Debates on the 2nd Quebec Government Bill (1791)
Debates on the 2nd Quebec Government Bill intitled An Act to repeal certain Parts of an Act, passed in the 14th Year of his Majesty's Reign, intituled, An Act for making more effectual Provision for the Government of the Province of Quebec, in North America; and to make further Provision for the Government of the said Province.
Debates in the British House of Commons
Monday, March 8
Mr. Fox Asks When the Question of the Sort of Government Fit for Quebec Would Be Discussed
Mr. Fox said, that last session, the House had voted, "that early in the present session, they would enter into the consideration of the sort of government fit for the province of Quebec." He wished, therefore, to know from the right hon. gentleman opposite, when he expected to be able to bring it forward.
Mr. Secretary Grenville lamented, that he had not been able to come forward with a subject of so much importance. He waited merely for an answer from lord Dorchester to certain dispatches, of the arrival of which he had, for some time, been in hourly expectation. As soon as they came to hand, he should be able to give notice of the specific day on which he meant to come forward with his proposition.
Mr. Fox hoped that the present instance would prove a warning to the right hon. gentleman in future, however rashly he might think proper to pledge himself, not to involve the House in the same rash pledge. The House stood pledged to their constituents to take the subject into consideration early in the present session, and now they were told that ministers waited for dispatches from Quebec.
Mr. Grenville denied that he had ever pledged the House in respect to the subject in question. He had not been in a situation responsible for the resolution when it had been voted; nor was the House at all committed by it. With regard to himself, he had not lost a moment in forwarding the object of that resolution; but, owing to an accident, the packet containing a plan of the intended system of government to be established in Quebec, submitted to the consideration of lord Dorchester, had been delayed a whole month in its conveyance to Canada; and thence it was, that lord Dorchester's answer and opinion had not reached England. Mr. Grenville added, that the matter did not rest with him solely; every individual member, as the right hon. gentleman well knew, might bring the subject forward whenever he pleased.
Mr. Fox said, that Quebec had now been 27 years without any established government. The session before the last, a promise was given on the part of government, that it should be brought forward in the next session. Last session, a resolution was entered on the Journals, that the House would, early in the present session, bring the subject forward; and now, on the 8th of March, the House were told they must wait for the arrival of a packet from lord Dorchester, which government ought to have taken care to obtain a year ago. The right hon. gentleman had pleaded, that he was not in office last year; but, if such a plea were admitted by the House, the province of Quebec might remain for 27 years longer without a settled government, because it was impossible to say what changes of place might not occur. He hoped, however, when the right hon. gentleman again put off the business, that he would afford time for other gentlemen to bring it forward, not on the eve of prorogation, or, for aught he knew, a dissolution of parliament.
Mr. Pitt observed that, in his opinion, the right hon. gentleman had taken up the subject with an unnecessary degree of violence. Certainly it was the duty of ministers, to propose to parliament a plan for the better government of Quebec. But it was also their duty to render that plan as perfect as the nature of the case would admit, before they submitted it to the consideration of the House; and they would surely have been subject to much just censure, if they had brought the plan forward, without the sanction of the governor of the province. That it had suffered nothing from the want of industry in his right hon. friend, he was persuaded every man who knew his right hon. friend, would readily believe.
Monday, March 15
Mr. Secretary Grenville Explains Why The Debate on the Government of Quebec Has Been Delayed
Mr. Secretary Grenville begged leave to trespass upon the attention of the House, whilst he adverted to the new constitution about to be provided for the province of Quebec, a subject to which a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Fox) had alluded a few weeks before. Unfortunately he stood in the same situation still, in which he had then described himself to stand, and as the House was expected to adjourn the next day, for the Easter recess, he thought it his duty to explain to them what had been his conduct touching the important object to which he referred, submitting the whole to the consideration of the House, and leaving it to their candour to decide whether any blame was justly imputable to him. The House would recollect, that in July last, his majesty had been pleased to raise him to the post which he then had the honour to fill. At that time the House was engaged in the midst of the business of the session. Till parliament was prorogued he was wholly engaged in attending his duty in that House, and in making himself acquainted with such important business as it was indispensably necessary should be communicated to him on his coming into the office which he now held. As soon as parliament was prorogued, he applied himself to the business with the utmost care and consideration. The House would naturally see that it must unavoidably cost him some time to study the subject, to digest his own opinions respecting it, to compare them with the opinions of others of his majesty's servants, who had it much earlier in their contemplations (many of whom were at the time at a considerable distance from that place) and after he had made himself master of the subject, and formed, what he thought, a practical plan, to submit it to the judgment of others, and ultimately to receive his majesty's commands upon the point in question. With great application, and unremitting industry, he had been able to accomplish all these objects in less than three months, and had not formed a mere design or outline, as the ground for a future proceeding, but had actually matured the whole, and reduced it to the shape of a bill, such as he thought fit to be submitted to the consideration of that House. But though he had proceeded thus far, he certainly felt that there were many points of detail which required local assistance, and could not be hazarded without the advice of those who alone were capable of advising on the occasion. He had, therefore, thought it his duty to consult lord Dorchester on the subject, and with that view had sent him a letter enclosing the bill. Unfortunately, the packet did not perform its voyage in the usual time. Had that been the case, in all probability, he should have been able to have received lord Dorchester's return of the bill, with his observations upon it, in time to have been able to have introduced the bill early in the present session. The packet, that carried out the bill, arrived in due time at Halifax, but was immediately blown out of the mouth of the harbour, and obliged at last, to make for the port of New York; it was, therefore, a very considerable time indeed before the dispatches could be conveyed to lord Dorchester: in all probability his letter did not reach that noble lord before the very period, when, under different circumstances, he might, reasonably, have expected a return and reply. From this cause, he yet remained without either, but as in two months and a half from the prorogation of the last session, he had been able to send out the bill, he trusted that the House would not be of opinion that he had lost any time; and he must beg leave to disclaim having ever pledged himself to the House as to the subject; but, let the person be who he might that had made any such pledge, as was alluded to, he conceived from the circumstances of the last session and those which he had described, no blame could any where be fairly imputable. He added, that it was possible, though only scarcely possible, that the dispatch with lord Dorchester's answer might arrive in the ensuing Easter recess. In case it should be in his power to present the bill within a very few days after the House met again, he certainly would embrace such an opportunity. But as they were actually arrived at the eve of the Easter recess, and there could not remain a great deal of business to go through after the holidays; and as, for other reasons, it was not likely that the House would experience as full an attendance as there ought to be when a subject of so much magnitude should come under discussion, he did not think it fit that the bill should be brought in, unless it could be brought in very early indeed after the next meeting of the House. Therefore, as the right hon. gentleman, in their last conversation on the subject, had mentioned an idea of an individual member having the matter in contemplation, and might possibly wish to introduce some bill of his own, he had thought it due to the right hon. gentleman to state the situation in which he stood, that the right hon. gentleman, or any other gentleman who intended to offer any propositions of their own upon the subject, might have the opportunity of revolving the matter in their minds during the Easter recess. He declared that he was conscious it would prove of infinite advantage to the measure that it should be brought forward early, and, although he flattered himself, that the bill he had sent out, might be rendered by the improvement it would derive, from the amendment of others in that House, so far perfect, as to be productive of many solid advantages to the province of Quebec, and thence looked forward to the enjoyment of the best satisfaction which an honest man could feel — the consciousness of having contributed, by his industry and attention, to the happiness of others; he nevertheless thought it fair to state, that under all the circumstances which he had described, although it was possible that he might be able to introduce the bill in the course of the present session, it did not appear altogether probable.
Mr. Fox assured the right hon. gentleman, that he had neither meant what he had said as personal to him, nor had he in any right so to have applied it; but he had lamented, and he did still lament, the strange situation in which that House and the public stood with regard to the constitution of the province of Quebec. In the spring or summer of 1788, that House resolved, that early in the next session it would take into its consideration the petitions of the inhabitants of Quebec, and enter fully upon the subject. The next commenced in March, because undoubtedly till his majesty's happy recovery, there was no commencement of the session. From the circumstances which every gentleman knew full well, the business could not be brought forward last session, and now, just before the Easter recess, in the third session, they were to be told, that nothing could be done, and that the business must go over to another year, because a ship, with an answer from lord Dorchester, had not arrived. He could not, therefore, but extremely lament the disgrace that was thus drawn down upon that House. He was aware that the right hon. gentleman was not in his present office when the House had been pledged in the manner in which he had stated; but the right hon. gentleman was certainly connected with the administration of that day, which was nearly the same as it stood at present; and surely they must have turned the subject in their minds at the time and could not have thought very differently from the right hon. gentleman. It was, therefore, rather surprising that upon the right hon. gentleman's coming into his present office, he should have under gone all the trouble which he had described. The whole administration in 1788 concurred in the resolution which pledged the House to take up the business early in the next session. If it was then known, that it would be necessary to send out to lord Dorchester, previously to proposing the business to that House, he thought it was a little rash in the person who pledged the House, and in administration who suffered it; because it was a pledge, which he who made it, whoever he might be, was not certain of being able to redeem. Mr. Fox added, that in consequence the House was disgraced; and therefore he could not but lament, that however advantageous the right hon. gentleman's being placed in his present situation might be in other respects, it had not proved so advantageous to that House on the present occasion, since it had evidently been the cause of the disgrace under which the House laboured. With regard to the proposition coming from any individual member, he had never undertaken any such task; an hon. friend of his (the member for Northamptonshire) had, two or three years since, stood forward upon the subject: at that time his majesty's servants declared they were engaged upon it, and as there was a greater propriety that the matter should be undertaken by government, it had remained in their hands.
Friday, February 25
Message from the King on the Government of Quebec
Mr. Pitt presented the following Message from his majesty:
His majesty thinks it proper to acquaint the House of Commons, that it appears to his majesty, that it would be for the benefit of his majesty's subjects in his province of Quebec, that the same should be divided into two separate provinces, to be called the province of Upper Canada, and the province of Lower Canada: and that it is accordingly his majesty's intention so to divide the same, whenever his majesty shall be enabled by act of parliament to establish the necessary regulations for the government of the said provinces. His majesty therefore recommends this object to the consideration of this House.
His majesty also recommends it to this House to consider of such provisions as may be necessary to enable his majesty to make a permanent appropriation of lands in the said provinces, for the support and maintenance of a Protestant clergy within the same, in proportion to such lands as have been already granted within the same by his majesty; and it is his majesty's desire, that such provision maybe made, with respect to all future grants of land within the said provinces respectively, as may best conduce to the same object, in proportion to such increase as may happen in the population and cultivation of the said provinces; and for this purpose, his majesty consents, that such provisions or regulations may be made by this House, respecting all future grants of land to be made by his majesty within the said provinces, as this House shall think fit. G. E.
The said Message was ordered to be taken into consideration on Wednesday.
Friday, March 4
Consideration of the King's Message
The order of the day being read for taking into consideration his majesty's message relative to Quebec,
Mr. Pitt rose and said, that the motion which he should have the honour to make, was founded upon his majesty's message; that its object was to repeal part of an act of the 14th of the present reign, for the government of the province of Quebec, and to enact new regulations for the future government of the said province. Feeling the importance of the subject, he should have been desirous of stating fully to the House the grounds and the principles on which he meant to proceed in forming a constitution for a valuable appendage to the British dominions, which, he trusted, would contribute to its future prosperity; but as it was not likely that there would be any opposition to bringing in a bill for this purpose, and as explanation would come with more propriety when the bill was before the House, he should state only in a few words the outlines of the plan, unless questions were asked, or explanation demanded in the first instance; in which case he was perfectly ready to go more into the detail, than appeared to him to be at present necessary. The intended bill, he said, consisted of such particulars, as were calculated with a view to promote the happiness and internal policy of the province, and to put an end to the differences of opinion, and growing competition, that had for some years existed in Canada, between the ancient inhabitants and the new settlers from England and from America, on several important points, and bring the government of the province, as near as the nature and situation of it would admit, to the British constitution. The first great object was, to divide the province into two parts, under the denominations of Upper and Lower Canada (the former for the English and American settlers, the lower for the Canadians), and to give a local legislature to both. This division, it was hoped, could be made, in such a manner, as to give each a great majority in their own particular part, although it could not be expected to draw a line of complete separation. Any inconveniences to be apprehended from ancient Canadians being included in the one, or British settlers in the other, would be remedied by the above-mentioned establishment. The means of carrying this into effect, would be to appoint a house of assembly, and a council in each, which would give them all the the advantages of the British constitution. In the construction of the council it was intended, that the members should not be members during pleasure, but members for life; and that the descendants of such of them as should be honoured with hereditary titles, should have an hereditary right of sitting in such council. It was further proposed to annex the dignity of a member of council to every title of honour has might be conferred on the inhabitants of each province. At present, the Canadians were in possession of the criminal law of England, and the civil law in many respects, but not as to landed property; it was therefore intended, that landed property in Canada should rest on socage tenures. One other specific point meant to be provided for, was the extension of the right of the habeas corpus act to both provinces, which was at present enjoyed in Canada, under the authority of one of the ordinances of the province, and those ordinances held the force of law. It was intended to continue the laws now in force in Quebec, unless the assembly of each province chose to alter them. By these regulations, the complaints of all the petitions presented to the House would be remedied, as the inhabitants of Quebec would have an assembly, with the power of enacting what laws they pleased. They would consequently retain as much of the law of England as they now had and chose to keep, and would have the means of introducing as much more as they might think convenient. — There was also another important point, for which the bill would make a separate provision; he meant the maintenance of the Protestant clergy in both provinces, for which purpose there was a clause in the bill for a permanent appropriation of certain portions of land; and such provisions for future grants of land within the said provinces respectively, as might best conduce to the same object, in proportion to the increase of their population and cultivation; and as in one of the provinces the majority of the inhabitants would be Roman Catholics, it was meant to provide that it shall not be lawful for his majesty, in future, to assent to grants of land for this purpose, under the sanction of the council and assembly of either division, without first submitting them to the consideration of the British parliament. — With regard to taxation, to avoid the occasion of a misunderstanding, similar to that which had formerly taken place, no taxes were meant to be imposed by the parliament respecting Canada, but such as might be necessary for the purposes of commercial regulation; and in that case, to avoid even the possibility of a cavil, the levying of such taxes, and their disposal, should be left entirely to the wisdom of their own legislature. As the constitution, which he had thus briefly opened, could not be in a state of activity for some time, the executive government, appointed by his majesty, was intended to have the power of making such laws as might be necessary; but those laws to continue in force not more than six months after the first meeting of the legislature. By dividing the province into two parts, he conceived the existing causes of controversy would be removed: and, as far as circumstances would admit, the inhabitants would have all the benefits of the British constitution. In the Lower Canada, as the residents would be chiefly Canadians, their assembly, &c. would be adapted to their habits and prejudices. The Upper Canada being almost entirely peopled by emigrants from Great Britain, or from America, the Protestant religion would be the establishment, and they would have the benefit of the English tenure law. — Having thus cursorily stated the outline of the general government of Canada, to be established by the bill, unless any gentleman wished for farther information, he would content himself with moving, "That leave be given to bring in a bill to repeal certain parts of the act of 14 Geo. 3rd and to make further provision for the government of the said province."
Mr. Fox agreed with the right hon. gentleman that it was impossible to concur in any plan like that proposed, until the bill was before the House, but he was willing to declare, that the giving to a country so far distant from England a legislature, and the power of governing for itself, would exceedingly prepossess him in favour of every part of the plan. He did not hesitate to say, that if a local legislature was liberally formed, that circumstance would incline him much to overlook defects in the other regulations, because he was convinced that the only means of retaining distant colonies with advantage was, to enable them to govern themselves.
Leave was given to bring in the bill.
Friday, April 8
Petition Against the Bill - Motion to Recommit the Bill
The order of the day being read, for taking the report of the Quebec Government Bill into farther consideration, Mr. Hussey presented a petition from several merchants, warehousemen, and manufacturers, concerned in the trade to Quebec, praying that the bill might not pass into a law, inasmuch, as after having duly weighed the consequences of it, they conceived it would be attended with great injury to the said province, and particularly to the trade and commerce of the petitioners. It was ordered to lie on the table. The Speaker then put the question, "That this report be now taken into farther consideration."
