Daniel O'Connell's Speech in the British House of Commons on July 4th, 1839
This intervention by Daniel O'Connell occurred during the second reading of the Lower Canada Government Bill in the British House of Commons. The Hansard transcript of the whole debate can be read here.
Mr. O'Connell would not detain the House, but begged to state, that he differed with the hon. Member for Kilkenny, and thought the House ought to pause and deliberate before they determined on their future proceedings.
He rejoiced that her Majesty's Government did not wish to pledge the House to an union of the two provinces, and considered it much better that that question had been left for further consideration. The materials for such an union were discordant, and it could not be accomplished without sacrificing the rights and interests of the people in one province or the other—and what was to the advantage of the public in the Upper, would act injuriously to those in the Lower.
He had seen, with deep regret, the recommendation for union, in the otherwise admirable report of Lord Durham. It would annihilate the political power of the French Canadians. These French Canadians had been justly described in that report as persons highly benevolent, charitable, excellent, and possessed of the best moral qualifications—exemplary in the performance of their duties, and what was their return? To annihilate them as a separate race.
He said, "Yes, yes!" If they deprived them of their proper share in the franchise, their acts would at least have that tendency, and would only increase the existing discontent. In fact, they would thus give to those persons a legitimate ground for discontent, as they had done before, and thus perpetuate the evils which they sought to remove. It would be infinitely better to return to an amendment of the old constitution, preserving to each state its separate constitution.
But they ought to change the nature of their Executive and Legislative Councils. In the Executive Council of Upper Canada there was not at present a single Canadian born, and in the Legislative Council of that province, four out of five were not born in Canada. How, then, could they expect peace and satisfaction in the colony, when the native population were excluded from power? Nothing but jobbing resulted from such a system, and everything was monopolised by the British-born residents. That was not the proper course to deal with the native population. They ought to act fairly—to deal leniently with them, and, above all, take measures to make the local legislatures depend upon the confidence and true affections of the people. Let them do that, and restore the local governments to each province, and they would have a fair prospect of achieving the pacification of those colonies. The only way it could be done was by measures of conciliation—doubtful, perhaps, even in that way, but certainly not to be accomplished by annihilating their existence as a separate people.
The French Canadians were eulogized by Lord Durham as possessing many estimable qualities. They were only accused of being defective in the possession of knowledge and means of education. That defect could be remedied by making the means of instruction more attainable, and aiding the diffusion of knowledge. In other respects, they did not suffer by a comparison with the British residents. He rejoiced in the meantime that Government had not persisted in their measures for pledging the House to the principle of union between the Upper and Lower provinces, as it would give time and opportunity for that deep reflection which the importance of the subject required.
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