be to the English inhabitants of the province, would not make either so deep or so durable an impression on the great body of the people, as the sight of a foreign farmer on every local agitator's land, and of the comparative destitution of his widow and orphans — living and lasting proofs of the folly and wickedness of rebellion. The most vigorous exertions ought to be made, in order to identify and convict every local agitator, and to this purpose, most of the miserable creatures who were brought to town on Thursday, should be applied. They should be employed as witnesses against all such 'notables' as Duvert and Durocher, their own leaders in guilt, and partners in misfortune. A vigorous course of this kind would moreover have the effect of settling a large number of 'foreigners' in the most turbulent and most opulent part of Lower Canada, and thus at once ameliorate political evils, and promote agricultural improvement. To return to our original proposition, the funds raised in this way ought to remunerate every loyal man that may have suffered from the rapacity and cruelty of the savages.

"In accomplishing all this, no time should be lost ; a special commission ought immediately to be issued for the trial of the present batch of imprisoned traitors. It would be ridiculous to fatten fellows all the winter for the gallows."

58. Despatch of 30th Nov. 1837. Par. paper, No. 80. p. 9.

59. See Introduction.

60. "Vengeance is unknown to the law." Livingston : Penal code for Louisiana.

61. Par. paper, 16th Jan. 1838. No. 80 p. 15.

62. Par. paper, 2nd Feb. 1838. No. 100, p. 6.

63. To show that a reliance that indemnification would not be withheld from him, was by no means unreasonable, should he exceed his instructions in the case supposed, we offer the following extract from a despatch of Lord Glenelg's, addressed to Sir John Colborne on the 6th of December last.

"To repress by arms any insurrection or rebellion to which the civil power cannot be successfully opposed, is, therefore, a legitimate exercise of the royal authority; and in the attainment of this object, the proclamation of martial law may become indispensable. It is superfluous to state with what caution and reserve this ultimate resource should be resorted to ; and that it ought to be confined within the narrowest limits which the necessity of the case will admit. But if, unhappily, the case shall arise in any part of Lower Canada in which the protection of the loyal and peaceable subjects of the crown may require the adoption of this extreme measure, it must not be declined. Reposing the utmost confidence in your prudence that such a measure will not be needlessly taken, and relying on your firmness that, if taken, it will be followed up with the requisite energy, her Majesty's government are fully prepared to assume to themselves the responsibility of instructing you to employ it, should you be deliberately convinced that the occasion imperatively demands it. They will with confidence look to parliament for your indemnity and their own. — (Par. paper, Dec. 1837, No. 72, p. 106.)

64. See chap. ii. p. 22.

65. We need not fatigue the reader with further specimens of this abuse. Those which will be found at page 43, will suffice.

66. See what has been already stated concerning the state of alarm in the city at this time. Chap. iii. p. 40.

67. Par. paper, Jan. 16, 1838 No. 80, p. 13.

68. See Chap. i. p. 11.

69. See Ibid.

70. See p. 43, 44.

71. Magistrates' Resolutions, p. 50.

72. Extracts given at p. 43.

73. p. 45.

74. Par. paper, No. 80, p. 16. — It is worthy of notice, that Mr. Debartzch who had been present at all the preliminary deliberations on the subject, was absent when the time for final decision arrived. The reader will not have forgotten the story of Mr, Debartzch's school propensity of setting little boys to fight, etc, see p. 20., the application of which to the present subject is curious.

75. It is the Secretary who writes.

76. Par. paper, No, 80, p. 18.

77. 2nd January, 1838.

78. See Chapter i, page 9.

79. Par. paper. No. 72, p. 107.

80. See the Introduction.

Table of Contents | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII | Chapter VIII | Chapter IX | Chapter X

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