Mr. Hussey moved, "That the bill be recommitted." He made that motion, because he thought there were many objections to various parts of the bill.
Mr. Fox seconded the motion.
He observed, that the bill contained a great variety of clauses, all of them of the utmost importance, not only to the country to which they immediately referred, but also to Great Britain. He hoped that in promulgating the scheme of a new constitution for the province of Quebec, the House would keep in their view those enlightened principles of freedom, which had already made a rapid progress over a considerable portion of the globe, and were becoming every day more and more universal. As the love of liberty was gaining ground in consequence of the diffusion of literature and knowledge through the world, he thought that a constitution should be formed for Canada as consistent as possible with the principles of freedom. This bill, in his opinion, would not establish such a government, and that was his chief reason for opposing it. The bill proposed to give two houses of assembly in the two provinces, one to each of them, and thus far it met with his approbation: but the number of persons of whom these assemblies were to consist, deserved particular attention. Although it might be perfectly true, that a country, three or four times as large as Great Britain, ought to have representatives three or four times as numerous, yet it was not fit to say, that a small country should have an assembly proportionably small. The great object in the institution of all popular assemblies was, that the people should be fully and freely represented; and that the representative body should have all the virtues and the vices incidental to such assemblies. But when they made an assembly to consist of 16 or 30 persons, they seemed to him to give a free constitution in appearance, when, in fact, they withheld it. In Great Britain, we have a septennial bill; but the goodness of it had been considered doubtful, at least, even by many of those who took a lead in the present bill. The right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer had himself supported a vote for the repeal of that act. He did not now mean to discuss its merits; but a main ground on which it had been thought defensible was, that a general election in this country was attended with a variety of inconveniences. That general elections in Great Britain were attended with several inconveniences could not be doubted; but when they came to a country so different in all circumstances as Canada, and where elections, for many years at least, were not likely to be attended with the consequences which they dreaded, why they should make such assemblies not annual or triennial, but septennial, was beyond his comprehension. A septennial bill did not apply to many of the most respectable persons in that country; they might be persons engaged in trade, and if chosen representatives for seven years, they might not be in a situation to attend during all that period; their affairs might call them to England, or many other circumstances might arise, effectually to prevent them from attending the service of their country. But although it might be inconvenient for such persons to attend such assembly for the term of seven years, they might be able to give their attendance for one, or even for three years, without any danger or inconvenience to their commercial concerns. By a septennial bill, the country of Canada might be deprived of many of the few representatives that were allowed by the bill. If it should be said, that this objection applied to Great Britain, he completely denied it; because, although there were persons engaged in trade in the British House of Commons, and many of them very worthy members, yet they were comparatively few; and therefore he should think that, from the situation of Canada, annual or triennial parliaments would be much preferable to septennial. Of the qualification of electors he felt it impossible to approve. In England, a freehold of 40 shillings was sufficient; five pounds were necessary in Canada. Perhaps it might be said, that when this was fairly considered, it would make no material difference; and this he suspected to be the case; but granting that it did not, when we were giving to the world by this bill, our notions of the principles of election, we should not hold out that the qualification in Great Britain were lower than they ought to be. The qualifications on a house were still higher! he believed, ten pounds. — In fact, he thought that the whole of this constitution was an attempt to undermine and contradict the professed purport of the bill, namely, the introduction of a popular government into Canada. But although this was the case with respect to the two assemblies, although they were to consist of so inconsiderable a number of members, the legislative councils in both provinces were unlimited as to numbers. They might consist of any number whatever, at the will of the governor. Instead of being hereditary councils, or councils chosen by electors, as was the case in some of the colonies in the West Indies, or chosen by the king, they were compounded of the other two. As to the points of hereditary powers and hereditary honours, to say that they were good, or that they were not good, as a general proposition, was not easily maintained; but he saw nothing so good in hereditary powers and honours, as to incline us to introduce them into a country were they were unknown, and by such means distinguish Canada from all the colonies in the West Indies. In countries where they made a part of the constitution, he did not think it wise to destroy them; but to give birth and life to such principles in countries where they did not exist, appeared to him to be exceedingly unwise. Nor could he account for it, unless it was that Canada having been formerly a French colony, there might be an opportunity of reviving those titles of honour, the extinction of which some gentlemen so much deplored, and to revive in the West that spirit of chivalry which had fallen into disgrace in the neighbouring country. He asked, if those red and blue ribbons, which had lost their lustre in the old world, were to shine forth again in the new? It seemed to him peculiarly absurd to introduce hereditary honours in America, where those artificial distinctions stunk in the nostrils of the natives. He declared he thought these powers and honours wholly unnecessary, and tending I rather to make a new constitution worse than better. If the council were wholly hereditary, he should equally object to it; it would only add to the power of the king and the governor: for a council so constituted would only be the tool of the governor as the governor himself would only be the tool and engine of the king. He did not clearly comprehend the provision which the bill made for the protestant clergy. By the Protestant clergy, he supposed to be understood not only the clergy of the church of England, but all descriptions of Protestants. — He totally disapproved of the clause which enacts, "That whenever the king shall make grants of lands, one-seventh part of those lands shall be appropriated to the Protestant clergy." He declared he had two objections to these regulations, both of them, in his opinion, of great weight. In all grants of lands made in that country to Catholics (and a majority of the inhabitants were of that persuasion) one seventh part of those grants was to be appropriated to the Protestant clergy, although they might not have any cure of souls, or any congregations to instruct. One tenth part of the produce of this country was assigned, and this, perhaps, was more than one seventh part of the land. He wished to deprive no clergyman of his just rights; but in settling a new constitution, and laying down new principles, to enact that the clergy should have one seventh of all grants, he must confess, appeared to him an absurd doctrine. If they were all of the church of England, this would not reconcile him to the measure. It might be asked, why should not they have as much as those of the church of England? In this country, we had that which some condemned, and others praised; we had a kind of show, but still a proportion must be observed. The greatest part of these Protestant clergy were not of the church of England; they were chiefly what are called Protestant dissenters in this country. They were, therefore, going to give to dissenters one-seventh part of all the lands in the province. Was this the proportion, either in Scotland, or in any other country, where those religious principles were professed? It was not the proportion, either in Scotland, or in any other ecclesiastical country in Europe; we were, therefore, by this bill, making a sort of provision for the Protestant clergy of Canada, which was unknown to them in every part of Europe; a provision, in his apprehension, which would rather tend to corrupt than to benefit them. The regulation was likewise, in part, obscure, because, after it had stated that one seventh portion of the land should always be set aside for the Protestant clergy, it did not state how it should be applied. — The bill was likewise exceptionable, as far as it related to the regulation of appeals. Suitors were, in the first instance, to carry their complaints before the courts of common law in Canada: if dissatisfied with the decisions of those courts, they might appeal to the governor and council: if dissatisfied with their judgment they might then appeal to the king in council; and next to the House of Lords. Now, if the House of Lords was a better court, which he believed it to be, than the king in council, why compel them to appeal to the king in council, before they could come to the House of Lords? Why not apply to the House of Lords at once? This could answer no possible purpose, but to render lawsuits exceedingly expensive, and exceedingly vexatious. — These were the principal objections he had to this bill. There had not yet been a word said in explanation of it, with all its variety of clauses and regulations. It went through the House silently without one observation: it also went through the committee only in form, but not in substance. Of all the points of the bill, that which struck him the most forcibly was the division of the province of Canada. It had been urged that, by such means, we could separate the English and the French inhabitants of the province; that we could distinguish who were originally French from those of English origin. But was this to be desired? Was it not rather to be avoided? Was it agreeable to general political expediency? The most desirable circumstance was, that the French and English inhabitants of Canada should unite and coalesce, as it were, into one body, and that the different distinctions of the people might be extinguished for ever. If this had been the object in view, the English laws might soon have prevailed universally throughout Canada, not from force, but from choice and conviction of their superiority. He had no doubt, that on a fair trial they would be found free from all objection. The inhabitants of Canada had not the laws of France. The commercial code was never established there; they stood upon the exceedingly inconvenient custom of Paris. He wished the people of that country to adopt the English laws from choice, and not from force; and he did not think the division of the province the most likely means to bring about this desirable end. — In his opinion, this bill was also objectionable, as far as it related to the trial by jury, and the habeas corpus act, which the Canadians were said to enjoy by an ordinance of the province. It was stated, by one of the counsel at the bar, that either the ordinance which gave the inhabitants the trial by jury, or that which afforded them the benefit of the habeas corpus act, would expire before this bill could pass into a law. If this were true, it was an objection to the bill, and ought to be remedied. He trusted that the House would also seriously consider the particular situation of Canada. It was not to be compared to the West Indies; it was a country of a different nature; it did not consist of a few white inhabitants, and a number of slaves; but it was a country of great growing population, which had increased very much, and which, he hoped, would increase much more. It was a country as capable of enjoying political freedom, in its utmost extent, as any other country on the face of the globe. This country was situated near the colonies of North America. All their animosity and bitterness on the quarrel between them and Great Britain was now over; and he believed that there were very few people among those colonies who would not be ready to admit every person belonging to this country into a participation of all their privileges, and would receive them with open arms. The governments now established in North America were, in bis opinion, the best adapted to the situation of the people who lived under them, of any of the governments of the ancient or modern world: and when we had a colony like this, capable of freedom and capable of a great increase of population, it was material that the inhabitants should have nothing to look to among their neighbours to excite their envy. Canada must be preserved to Great Britain, by the choice of its inhabitants. But it should be felt by the inhabitants that their situation was not worse than that of their neighbours. He wished the Canadians to be in such a situation as to have nothing to envy in any part of the king's dominions. But this would never be the case under a bill which held out to them something like the shadow of the British constitution, but denied them the substance. In a country where the principles of liberty were gaining ground, they should have a government as agreeable to the genuine principles of freedom, as was consistent with the nature of circumstances. He did not think that the government intended to be established by the bill, would prove such a government; and this was his principal motive for opposing it. The legislative councils ought to be totally free, and repeatedly chosen, in a manner as much independent of the governor as the nature of a colony would admit. Those, he conceived, would be the best; but if not, they should have their seats for life; be appointed by the king, consist of a limited number, and possess no hereditary honours. Those honours might be very proper, and of great utility in countries where they had existed by long custom; but, in his opinion, they were not fit to be introduced where they had no original existence; where there was no particular reason for introducing them, arising from the nature of the country, its extent, its state of improvement, or its peculiar customs; where, instead of attracting respect, they might excite envy: and as but few could enjoy them, those who did not, might be induced to form an unfavourable comparison between their own situation and that of their neighbours, among whom no such distinctions were known. Even whilst he felt himself perfectly desirous of establishing a permanent provision for the clergy, he could not think of making for them a provision so considerable, as was unknown in any country of Europe, where the species of religion to be provided for prevailed. It was upon these grounds which he had stated, that he felt himself justified in seconding the motion of his hon. friend.
Mr. Pitt, although he did not feel inclined to oppose the motion, could not avoid expressing his regret that the clauses which were objected against had not attracted the attention of gentlemen on an earlier day. As to the first objection of the right hon. gentleman, he must confess that it was certainly his wish that the assemblies in both provinces might prove numerous enough to answer all the purposes of a popular assembly, as far as the circumstances of the two provinces were properly qualified for that situation: but he doubted very much, according to the present state of the colony, and the population in that province, whether the assemblies could be rendered more numerous than was proposed. The House would, however, consider, that there was no wish that the assemblies should not be increased, when the population of the province increased. The assemblies undoubtedly ought to be extended with the growing population of Canada. He believed that a very numerous representative body was in no respect desirable, and they ought always to bear some proportion to the circumstances of the country, With regard to the duration of the assemblies, a house of assembly for seven years would surely be better than one for a shorter period. In the other colonies, the council and assembly were constituted in such a manner, as to invest the governor with more influence than would be given to him by the present bill. If the assembly was not properly constituted at first, it must be recollected that it was subject to revision. There was nothing to hinder the parliament of Great Britain from correcting any thing that might hereafter appear to want correction. As to the legislative council, he entirely differed from the right hon. gentleman, who thought it would be better if it were to be an elective council, in the manner which had been lately established in America. He did not think it was the business of that House to discuss what was the best constitution of government for France, for America, or for any foreign country; and this had been a reason why he had always declined making any remarks concerning the affairs of France. Whether France had chosen well for itself, or whether America had chosen well for itself, he had no difficulty in declaring, that the English constitution which we had chosen, was in its principle the best for us; better than any of those republican principles. He said he did not mean to use the word republican as an obnoxious term, but none of those republican principles which the right hon. gentleman had described as the consequence of a greater extension of learning and light, and which, he had said, shone in the constitutions of France and America, could improve the constitution of Britain. They did not appear to be such as if adopted by us, or any of our colonies would be any improvement of our constitution, but the reverse. An aristocratical principle being one part of our mixed government, he thought it proper that there should be such a council in Canada as was provided for by the bill, and which might answer to that part of the British constitution which composed the other house of parliament. With regard to the Protestant clergy, he wished to make an adequate provision for them, so that they might be supported in as respectable a situation as possible. The giving them a certain portion of land was the most eligible mode of supporting the clergy which had occurred to his mind; and as to the proportion of one-seventh, if it turned out to be too much in future, the state of the land appropriated to the clergy, like every thing else provided by the bill, was subject to a revision. At present, he imagined that no man could think that one-seventh part was unreasonable; and it was to be recollected that one-seventh had almost grown into an established custom, where land had been given in commutation for tithes. One tenth of the produce which took place in England, must be confessed to be a far greater provision than one-seventh of land. As to the division of the province, it was, in a great measure the fundamental part of the bill; and he had no scruple to declare, that he considered it as the most material and essential part of it. He agreed with the right hon. gentleman, in thinking it extremely desirable that the inhabitants of Canada should be united, and led universally to prefer the English constitution and the English laws. Dividing the province, he considered to be the most likely means to effect this purpose, since by so doing, the French subjects would be sensible that the British government had no intention of forcing the English laws upon them, and therefore they would, with more facility, look at the operation and effect of those laws, compare them with the operation and effect of their own, and probably in time adopt them from conviction. This, he thought, was more likely to be the case, than if the British government were all at once to subject the whole inhabitants to the constitution and laws of this country. Experience would teach them that the English laws were best; and he admitted that they ought to be governed to their satisfaction. If the province had not been divided, there would have been only one house of assembly; and there being two parties, if those parties had been equal, or nearly equal, in the assembly, it would have been the source of perpetual faction: if one of the parties had been much stronger than the other, the other might justly have complained that they were oppressed. It was on that persuasion that the division of the province was conceived to be the most likely way of attaining every desirable end.
The bill was then ordered to be recommitted.
Thursday, April 21
Debate on the Recommitment of the Quebec Government Bill
The order of the day having been read for the recommitment of the Quebec Government Bill,
Mr. Sheridan said, that as the number of members in the House was far from being considerable, he trusted if the right hon. gentleman really wished that the principle and regulations of the bill should become the subject of discussion, that he would postpone its consideration until a future day. Indeed, the circumstance of his having fixed upon this day, immediately before the holidays, for the re-commitment of the bill, had induced several membres to believe that it was not his intention of bringing it on; and they had in consequence absented themselves. There was another reason why the consideration of the bill should be put off. The right hon. gentleman had, indeed, laid information upon the table, but he had not moved that it should be printed: and certainly if he intended that this information should be perused by members, he ought to have made the motion. Mr. Sheridan conceived that it should now be printed, and the holidays would afford members an opportunity of taking it into consideration, so that they might be better prepared to state their opinions. There was still another reason why he considered delay as necessary. It was not till lately, that the very persons had been consulted who were most interested, and best qualified to give information.
Mr. Pitt said, that there was no bill which had, perhaps, met with so little opposition, and been so much delayed. It had already gone through a committee, but on the motion of a right hon. gentleman he had again consented that it should be re-committed, so desirous was he that the bill should undergo the fullest discussion. He had yesterday put off the re-commitment, on account of the late debate of the former day, but had given notice of his intention of bringing it on this day. If the attendance was not a full one, he hoped it would not be imputed to him. At the same time, having already consented to Bo much delay, he must insist that the re-commitment should take place this day. As to the information, it had now been laid a long time upon the table, without any motion having been made for its being printed.
