Brief in Support of the Petition of the Inhabitants of Lower Canada

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Brief in Support of the Petition of the Inhabitants of Lower Canada




This brief is attributed to Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, but could also be by Louis Bourdages or François Blanchet, all three being leading members of the reformist Parti canadien. That the constitution of the country was fundamentally good but badly administered was the constitutional position which Louis-Joseph Papineau inherited when in 1815 he succeeded to Bédard at the head of the Parti canadien, the party of the people. The position was firmly maintained until 1828. Slowly, settled in the conviction that a simple reform of the administration would not be enough to win over the party of the government and as a result bring about the normal operation of the constitution. The popular party consequently decided that it was preferable to modify the constitution by rendering the country's Legislative Council elective.



TO HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS the regent prince, humbly submitted to the consideration of lord Bathurst, minister of State for the colonies.

We look at our current constitution as one most suited to make our happiness, and our greatest desire would be to be able to enjoy it according to the intention of His Majesty and His Parliament; unfortunately, the way in which it was administered, up until now, gives it an effect that is quite the opposite of that intended.

This bad effect is a consequence of the way in which the parties of this province were formed.

When this constitution was granted to us, the old subjects (called English in the country, of whatever nation they may be) were in possession of the offices of the government. If some Canadians were admitted to them, it was on their recommendation, and they were selected among those who were devoted to them.

Since the granting of the constitution, things have remained the same, the old subjects have continued to be in possession of the offices, and became the party of the government; the channel of recommendations continued in the same way, and were allowed to offices, as before, only the Canadians whose devotion was known.

As the Canadians make up the mass of the people, the majority of the House of Assembly was found to be also made up of Canadians, and the English, with some devoted Canadians, formed the minority; and as the Canadians of the majority, freely elected by the people, were found not to exhibit the necessary devotion, they could not share in the offices. The members who were made Executive Counsellors were taken from the minority, the party of the government found itself tied to the minority of the House of Assembly, and the majority, that is to say the House of Assembly itself, to which the mass of the people is attached, is looked at as a foreign body, hardly recognized by the government and the other branches of the legislature, and was left in the opposition as intended to be ruled by force; and indeed the people of the English party, who had not succeeded in their efforts so that the constitution be granted to them alone, and that the Canadians have no share in it, found themselves, having become the party of the government, with the means to prevent the Canadians from enjoying it in any way other than that which they themselves wanted.

Every time the Canadians have wanted to propose something which was not in conformity with the ideas of this party, they found themselves in opposition to the government, and were treated as bad subjects and people opposed to the government. The government is in communication with the majority of the Assembly only through the means of the counsellors and office holders of the minority, who, being rival with majority, are not very likely to represent it well.

It is in their power to make such representations as they wish of its measures, feelings, and intentions, and not being of the majority, they are more like SPIES employed by the government to watch that majority, than members through whom a body communicates regularly with their government. The plans and projects of the government are prepared by counsellors from the minority, without the participation of the majority, and are thereafter taken to the House to be passed by the majority, and the majority has no alternative but to pass them or to be in opposition with the minority, that is to say the government, and to be treated as one would treat rebels to the government. The style of the people in the government, with talents generally rather poor, having only gloss and being strangers to merit, can easily be imagined. The divisions in the House of Assembly become national; the English on one side forming the minority, to which the government is tied, and the Canadians on the other forming the majority, to which is tied the mass of the people; the heat of the national divisions passes from the House of Assembly into the people, the whole country finding itself divided in two parties; the English party of the government on one side, and the mass of the people on the other. This appearance of the French and Catholic Canadians in opposition to their government, continually increases against them the prejudice of the vulgar part of the English party, who in good faith treat them in the most revolting manner for a people who feel themselves loyal; and so the more the Canadians want to enjoy their constitution, the more they feed matter to the pretext on which the English party founds its interest as a party, viz., that of the little confidence that one must have in the Canadians.

