An Impartial and Authentic Account of the Civil War in the Canadas/Chapter VI
The Prisoners — Liberation of some — Clemency probable — Oath of Allegiance Administered — Loyal Addresses — Constitutional Association — their Grievances — their Demands — Conclusion.
It has been already stated that, at the time of the final suppression of the revolt in Lower Canada, 170 prisoners were in confinement in the gaol of Montreal, charged with high treason or sedition. Of these, by far the greater portion, probably from 130 to 140, consisted of the peasantry taken in arms at St. Charles, and St. Eustache. At one time, the gaol was so crowded, that, in order to make room for fresh inmates, some, described as the least culpable, were dismissed with no more punishment than the few days of imprisonment had afforded.
A story found its way into the New York papers, and thence into some of our own, to the effect, that eleven had been privately shot. This statement was a manifest absurdity, for even under a system of martial law, publicity, together with some form of trial, is necessary.
The prisoners at this time in gaol are spoken of in the Colonial papers, and in the despatches, in a manner to show that the local authorities consider them as capable of being grouped into three classes, namely, the "deluded peasantry," the "local agitators," and the "instigators and leaders of the revolt."
The first class, which is of course by far the most numerous. Sir John Colborne has evinced a disposition to dismiss without trial, on condition, of course, that they return to their homes and offend no more. This line of conduct is calculated to offend that ultra party which attacked so virulently the admonitory proclamation of the 29th of November ; which, as we have seen,104 rejoices in the opinion, that the peasantry (except the most "deluded," who are proposed to be used as witnesses) taken in arms, should be dispossessed of their farms, in order that the destitute widows and orphans might afford an "enduring and living evidence of the folly and wickedness of rebellion."
It is not to be supposed that either Lord Gosford or Sir John Colborne should fall in with these views. They may so shape their measures as to promote the political objects of the party which they deem well affected towards the authority of the mother country ; but they would hardly proceed to the unwarrantable extent desired, even if the power of so doing were placed in their hands by a local tribunal. It seems, therefore, highly probable, that very few of the class, considered as merely "deluded," will be brought to trial — moderation and clemency being the obvious policy of the victorious government.
Lord Gosford, in his despatch of the 23rd of December, thus alludes to the liberation of some of the prisoners : —
Your Lordship will, I am sure, learn with as much satisfaction as I experience in mentioning the fact, that the promulgation of martial law, in the district of Montreal, has, as yet, been productive only of acts of lenity and mercy. Not a single individual has suffered or been molested under it in any way ; but 112 of the deluded habitans, who had been taken in arms, have been restored to liberty. This unexpected act of grace, conferred in the midst of rebellion, while it marks the humane disposition of the government, proclaims, at the same time, its consciousness of strength and security, will, probably, produce tranquillising effects in the hitherto disturbed sections of the country ; and give the best answer to the false statements, that have, most industriously, been calculated in the adjoining States, of the cruelty and oppression alleged to have been practised against the insurgents, and the Canadians generally.
The other two classes, the "local agitators," and the "leaders," run, like light and darkness, the one into the other ; the difference being founded on the nature of the evidence which the law officers of the crown can obtain, warranting, in their opinion, charges of high treason in some cases, and of sedition in others.
Up to the latest accounts, nothing seems to have been determined as to the time and manner of bringing the prisoners to trial. If it be left to the ordinary authorities, unrestrained by the obligations of the writ of habeas corpus, it is greatly to be feared they will be kept for a long time in gaol without a trial. This has been done already in Canada, and may be done again. M. Bedard, the father of the present Canadian judge, was cast into prison on a charge of high-treason. There he was kept for more than a twelve month, at the end of which time his prison-door was opened, and he was told he might go. At first he refused, and tried to get legal redress ; but he soon grew tired of the attempt, and abandoned his prison. If justice were done to the Montreal prisoners, we ought now105 to hear of their trials.
The next question which will arise is, how are they to be tried, by the ordinary tribunals, or by a court-martial ? The question of the legality of martial law was argued before the judges of Lower Canada, on the 28th of December. Mr. James Stuart, formerly attorney-general of the province, and Mr. Walker, to whom allusion has already been made, being heard against it ; but the attorney-general, Ogden, declining to reply, the matter rested with the judges. Their decision will probably be, that it is expedient, and therefore not illegal. We are told by Sir Matthew Hale106, that martial law is in truth and reality no law, but something indulged, rather than allowed, as law. It is, in fact, a violation, a destruction of law — the violators being screened by an ex post facto law, called a bill of indemnity. This we have seen, is distinctly promised Sir John Colborne by Lord Glenelg ; it will be justified by the plea of necessity or expediency; and to talk of its legality or illegality is a mere idle question, fit only for discussion by a debating society.