Mr. Powys thought it better that the re-commitment should be adjourned.
Mr. Pitt said, that if any gentleman on the other side would say that he was not ready for the discussion he would agree to put off the re-commitment.
Mr. Hussey wished that the consideration of the bill might be put off, if such delay would not prove injurious to the province.
Mr. M. A. Taylor complained that this business had very improperly been treated as involving the consideration of general principles of government, and the constitutions of other countries; on which ground insinuations had been thrown out against some gentlemen on his side of the House. If such insinuations should again be attempted, he should consider himself entitled to call to order. It was their business, in the present question, to take the constitution of the country, as they found it, and equally to decline all general discussion and particular reference, unconnected with the subject.
Mr. Fox took the opportunity of explaining what he had said in the former debate relative to the bill. After lamenting that he had been misunderstood before, he admitted, that in forming a government for a colony, some attention must be paid to the general principles of all governments. In the course of this session, he said, he had taken opportunities of alluding, perhaps too often to the French revolution, and to show whether right or wrong, that his opinion, on the whole was much in its favour: but on this bill he had only introduced one levity, silly enough perhaps, and not worth recollection, that had any relation to the French revolution: he meant an allusion to the extinction of nobility in France, and its revival in Canada. Certainly he had spoken much on the government of the American states, because they were in the neighbourhood of Canada, and were connected with that province. Having then observed that the prudence of concealing his opinions was a quality which his dearest friends had not very often imputed to him, and that he thought the public had a right to the opinions of public men on public measures, he declared, that he never had stated any republican principles, with regard to this country, in or out of parliament; and he said, that when the bill came again to be discussed, from the great respect which he entertained for some of his friends, he should be extremely sorry to differ from them, but he should never be backward in delivering his opinion, and he did not wish to recede from any thing which he had formerly advanced.
Mr. Powys complained that the debate had turned irregularly both on retrospect and anticipation, and hinted that Mr. Fox should have imitated the example of Mr. Burke, in writing, rather than speaking there, of the French revolution.
Mr. Burkea said, he did not wish to call forth public opinions unnecessarily, or to provoke a debate with the right hon. gentleman, because he was his friend, and so he wished to consider him, but his principles were even dearer to him than his friendship. He did not wish to meet his friend as his adversary and antagonist. If it should so happen that he must defend his principles, he would do it: though it would distress his body and mind to think that he and his friend must have a difference. There was nothing which he could more regret than any difference of opinion; there was nothing which depressed him more. How must he deplore any difference with eloquence so greatly superior to his own, with abilities whose force nothing could resist? Dear, however, as was his friend - desirous as he was to avoid any difference - there was another object still dearer, of which he was still more desirous, the discharge of his duty. He would not provoke the attacks of any man on political subjects: for at that important period, he confessed that no man suffered more in body and mind than he did, by a difference of opinion from his dearest friends on topics of government. He thought, when he rose before, he had spoken guardedly. He did not know whether any thing which he said had occasioned the remarks that had been made. He was pretty sure, Mr. Burke said, that he should never change any part of his political opinion. He had said nothing by way of anticipation. He had said nothing by way of retraction. If any right hon. gentleman called him to order in the subsequent debate, he trusted that he would be anticipated from the chair, which he had no doubt would prevent him from being disorderly. Principles of government, and examples of other governments, were necessary to be alluded to in providing a new government: because it was a material part of every political question, to see how such and such principles had been adopted in other places. His opinions on government, he trusted, were not unknown: the more he had considered the French constitution, the more sorry he was to see it. On the 12th of February he had thought it necessary to speak his opinion very fully on the French revolution; but since that time, he had never mentioned it, either directly or indirectly; no man, therefore, could charge him with having provoked the conversation that had passed. Mr. Burke declared, that he had not been stimulated by any man to take the part he had done; but as he was not likely to alter his opinion on the subject, he thought it right to say, that it was his intention to give his opinion on certain principles of government at the proper moment in the future progress of the bill. Whether they should agree, or disagree, the debate on the bill, whenever it came, would show; but he believed he was most likely to coincide in sentiment with the other side of the House. Mr. Burke said he did not believe his right hon. friend did mean the other night to allude offensively to the affairs of France, though, at the moment, he had thought it necessary to rise and make some observations, which accident prevented; but he declared he would never censure gentlemen for giving their opinions on politics, however different from his own they might be. Should it then happen, which he hoped would not be the case, that he and his right hon. friend differed from each other on principles of government, he desired it to be recollected, that, however dear he considered his friendship, there was something still dearer in his mind—the love of his country. Nor was he stimulated to the assertion by any thing which he had heard from gentlemen on the opposite side of the House; for whatever they knew of his political sentiments, they had learned from him, not he from them.
It was agreed to go into the committee on the 6th of May.
Friday, May 6
Reading of the Quebec Government Bill Paragraph by Paragraph Interrupted
The House proceeded to the re-commitment of the Quebec Government bill. The chairman took the chair, and began by putting the usual question "That the bill be read paragraph by paragraph?"
Upon this, Mr. Burke immediately rose. He said, it might be a question whether the chairman should be directed to leave the chair, or whether the bill should be debated clause by clause. He should therefore speak to the general principle. The House by the bill, was going to do a high and important act, to appoint a legislature for a distant people, and to affirm a legal authority in itself, to exercise this high power. The first consideration then was, the competency or incompetency of the House to do such an act; for if it was not competent, the beneficence of the intention, or the goodness of the constitution they were about to give, would avail nothing. A body of rights, commonly called the rights of man, imported from a neighbouring country, had been lately set up by some persons in this, as paramount to all other rights. A principal article in this new code was "That all men are by nature free, are equal in respect of rights, and continue so in society." If such a doctrine were to be admitted, then the power of the House could extend no farther than to call together all the inhabitants of Canada, and recommend to them the free choice of a constitution for themselves. On what, then, was this House to found its competence? There was another code on which mankind in all ages had acted — the law of of nations; and on this alone he conceived the competence of the House to rest. This country had acquired the power of legislating for Canada by right of conquest: and in virtue of that right, all the rights and duties of the old government had devolved on us. In the second place, came the right by the cession of the old government and in the third, the right of possession, which we had held for about 30 years. All these, according to the law of nations, enabled us to legislate for the people of Canada, and bound us to afford them an equitable government, and them to allegiance.
Setting aside, then, the doctrine of the rights of man, which was never preached any where without mischief, the House was bound to give to the people of Canada the best government that their local situation and their connexion with this country would admit. How was this to be done? He could not refer to the experience of old governments, for that was exploded by the academies of Paris and the clubs of London, who saw too much by the light of their new lantern to have recourse to any other. The great examples to be considered, were the constitutions of America, of France, and of Great Britain. To that of America great attention, no doubt, was due, because it was of importance that the people of Canada should have nothing to envy in the constitution of a country so near to their own. Situation and circumstances were first to be considered.
Et mihi res, non me rebus, subjungere conor.1
They were not to imitate the examples of countries that had disregarded circumstances, torn asunder the bonds of society, and even the ties of nature. In the local situation, was there any thing to give a preference to the American constitution, or in the habits of the people? Part of the province was inhabited chiefly by persons who had migrated from the United States. These men had fled from the blessings of American government, and there was no danger of their going back. There might be many causes of emigration not connected with government, such as a more fertile soil, or more genial climate; but they had forsaken all the advantages of a more fertile soil, and more southern latitude, for the bleak and barren regions of Canada. There was no danger of their being so much shocked by the introduction of the British constitution, as to return.
The people of America had, he believed, formed a constitution as well adapted to their circumstances as they could. But, compared with the French, they had a certain quantity of phlegm, of old English good nature, that fitted them better for a republican government. They had also a republican education; their former internal government was republican, and the principles and vices of it were restrained by the beneficence of an over-ruling monarchy in this country. The formation of their constitution was preceded by a long war, in the course of which, by military discipline, they had learned order, submission to command, and a regard for great men. They had learned what — if it was allowable in so enlightened an age as the present to allude to antiquity — a king of Sparta had said was the great wisdom to be learned in his country; to command and to obey. They were trained to government by war, not by plots, murders, and assassinations. In the next place, they had not the materials of monarchy or aristocracy among them. They did not, however, set up the absurdity, that the nation should govern the nation; that prince prettyman should govern prince prettyman: but formed their government, as nearly as they could, according to the model of the British constitution. Yet he did not say, "give this constitution to a British colony," because, if the bare imitation of the British constitution was so good, why not give them the thing itself? as he who professed to sing like a nightingale, was told by the person to whom he offered his talents, that he could hear the nightingale herself. Hence he thought the greater number of inhabitants of that description, would have no objection to the British constitution; and the British inhabitants were probably not so much corrupted by the clubs of London and the academies of Paris, as to think any form of government preferable to an old one.
The ancient Canadians were next to be considered, and being the most numerous, they were entitled to the greatest attention. Were we to give them the French constitution — a constitution founded on principles diametrically opposite to ours, that could not assimilate with it in a single point; as different from it as wisdom from folly, as vice from virtue, as the most opposite extremes in nature — a constitution founded on what was called the rights of man? But let this constitution be examined by its practical effects in the French West India colonies. These, notwithstanding three disastrous wars, were most happy and flourishing till they heard of the rights of man. As soon as this system arrived among them, Pandora's box, replete with every mortal evil, seemed to fly open, hell itself to yawn, and every demon of mischief to overspread the face of the earth. Blacks rose against whites, whites against blacks, and each against one another in murderous hostility; subordination was destroyed, the bonds of society torn asunder, and every man seemed to thirst for the blood of his neighbour.
Black spirits and white,
Blue spirits and gray,
Mingle, mingle, mingle2.
All was toil and trouble, discord and blood, from the moment that this doctrine was promulgated among them; and he verily believed, that wherever the rights of man were preached, such ever had been and ever would be the consequences. France, who had generously sent them the precious gift of the rights of man, did not like this image of herself reflected in her child, and sent out a body of troops, well seasoned too with the rights of man, to restore order and obedience. These troops, as soon as they arrived, instructed as they were in the principle of government, felt themselves bound to become parties in the general rebellion, and, like most of their brethren at home, began asserting their rights by cutting off the head of their general. Mr. Burke read the late accounts from St. Domingo, delivered to the national assembly, and added, that by way of equivalent for this information, M. Barnave announced the return of the members of the late colonial assembly to the true principles of the constitution. The members of an assembly no longer in existence had bequeathed their return to the principles of the constitution as their last act and deed as a body, and this was an equivalent for all the horrors occasioned by troops joining in a rebellion which they were sent to quell! Ought this example to induce us to send to our colonies a cargo of the rights of man? As soon would he send them a bale of infected cotton from Marseilles.
If we had so little regard for any of our colonies, as to give them that, for the sake of an experiment, which we would not take to ourselves — if we were for "experimentum in corpore vili,3" let us think how it would operate at home. Let us consider the effects of the French constitution on France, a constitution on which he looked not with approbation but with horror, as involving every principle to be detested, and pregnant with every consequence to be dreaded and abominated, and the use which they proposed to make of it. They had told us themselves, and the national assembly had boasted, that they would establish a fabric of government which time could not destroy, and the latest posterity would admire. This boast had been echoed by the clubs of this country, the Unitarians, the Revolution society, the Constitutional society, and the club of the 14th of July. The assembly had now continued nearly two years in possession of the absolute authority which they usurped; yet they did not appear to have advanced a single step in settling any thing like a government; but to have contented themselves with enjoying the democratic satisfaction of heaping every disgrace on fallen royalty. The constitution must be expected now, if ever, to be nearly complete: to try whether it was good in its effects, he should have recourse to the last accounts of the assembly itself. They had a king such as they wished, a king who was no king; over whom the marquis de la Fayette, chief gaoler of Paris, mounted guard. The royal prisoner having wished to taste the freshness of the country air had obtained a day rule to take a journey of about five miles from Paris. But scarcely had he left the city, before his suspicious governors, recollecting that a temporary release from confinement might afford him the means of escape, sent a tumultuous rabble after him, who, surrounding hit carriage, commanded him to stop, while one of the grenadiers belonging to his faithful and loyal body guard, presented a bayonet to the breast of the fore-horse —
Mr. Baker here called Mr. Burke to order. He said he had sat many years in parliament, and no man entertained a higher opinion of the integrity and abilities of the right hon. gentleman than he did. His eloquence was great, and his powers on many occasions, had been irresistible. His abilities might enable him to involve the House in unnecessary altercation: this perhaps the right hon. gentleman might do unwittingly for others, and not to serve any purpose of his own: he himself, perhaps, might be the unwilling instrument, and might involve the country itself in a contest with another nation; he could not, therefore, sit any longer, without calling him to order, and he should insist upon every person adhering to the question, and that the chairman state what the question before the committee was.
The Chairman said, that the question before the committee was, that the clauses of the Quebec bill should be read paragraph by paragraph.
Mr. Fox thought his right hon. friend could hardly be said to be out of order. It seemed that this was a day of privilege, when any gentleman might stand up, select his mark, and abuse any government he pleased, whether it had reference or not to the point in question. Although no body had said a word on the subject of the French revolution, his right hon. friend had risen up and abused that event. He might have treated the Gentoo government, or that of China, or the government of Turkey, or the laws of Confucius, precisely in the same manner, and with equal appositeness to the question before the House. Every gentleman had a right that day to abuse the government of every country as much as he pleased, and in as gross terms as he thought proper, or any government, either ancient or modern, with his right hon. friend.
Mr. Burke replied, that he understood his right hon. friend's irony, but his conclusions were very erroneously drawn from his premises. If he was disorderly, he was sorry for it. His right hon. friend had also accused him of abusing governments in very gross terms. He conceived his right hon. friend meant to abuse him in unqualified terms. He had called him to an account for the decency and propriety of his expressions. Mr. Burke said he had been accused of creating dissention among nations. He never thought the national assembly was imitated so well as in the debate then going on. M. Cazales could never utter a single sentence in that assembly without a roar —
Mr. M. A. Taylor spoke to order. He thought the discussion was carried forward to no good purpose. They came to argue the question on the Quebec bill; they were not discussing the English constitution, but whether, in fact, they ought to give the British constitution to Canada; and, if they ought to give it, whether the present bill gave it.
Mr. Burke submitted to the committee whether he was or was not in order. The question was, whether the bill was then to be read paragraph by paragraph. It was a fair way in reasoning to see what experiments had been made in other countries. His right hon. friend had said that no body had the least idea of borrowing anything of the French revolution in the bill. How did his right hon. friend know that? If it was determined that he should be stopped, why was he not stopped in the beginning, and before he had declared the French revolution to be the work of folly and not of wisdom, of vice and not of virtue? If the committee permitted him to go on, he should endeavour to meet the most captious ideas of order. He declared he would not suffer friend nor foe to come between his assertion and his argument, and thereby to make him a railer. His hon. friend who had called him to order, had said that, although he did not do it to serve any purpose of his own, he was probably, though unwittingly, the instrument of other people's folly. He declared, he had not brought forward this business from any views of his own. If the House did not suffer the affair to be discussed, if they showed a reluctance to it —
Mr. St. John called Mr. Burke to order. He really asked it as a favour of his right hon. friend, that he would fix a day on which he would bring on the discussion of the French constitution. He said he knew the English constitution; he admired it; he daily felt the blessings of it. He should be extremely sorry if any person in England should endeavour to persuade any man, or body of men to alter the constitution of the country. If his right hon. friend felt the mischiefs of the French constitution as applicable to the English constitution, let him appoint a day for that discussion.
Mr. Martin was of opinion that Mr. Burke was not irregular in speaking of the French constitution. He had formerly heard a right hon. gentleman say, that the public had a right to the sentiments of public men on public measures, and therefore he hoped the right hon. gentleman would be permitted to go on.