The governors who know the Canadians only through the people of the English party who own offices in the government, are struck to see them continuously opposing the government and the English, and soon cannot refrain from contracting the same prejudices, which they undoubtedly pass on to the government of the mother country; so that the natural effect of the exercise of the constitution by the Canadians, is to ignite divisions between the English and them, to make them look on this side as bad subjects always opposed to their government and to the English, and to give a bad idea of them to the government of His Majesty, in England.

Every time the Canadians, encouraged by the idea of their constitution, have tried to enjoy it, they were struck down, as opposed to the government; they are still heart broken from the treatments they endured under the administration of the preceding government. It seems to them that they are but toys in a strange contradiction, as if on one hand a constitution had been granted to them, no doubt to enjoy it, but on the other hand a government had been purposely set up to prevent them from enjoying it at all, or at least from enjoying it without appearing to be bad subjects. They are worst off than if they had been deprived to take part in the constitution, and that it had been granted to the old subjects alone; because they would then be no more deprived from enjoying it than now and it would not be used as a means to render them odious to the mother country.

It seems to them impossible that the administration be placed in the hands of a party that sees them as their rivals, without the direct effect being to continually hold them up, as though on purpose, in opposition to their government. That party has an interest in making them pass for disloyal; it is in its interest to govern them in a way that will make them appear so; in a way that will render them such as they may appear to be.

The effect of such an administration which continuously keep the people in opposition to to their government can only be very bad.

The administration itself cannot be suited to attach the people to the government; it seems, on the contrary, that it would be better suited to make the most loyal people a people of bad subjects. The maxims on which this party supports its interest corrupt the advantageous ideas the Canadians make of their constitution, and tend to make it appear to them under a bad light as odious.

According to these maxims, the interests of the government would be seen as opposed to that of the country; the Canadians as less attached to the interests of the mother country, because they are attached to their country, and the people of the English party as the only ones to whom the interests of the government of His Majesty can be entrusted, because they have less affection for the country. That colony would be looked at rather as a prey that must be kept by force, than as a dependence of the Empire that is attached to the government of His Majesty for its own happiness, as do the other parts.

It is not the intention of the mother country that all be sacrificed in the country, so that the offices be given to a party rather than the other; and yet it happens to be that all is being sacrificed so that the offices be given to this party. It is so that all the offices' of counsellor be given to that party that no member from the majority of the Assembly, not even the Speaker, could become counsellor, which is the cause of all the disorder that occurred in the exercise of our constitution. Our property laws have sunk into oblivion, so that we may have on the bench judges from that party who ignored them. There is a chief justice and two puisne Justice to judge over the actions "for goods sold and delivered" and some other mercantile actions, and there is but one Canadian judge for all the laws that ensure the properties of the Canadian subjects of His Majesty.

Our rules and our forms of proceeding sunk into oblivion to have on the bench judges of this party who were unaware of them; lack of experience which never suspects difficulties, suggested the judges who were in the legislature, (the former Legislative Council) to create new ones so as to avoid the hard work of learning the old ones.

The new ones were found to be imperfect, and it became necessary to make new ones still, which were again found to be imperfect; it was finally necessary to abandon to courts of justice the power to make them at discretion, and thus they always were in a state of continual fluctuation by the need to change them continually; always new, always subject to interpretation, to unforeseen cases, to be infringed when it was found equitable to infringe them, and the administration of justice has been arbitrary for lack of fixed rules and known procedures, and a remedy is impossible, whether one asks the Legislature or the Executive, because as a consequence of the evil of which we complain, and to have everywhere people of this party, who cannot suffice to all needs, the judges are in the Legislative and Executive Councils.

The defence of the Province can only be considerably weakened by the existence of the parties such as they are in the country. A governor cannot have for himself the English party, the party of the government, without adopting all its ideas, its prejudices and its plans against the Canadians; he cannot render the Canadians favourable to him, without exciting against him the hatred of all this party, so powerful by its clamours which corrupt all in the country, and for his communications in England, which makes continuously precarious and dubious the faith of those against whom they complain.