Our law-writers tell us that martial law should not be resorted to in time of peace, when the regular courts are open to all persons, to receive justice according to the laws of the land. Now, although Lower Canada has but recently ceased to be in a state of civil war, it is admitted that peace is restored, hence the ordinary courts should be again thrown open. This will probably be done. Sir John Colborne will doubtless feel how offensive to public opinion in this country the resort to martial law must necessarily be; and he will therefore be glad to relieve himself of this responsibility as soon as what he deems a fitting opportunity so to do shall arise. — What occasion so fit as the return to peace ?
By whatsoever tribunal the prisoners may be tried, it is highly probable that many convictions will take place. Political offences, at least such as fall short of high treason, are so extremely vague and undefined, that tribunals predisposed to convict, will be satisfied with evidence of an equally lax and doubtful character. Words spoken during the excitement of a public meeting, such as we see reported in every provincial newspaper in this country, will be sufficient to carry home the minor charge. The county meetings held during the summer to denounce Lord John Russell's resolutions, and to recommend the adoption of the scheme of passive resistance, and more especially the meeting of the six counties, will afford ample evidence of sedition, as the Canadian courts will understand the term. High treason, on the other hand, being an offence more strictly defined, the convictions will, in all probability, be few. Sir John Colborne will, doubtless, be anxious to obtain as many convictions as possible, if it be only to afford her Majesty an opportunity of exercising the prerogative of clemency.
On the 28th of December, Lord Gosford empowered commissioners all over the country to administer the oath of allegiance. This will, without doubt, be universally taken, as those who took up arms to defend their leading men, did not consider that in so doing they were violating their allegiance to her Majesty. Their political struggles have little or no reference to this country ; they consider themselves as being engaged in a struggle against a political party opposed to them ; and however much they may feel aggrieved, that the imperial government occasionally sides with their political adversaries, they do not as yet appear to have seriously contemplated the violation of their allegiance beyond the resistance of what are called the Queen's warrants, with which it would he extremely difficult to persuade a Canadian habitant, her Majesty has much to do.
Some few loyal addresses were now presented to Lord Gosford from French Canadians — namely, one from La Prairie, with 230 signatures ; one from St. Vincent de Paul, on Isle Jesus, with 453 signatures ; and a third from Montreal, with 1283 signatures. These addresses express in a "free, candid, and sincere manner," the "fidelity and inviolable attachment" of the signers, to her Majesty.
They denounce certain unnamed persons for having abused their confidence. "Unhappily," says one of these addresses, "they have blinded, led away, even obliged several of our brothers to engage in this parricidal struggle, and blood has flowed, and civil war has desolated several parts of a territory, in which the most profound peace had before perpetually reigned."
"It is impossible," says the La Prairie address, "to take our leave, without expressing to your Excellency the admiration which we feel respecting all the acts of your Excellency's administration, which exhibit a degree of benevolence, of liberality, of magnanimity, with which it is rare to meet in a man placed in the midst of the difficult circumstances which have recently presented themselves."
The three addresses are all of the same character, though clothed in different language, and of a very different length. All express great attachment to her Majesty — all denounce certain persons who have blinded the people — all flatter his Excellency. His Excellency, in return, expresses his satisfaction that they now see things so clearly, and promises to convey their addresses to the foot of the throne. We marvel that more of these addresses have not been got up and presented.
The return of tranquillity, and the prostrate state of the leading men of the popular party, were seized upon by the "Constitutionalists," or by the party opposed to the Assembly, as a proper moment to reiterate their complaints and demands.
A meeting took place on Saturday, the 30th of December, which, according to the Montreal Herald, the organ of the party, was "indifferently attended."107 At this meeting, "the report of the Executive Committee for the past year was read and adopted ;" and as it embodies the views of that party, in their own words, we shall make some extracts from it.
Before we do so, however, we must remind the reader of a broad distinction which the constitutional party has been always anxious to confound. The majority of that party is composed of persons of British descent ; but the majority of the inhabitants of British descent do not acknowledge the principles of that party.