Mr. Burke said, he meant to take the sense of the committee, whether or not he was in order. He declared he had not made any reflection, nor did he moan any, on any one gentleman whatever. He was as fully convinced as he could be, that no one gentleman in that House wanted to alter the constitution of England. The reason why, on the first regular opportunity that presented itself, he had been anxious to offer his reflections on the subject, was, because it was a matter of great public concern, and occasion called for his observations. As long as they held to the constitution he should think it his duty to act with them; but he would not be the slave of any whim that might arise. On the contrary, he thought it his duty not to give any countenance to certain doctrines which were supposed to exist in this country, and which were intended fundamentally to subvert the constitution. They ought to consider well what they were doing.
[Here there was a loud cry of Order! Order! and Go on! Go on!]
Mr. Burke said, there was such an enthusiasm for order that it was not easy to go on, but he was going to state what the result of the French constitution perfected was, and to show that we ought not to adopt the principles of it. He might be asked, why state it, when no man meant to alter the English constitution? Why raise animosities, where none existed? and why endeavour to stir up passions where all was quiet before? He confessed a thing might be orderly, and yet that it might be very improper to discuss it. Was there any reason for doing this, or did they think the country was in danger? He declared he was ready to answer that question. He was perfectly convinced that there was no immediate danger. He believed the body of the country was perfectly sound, although attempts were made to take the constitution from their heads by absurd theories. He firmly believed the English constitution was enthroned in the affections of their bosoms; that they cherished it as a part of their nature; and that it was inseparable from Englishmen, as their souls and their bodies. Some ministers and others had, at times, apprehended danger, even from a minority; and history had shown that in this way a constitution had been overturned. The question, he said, would be, what had they to do with the French constitution? They had no right to have recourse to the proceedings of the national assembly, because the government of this country had not yet recognized it. If they had, they would silence him. If the French revolutionists were to mind their own affairs, and had shown no inclination to go abroad and to make proselytes in other countries, Mr. Burke declared, that neither he nor any other member of the House had any right to meddle with them. If they were not as much disposed to gain proselytes as Louis 14th had been to make conquests, he should have thought it very improper and indiscreet to have touched on the subject. He said he would quote the national assembly itself, and a correspondent of his at Paris who had declared he appeared as the ambassador of the whole human race —
Mr. Anstruther spoke to order. He said, his right hon. friend had transgressed what he looked upon to be the bounds of order in that House. It was a rule of order for members to confine themselves to the question in debate. When he stated this, he begged it to be understood that if any minority in the country had any intentions to alter the constitution, there was no man more ready to take strong and decided measures to check that minority, and to crush that spirit than he should be —
Colonel Phipps called Mr. Anstruther to order, and said, that a declaration of his attachment to the constitution, or of his gallantry in defence of it, was as much out of order as the right hon. gentleman was, whom he was calling to order.
Mr. Anstruther said, if the hon. gentleman had condescended to hear him out, before he had called him to order, he would have saved himself some trouble. That hon. gentleman would recollect, that he had heard of a design in this country to overturn the constitution. If such a design really existed, it was the duty of the right hon. gentleman who had stated it, to bring forward some specific measure on the subject. It was disorderly in the right hon. gentleman to thrust that into a debate on the Quebec bill.
Mr. Burke said, that an objection had been taken against arguing the business on the ground, that although it might be in order, yet the discussion of it might be attended with mischievous consequences. If some good were not to be obtained by, it, he admitted it might be censurable to argue it, and prudence he owned was a very useful quality. He said he had formerly observed in the course of this most irregular debate, that the body of the country was untainted, and that the government was yet untainted with this French malady. The House smiled at the expression, and Mr. Burke observed, that there might be some allusion which might not be so proper. He hoped there was a very small minority indeed out of doors, who were disaffected with the English constitution, and who wished to put the country out of love with it, by endeavouring to fill them with admiration for another. He was asked, why he did not come forward with this business as a distinct subject? Before he did that, it would be proper first to know what support he was likely to have. He must know how government stood affected to the business, and also how the other side of the House liked it. He had sat six and twenty years in that House, and had never called any man to order in his life. This being a question of prudence, he thought it was the part of a wise man and good citizen rather to discountenance the measure, and to admonish those who might entertain such designs of their danger, than to come immediately to the knife. He knew there was a levity natural to mankind; but when they were alarmed, they might recollect themselves, and correct those things which he should be sorry if the law were to correct for them.
Here there was a loud cry of "Chair, chair!" and of "Hear, hear!" and Mr. Austruther spoke again to order.
Colonel Phipps immediately called Mr. Anstruther to order, conceiving that the right hon. gentleman was not out of order, in as much as he had a right to introduce into the debate every topic that was at all applicable to the question.
Mr. Fox said, he still entertained the opinion that he had stated originally, and he had before spoken seriously and not ironically. He thought his right hon. friend had a right to enter into the constitution of France, because he had a right to enter into the constitution of Turkey, or into that of the Gentoo government, upon just the same principle. But it had been usual when persons had gone into a question, to state which side of a question they meant to maintain. He confessed he did not know to what side of the question to apply what had been said. He did not know whether his right hon. friend was for or against reading the clauses paragraph by paragraph.
Mr. Grey said, it was certainly true that when a government was to be provided, any member, strictly speaking, had a right to support any form of government, or to show the evil tendency of a system which had been recommended by others. Yet he thought his right hon. friend had precluded himself from that, by stating the view and purpose for which he brought forward that measure. He had said he did not believe there was a man in that House who wished to alter the constitution. Upon what principle, then, was it necessary to go into the French constitution? — because the right hon. gentleman knew a design existed some where to overturn the fundamental principles of our constitution. The right hon. gentleman had repeatedly declared, that he knew such a design existed. Now, if this was his ground, he appealed to the right hon. gentleman himself, and the committee, whether the present was a fit moment for such a discussion? It was a duty which that right hon. gentleman owed to his country, to discover the design: and if any person was more called upon than another, to wish that the discussion should be seriously taken up, it was the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Pitt), who was bound to watch over the interests of the country, and to take care that no such design should be carried into effect, and therefore Mr. Grey hoped that the right hon. gentleman would unite with him in requesting his right hon. friend to drop this business on the Quebec bill, and to make a direct charge.
Mr. Pitt said, that whenever any member conceived the right hon. gentleman was out of order, they got up and interrupted him. The only way to bring this to a point would be to move, that it was disorderly for him to advert to the French constitution in the present debate. He himself could not interrupt him, unless he was convinced he was out of order.
Mr. Burke again submitted to the committee, whether he was orderly or not. When he spoke of a design that was formed in this country against the constitution, he spoke with all the simplicity of a member of parliament. He did not imagine there were any plots, but he had a knowledge and conviction of them. He complained that his friends had not used him with candour. If they reluctantly forced him to take a regular day, he should certainly do it.
Mr. St. John called Mr. Burke to order a second time, and said, he should think it necessary to take the opinion of the House on his conduct.
Mr. Burke said, an attempt was now made, by one who had been formerly his friend, to bring down upon him the censure of the House. It was unfortunate, he said, for him, sometimes to be hunted by one party, and sometimes by another. He considered himself to be unfairly treated by those gentlemen with whom he had been accustomed to act, but from whom he now received extreme violence. He should, he said, if the tumult of order abated, proceed in the account he was going to give of the horrible consequences flowing from the French idea of the rights of man —
Lord Sheffield spoke to order. He said he was convinced that the right hon. gentleman was disorderly, and would move, "That dissertations on the French constitution, and to read a narrative of the transactions in France, are not regular or orderly on the question, that the clauses of the Quebec bill be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph."
Mr. Pitt begged leave to observe, that the question of discretion, and the question of order, ought to be kept perfectly distinct. Undoubtedly if he were to state the line in which they were to argue the general question, he should have wished to abstain from all allusions to the constitution of France, and for many reasons. Whatever he might feel for himself, he must beg leave to be understood, to do complete justice to the motives of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Burke) which he could trace to no other source than a pure regard to the constitution of this country. But as to the motion in the hands of the chairman, as to the question of order, when they were considering what was the best constitution for the province of Canada, or for any other of the dependencies of Great Britain, it was strictly in order to allude to the constitution of other countries. When they were laying down a new system of government for one of their colonies, there was no form of government which, in his apprehension, it was not competent to discuss. When they were laying down a government for Americans, for Frenchmen, and for Englishmen, which was the description of inhabitants who composed the province of Canada, how could it be out of order, to allude to the American, the French, and the English constitutions. The right hon. gentleman was entitled to refer to the principles of those governments, or to any other principles of government. If any gentleman wished to have the principles of the French or American constitutions introduced into this bill, he might move that the chairman leave the chair, as the bill, in its present form, could not be altered so as to suit the constitutions of these countries. On the other hand, members who were advocates for the British constitution, might move that the bill should be read clause by clause. He wished either that the debate should stop altogether, or that it should go on with order and regularity.
Mr. Fox said, he was sincerely sorry to feel that he must support the motion, and the more so, as his right hon. friend had made it necessary, by bringing on, in so irregular a manner, a discussion of a matter by no means connected with the Quebec bill — in a manner which he could not help thinking extremely unfair, but which, he must consider as a direct injustice to him. If the argument of the right hon. gentleman over the way, with regard to order, was to obtain, it was a mode of order that would go to stop every proceeding of that House, especially in committees. It was proper to debate the principle of a bill on the second reading of it; and in referring to matter that might be analogous, much latitude would be required. The Quebec bill had been read a second time, and was decided. If gentlemen, therefore, when a bill was in a committee, would come down and state in long speeches, general answers to all possible objections, to clauses that might be proposed, but were never meant to be proposed, debates might be drawn to any imaginable length, and the business of the House suspended at the pleasure of any one of its members. Order and discretion in debate, had been said to be distinct; with him, they never should be separate. Where the distinction lay he could not see, for he always conceived that order was founded on discretion. He was not in the habit of interrupting any gentleman on the point of order; because, unless the deviation from it was strong indeed, more time was often lost by calling to order, than by suffering gentlemen to proceed. But if he saw any discussion attempted to be introduced in a way not merely irregular, but unfair, he felt himself obliged to endeavour to stop it. — Much had been said on the present occasion, of the danger of theory and the safety of practice. Now, what had been the conduct of the gentleman who looked on theory with such abhorrence? Not to enter into a practical discussion of the bill clause by clause, and to examine whether it gave what it professed to give, the British constitution to Canada, but having neglected to have done his duty, and attended the proper stage of debating the principle, to enter into a theoretical inquiry of what the principle ought to be, and a discussion of the constitution of another country, respecting which it was possible that he might differ from him. If this was not manifest eagerness to seek a difference of opinion, and anxiety to discover a cause of dispute, he knew not what was; since if they came to the clauses of the bill, he, did not think there would be any difference of opinion, or at most but a very, trifling one. If his right hon. friend's object had been to debate the Quebec bill, he would have debated it clause by clause, according to the established practice of the House. If his object had been to prevent danger apprehended to the British constitution, from the opinions of any man, or any set of men, he would have given notice of a particular day for that particular purpose, or taken any other occasion of doing it, rather than that on which his nearest and dearest friend had been grossly misrepresented and traduced. That at least was the course which he should himself have taken and was therefore what he naturally expected from another.
The course which his right hon. friend had chosen to take was that which seemed to confirm the insinuation urged against him — that of having maintained republican principles as applicable to the British constitution, in a former debate on the bill. No such argument had ever been urged by him, nor any from which such an inference was fairly deducible. On the French revolution he did, indeed, differ from his right hon. friend. Their opinions, he had no scruple to say, were wide as the poles asunder. But, what had a difference of opinion on that, which to the House was only matter of theoretical contemplation, to do with the discussion of a practical point, on which no such difference existed? On that revolution, he adhered to his opinion, and never would retract one syllable of what he had said. He repeated, that he thought it on the whole, one of the most glorious events in the history of mankind. But, when he had on a former occasion mentioned France, he had mentioned the revolution only, and not the constitution; the latter remained to be improved by experience, and accommodated to circumstances. The arbitrary system of government was done away: the new one had the good of the people for its object, and this was the point on which he rested. This opinion, Mr. Fox said, he wished the time might come to debate, if opinions of his were again to be made the subject of parliamentary discussion. He had no concealment of his opinions; but if any thing could make him shy of such a discussion, it would be the fixing a day to catechize him respecting his political creed, and respecting opinions on which the House was neither going to act, nor called upon to act at all. He had been thus catechized in 1782, when a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Dundas) in the last stage of then administration, had said, "Admitting this administration to be bad, where are you to find a better? Will you admit men into power, who say, that the representation of the people is inadequate, and whose principles would overturn the constitution?" On that occasion, he had found an able defender in a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Pitt), whom he could not expect to be his defender that day; but who had in 1782 demanded, in manly and energetic tones, "if the House would bear to be told, that the country was incapable of furnishing an administration more worthy of trust than that whose misconduct was admitted even by its advocates?" He might now have looked for a defender to another quarter, to the bench on which he sat, and been as much disappointed. Yet the catechizer on that occasion had soon after joined another ministry, and supported that very reform of the representation which he then deprecated as more dangerous to the constitution and the country, than all the misfortunes of that administration! Were he to differ from his right hon. friend on points of history, on the constitution of Athens or of Rome, was it necessary that the difference should be discussed in that House? Were he to praise the conduct of the elder Brutus, and to say that the expulsion of the Tarquins was a noble and patriotic act, would it thence be fair to argue that he meditated the establishment of a consular government in this country? Were he to repeat the eloquent eulogium of Cicero on the taking off of Caesar, would it thence be deducible, that he went with a knife about him for the purpose of killing some great man or orator? Let those who said, that to admire was to wish to imitate, show that there was some similarity of circumstances. It lay on his right hon. friend to show that this country was in the precise situation of France at the time of the French revolution, before he had a right to meet his argument; and then, with all the obloquy that might be heaped on the declaration, he should be ready to say, that the French revolution was an object of imitation for this country.
Instead of seeking for differences of opinion on topics entirely topics of speculation, let them come to matter of fact, and of practical application; let them come to the discussion of the bill before them, and see whether his objections to it were republican, and in what he should differ from his right hon. friend. He had been warned by high and most respectable authorities, that minute discussion of great events, without information, did no honour to the pen that wrote, or the tongue that spoke the words. If the committee should decide that his right hon. friend should pursue his argument on the French constitution, he would leave the House: and if some friend would send him word, when the clauses of the Quebec bill were to be discussed, he would return and debate them. And when he said this, he said it from no unwillingness to listen to his right hon. friend: he always had heard him with pleasure, but not where no practical use could result from his argument. When the proper period for discussion came, feeble as his powers were, compared with those of his right hon. friend, whom he must call his master, for he had taught him every thing he knew in politics (as he had declared on a former occasion, and he meant no compliment when he said so), yet, feeble as his powers comparatively were, he should be ready to maintain the principles he had asserted, even against his right hon. friend's superior eloquence — to maintain, that the rights of man, which his right hon. friend had ridiculed as chimerical and visionary, were in fact the basis and foundation of every rational constitution, and even of the British constitution itself, as our statute-book proved: since, if he knew any thing of the original compact between the people of England and its government, as stated in that volume, it was a recognition of the original inherent rights of the people as men, which no prescription could supersede, no accident remove or obliterate.
If such were principles dangerous to the constitution, they were the principles of his right hon. friend, from whom he had learned them. During the American war they had together rejoiced at the successes of a Washington, and sympathized almost in tears for the fall of a Montgomery. From his right hon. friend he had learned, that the revolt of a whole people could never be countenanced and encouraged, but must have been provoked. Such had at that time been the doctrine of his right hon. friend, who had said with equal energy and emphasis, that he could not draw a bill of indictment against a whole people. Mr. Fox declared he was sorry to find that his right hon. friend had since learnt to draw such a bill of indictment, and to crowd it with all the technical epithets which disgraced our statute-book, such as false, malicious, wicked, by the instigation of the devil not having the fear of God before your eyes and so forth. Having been taught by his right hon. friend, that no revolt of a nation was caused without provocation, he could not help feeling a joy ever since the constitution of France became founded on the rights of man, on which the British constitution itself was founded. To deny it, was neither more nor less than to libel the British constitution; and no book his right hon. friend could cite, no words he might deliver in debate, however ingenious, eloquent and able — as all his writings and all his speeches undoubtedly were — could induce him to change or abandon that opinion; he differed upon that subject with his right hon. friend toto caelo. — Having proceeded thus far, Mr. Fox declared he had said more than he had intended, possibly much more than was either wise or proper; but it was a common error arising from his earnestness to be clearly understood; but if his sentiments could serve the other side of the House, which had countenanced the discussion of that day, apparently in order to get at them, they had acted unnecessarily. They might be sure of him and his sentiments on every subject, without forcing on any thing like a difference between him and his right hon. friend; and having once heard them, they might act upon them as they thought proper.