There will be very few governors who will have enough talent to fight against so many disadvantages, and a virtue sublime enough to make what they will believe their duty for the greater interest of the mother country, at the risk of succumbing to the reports submitted against them to the government of the mother country and appear to have badly served; while it would be so easy to follow the method which would gain favourable applause and reports, by giving as an excuse the little of confidence there is to place in the Canadians.

Canadians forming the principal population of the country, and that on which the government can draw resources if needed, it would be just that they have the means to be known through themselves, and that it be not abandoned to the party which opposes them, however respectable it may be, to represent them under the colours they please. All counsellors and people in office who are called near the governor, being of this party, the governor has the means to know the Canadians only through them.

If a governor wanted to be just and hear the two parties, he was obliged to do it secretly through irregular means, and could not do it without appearing to neglect the councils that were given to him by the counsellors and officers of the government, to act on advises obtained here and there from private individuals, and without exciting by this, with some appearance of plausibility, the jealousy and the hatred of the first and all the party.

If it is just that the governors know the two parties, and that they not receive the charges against the inhabitants of the country without hearing, it is just that the latter also have a regular means to be understood by counsellors and people in office, taken among them, and that these counsellors be not appointed after the recommendations which pass through the ordinary channel.

The House of Assembly offers a means of obtaining a regular manner, without it being on the recommendations of those of the English party. If the governor had the power to call to the council the principal members of the majority of the House of Assembly, he would have a means of hearing the two parties, and not to be forced not to know one through the information received from the other, he would no longer be deprived of the knowledge and advises he could draw from the old inhabitants of the country, and be required to listen only those which come from the opposite party, which is not that where there is the most knowledge of the country, nor interests the more in conformity with those of the country.

After having heard both parties, he would be in a position to decide on the measures to be taken, and to transmit accurate informations in England.

He would not be forced to follow the advises given to him when he would not find them just, he would only have the advantage of benefiting from them when they would be so.

He would not so often find himself in opposition to the House of Assembly.

There would take place where the two parties could agree and reconcile themselves on their plans and their projects, and many useless oppositions which only come from the fact that the projects were separately concerted, and that the self-esteem of those who made them is committed to support them, would be removed; there would no more be any means to upset the government, here or in England, against the mass of the people of the country.

The people would be better attached to the government. The government they would no longer consider as being made up of people who are full of prejudice against them, and who are always opposed to them, would inspire them more confidence and respect. It would no longer happen that plans be supported by the governor after the debates have exposed their errors in a palpable manner, in the face of the whole public; it would no longer happen that governors rely in good faith on reasons given by the minority in the Assembly, reasons whose weakness would have been shown in the debates. The wounded self-esteem of a counsellor of the minority would no longer be interested in resurrecting, with the support of the governor, a principle or a measure of which the absurdity would have been publicly discovered. The partiality of communication between the Assembly and the government through the means of a counsellor tied to the minority, whose self-esteem is interested in putting forward the position which often he took randomly, or by spirit of rivalry on an unforeseen question, and to attenuate and to disguise the force of the reasons employed against him, would cease to be a source of disagreements between the government and the House of Assembly. The sensitivity of the members of the Assembly would not be so often wounded by the appearance of partiality from the government, for a member of the minority against the whole Assembly, and this branch of the Legislature would not so often be brought back to the feeling of its own degradation, by being judged and often insulted on the interested report of one of the members of the minority, and exposed to the irritated insolence of one of these members supported by the government in the vain efforts he makes against it.

And finally the government's means of influence on the House of Assembly, would no longer be expressed through malignant insinuations, insults and threats that put off and throw discord between the two parties in the Assembly from where it passes outdoor.

If it were possible that a number of offices of counsellors or other places of honour and profit, be granted to those who have the most influence on the majority of the House of Assembly, that these places be made to depend entirely on the success in keeping the majority's support, and that it be certain and well known that there would be no other means to obtain them, there is reason to presume that both parties would soon reunite in the House of Assembly, that this national division so contrary to the purpose of government would disappear as much in the Assembly as outside of it, and that the shameful appearance of an opposition between the Canadians and their government, that withers the people of the country and undeservedly make it appear under odious colours, would cease spoiling one of the most beautiful dependencies of the Empire in America.