This is, the reader will admit, an important distinction — a distinction which strips the constitutionalists of all right to call themselves the "British party." The commissioners, in their report, explain the reasons why the British inhabitants of the townships return members favourable to the views of the Assembly, and opposed to the constitutionalists; and it is probable, for this reason, that the report, from which we are about to quote, quarrels with the commissioners.
The great sin of the commissioners, the grievances of the party, and their proposed remedy are thus alluded to : —
Since the last Annual General Meeting of this Association, the reports of the loyal commissioners "specially appointed for the investigation of grievances affecting her Majesty's subjects in Lower Canada, in what relates to the administration of the government thereof," have been published ; and whilst your committee, in common with the generality of the British inhabitants of this province, deplore the loss of time and waste of money lavished upon those unprofitable labours,108 they have likewise to express their deep regret, not only at the confused and partial views taken by the commissioners of the real cause of discontent in the province, 'of the extent to which it has a reasonable foundation,' and of the inadequate and inefficient remedies proposed by them for its removal, but also at their disregard of the substantial grounds of repugnance existing among the different races of the provincial inhabitants, their neglect of the acknowledged grievances of those inhabitants of British origin, and the cautious avoidance of their claims for a just participation in the enjoyment of rights deservedly dear to Englishmen, and their utter indifference to the important measure of the Legislative Union of the Canadas.
An attentive consideration of these circumstances, and a firm conviction of the extreme importance of that provincial union, stimulated your committee to employ every means at their disposal to bring that measure prominently into notice ; to urge its immediate as well as prospective advantages, and to direct public attention to both provinces, to its ultimate and paramount necessity. With this view, your committee prepared and extensively circulated "A Representation upon the Legislative Union of the Provinces," containing some of the principal reasons in its support, tables of the population, and of its increase in both provinces, particularly of the separate increase of the British and French races in Lower Canada, and various statistical details, together with a map exhibiting a new division of counties in this province, by which a more equal share in the provincial representation would be given to the British inhabitants ; and advantage was taken of the last session of the Imperial Parliament to transmit copies to the leading members of both branches of the legislature, as well as to influential persons resident in Great Britain, who are connected with the Canadas, or interested in their prosperity.
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The great and increasing necessity of the Legislative Union of the Canadas impels your committee to submit to you the propriety of pressing that great object to the desired conclusion, as the experience of nearly fifty years of separation between them, and the late seditious and rebellious movements in the most populous and prosperous portions of this province, plainly shew that the advantages anticipated from the division of the province of Quebec into two separate legislatures have been entirely unfounded ; that 'the probability of reconciling, by this means, the jarring interests and opposite views of the provincial inhabitants' has been altogether falsified ; and that the chief results of that most unwise and impolitic measure are apparent in the growth of a population in Lower Canada who, with a few exceptions, have retained and cherished the distinctive characteristics of a separate people, without sympathies, attachments, or interests in common with their British fellow-subjects ; who have manifested a ready disposition to oppose British institutions and British connections, and who have now extended that opposition to open and unjustifiable rebellion. And your committee declare their settled conviction, that without a reunion of the provinces these evils must every year be increasing as the population of British origin increases, and that true wisdom will be shown in meeting these evils with boldness, and at once effecting their entire removal.
The expedient of a re-union of the two provinces, as it is easy to perceive, from the above extract, is entertained by the anti-popular party, under the impression that thereby their adversaries would be completely out-numbered. This impression has arisen from the fact that the Upper Canadian Assembly has been not unfrequently favourable to the dominant party. This, however, is the effect of the existence of small boroughs, of an unequal and unfair division of the country, and other causes tending to promote the undue influence of the governing party in the elections.109 These abuses cannot be long maintained, as public opinion is setting strongly against them ; but even if they were maintained in their full force, the Assembly has never been of a character entirely to swamp the majority of the Lower Canadian House, and sometimes it has been such as to increase that majority. In 1834, for instance, the liberal majority of the Upper Canadian Assembly was about 40 to 20, and that of Lower Canada being 80 to 10, a house composed of the two united, would have exhibited 120 out of the whole 150 opposed to the views of the Constitutionalists. The present House of Assembly of Upper Canada has about 20 Reformers, so that a House composed of the two Assemblies would still have 100 members out of 150, opposed to the views of the party whose report we have quoted.