Mr. Burke commenced his reply in a grave and governed tone of voice, observing that although he had himself been called to order so many times, he had sat with perfect composure, and had heard the most disorderly speech that perhaps ever was delivered in that House. He had not pursued the conduct of which an example had been set him, but had heard without the least interruption, that speech out to the end, irregular and disorderly as it had been. His words and his conduct throughout had been misrepresented, and a personal attack had been made upon him from a quarter he never could have expected, after a friendship and an intimacy of more than two-and-twenty years; and not only his public conduct, words, and writings, had been alluded to in the severest terms, but confidential conversations and private opinions had been brought forward, with a view of proving that he acted inconsistently; and now a motion was introduced, which hindered him, in a great measure, from having an opportunity to ascertain, by facts, what he had stated as opinions. He could not help thinking, that on the subject of the French revolution, he had met with great unfairness from the right hon. gentleman, who had accused him of speaking rashly, without information, and unsupported by facts to bear out his deductions, and that he had been treated in a manner that did little justice to his feelings, and had little appearance of decency on the part of the right hon. gentleman. However, when and as often as this subject came to be discussed fairly, and facts that he was in possession of were allowed to be brought forward, he was ready to meet the right hon. gentleman hand to hand, and foot to foot upon it. Much had been said against proceeding without good information. He was ready to state his proofs for all the facts he had alleged to which public proof was at all applicable; there were, indeed, a few particulars on which he did not choose to take issue; because, in the present state of things in the happy country of France, he might subject his relators to the fashionable summary justice of the lanterne. Under a very few reserves of that kind, he was ready to enter into the discussion concerning the facts in that book, whenever he pleased. He might possibly have fallen into minute and trivial mistakes, but he was sure he was substantially right in every substantial matter of fact. Of the truth of the few matters on which he must decline offering proof, he pledged himself, upon his honour, that he had sufficient to satisfy a sober and considerate judgment.
But this, it seemed, was not the cause of quarrel; it was not because this authority or that example were mentioned; but he was accused of misrepresenting what the right hon. gentleman had said on a former day, when he owned he was not present, and which he disavowed in the most positive terms. He denied any reference to that, or to any other speech of the right hon. gentleman, and contended that he had argued on this, as he wished to do on every other occasion, in a candid, plain, and simple manner. With regard to the subject which he meant to introduce in the committee on the Quebec bill the right hon. gentleman was no stranger to the grounds he meant to go upon. He had opened to him very particularly the plan of his speech; how far he meant to go; and what limits he proposed to put upon himself. His reasons for forming those opinions, he had mentioned in the fullest and most particular manner to his right hon. friend at his own house, and had walked from thence to that House with him conversing all the time on the subject. The right hon. gentleman had then entirely disagreed with him upon it, but they had no quarrel upon it, and what the right hon. gentleman had said upon the subject, he did not now wish to state. He could not, however, be persuaded, from what the right hon. gentleman had urged, to give up his purpose of stating to the House, upon this occasion, his mind with regard to the French constitution, and the facts which led him to think as he did; and certainly in this he thought there could be nothing disorderly, especially when so much had been already introduced, not about the constitution of Quebec, but about the American constitution. He had asserted, that dangerous doctrines were encouraged in this country, and that dreadful consequences might ensue from them, which it was his sole wish and ambition to avert, by strenuously supporting the constitution of Great Britain as it is, which, in his mind, could better be done by preventing impending danger, than by any remedy that could afterwards be applied; and he thought himself justified in saying this, because he did know that there were people in this country avowedly endeavouring to disorder its constitution, and government, and that in a very bold manner.
The practice now was, upon all occasions, to praise, in the highest strain, the French constitution: some indeed qualified their argument so far, by praising only the French revolution: but in that he could see no difference, as the French constitution, if they had any, was the consequence and effect of that revolution. So fond were gentlemen of this favourite topic, that whoever disapproved of the anarchy and confusion that had taken place in France, or could not foresee the benefits that were to arise out of it, were stigmatised as enemies to liberty, and to the British constitution, — charges that were false, unfounded, misapplied, and every way unfair. Doctrines of this kind, he thought, were extremely dangerous at all times, and much more so, if they were to be sanctioned by so great a name as that of the right hon. gentleman, who always put whatever he said in the strongest and most forcible view in which it could possibly appear. Thus, it had become common to set the French constitution up against the English constitution, upon all occasions, when the comparison could be introduced; and then, he insisted, if the former was praised, the latter must be proportionably depreciated. Here again he reverted to what he had been told had passed on a former day, when the right hon. gentleman had taken fire when the French constitution was mentioned, and had termed it the most glorious and stupendous fabric that ever was reared by human wisdom.
He still insisted, that the discussion of the Quebec bill was a proper opportunity, after what had been said, for entering upon a true and minute comparison of the French constitution with that of England, though the disorderly rage for order that prevailed that day, seemed to be adopted for the purpose of precluding every fair or proper discussion. He had that day been accused, among other breaches of friendship towards the right hon. gentleman, of having provoked this discussion, for the purpose of giving an advantage to the right hon. gentleman's enemies — a principle of action that he utterly disclaimed, and never thought that any fair or candid man could have brought against him. However, if any could have supposed so before what they had heard from the opposite side of the House, this day must convince them of the contrary. In what he had repeatedly said and written concerning the French revolution, be had been accused of stating his opinions rashly and without foundation, a charge which he was certainly anxious and able to refute, if he had been allowed; and at the very time when he was going to produce facts in support of what he had asserted, blended partly with private information and respectable authorities, though he perhaps might have gone greater lengths than he wished, by disclosing communications which he ought to conceal, yet being so particularly called upon, he would have done it: at this very moment he was stopped in the most unfair, and (notwithstanding the rage for order) the most disorderly manner; and, but for this extraordinary conduct, he would have proved that the issue of the French constitution, or revolution, whichever they liked to call it, could never serve the cause of liberty, but would inevitably promote tyranny, anarchy, and confusion.
After what had been said, nobody could impute to him interested or personal motives for his conduct. Those with whom he had been constantly in habits of friendship and agreement were all against him, and from the other side of the House he was not likely to have much support; yet all he did, was no more than his duty. It was a struggle, not to support any man, or set of men, but a struggle to support the British constitution, in doing which, he had incurred the displeasure of all about him, and those opposite to him; and, what was worst of all, he had induced the right hon. gentleman to rip up the whole course and tenor of his life, public and private, and that not without a considerable degree of asperity. His failings and imperfections had been keenly exposed, and, in short, without the chance of gaining one new friend, he had made enemies, it appeared malignant enemies, of his old friends; but, after all, he esteemed his duty far beyond any friendship, any fame, or any other consideration whatever. He had stated the danger which the British constitution was daily in, from the doctrines and conduct of particular persons; however, as neither side of the House supported him in this, but as both sides thought otherwise, he would not press that point upon them now in any stronger way than he had done; but he would still aver, that no assistance which could either be given or refused to him, would ever bias him against the excellence of the British constitution; nor lead him to think well of the French revolution, or the constitution, as it was named, that was formed in its place.
The right hon. gentleman in the speech he had just made, had treated him in every sentence with uncommon harshness. In the first place, after being fatigued with skirmishes of order, which were wonderfully managed by his light troops, the right hon. gentleman brought down the whole strength and heavy artillery of his own judgment, eloquence, and abilities, upon him, to crush him at once, by declaring a censure upon his whole life, conduct, and opinions. Notwithstanding this great and serious, though, on his part, unmerited attack and attempt to crush him, he would not be dismayed; he was not yet afraid to state his sentiments in that House, or any where else, and he would tell all the world that the constitution was in danger. And here he must, in the most solemn manner, express his disapprobation of what was notorious to the country and to the world. Were there not clubs in every quarter, who met and voted resolutions of an alarming tendency? Did they not correspond, not only with each other in every part of the kingdom, but with foreign countries? Did they not preach in their pulpits doctrines that were dangerous, and celebrate at their anniversary meetings, proceedings incompatible with the spirit of the British constitution? Admitting these things to be true — and he believed no one would say his assertions were ill-founded — would they hesitate a moment to pronounce such transactions dangerous to the constitution, and extremely mischievous in their nature? In addition to these, were not infamous libels against the constitution circulated every where at a considerable expense? The malignity with which the right hon. gentleman had spoken of his sentiments, with regard to government, and the charge he had brought against him of inconsistency in his political life and opinions, were neither fair nor true; for he denied that he ever entertained any ideas of government, different from those which he now entertained, and had upon many occasions stated. He laid it down as a maxim, that monarchy was the basis of all good government and the nearer to monarchy any government approached, the more perfect it was, and vice versa; and he certainly in his wildest moments, never had so far forgotten the nature of government, as to argue that we ought to wish for a constitution that we could alter at pleasure, and change like a dirty shirt. He was by no means anxious for a monarchy with a dash of republicanism to correct it. But the French constitution was the exact opposite of the English in every thing, and nothing could be so dangerous as to set it up to the view of the English, to mislead and debauch their minds. In carrying on the attack against him, the right hon. gentleman had been supported by a corps of well-disciplined troops, expert in their manoeuvres, and obedient to the word of their commander.b
[Mr. Grey here called Mr. Burke to order, conceiving that it was disorderly to mention gentlemen in that way, and to ascribe improper motives to them.]
Mr. Burke declared he would not apologize, and went on. He said he had already stated, that he believed those who entertained doctrines which he dreaded as dangerous to the constitution, to be a very small number indeed. But if the spirit was suffered to ferment, who could tell what might happen? Let it be remembered, that there were 300,000 men in arms in France, who at a favourable moment might be ready to assist that spirit; and though there might be no immediate danger threatening the British constitution, yet a time of scarcity and tumult might come, and in such a case it was certainly safer and wiser to prevent the consequences, than to remedy the evil. He recurred to the events of the year 1780, and mentioned the dreadful consequences of the riots occasioned by lord George Gordon. Had he at that time cautioned the House to beware of the Protestant Association, and other caballing meetings, he supposed his cautions would have been treated in the same way as those he offered now; but he trusted no person would wish again to see such destruction and disorder — the houses of some of the greatest and best men that ever adorned the country, the marquis of Rockingham and sir George Saville, beset by the mob, and obliged to be defended by armed force; they surely could not desire again to behold camps in all our squares, and garrisons in our palaces. As to the present state of this country, the king was in full possession of all his functions, his ministers were responsible for all their conduct; the country was blessed with an opposition of strong force; and the common people were united with the gentlemen in a column of prudence. From all which he argued, that the present was the moment for crushing this diabolical spirit, and that the slightest attempt to subvert the principles of the constitution ought to be watched with the greatest jealousy and circumspection. When he spoke of our constitution as valuable, he said he spoke of the whole complete, and not of any particular and predominant part: and therefore he thought it wiser to be prepared for any attack that might be made upon it, than to trust that we could preserve it after the attack was made.
Having dwelt for some time upon this point, he next recapitulated the political questions upon which he had differed with the right hon. gentleman upon former occasions, particularly the several attempts that had been made for a parliamentary reform, the dissenters bill, and the royal marriage act. There might perhaps, be other instances; but in the course of their long acquaintance, no one difference of opinion had ever before for a single moment interrupted their friendship. It certainly was indiscretion, at any period, but especially at his time of life, to provoke enemies, or give his friends occasion to desert him; yet if his firm and steady adherence to the British constitution placed him in such a dilemma, he would risk all; and, as public duty and public prudence taught him, with his last words exclaim, "Fly from the French constitution."
[Mr. Fox here whispered, that "there was no loss of friends"].
Mr. Burke said Yes, there was a loss of friends — he knew the price of his conduct — he had done his duty at the price of his friend — their friendship was at an end. He had been told, that it was much better to defend the English constitution, by praising its own excellence, than by abusing other constitutions, and certainly the task of praising was much more pleasant than that of abusing; but he contended, that the only fair way of arguing the merits of any constitution, was by comparing it with others, and he could not speak with propriety of the excellence of the English constitution, without comparing it with the deformity and injustice of the French, which was the shade that brought its colours forward in the brightest point of view; and to omit to do it, would be like presenting a picture without a shade.
Before he sat down, he earnestly warned the two right hon. gentlemen who were the great rivals in that House, that whether they hereafter moved in the political hemisphere as two flaming meteors, or walked together like brethren hand in hand, to preserve and cherish the British constitution, to guard against innovation, and to save it from the danger of those new theories. In a rapturous apostrophe to the infinite and unspeakable power of the Deity, who, with his arm, hurled a comet like a projectile out of its course — who enabled it to endure the sun's heat, and the pitchy darkness of the chilly night; he said, that to the Deity must be left the task of infinite perfection, while to us poor, weak, incapable mortals, there was no rule of conduct so safe as experience. He concluded with moving an amendment, that all the words of the motion, after "Dissertations on the French constitution," should be omitted, and the following be inserted in their room — "tending to show that examples may be drawn therefrom; and to prove that they are insufficient for any good purposes, and that they lead to anarchy and confusion, and are consequently unfit to be introduced into schemes of government, and improper to be referred to on a motion for reading the Quebec bill paragraph by paragraph."c
Mr. Fox rose to reply; but his mind was so much agitated, and his heart so much affected by what had fallen from Mr. Burke, that it was some minutes before he could proceed. Tears trickled down his cheeks, and he strove in vain to give utterance to feelings that dignified and exalted his nature. The sensibility of every member in the House appeared uncommonly excited upon the occasion. Recovered at length from the depression under which he had risen, Mr. Fox proceeded to answer the assertions which had caused it. He said, that however events might have altered the mind of his right hon. friend, for so he must call him notwithstanding what had passed, — because, grating as it was to any man to be Unkindly treated by those who were under obligations to him, it was still more grating and painful to be unkindly treated by those to whom they felt the greatest obligations, and whom, notwithstanding their harshness and severity, they found they must still love and esteem — he could not forget, that when a boy almost, he had been in the habit of receiving favours from his right hon. friend, that their friendship had grown with their years, and that it had continued for upwards of five-and-twenty years, for the last twenty of which they had acted together, and lived on terms of the most familiar intimacy. He hoped, therefore, that notwithstanding what had happened that day, his right hon. friend would think on past times, and, however any imprudent words or intemperance of his might have offended him, it would show that it had not been at least intentionally his fault. His right hon. friend had said, and said truly, that they had differed formerly on many subjects, and yet it did not interrupt their friendship. Let his right hon. friend speak fairly and say, whether they could not differ, without an interruption of their friendship, on the subject of the French revolution, as well as on any of their former subjects of difference. He enumerated, severally, what those differences of opinion had been, and appealed to his right hon. friend, whether their friendship had been interrupted on any one of those occasions. In particular, he said, on the subject of the French revolution, the right hon. gentleman well knew that his sentiments differed widely from his own; he knew also, that as soon as his book on the subject was published, he condemned that book both in public and private, and very one of the doctrines it contained.