The ideas that those of the English party endeavour to propagate, that the Canadians are less suited to fill the offices of confidence because they are too much interested in their country, and that they are less interested in and have less affection for the mother country, are not very true. A Canadian is more attached to his country than any other part of the Empire, as a Scotsman is more attached to Scotland, as an Englishman is more attached to England, he is not by this less capable to hold offices of confidence in his country. Honour or even the risk of loosing his place will have no less influence on him than on any other, supposing the false principle of the difference between the interests of the mother country and those of the country.

An old subject must be, it is true, more attached to the Empire; but he also has less aversion for the people and the government of the United States, and if all is put in calculation, it will result that a Canadian is a lot more attached to the interests of the mother country, relatively to the conservation of the country.

The Canadians being unable to protect themselves, have no other resources than in the protection of the mother country. That country lost, they no longer have a fatherland on which they can turn their eyes; an English still has his fatherland.

If the Canadas pas under the domination of the United States, their population will be submerged in that of the United States, and they will become null, without influence on their government; incapable to protect their religion, which will only render them odious to all the other sects abounding in the United States and which, though tolerant between themselves, all agree to detest theirs.

The heads of family attached to their religion can only think with horror that in dying they could be abandoning their children under such a domination. For as long as the country remains in the British Empire, they do not have the same dangers to fear, they do not have to apprehend that a population enemy of their religion, emigrate from the domains of the mother country; they have hope that their population will always be the most considerable of the country, and that with a constitution such as the one granted to them by the mother country, they will have the means of preserving their religion, and all that is dear to them, provided that the mother country want to let them enjoy this constitution without it serving to render them odious, and provided that the encouragement given to the American population in this country by the administration of the English party, ceases to bring the evil which they fear.

Those of the English party are opposed to their interests, in that have a lot more affinities with the Americans by their customs, their religion, their language, they encourage the American population, as a means of getting rid of the Canadians who, they always see as a foreign population, as a French Catholic population, with the same prejudice which the class of the people, as in the mother country, entertain against the French and Catholics, they cannot refrain from seeing themselves as if in a foreign country, in a province where the Canadian (French) population dominates; a colony populated by Americans seem to them more of an English colony and would not see themselves so much as in a foreign country in it. The effects are further increased by the the circumstance, that the greater part, perhaps, of the officers of the government have become personally interested in the introduction of an American population in this country, by concessions of the Crown lands, that were granted to them, in the vicinity of the United States; therefore the English party is opposed to the Canadian party, precisely on the point touching their life and their existence as a people.

The only thing remaining to the Canadians in their present situation is the hope they have that the mother country will finally discover that their interests converge with hers for the conversation of the country, that the engulfment of the Canadian population by the American population would be the engulfment of the domination of the mother country on the country, and that the Canadians' loss of political life, as a nascent people, will also be the loss of the political life of the whole country as a British colony. They hope that these things will be seen by the mother country, and that will be conceived a sufficiently good opinion of their interests, if not their loyalty, to judge them worthy to enjoy their constitution, in common with the other subjects of His Majesty without distinction, and if they do not have this happiness, they see themselves in light of the current situation destined to become, to the eye of the mother country, a people odious and continually suspected, while they wait to be absorbed in the abyss awaiting them.

We beg Your Lordship to be persuaded that the Canadian subjects of His Majesty are true and loyal subjects: they already have, under the arms of His Majesty, preserved the country in a time when the other subjects of His Majesty yielded to them in faithfulness, they are still presently under the arms of His Majesty to defend him, if their weak efforts can be a sufficient testimony of the loyalty, they hope that His Royal Highness will be pleased to take their situation under consideration, and to grant them such remedy as will judge suitable.

Notes

  • Robert Christie, A History of the Late Province of Lower Canada, Volume VI, p. 313-323 [1]
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