We are not here to discuss the measure on its merits, we shall not expatiate on the inconvenience of having a country about 1200 miles long, without provincial division ; all that we design to show is, that as a mere party expedient — the project of an union of the provinces would utterly fail.110
The report then continues the complaints, in the following manner : —
While the full exercise of their religious worship, the complete enjoyment of their French civil law, the undisturbed use of their native language, and perfect immunity from taxation, the entire control over the provincial legislature and the redress of every pretended or theoretical grievance, conjoined to render the French inhabitants of Lower Canada the most favoured portion of her Majesty's subjects ; the real and substantial wrongs of the British inhabitants of this province remained neglected and unredressed ; they have been compelled to submit to a system of French jurisprudence foreign to their habits and injurious to their interests, to the French feudal law, which, to the disgrace of Lower Canada, finds a home in this province alone, to a denial of those legislative improvements which would have introduced British capital and enterprise, and an increased British population, into the province, and to the privation of their dearest rights as British subjects, by their virtual exclusion from a just participation in the provincial representation. On the one hand, the possession of every political and civil advantage, and conciliation, and concession to the utmost verge consistent with the dependence of the colony upon the mother country, have been met by disaffection, insurrection and rebellion, attended by atrocious murder, robbery and rapine ; while on the other, the privation of their most sacred rights, as British freemen, and neglect and contempt of their grievances, have been followed by obedience to the laws, support to the government, and loyalty to their sovereign.
We believe the mass of the French to be as much opposed to the burthens of the feudal law, as the constitutionalists are. At one of the county meetings convened for the purpose of denouncing Lord John Russell's resolutions ; a resolution against feudal burthens was incidentally introduced. If the people of Lower Canada and their seigneurs were not kept together by external pressure — by the necessity of uniting against a common enemy, the grievance of the Constitutionalists would long since have been removed by the Assembly. What is so much objected to by the popular party is, that the Constitutionalists should appeal to the Imperial parliament. If the appeal had been made to the Assembly, it would not have been in vain. There is another view of this grievance which must not be lost sight of. The British inhabitants of the Townships will not join the constitutionalists in their war against the feudal tenure, under an impression, that there is a desire on their part to introduce the incidents of the English tenure, and especially, the laws of primogeniture and entail. What the Township people like is the American, not the English tenure. They desire a tenure purely allodial ; and this the law of Canada recognizes under the title of franc-aleu. This tenure is free from all seigneurial duties, or burthens, either personal or pecuniary. The English tenure of free and common soccage is, in practice nearly similar ; but free and common soccage still supposes a feudal superior, which fanc-aleu does not. One objection of the mass of the inhabitants of British descent, is to the incidents of the English tenure, as already noticed ; there is also another, which is much stronger, because it is more tangible, and indisputable ; we allude to the expensiveness of conveyances. The first objection will wear out as the people find there is a disposition to abandon the obnoxious incidents ; the second cannot so easily be gotten rid of, without introducing new and more simple, and, above all, cheaper modes of assurance.111 This can only be effectually done by the local legislature, and when it is done, it will be equivalent to an imitation of the tenure of franc-aleu, to which public opinion in Canada is tending, and which differs from the English tenure, as it alone can be maintained in Canada, more in cheapness of conveyance than anything else.
Taking the tenure as the only grievance of the constitutional party, and they do not appear specifically to state any other, there does not appear to us to be any difficulty in the way of its redress on the spot ; unless indeed they determine to hug the obnoxious incidents including the expensiveness of conveyances, and if they do so we feel certain they will have a majority of the British of the townships against them ; in which case their wishes will not, and ought not, to be complied with.
The demand for an union of the two provinces is again reiterated towards the close of the report, in language which is worthy of notice.
"The British provincial inhabitants" — continues the report, — "must, therefore, not only remember that their supplications for relief have been neglected and their grievances have remained unredressed, but they must likewise not allow the present period to pass away, without boldly declaring to the British Government and Parliament, that they insist upon an entire abandonment of the present impolitic system of partiality, concession, and conciliation to the French Canadians ; upon a speedy and complete redress of the grievances of the British provincial inhabitants, which are not the theoretical speculations of designing and revolutionary demagogues, but real and substantial grounds of complaint, affecting alike the integrity of their birthright as British subjects, and the general improvement of the province ; upon the immediate adoption of the means necessary for crushing the blighting influence of French provincial ascendancy ; and for rendering the colony a British province in fact as well as in name ; and upon a re-union of this province with Upper Canada, as the only means for promoting the prosperity of both provinces, of securing their dependence upon the British government, and of preventing a dismemberment of the Empire."