Mr. Fox again said, that he could not help feeling that his right hon. friend's conduct appeared as if it sprung from an intention to injure him, at least it had produced that effect, for the right hon. gentleman opposite to him had chosen to talk of republican principles as principles which he wished to be introduced into the new constitution of Canada, whereas his principles were very far from republican. If, therefore, his right hon. friend had thought it necessary to state to the House his sentiments on the French revolution, he might have done it on any other occasion, with less injury to him, than on the Quebec bill, because his doing it then, confirmed and gave weight to the misrepresentation of the right hon. gentleman opposite to him, and not only that, it put it out of his power to answer him properly. Besides he had, as every other man must have, a natural antipathy and dislike to being catechized, as to his political principles. It was, he said, the first time that ever he had heard a philosopher state, that the way to do justice to the excellence of the British constitution was never to mention it without at the same time abusing every other constitution in the world. For his part, he had ever thought that the British constitution in theory was imperfect and defective, but that in practice it was excellently adapted to this country. He had often publicly said this; but because he admired the British constitution, was it to be concluded that there was no part of the constitution of other countries worth praising, or that the British constitution was not still capable of improvement? He, therefore, could neither consent to abuse every other constitution, nor to extol our own so extravagantly as the right hon. gentleman seemed to think it merited. As a proof that it had not been thought quite perfect, let the two only reforms of it be recollected that had been attempted of late years; the reform relative to the representation in parliament of the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Pitt), in 1783, and the reform in the civil list by his right hon. friend. Was it expected that he should declare the constitution would have been more perfect or better without either of those two reforms? To both had he given his support, because he approved both; and yet they were both tests, one to retrench the influence of the Crown, the other to enlarge the representation in that House; and would his right hon, friend say that he was a bad man for having voted for both? He was, Mr. Fox said, an enemy to all tests whatever, as he had hiterto thought the right hon. gentleman was, and therefore he objected to any man being expected to have his political principles put to the test, by his being obliged to abjure every other constitution but our own. Such a mode of approving one's zeal for the latter, reminded him of the man who signed the 39 articles, and said he wished there were a 139 more, that he might have signed them too, to prove his orthodoxy.
Nothing but the ignominious terms which his right hon. friend had that day heaped on him —
[Mr. Burke said loud enough to be heard, that "he did not recollect he had used any."]
"My right hon. friend," said Mr. fox, "does not recollect the epithets: they are out of his mind: then they are completely and for ever out mine. I cannot cherish a recollection so painful, and, from this moment, they are obliterated and forgotten," Mr. Fox then pursued his argument, and expressed his surprise that his right hon. friend had talked of the friends who sat near him as a phalanx, and as disciplined troops: if by that he meant that any improper influence had been exercised, or attempted to be exercised, on their minds he disclaimed the idea; and indeed his right hon. friend best knew, so long as he had acted with them, when any such influence had been exercised over his own mind. He declared he could not but be sorry that such a character of a party, linked together on the most honourable principles, should come from one of their own corps. He had imagined, that his right hon. friend knew more of them than to impute such conduct to men of their description. The fact was, Mr. Fox said, that, upon his honour, ho one of the hon. gentlemen near him, who had risen that day, and called his right hon. friend to order, had been desired by him to do so: on the contrary, wherever he thought he was likely to have his application complied with, he had earnestly intreated his friends not to interrupt the right hon. gentleman.
He admitted that no friendship should exist in the way of public duty; and if his right hon. friend thought he did service to the country by blasting the French revolution, he must do so, but at the time, he must allow others, who thought differently, to act in a different manner. Mr. Fox alluded to what Mr. Burke had quoted from Montesquieu, and declared he agreed with Montesquieu in his observation on the British constitution, but could not admit that Montesquieu meant to say that it was a model for all other countries. If he referred to what had passed in 1780, the right hon. gentleman would say that he raked into all the transactions of his life. Mr. Fox declared he would not, unless it redounded to his right hon. friend's honour, and to the glory of his character. And where could he find the incident that did not? In the year 1780, it had been the opinion of that House, "that the influence of the crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished." His right hon. friend had subscribed to that resolution, and had thereby declared, that the constitution was not perfect without such reduction. And, would his right hon. friend not grant to the French the same right that he had himself exercised? If the influence of the British crown, which consisted in the civil list, in the army, navy, and the power of giving places and honours, was so great as to be thought dangerous, what, in the eyes of reflecting Frenchmen, must have been the extravagant influence of the crown of France? With a civil list ten times as large as ours; with a navy almost as large; an army tenfold; a church more than tenfold; must they not, as we had done, pursue the course of diminishing its power? When, in addition to this, they had to deplore the degree of corruption and despotism into which the whole of their government had fallen, was it not right that they should endeavour to better their condition, and to extricate themselves from their misery and slavery?
His right hon. friend had said, that they must not hear of the French constitution, because it was diametrically opposite to ours. How that could be, he could not easily comprehend. His right hon. friend had also asserted, that evil must not be done, that good might come out of it; that must be left to God alone. What, Mr. Fox asked, did his right hon. friend think of the occasion of war? War, in itself, was certainly an evil, civil war a moral evil, and yet war was often commenced, that good might come out of it. If original rights were totally to be disregarded, Mr. Fox said, he should contend that the resistance of the parliament to Charles 1st, and the resistance of 1688, had been very unjustifiable. But the original rights of men were, in his opinion, the foundation of all governments and all constitutions, which were a compact between the governors and the governed, binding on both sides. He would not say that the government of France was good. It was undoubtedly capable of improvement, and would be amended by degree. How, he asked, did we make our own government? By sending to Greece or Rome for a pattern for our constitution? No! but by gradually improving our government, which was bad at first, and which grew better in proportion as experience suggested alteration. The French would in time experience the defects of their government, and would have the same opportunities of correcting it.
With regard to his right hon. friend's enthusiastic attachment to our constitution, in preference to all others, did he remember when his majesty's speech was made in 1783, on the loss of America, in which his majesty lamented the loss the provinces had sustained, in being deprived of the advantages resulting from a monarchy, how he had ridiculed that speech and compared it to a man's opening the door after he had left a room, and saying, when "at our parting, pray let me recommend: a monarchy to you." In that ridicule, Mr. Fox said, he had joined heartily at the time. The French, he observed, had made their new government on the best of all principles of a government — the happiness of the people who were to live under it. Was it not joyful, then, that she should have cast off the tyranny of the most horrid despotism, and become free? Surely, we did not wish that liberty should be engrossed by ourselves. If his right hon. friend talked of light and shade, Mr. Fox said, there was no shade so proper for the people of this country, as the departed despotism of France; of which, though no more in existence, we seemed still to be afraid; and the French themselves, from a dread of the return of the spectre, did many things which appeared extravagant and absurd to us, who were cool observers of the scene passing in France. A ludicrous image of this was given by the first of our dramatic poets, who makes Falstaff say, "I fear this gunpowder Percy, though he be dead.4" The right hon. gentleman has said, that he shall lose my friendship (continued Mr. Fox); but this I assure him he shall not lose. He has also said, he should lose that of the friends about him, because he stands up for the constitution of this country. I, however, hope that my friends are as fond of that constitution as the right hon. gentleman is, and that the example of France will make them cautious not to run into the same errors, and give the same provocation to the people. With regard to tests, Mr. Fox said, he would not believe his right hon. friend had altered his sentiments on that head, till he saw him voting for one. France had established a complete, unequivocal toleration, and he heartily wished that a complete toleration was also established in England. Because troubles had happened at the time the French were changing their constitution, should we say that they would also happen in England, were any alteration made in our constitution? He must contend for the contrary; and as he thought that British constitution was capable of improvements, so did he think the greatest improvements might be engrafted on it, by degrees, with success, and without any violation of the public tranquillity.
Mr. Fox said, he lamented the difference that had happened, but he hoped, when his right hon. friend came to turn in his mind all the circumstances that had occasioned it, that he would forget what was past. His right hon. friend had said, that if he were to quote some of his expressions on particular occasions, he could prove his inconsistency. Mr. Fox acknowledged that no member was more apt to let expressions fall which, perhaps were rash and imprudent, than he was. He knew he had done so; but his right hon. friend never let any thing fall but what did him honour, and might be remembered to his credit. Mr. Fox now proceeded to speak of the reasons which had induced the right hon. gentleman and himself to enter into a systematic opposition to the present administration; this was not, he said, for the purpose of obtaining power and emolument by the means of a faction, but he had ever understood that they and their friends had formed a party for the purpose of supporting the true principles of the British constitution and watching the prerogative. After expatiating on this, Mr. Fox said, "let the right hon. gentleman maintain his opinions, but let him not blame me for having mine." He then noticed the cruel and hard manner in which his right hon. friend had used him, and spoke feelingly of the pain it had given him. The course he should pursue, he said, would be to keep out of his right hon. friend's way, till time and reflection had fitted his right hon. friend to think differently upon the subject; and then, if their friends did not contrive to unite them, he should think their friends did not act as they had a right to expect at their hands. If his right hon. friend wished to bring forward the question of the French revolution on a future day, in that case he would discuss it with him as temperately as he could; at present he had said all that he thought necessary, and, let his right hon. friend say what he would more upon the subject, he would make him no farther reply.
Mr. Burke again rose. He began with remarking, that the tenderness which had been displayed in the beginning and conclusion of Mr. Fox's speech was quite obliterated by what had occurred in the middle part. He regretted, in a tone and manner of earnestness and fervency the proceedings of that evening, which he feared might long be remembered by their enemies to the prejudice of both. He was unfortunate to suffer the lash of Mr. Fox, but he must encounter it. Under the mask of kindness a new attack, he said, was made upon his character and conduct in the most hostile manner, and his very jests brought up in judgment against him. He did not think the careless expressions and playful triflings of his unguarded hours would have been recorded, mustered up in the form of accusations, and not only have had a serious meaning imposed upon them, which they were never intended to bear, but one totally inconsistent with any fair and candid interpretation. Could his most inveterate enemy have acted more unkindly towards him? The event of that night's debate, in which he had been interrupted without being suffered to explain, in which he had been accused without being heard in his defence, made him at a loss to understand what was either party or friendship. His arguments had been misrepresented. He had never affirmed that the English, like every other constitution, might not in some points be amended. He had never maintained, that to praise our own constitution the best way was to abuse all others. The tendency of all that had been said, was to represent him as a wild inconsistent man, only for attaching bad epithets to a bad subject. — With the view of showing his inconsistency, allusions had been made to his conduct respecting his economical reform in 1780, the American war, and the questions of 1784; but none of these applied. If he thought, in 1780, that the influence of the crown ought to be reduced to a limited standard, and with which Mr. Fox himself, at the time, seemed to be satisfied, it did not follow that the French were right in reducing it with them to nothing. He was favourable to the Americans, because he supposed they were fighting, not to acquire absolute speculative liberty, but to keep what they had under the English constitution; and as to his representation to the crown in 1784, he looked back to it with self-gratification, still thinking the same. Yet he knew not how to devise a legislative cure for the wound then inflicted, as it came from the people, who were induced to decide for the crown, against the independence of their own representatives. The inconsistency of his book with his former writings and speeches, had been insinuated and assumed, but he challenged the proof by specific instances; and he also asserted, that there was not one step of his conduct, nor one syllable of his book, contrary to the principles of those men with whom our glorious revolution originated, and to whose principles as a Whig, he declared an inviolable attachment. He was an old man, and seeing what was attempted to be introduced instead of the ancient temple of our constitution could weep over the foundation of the new. — He again stated, still more particularly, the endeavours used in this country to supplant our own by the introduction of the new French constitution: but he did not believe Mr. Fox at present had that wish, and he did believe him to have delivered his opinions abstractedly from any reference to this country: yet their effect might be different on those who heard them, and still more on others through misapprehension or misrepresentations. He replied to the grounds on which Mr. Fox explained his panegyric. The lesson to kings, he was afraid, would be of another kind. He had heard Mr. Fox own the king of France to be the best intentioned sovereign in Europe. His good nature and love of his people had ruined him. He had conceded every thing, till he was now in a goal. The example of the confusions, on the other hand, would have very little operation, when it was mentioned with tardy and qualified censure, while the praises of the revolution were trumpeted with the loudest blasts through the nation. He observed that Mr. Fox himself had termed the new French system a most stupendous and glorious fabric of human integrity. He had really conceived, that the right hon. gentleman possessed a better taste in architecture, than to bestow so magnificent an epithet upon a building composed of untempered mortar. He considered it as the work of Goths and Vandals, where every thing was disjointed and inverted. — It had been said that he did not love tests; yet, if his intimacy should be renewed with the right hon. gentleman, he might explain to him, that it was necessary that some evil should be suffered in order to obtain a greater good. In France, it had been asserted by the right hon. gentleman, that the largest religious toleration prevailed. It would be judged of what nature that toleration was, when it was understood that there the most cruel tests were imposed. Nay, tests were imposed for the most inhuman of all purposes — in order to deprive those of whom they were exacted of their bread. The treatment of the Nuns was too shocking almost to be mentioned. These wretched girls, who could only be animated by the most exalted religious enthusiasm, were engaged in the most painful office of humanity, in the most sacred duty of piety, visiting and attending the hospitals. Yet these had been dragged into the streets; these had been scourged by the sovereigns of the French nation, because the priest, from whom they had received the sacrament, had not submitted to the test. And this proceeding had passed not only unpunished, but uncensured. Yet, in the country in which such proceedings had happened, the largest religious toleration had been said to subsist. The present state of France was ten times worse than a tyranny. The new constitution was said to be an experiment but the assertion was not true. It had already been tried, and had been found to be only productive of evils. They would go on from tyranny to tyranny, from oppression to oppression, till at last the whole system would terminate in the destruction of that miserable and deluded people. He said that his opinion of the revolution in America did not at all militate with his opinion of the revolution of France. In that instance, he considered that the people had some reason for the conduct which they pursued. — Mr. Burke said, that he was sorry for the occurrence of that day. "Sufficient for the day was the evil thereof." Yet if the good were to many, he would willingly take the evil to himself. He sincerely hoped that no member of that House would ever barter the constitution of this country, the eternal jewel of their souls, for a wild and visionary system, which could only lead to confusion and disorder. With regard to pretences of friendship, he must own that he did not like them, where his character and public conduct, as in the present instance, had been so materially attacked and injured. The French principles in this country, he had been told, would come to some head. It would then be perceived what were their consequences. Several of the gentlemen present were young enough to see a change, and enterprising enough to act a part in the events that might arise. It would then be seen whether they would be borne on the top, or encumbered in the gravel. In going along with the current, they would most certainly be forced to execute and approve many things very contrary to their own nature and character.
Mr. Pitt said, he rose to take notice of the very extraordinary situation in which the House stood. They had been engaged for some hours in an unfinished debate on a question of order, moved in the middle of the right hon. gentleman's speech, on the question for reading the clauses in the Quebec bill, paragraph by paragraph; and the question of order was, whether the right hon. gentleman should be permitted to go on in an argument on the subject of the French revolution, which he had begun, but in which he had been frequently interrupted, by being called to order by different gentlemen on the other side. The right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Fox) had given it as his opinion, that it was disorderly for the other right hon. gentleman to enter into a discussion respecting the late revolution in France; and yet the right hon. gentleman himself had, in his own speech, gone directly to that discussion, and the committee had since heard two speeches from each of the right hon. gentlemen immediately upon the subject of the French revolution. For his own part, he had all along been of opinion that the right hon. gentleman had been strictly in order, in introducing his opinions on the French revolution, when speaking on a subject of a constitution to be provided for Quebec, although he could not but think, that every asperity and censure on that event had, for various reasons, better be avoided. Circumstanced as the committee then stood, he felt a considerable degree of embarrassment: he did not think it consistent with decorum to move; any amendment to the question of order, nor that any advantage was likely to result from taking the sense of the House upon it. The only advisable thing to be done, was to withdraw it: but to that there was clearly an obstacle. It was usual to obtain the consent of the mover of any question, previous to its being withdrawn; but in the present case, the noble lord who had proposed the question had withdrawn himself. His having left the House, however, might be presumed to be a pretty strongly implied consent on the part of the noble mover to its being withdrawn, and therefore he should suggest that measure. — Mr. Pitt then recurred to the first debate, and said, that upon the question whether the clauses of a bill be read paragraph by paragraph, any gentleman who thought the general principle of the bill, and the principles of the clauses, so objectionable, that they could not be so modelled and matured in a committee, as to be made fit to pass, was undoubtedly entitled to state his objections to the bill; and therefore he had thought the right hon. gentleman perfectly in order in the mode he had adopted; but it had been supposed that he had given an opinion that the right hon. gentleman's arguments and doctrines were not to be supported either by him, or any of those who generally voted with him. Now, it was to be recollected, that he had declined giving any opinion whatever on the subject, declaring, that he did not think it proper for him, in the situation in which he stood, to enter into a discussion of an opinion on the constitution then forming in a neighbouring country. With regard to what the right hon. gentleman had said of a misrepresentation by him of that right hon. gentleman's words in a former debate on the Quebec bill, if he had given any misrepresentation of the right hon. gentleman's speech, he had given it in the right hon. gentleman's own words, and in his presence; if, therefore, he had mistaken or mistated any thing the right hon. gentleman had said, it had been in his own power to set him right at the instant, and not let a wrong impression of his words go abroad. The fact was, that in discussing the subject of the new constitution for Canada, he had suggested his intention to propose, as the bill in fact did provide, an hereditary council, in imitation of our House of Lords; whereas the right hon. gentleman had suggested, that an elective council would be preferable; and as the right hon. gentleman had just been talking of the governments of the United States of America, which were republics, he had conceived that the right hon. gentleman was inclined to think, that a greater infusion of republican principles into the new government of Canada would be better adapted to that province than a constitution similar to our own; and therefore, in his reply he had given his sentiments against any greater infusion of republicanism into the new constitution of Canada than at present subsisted in the British constitution. As to the publications which the other right hon. gentleman had stated to be disseminating throughout this country, with a view to extol the French revolution and its consequences, and to induce the people to look into the principles of their own constitution, he did not venture to think that there might be no danger arising from them; but when he had said that he saw no cause for immediate alarm from them, it was because he was of opinion that they were the less dangerous at that time, since he could not think the French revolution could be deemed an object fit for imitation in this country, by any set of men. He thought Mr. Burke entitled to the gratitude of his country, for having that day, in so able and eloquent a manner, stated his sense of the degree of danger to the constitution that already existed, and did assure him, that although he was of opinion that our constitution was capable of gradual and temperate melioration in some few of its principles, yet so perfectly was he persuaded of its being preferable to that of any other constitution in the world, that he would cordially cooperate with the right hon. gentleman in taking every possible means to preserve it, and deliver it down to posterity, as the best security for the prosperity, freedom, and happiness of the British people.
Mr. Fox said, the right hon. gentleman had given a pretty fair account of what had passed the other day upon the Quebec bill, and he was obliged to him for having explained his meaning. In the proposition of having the council elective rather than hereditary, he declared he did not think there was any thing like instilling republican principles into the new constitution for Canada; of which he was satisfied, he should be able to convince the right hon. gentleman, who had just sat down, as well as the right hon. gentleman near him, when they went into the debate on the clauses of the bill. When that day came, he hoped the right hon. gentleman near him would come down to the House and join in the debate, as he was anxious to get from theory to practice, and whatever the right hon. gentleman himself might think, all his arguments that day had been mere theories and nothing else. Mr. Fox declared he was not to be imposed on by sounds, so as to be startled at the name of republican principles; there was in our own constitution something of those principles, inasmuch as that House was elective; but it was on account of the bad use of the word "republican," and the purpose to which it might be converted, that he had been anxious to have his former argument explained. They all knew that the word "republican" was a watchword, always unfairly applied to any man, when the object was to run him down, and exasperate the country against him. He should therefore be glad when they came to the clauses of the bill, because professions of principles were at all times odious to him; and, indeed, every body might know his principles from his political life, as he had never attempted to disguise them.
Lord Sheffield's motion was then withdrawn; after which the chairman reported progress, and asked leave to sit again.
Wednesday, May 11
Debate on the Quebec Government Bill
The House having resolved itself into a committee to consider further of the Quebec Government Bill,
Mr. Hussey objected to the clause respecting the division of the province. He thought that they would all become British subjects sooner, if this division did not take place. Instead of tending to heal differences, it was calculated to preserve and inflame animosities. Commerce was the chief point of view in which Quebec was of importance to this country. It behoved the House, therefore, to provide for that most essential object, the security of property. We ought to introduce the English commercial law, and leave the house of assembly to make such alterations as their own peculiar circumstances should render expedient.
Mr. Powys said, that the reason of this division was stated to be to prevent feuds and divisions; but he much feared that the mode of division was but ill calculated for this purpose.
Mr. Fox wished to be informed of one point, which had never been explained, and that was, whether his majesty had a power to divide the province, as was then proposed.
[Upon consulting the 14th George 3, it appeared that the king had that authority.]
Mr. Pitt said, the point being settled, the question would be, whether it was fit for parliament to agree with his majesty to establish two legislatures? If they did not agree, they might negative the clause, and dispose of the whole of the bill; because it proceeded throughout on the supposition of two legislatures. It appeared to ministers, first, that the only way of consulting the interest of the internal situation of Quebec, and of rendering it profitable to this country was, to give it a legislature, as near as circumstances would admit, upon the principles of the British constitution. In the next place, that there was no probability of reconciling the jarring interests and opposite views of the inhabitants, but by giving them two legislatures. It was conceived that this form of government was best adapted to put an end to all the difficulties of a legal sort, and to render the regulations more useful to the subjects of that country. He believed there was such a rooted opposition of interests, that if there was a constitution, consisting of a house of assembly, in which the parties might be nearly balanced, the consequence, at least for a long series of years, would be a great degree of animosity and confusion. If one of the parties had a great ascendancy over the other, the party having the superiority was very unlikely to give satisfaction to the other party. It seemed to his majesty's servants the most desirable thing, if they could not give satisfaction to all descriptions of men, to divide the province, and to contrive that one division should consist, as much as possible, of those who were well inclined towards the English laws, and the other, of those who were attached to the French laws. It was perfectly true, that in Lower Canada there still remained a number of English subjects; but these would hold a much smaller proportion than if there was one form of government for every part of the province. It was in Upper Canada particularly that they were to expect a great addition of English inhabitants. The consequence was, that if it was not divided from the rest, the Canadians forming a majority of five to one, the grievance would be every year increasing in proportion as the population increased. The division of the province might be liable to some objections, but, on the whole, it was subject to fewer than any other measure.
Mr. Powys said, he was not convinced by the right hon. gentleman's reasoning. He had allowed, that in this instance the interests of one part of the inhabitants of Canada were sacrificed to those of the other. He said, he could not give up his majesty's declaration, of which he read some part, promising to the inhabitants of Canada the British constitution.
Mr. Burke said, it was evidently the intention of his majesty's declaration, that the laws adopted in Canada should be as nearly as possible similar to those of England. Indeed, it was usual in every colony to form the government as nearly upon the model of the mother country, as was consistent with the difference of local circumstances. To ascertain the propriety of dividing the provinces, required a degree of local knowledge, which he did not possess; but he should take it, that the measure was convenient. An attempt to join people dissimilar in law, language, and manners, appeared to him highly absurd; to join, too, the conquerors and the conquered, must give rise too much unpleasant feeling, and many invidious distinctions. Such a measure would appear to him to sow the seeds of discord. This geographical distribution was, in his opinion, highly convenient. The upper colony was chiefly inhabited by emigrants from America: these then were desirous of the English constitution. Let the Canadians have a constitution formed upon the principles of Canadians, and Englishmen upon the principles of Englishmen. Let there not be adopted any wild theories, more unknown than the north west coast of America. In this point of view he approved of the division, as accommodated to the circumstances of the country, and the natural prejudices of the inhabitants. He recommended that system of government which tended to promote the good of the individual and of the public, in opposition to that which attempted to methodize anarchy. He admired the division: no, he did not possess sufficient local knowledge to admire it; but he could at least say, that he did not disapprove it. Situated as he was, an insulated being, perfectly separate, banished from his party, there was a voice which cried to him, "Beware." For the short time during which he should remain in parliament, (and it would be but a very short time) he would support those principles of government which were founded upon the wisdom of antiquity, and sanctioned by the experience of time. On the present bill, necessary as it was for him to be careful of what he should say, he would state the arguments that occurred to him, as they should arise, upon every clause.
Mr. Pitt was extremely happy that the right hon. gentleman was to attend to all the clauses of the bill, as no man was more able to throw light upon the subject than he was. He hoped, they were all agreed to give to Canada a free constitution, in the English sense of the word. He said, he had made the division of the province essential, because he could not otherwise reconcile their clashing interests. He was anxious to give the inhabitants a constitution which was agreeable to their own wishes; and that was a consideration in his mind, of such importance, as to outweigh other and less inconveniences. The proclamation referred to was made in 1763; and by the act of 1773, all English laws had been abolished, except the criminal laws. From this fact, it would be judged how far it was binding on his majesty to give to this, colony the whole of the English laws.
Lord Sheffield doubted the expediency of dividing Quebec into two provinces, and objected to it, because he thought it encouraged settlements in the interior parts of America, not only distant, but difficult of approach. We should rather endeavour to check the migration from the coast, to those parts with which we had not an easy communication. It was not the interest of England to raise colonies of farmers, in a country which could only produce the same articles as England did; neither did it appear desirable, on the part of the settlers, to be placed beyond the Rapids, which are above Montreal; as the carriage of so bulky an article as corn, through a bad navigation, to such a distance as the West Indies, or Europe, could not answer in common years. In the interior parts of America, the growth of corn must be the chief object. The want of a convenient market would soon limit that growth; and those that could not employ themselves in farming would of course turn themselves to manufactures, which disposition would be encouraged by the difficulty of the supply from Europe. In the mean time, it would be impossible to prevent the introduction of all the manufactures and other articles across the sea from the American States into the new province. It might be serviceable to keep a few ports to enable us to trade with the Indians, and to procure furs, the only article of much consequence that came from Canada; but he could not discover the least advantage that could be derived from interior settlements.
Mr. Fox said, he conceived, that in the first place, those gentlemen who disapproved of the division of the province might move to have the clause amended; because, besides the division of the province, it contained the fundamental principles of the constitution. It stated, that each division of Canada was to have a governor, a legislative council, and an assembly. The whole committee agreed, that there should be a governor, a legislative council, and a house of assembly, and therefore he should think it very strange if they should negative the clause, by rejecting it, instead of moving an amendment; since it contained distinct and important matter, in which they were all agreed. With regard to the division of the Province, that there were difficulties, in whatever way it was considered, he was ready to admit. When the province was divided, it was meant to leave the French laws in the one district, and the English laws in the other; the consequence of which would be, that in Lower Canada, which consisted principally of French inhabitants, all the French laws would continue in force till altered by the legislature of the country, His majesty's proclamation in 1763, might not only be supposed to have engaged many persons to go to Canada for the sake of commerce, but did actually operate in that manner. Had the division of the province separated the old from the new inhabitants completely, it would not have been liable to such strong objections; but the misfortune was, that many of the persons who might have been encouraged, by the proclamation to settle in Canada for commercial purposes, did not live in the upper province, but in that part in which the French laws were to prevail. It had been said, that parliament passed an act in 1774, which did away that proclamation. He believed, however, that that law, at the time it was passed, was not very well thought of by the public, and it became the opinion that a new constitution ought to be framed for Canada. That act, it was said, took away, in a certain degree, the reasons for not adhering to that proclamation. If they meant to stand on the ground of rigid right, it certainly did; but if they meant to make laws on the general principles of justice and good faith, it would occasion a material difference. It was said, besides, that nobody wished to introduce into the province of Canada all the laws of England. With respect to those laws, no man could doubt but that if the majority of the inhabitants were in favour of them, they ought to have them whether they were good or bad. The right hon. gentleman on the floor (Mr. Burke) had justly observed, that laws were either constitutional or municipal; there was, Mr. Fox said, another division of municipal laws, namely, with regard to inheritance, and the disposal of a man's landed property; which might happen between Canadian and Canadian, between Frenchman and Frenchman. But the case assumed a different aspect, when they came to distinguish commercial laws; the laws in which the English were most interested. It were to be wished, that some regard had been paid to English prejudices. Those old laws were not the laws of France two years ago; they were not the laws of France ten years ago; not even at the time of the conquest of Canada, because the whole French law never was sent to Canada, but particular parts only. That part of the French law which was called "the Custom of Paris," and which he believed now existed in no other part of the world, was established in Canada. Whenever an appeal from the French laws and the Custom of Paris came before the privy council of that kingdom, the great and able men who composed it were put into a difficult situation, and were obliged to inquire what the custom of Paris was in such and such a case, and how the French laws operated under such and such circumstances; and in order to ascertain those points, they were obliged to inquire of antiquaries rather than of lawyers, before the Code Marchand could be established. Whether these inconveniences were sufficient to prevent the division of the province, was a matter on which he entertained great doubt. If there was any middle mode that could be pursued, he, for one, should be much inclined to adopt it. If the provinces were not divided, the consequence would be, that there would be a considerable difference of opinion respecting the laws of the country; and this difference would be attended with disquietude and animosity. Like the right hon. gentleman on the floor (Mr. Burke), he was not sufficiently acquainted with the geography of the country to speak with certainty on the subject, but he thought the division of the province would be attended with the greatest possible inconvenience. Our communication at present was with the upper province, and whatever we had from upper Canada must come through the lower province; the lower province, therefore, having a legislature of its own, might enact laws that would very much disturb our commerce with the upper province. He admitted, that there were difficulties on both sides; but if he were obliged to come to a vote on the subject, he should vote against the division of the province; and should do so principally on the ground of establishing laws, not only laws of inheritance, not only laws that were to regulate the intercourse between Canadian and Canadian, but laws that were to regulate the intercourse between Englishman and Englishman and between Englishman and Canadian. If this were mere speculation, he should not be so positive in his opinion. Almost all the English merchants who traded to that country had been losers by so doing, and, beneficial as the commerce might appear to be, they had given up the trade. This step was not occasioned by any commercial disadvantages under which they laboured, but arose from the legal difficulties to which they were subject; those difficulties were not the effect of the badness of the law, but were in consequence of the uncertainty of it, and the not being able to ascertain what it was, or how it stood.
Mr. William Grant said, the right hon. gentleman seemed to take it for granted, that the commercial law of England was different from that of Canada. It was, however, certain, that there existed no material difference in substance, however they might differ in appearance, from the commercial laws of different countries. All commercial laws related to contracts, either express or implied. The reasoning upon contracts was of the same sort in all countries, and he who reasoned best respecting a contract, was generally accounted the best lawyer. If a decision that had been given on a contract in any of the courts of this country differed from a decision that had been given in a Spanish court, he would be bold to say, that one of those decisions was wrong. In nine cases out of ten the same decision would be given on the same case in every civilized country. As to the tenth case, some of the positive laws of the country might attach upon it, and make it an exception to the general rule. The decision of a court in Canada, of an English court, or any other court ought to be the same on the same case. The custom of Paris had no more to do with commercial law, than the law of gavel-kind had to do with the law of insurance, or any other part of the commercial law of England. The commercial law in this country, a few cases excepted, was not reduced to writing. In France the fact was different: they had a collection which was called the Code Marchand, made in the reign of Louis 14th, and which was in great repute in that and other kingdoms. In the same reign, and under the same direction, a maritime code was also compiled. To maintain, that the commercial law of Canada materially differed from the commercial law of England, was a mistake. Merchants were not discouraged from trading to that country by the state of the law, but on account of the insolvency of debtors. The laws of all countries between debtor and creditor gave the creditor some remedy, if the debtor was unwilling but able to pay: but the difficulty was, when he was unable to pay, and had a variety of creditors, who got into struggles and controversies with each other. In that case, the laws of different countries were exceedingly different: the laws of some countries had made no rule whatever with regard to the disposition of the effects of insolvent debtors, but had left the creditors to have recourse to suits at law: and he who obtained the first execution, immediately seized on the effects of the debtor, and discharged his own debt, to the exclusion, perhaps, of the claims of the other creditors. The laws of other countries had enacted, that while there was clear evidence that men would become bankrupts, their estates should be sequestrated, and equally divided among all the creditors: this was agreeable to the law of England. There was a third set of laws, which gave a qualified distribution of the estate among the creditors, and that was the case in France. When men had given marks of insolvency, they ranked the creditors into certain classes: they made one class of privileged debts, so that simple contract debtors might receive nothing till the other creditors were completely paid; as in the case of executors in this country, who paid the debts of the testator in a certain order of preference, and which many people had thought a very great hardship. He did not know but that there might be a great uncertainty in the law of Canada; but all the cases with which English merchants had been dissatisfied, were the decisions of the French courts, and were in cases of insolvency alone. There always was a greater uncertainty in the laws of all colonies than in those of the mother country, for colonies had no other laws to go by than those of the country from which they had emigrated, and those laws, perhaps, were not adapted to the circumstances of the colony. The same complaint of uncertainty in the law had taken place with regard to the laws of all the colonies: Mr. Smith had made the same observation in his publication of the laws of New York, about 30 years ago; and the abbé Raynal had now made the same complaint. The law of France was undoubtedly the general law of Canada; and some of the laws of Great Britain were introduced by ordinances.