This is the language of men with arms in their hands. They insist upon a speedy and complete redress of their grievances ; but having specifically stated only one, what they probably mean is, that their pretensions shall be acknowledged and their dicta obeyed in all the future arrangements. They say they speak the voice of the British inhabitants. This remains to be proved. — All the evidence now before us, including the Royal Commissioners' Reports, goes to show that they are not authorised so to speak. But they insist upon their demands being acceded to. What can be the meaning of this language ? Do they mean to refuse to lay down their arms until their demands be granted ? Something of this sort may, perhaps, be intended, and may, moreover, alarm the Colonial Minister ; but should any such arrogance — such madness be exhibited, there is a ready remedy, at hand. The Canadian militia must be embodied and brought to act against the new class of insurgents. The men who "fought like tigers," against the British troops, united with their political adversaries, would certainly do no less when fighting at the side of British troops against their oppressors. The mother country has nothing to fear from the threats of the Constitutionalists. The majesty of the law has been asserted in one case, and must be so in another, if need be.
To show more conclusively that the constitutional party consider the suppression of the revolt to be a most favourable opportunity for insisting on their demands, we shall make a few quotations from the Montreal Herald, the language of which, on the present occasion, is strikingly similar to that of the report from which we have already quoted.
"We are," says the Herald,
... amid no common times ; upon the present action of the British population depends their fate ; with them it rests whether they shall be emancipated from the galling power of the French Canadians, or have the yoke again fitted to their necks.
The recent rebellion, notwithstanding all that Lord Gosford's friends may say to the contrary, was a general rebellion. We verily believe that 2000 French Canadians, from Gaspé to Vaudreuil, cannot be found who would not either have assisted their brethren at St. Denis, or rejoiced in their success. We verily believe it, because the history of the last five years affords innumerable proofs that such is the state of feeling, and it affords not one denial.
We ask again, can it be safe to restore those men to the enjoyment of political power ? This is the question we want to have answered ; and we again say, that whilst they should be deprived of future political power, (at least for a time,) they ought to have the full protection of the law, and the benefit, in common with the rest of the population, of a wise and wholesome legislation.
In plain English, the French Canadians are a majority made more numerous and stronger by the sympathy and co-operation of a large number of the British inhabitants of the townships. The party which the Herald represents on the other hand, is a minority, made smaller and weaker, morally as well as physically, by the same cause. What this party wants is, that force should be given to their will as a minority, by some expedient to destroy the majority, by destroying the "French" portion of it.
As to the modes of effecting this object, we have the following observations : —
There are four modes of escape for the British population of the island of Montreal,112 from that baneful domination which has maddened the spirit of the Britons of this province.
1st. Rule by Governor and Council. This mode is objectionable, as the feelings of Englishmen will not brook any government but that which is based upon the representative system.
Rule by the governor in council, which is precisely the expedient adopted by the Act just passed, will "not be brooked," by the party which insists upon having its wishes attended to, because it is not based upon the representative system. It appears to us, that the representative system is at least as dear to the French as to the British. Indeed, we had an impression, and we can see nothing to remove it, that it was more so, for the assembly representing the majority, has been for some years attempting to apply the representative principle to the Second Chamber or Legislative Council, an extension of the system which the constitutional party have to the last opposed. However, the representative system has been destroyed — deeply do we regret that it has been so — but being so, the constitutionalists must "brook" it.
The next scheme is as follows : —
2nd. Depriving the French Canadians of the right of suffrage for a period of ten years, or longer if necessary, as a just punishment for their unjust rebellion. No person, unless it be Jacques Viger, P. D. Debartzch, or some other French Canadian counsellor of Lord Gosford, or Lord Gosford himself, will have the hardihood to deny that the whole country would have been up in arms if Col. Wetherall had not attacked the rebels at St. Charles : — we say this, notwithstanding the formation of the corps of 'Gosford Guards,' because that corps was formed after the St. Charles affair ; if it had been formed before we might be less sweeping in our declaration. A war annuls all treaties, — a rebellion destroys all compacts or pledges. The French Canadians stand before the world, rebels against the British Government ; they have made war against England, and are again a conquered people — let them be treated accordingly. We do not desire their injury, but our good, — their destruction, but our safety. Let as little blood be shed as possible,113 much already has reddened the snow.
The above recommendation requires no observation. It is inserted for the purpose of showing the darling object of the constitutionalists, namely, the destruction of the majority.
3rd. Annexation of the Island of Montreal to Upper Canada. We believe this would please the people of the Upper Province, but it would be distasteful to the Britons spread throughout the Seigneuries and in the Townships of Lower Canada.
The scheme of the annexation of Montreal to Upper Canada arose in that province, as a substitute for an union of the provinces. The people of that province want a port, but they do not want a re-union of the provinces. Hence arose among the anti-popular party of Upper Canada, a demand, which might probably please the unthinking, but which, on no principle of justice, could possibly be granted. At the time it was made, the question of the division of the duties collected at Quebec was under discussion. Immediately afterwards, the question was set at rest, by the appointment of Commissioners, from both provinces, who soon agreed to the terms of the division. This being settled all interest in the annexation question subsided, and has not again been revived. It was, of course, never popular in Lower Canada.
The last "mode," mentioned by the Herald is "the union of the Provinces," which we have already commented on, when noticing the reports of the Constitutional Association. The Herald then closes its article, with the following admonition to the constitutional party, then about to meet for the purpose of receiving the report, from which we have already quoted : —
These are the modes of escape from the galling influence which has been too long exercised in this ill-fated Province. Let the assemblage this day consider of them.
Let not the men of the British race, who meet to-day, be misled by a contemporary, who speaks of the replies of Lord Gosford to the 'Loyal !' Addresses from the French Canadians, as 'civil and admonitory answers.' Those replies are pregnant with meaning ; they speak of the continuance of the policy which has cursed this Province, and made the very name of Lower Canada, a bye-word and a reproach to surrounding states.
We must make ourselves heard in the House of Commons ! We must appeal to the British people ! We must not submit to the odious system which nourished and encouraged treason and rebellion ! We must so act, or in five years we shall see monuments erected to the manes of the victims to British fury at St. Charles and St. Eustache. Again, we say, Forward, Forward to the meeting.
It has since been stated, that immediate steps are to be taken to convey their demands to this country — to insist upon their being granted ; and we presume to "make themselves heard in the House of Commons." Their secretary, Mr. W. Badgley, an advocate of Montreal, has, we are informed, been appointed to repair to England, as their delegate, to speak their wishes. In all probability, this course will be abandoned after114 the determination of her Majesty's ministers shall have reached Canada. Delegates were in this country in 1835, when the commissioners were appointed. On their departure, the delegates deemed their occupation gone, and returned to Canada. In like manner, on the present occasion, the constitutional party will not fail to perceive that all discussion of grievances, and modes of redress, will be shifted from this country to Canada — from the shoulders of Lord Glenelg, to those of Lord Durham. If, therefore, Mr. Badgley be a man skilled as an advocate, he will be the more wanted at home.
As Englishmen it is our interest — as men it should be our desire, that no class of her Majesty's subjects, in any portion of our dominions, should have wrongs unredressed; but it should be our especial care to see that, under the plea of wrongs, a claim is not successfully urged by one class, to dominion over another. The demand that the French Canadians shall be disfranchised for ten years is of this character, — it cannot be acceded to. Deeply, we repeat, do we deplore the suspension of the constitution of Canada ; it is an extreme measure for which no necessity has been shown, and in favour of the justice of which no fair argument has been urged. It is possible that the people of Canada will submit to it in sullen silence, but it is impossible, after the political education we ourselves have given them, that they should not feel the degradation most keenly. A small section of the country has risen — not, we believe, with any systematic plan of revolution, but merely for the purpose of defencing their political leaders from arrest. The rising has been put down by force. This, in itself, is a severe mortification, and the subsequent punishment will add greatly to that feeling. The more intense the dislike, the more loud the complaints, the more marked the indignation which the suspension of the constitution shall excite in the breasts of the Canadian people, the more decided will be the proof that they value the blessing of representative government. Much as we deplore the suspension of the constitution, however, it cannot but be deemed a far preferable measure to the ten years' disfranchisement above proposed. Why are the French Canadians alone to suffer ! Are they alone the offenders? Certainly not. Some of the most conspicuous among those who are said to have led them at St. Denis, St. Charles, and St. Eustache, were persons of British descent, namely. Dr. Wolfred Nelson, Mr. Brown and Mr. W. H. Scott. Thus if the matter of punishment is to be sought in the representative system, it should certainly be in a manner to reach both races. Suspension of the constitution carries with it this advantage over the disfranchisement of one section of the people, namely, that the party which cannot brook any violation of the representative system in their own case, will of course not be long before they insist upon a restoration thereof. This restoration they may seek to confine to themselves, but we feel convinced no such design can possibly find favour with English legislators. After the fever of the moment shall have subsided, we doubt not, but that the Montreal Constitutionalists themselves will repudiate the idea embodied in the second mode above stated.
Schemes however will necessarily arise to give a preponderance to the constitutional party. The suppression of the revolt has certainly raised their hopes of continued domination, and these hopes will not fail to embody themselves in the shape of a demand for a representative preponderance. The English counties of Lower Canada have already nearly twice as many members, compared with the population, as the French counties.115 But the English counties some how or other send members favourable to the majority, hence, to give more members to the townships will not answer the purpose of the constitutional party. What then is likely to be proposed ? probably some scheme for the establishment of small boroughs, of which there is now only one in Lower Canada, namely, William Henry, which has recently become somewhat unmanageable. In Upper Canada, however, small boroughs have succeeded in giving influence to the dominant party, and this may induce an attempt to establish them in Lower Canada.
At the latest accounts, the Constitutional Association of Montreal had petitioned the Assembly of Upper Canada, praying that house to take into consideration the state of the Canadas, and especially urging the expediency of a re-union of the two provinces.
Towards the end of January, large numbers of the French Canadian population were said to be leaving the city and island of Montreal for other parts of the country. What may have been their motive for so doing has not transpired. The papers — exclusively, be it remembered, of the party bitterly opposed to the mass of the people — preserve a mysterious tone on the subject ; but the probability is, that ill-treatment and insult at the hands of the unrestrained, and, according to the authorities, unrestrainable, "Loyalists," is at the bottom of it. There are no people more attached to a locality than the Lower Canadians. They have often been accused of want of enterprise, in consequence of their propensity to crowd upon a narrow space, and subdivide their patrimony, rather than remove to distant lands ; hence, it must be some extraordinary circumstance which is now breaking in upon one of their most deeply rooted habits.
The following extract on the subject is from the Montreal Transcript : —
The rumours which had been for some days current, and which, for obvious reasons, we refrained from noticing, have not only continued to circulate, but have produced their effect ; and the French Canadian population have been leaving the city and island of Montreal for several days past. We are far from wishing unnecessarily to denounce them, or wantonly to wound their feelings ; but certainly there is in this something very remarkable, something which seems to demand explanation. While the British population are, one and all, in a state of the utmost tranquillity and confidence, this sudden bustle and confusion of French departure bespeaks, on their part, a remarkable timidity ; or it indicates a knowledge, an expectation of some intended outbreak, which induces them to separate themselves from their British fellow-colonists, and to retire from what they suppose to be the field of approaching contest. Some satisfactory explanation is due to their own character, and we look for it accordingly.
It will be seen that this extraordinary movement on the part of the Canadians is stated to be the effect of rumours. If the Montreal paper had given those rumours it would have helped us to the explanation which the colonial paper affects to desire. "A remarkable timidity," without cause, does not appear to be a sufficient explanation of the conduct of men who could "fight like tigers;" neither does there seem the slightest evidence of any "intended or expected outbreak." The province had been in a perfectly tranquil state for about six weeks, and, according to the despatches of Lord Gosford and Sir John Colborne to the 2d of January, there was no disposition, in any part of the province, to renew the occurrences of November. To our minds, therefore, it is to the character of the successful party, and not to that of the French Canadians, that explanation is due ; and, until that explanation is given, they will be liable to a suspicion that the vengeance wreaked on the village of St. Benoit116 has not satisfied them.
It is satisfactory, at the same time, to record evidence of a more humane spirit than that which prompted the burning of the above named village. It seems that rumours had prevailed, that the captors of Dr. Wolfred Nelson had not treated him with that humanity which his situation demanded at the hands of men of ordinary generosity. The following letter sets these rumours (of which, be it observed, we were not aware until the letter came before our notice) at rest: —
Sir, — I regret to learn that a false impression has got abroad as to the treatment I met with after I was arrested in the town ships. I take it to be a duty incumbent upon me to make the following statement : —
I was exhausted and extremely ill when I arrived at Shefford. The kindness I met with from Mrs. and Mr. Osgood, at their inn, I shall never forget. Mr. Wood and the other gentlemen of the village were very attentive, and to my friend Dr. Parmalee, I beg thus publicly to tender my grateful thanks. To the Rev. Mr. Selly, Methodist missionary at that place, I shall always entertain the highest regard ; his humanity in accompanying me to Montreal, and his unwearied efforts for my ease and comfort, and the spiritual consolation which he proffered, I shall hold in grateful remembrance.
To you, sir, I owe a debt of gratitude I wish it was in my power to discharge. You neither tied nor bound me, and made every attempt to alleviate the pain of my situation, and to protect me. The first time I saw you was when I became your prisoner. My impression of you is, that you are a good and a humane man, and as such, with sincerity, I wish you prosperity and happiness.
And remain, &c., WOLFRED NELSON.
Montreal Gaol, Jan. 13. Mr. T. A. Starke.
We may observe, that Dr. Nelson is a high-minded and courageous man, who would not be induced to pen such a letter in the hope of bettering his condition in gaol, were there not ample warrant for it ; on the other hand, such testimony being due, no consideration would make him withhold it.
By the end of January, some additional arrests had increased the number of prisoners in the gaol of Montreal, from 170, the number at the end of December,117 to upwards of 200,118 all for political offences, except one or two men charged with the murder of Lieutenant Weir, and some three or four charged with having murdered a poor habitant named Chartrand. With regard to Lieutenant Weir, we believe it will turn out as stated in the second Chapter.119 In the case of Chartrand, we have no account but that of the anti-popular party, which characterises the poor man's death as a most barbarous murder. Should the death of either or both bear that character, the perpetrators will of course be dealt with as their crimes deserve, without any reference to the insurrection, with which they are only accidentally and not necessarily connected.
An attempt had been made by Mr. Debartzch's agent to get up a loyal address at St. Charles, but it was defeated by the spirited condition proposed by a respectable habitant, "restore to us our people (nos gens)," said he, "whom you keep in your prisons — give us back our Dr. Wolfred Nelson, and it will be then time to speak of addresses." All the satisfaction the generous man got was, that a day or two after he was lodged in gaol as a mauvais sujet.120
Before we close this Chapter, we many mention that an attempt has been made to establish a liberal paper in Lower Canada, and what is more, in the British county of Stanstead, the opinions of the population of which the Constitutional Association claims to represent. The first number of this paper, which is called the Canadian Patriot, appeared on the 22d of December, it continued to be published up to the 26th of January, the date of the latest advices of which we are in possession.
We have now brought the history of the disturbances in Lower Canada to a close. In the next Chapter we shall commence the history of the revolt in the Upper Province ; recurring again to Lower Canada, should subsequent events render it necessary.
104. See chap. iii. p. 43.
106. Hist. C. L., c. ii.
107. "Montreal Herald," 1st Jan. 1838.
108. The report might have said in common with all parties.
109. See chapter vii., where the state of the franchise in Upper Canada is fully explained.
110. We do not allude here to a federal union of all the provinces, of which we approve most highly. We shall have occasion to discuss this point fully in the course of the work.
111. Lands held in free and common soccage in Canada are usually conveyed by lease and release.
112. This is a limitation which we have never seen before in a Canadian Tory paper. It seems to give up the Townships as a bad bargain.
113. This is an improvement. The Herald has probably received a hint that it must not cry for blood so constantly : it tells against the party, so the expression must be smothered.
114. Since the above was in type Mr. Badgley has arrived.
115. See Reports of the Canada Commissioners (No. 50, 20th of February, 1837). Appendix to General Report, page 1.
116. See chap. v. p. 77.
117. See page 81.
118. Some accounts say 220.
119. Page 29.
120. The reader who wishes to know what a mauvais sujet (literally bad subject) means, may turn to the 1st vol. of Paul Louis Courier's works, which if he has not got, can read French, and can afford, he ought to buy. For our purpose, we may define the term, anybody who does not do all the authorities please, or who does any thing they do not please.
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