Mr. Burke said, the question was, whether the English laws were or were not better than the French laws? The English in Canada were attached to the English laws, and the French were equally attached to the Canadian laws. The English, he thought, ought to enjoy the English constitution, and the French the old Canadian constitution.
After some further conversation, the clause was agreed to. The chairman having read the next clause, viz. that respecting the constitution of the Legislative Council,
Mr. Fox objected to the mode of appointing the council. He said, that he would throw out generally his ideas, as to the means of substituting what he could not but conceive to be a better mode of appointing a council, than the mode adopted in the clause as it stood. First, he laid it down as a principle never to be departed from, that every part of the British dominions ought to possess a government, in the constitution of which monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy were mutually blended and united; nor could any government be a fit one for British subjects to live under, which did not contain its due weight of aristocracy, because that he considered to be the proper poise of the constitution, the balance that equalized and meliorated the powers of the two other extreme branches, and gave stability and firmness to the whole.
[A loud cry of Hear, hear!]
It became necessary to look what were the principles on which aristocracy was founded, and he believed it would be admitted to him, that they were two-fold, namely, rank and property, or both united. In this country, the House of Lords formed the aristocracy, and that consisted of hereditary titles, in noble families of ancient origin, or possessed by peers newly created, on account of their extended landed property. He said, that prejudice for ancient families, and that sort of pride which belonged to nobility, was right to be encouraged in a country like this; otherwise one great incentive to virtue would be abolished, and the national dignity, as well as its domestic interest, would be diminished and weakened. There was also such a thing to be remembered, which gave additional honour to our House of Lords, as long established respect for the persons and families of those who, in consequence either of their own superior talents and eminent services, or of one or both in their ancestors, constituted the peerage. This, he observed, was by no means peculiar to pure aristocracies, such as Venice and Genoa, nor even to despotic or to mixed governments. It was to be found in democracies, and was there considered as an essential part of the constitution; affection to those whose families had best served the public being always entertained with the warmest sincerity and gratitude. Thus in the ancient republics of Athens and of Rome, they all knew the respect paid to those who had distinguished themselves by their services for the commonwealth.
Upon every ground of consideration, therefore, it would be indispensably necessary that an aristocracy should make a branch of the constitution for Canada; it was undoubtedly equally important with either the popular or the monarchical. But then the nature of the case must be considered; and he should therefore not advise the giving Canada a servile imitation of our aristocracy, because we could not give them a house of lords like our own. The chancellor of the exchequer appeared to be aware of this, and therefore he had recourse to a substitute for hereditary nobility. It was, however, he must contend, a very inadequate substitute, it was a semblance but not a substance. Lords, indeed, we might give them, but there was no such thing as creating that reverence and respect for them, on which their dignity and weight in the view both of the popular and monarchical part of the constitution depended, and which alone could give them that power of control and support that was the object of their institution. If Canada should grow into a great and flourishing colony (and he trusted that it would), as it was removed at such a distance from the principal seat of parliament, it was the more necessary to make the council, in a considerable degree, independent of the governor and the people; because, the province being so far off, the power of control could not be properly exercised by that House, with a view to the calling upon the responsibility of ministers, and punishing them for any abuse of the prerogative, by giving wrong advice to the council, through the medium of the governor. This was, he said, a clear argument why the council ought not to be appointed by the crown.
Property, Mr. Fox said, was, and had ever been hold to be the true foundation of aristocracy. And when he used the word aristocracy, he did not mean it in the odious sense of aristocrat, as it had been lately called — with that he had nothing to do. He meant it in its true sense, as an indispensably necessary part of a mixed government, under a free constitution. Instead, therefore, of the king's naming the council at that distance — in which case they had no security that persons of property, and persons fit to be named, would be chosen — wishing, as he did, to put the freedom and stability of the constitution of Canada on the strongest basis, he proposed that the council should be elective. But how elective? Not as the members of the house of assembly were intended to be, but upon another footing. He proposed that the members of the council should not be eligible to be elected unless they possessed qualifications infinitely higher than those who were eligible to be chosen members of the house of assembly, and in like manner the electors of the members of council must possess qualifications also proportionably higher than those of the electors to representatives in the house of assembly. By this means, they would have a real aristocracy chosen by persons of property from among persons of the highest property, and who would thence necessarily possess that weight, influence, and independency, from which alone could be derived a power of guarding against any innovations that might be made, either by the people on the one part, or the crown on the other. — In answer to this proposition, it might possibly be said to him, "If you are decidedly m favour of an elective aristocracy, why do you not follow up your own principle, and propose to abolish the House of Lords, and make them elective?" For this plain reason — because the British House of Lords stood on the hereditary, known, and acknowledged respect of the country for particular institutions: and it was impossible to put an infant constitution upon the same footing. It would be as ridiculous to say, you shall have a House of Lords like that in England, as for a person in his closet to make and say what degree of reverence and respect should belong to them. From what he had said, he might possibly be deemed an advocate for aristocracy singly: he might, undoubtedly, with as much reason as he had been called a republican. Those who had pretended that he was a favourer of democratical principles, had surely read very little, and little understood the subject. He mentioned the Americans and said, he thought they had acted wisely, when upon finding themselves reduced to the melancholy situation of being obliged to change their governments, they had preserved as much as they possibly could of the old form of their governments, and thus made that form of government which was best for themselves; consisting of the powers of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy blended, though under a different name. In order to show that his idea of an elective council was not a new one, he said that before the Revolution, more of the councils in our colonies were elected by the people than the king.
He had thus generally stated the outline of his proposition, upon which he did not mean to take the sense of the committee, unless it should be the general opinion that it ought to be adopted. If he did take the sense of the committee, and their sense should be against him, he should then propose that the council should either be all at the nomination of the king, or all hereditary. He believed that any council chosen in any manner would be better than none; to have them elective as he had stated, he seriously thought would be best; but it would be more detrimental than even the not having an elective council, that the governor should be left to himself, to decide alone.
He remembered it had been once said, when talking of representation, that any 558 gentlemen who could be first stopped at Hyde park turnpike, and assembled in that House, would be of as much service to the people as they were. Mr. Fox said, he by no means agreed with the proposition, or any one equally extravagant; but many were always a check to one, and a governor might decide in his closet upon a measure so foolish and so wicked, that he would not have the face to state to any number of persons. The very circumstance of a governor being obliged to have his opinion canvassed by many, was a positive advantage; and discussion, he was satisfied, always produced good. After putting this pointedly, he said, if there were to be hereditary members of the council, they ought all to be so. The check upon making peers here he had ever considered as attended with this advantage, that when the king made a peer, he recollected that he entailed an hereditary legislature on the country. A doubt existed, whether the king had a right to make a peer for life, without his title being hereditary, and at this time be understood there was such a juridical question collaterally existing in the House of Lords, which was a clear proof that the practice was unknown. If the crown had such a power, the life peers might overwhelm the hereditary peerage, and thus destroy the constitutional control of the aristocracy, in case they attempted to resist the crown. Thus, under pretence of aristocracy, lords might be introduced as mere tools of the minister, and give government an opportunity to destroy the constitution, and exercise despotic power in the most open shape. If, however, such a use of the prerogative should be exerted, he had no doubt but it would be soon remedied. — In the province of Canada, the introduction of nobility was peculiarly improper, for a variety of reasons. In fact, there was a sort of nobility there already, namely, the seigneurs, who were utterly unfit, and were not respected enough to be made hereditary nobles. And yet would ministers, he asked, pass by the real nobility of the country, the seigneurs, and create a set of people over them, whom the world called nobility, and invest them with hereditary honours? By-the-by, the sort of titles meant to be given were not named in the bill; he presumed the reason was, that they could not be named without creating laughter.
Mr. Fox generally remarked, that so necessary was aristocracy to all governments that, in his opinion, the destruction of all that had been destroyed, could be proved to have arisen from the neglect of the true aristocracy, upon which it depended whether a constitution should be great, energetic, and powerful. He explained that he was so far a republican, that he approved all governments where the res publica was the universal principle, and the people, as under our constitution, had considerable weight in the government. Mr. Fox concluded with declaring emphatically, that true aristocracy gave a country that sort of energy, that sort of spirit, and that sort of enterprise which always made a country great and happy.
Mr. Pitt said, it was with great satisfaction that he had heard a considerable part of the right hon. gentleman's speech. He rejoiced at it with the utmost sincerity, since doubts had been entertained of the right hon. gentleman's regard to our happy and excellent constitution which the cordial, and he entertained not the least hesitation to say, the sincere testimony of the attachment which the right hon. gentleman bore to the principles of our ancestors had completely removed. He was thence proud of the advantage he should derive from the support of the right hon. gentleman, in resisting any attempt that might be made contrary to our constitution. Aristocracy was, he contended, the true poise, as the right hon. gentleman had emphatically stated it, of the constitution; it was the essential link that held the branches together, and gave stability and strength to the whole; aristocracy reflected lustre on the crown, and lent support and effect to the democracy, while the democracy gave vigour and energy to both, and the sovereignty crowned the constitution with authority and dignity. He joined, therefore, as far as that went, with the right hon. gentleman, and agreed with him, that as much as possible of a constitution, deservedly the glory and happiness of those who lived under it, and the model and envy of the world, should be extended to all our dependencies, as far as the local situation of the colony, and the nature and circumstances of the case would admit. — Where he differed from the right hon. gentleman was, with respect to the aristocracy proposed to be infused into the constitution of Canada, which he thought might be brought much nearer to our own by other means than by those the right hon, gentleman had proposed. Our aristocracy was not merely respectable on account of its property, though that undoubtedly was no small consideration in the scale of its respectability; but it was essentially respectable for its hereditary distinctions flowing from the Crown, as the fountain of honour. It was on that account not less the poise of the constitution, than if our aristocracy were elective; on the contrary, it was more so, because, according to the known genius and spirit of our constitution, monarchy was the source from whence the other parts arose, and, therefore, the nearer the aristocracy was to the crown, the more immediately congenial was it to the constitution itself, as originally adopted and planned by our ancestors. In that happy form, and constructed and preserved upon that wise principle, we felt the blessings of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy all united. He should lament, therefore, to create an aristocracy by a selection from property alone, or by making it elective, as in either case it would render the poise nearer to the people than it was to the crown in the British constitution. He agreed that we could not give all the respect to a new nobility, that belonged to an hereditary line of nobles traceable to antiquity, but we could give the same degree of respect to it as had accompanied the origin of our nobility, and succeeding ages would bestow all the rest. Mr. Pitt laid great stress on the circumstances of the hereditary honours being derived immediately from the imperial crown of Great Britain, which he considered as a matter of peculiar value. With regard to the object of hereditary nobility, he conceived it could only be gradual; but he so far differed from the right hon. gentleman, that he thought there was something in the habits, customs, and manners of Canada, that peculiarly fitted it for the reception of hereditary honours; and in respect to seignories, he said, he imagined that some of the seigneurs were to be found of sufficient property and respect to make it fit that they should be among others named to those honours. The extension of commerce and of wealth in the province, which there was every reason to imagine would follow the introduction of the new constitution, would make them hold a fair weight in that constitution, and imperceptibly clothe them with that respect and influence that ought to belong to the aristocratical branch of a free government; and he was firmly persuaded that the aristocracy flowing from the imperial crown of Great Britain would tend materially to strengthen the system of connexion between the colony and the mother country. The want of those honours had tended to accelerate the separation of the former colonies. He declared, he neither wished the aristocracy to be dependent on the crown, nor on the people, and therefore he was desirous of bringing it as near to the model of the British aristocracy as possible. He feared there was not enough at present to form an hereditary peerage, and therefore we could only expect, as it was an infant aristocracy, to bring it as near as circumstances would admit to our own, but they would gradually increase till all became hereditary.
Mr. Burke rose. He began with observing, that he had served the House and the country in one capacity or other twenty-six years, five and twenty of which he had spent within those walls. He had wasted so much of his life to a precious purpose, if that House should at last countenance a most insidious design to ruin him in reputation, and crown his age with infamy. For the best part of the time, he had been a very laborious and assiduous, though a very unimportant servant of the public. He had not, he declared, been treated with friendship; but if he was separated from his party, if sentence of banishment had been pronounced against him,d he hoped to meet a fair, open hostility, to which he would oppose himself in a firm, manly way, for the very short period that he should continue a member of that House. He felt deeply wounded, but "jam certus eundi, carpebat somnos5." With regard to the friendly censures that a right hon. gentleman had cast on him, he felt the difficulty that he had experienced the other night, in a peculiar degree at that moment; because if he should reply to what he had heard from the right hon. gentleman near him, on his idea of a legislative council for Canada, and should say that his sentiments were too democratical, he should then be liable to be pointed out as invidiously designing to prevent the right hon. gentleman's preferment, by describing him as unworthy of his monarch's favour; and if, on the other hand, in observing upon the different suggestions of the chancellor of the exchequer over the way, he should state that they appeared to him to be too favourable to monarchy, then he might be said to have charged that right hon. gentleman with holding principles of despotism, which would render him liable to the disfavour of that House, and of the crown, both of whom he ought to honour and respect. Mr. Burke said farther, that in consequence of the turn the conversation between a right hon. gentleman and himself had taken the other night, he had heard that there was an intention to make or take an occasion of imputing whatever he might say, to a base premeditated artifice on his part, to make the right hon. gentleman pass for a republican, in order that he might sooner get into power himself. He had found this design conveyed to him as a secret, but the very next day a plot! a plot! was cried out in one of the common newspapers, which was wholly ascribed to him. Mr. Burke here read from a daily paper, an intimation that an account of such a plot had been received by the editor, but that for prudential reasons, he did not choose to print it.
[Mr. M. A. Taylor rose to call Mr. Burke to order, but was prevented by the gentlemen who sat next him.]
Mr. Burke resumed his argument, and contended that he had a right to be heard while he endeavoured to clear himself from the foul conduct that had been imputed to him. Would the House he asked think he was a fit man to sit there while under the imputation he had described? If he had wished to attack the right hon. gentleman for his opinions respecting what had happened in France, he was free to do it any day he chose; as the right hon. gentleman had sufficiently often avowed those opinions in that House. Finding himself, without any cause separated and excluded from his party, it was a loss which he severely felt; but while he felt it like a man, he would bear it like a man. He denied that he had ever imputed democratic principles to the right hon. gentleman with a view to hurt him in the mind of his sovereign, and if he had pushed him to a declaration of his principles, the speech of the right hon. gentleman that day would prove whether he was likely to have attained his end, if he had wished to draw from him a declaration of democratic principles. In the course of the conversation the other evening the right hon. gentleman had said, that he had written a book which he had thought it seasonable and proper for him to go about and reprobate in all its essential parts and principles .
[A cry of No, no ! from the opposition benches.]
He rose therefore to justify himself in the face of that House and of his country, and in the face of an adversary the most able, eloquent, and powerful that ever was encountered, and (he was sorry to perceive) the most willing to rake up the whole of his opinions and conduct in order to prove that they had been abandoned by him with the most shameless inconsistency. He avowed the book and all it contained. He said, he had written it in order to counteract the machinations of one of the most desperate and most malignant factions that ever existed in any age or country. He would still oppose the mischievous principles of such a faction, though he was unfortunate enough to stand alone, unprotected, supported with no great connexions, with no great abilities, and no great fortune. And thus was he delivered over to infamy at the end of a long life, just like the Dervise in the fable who, after living till 90 in the supposed practice of every virtue, was tempted at last to the commission of a single error, when the devil spat in his face as a reward for all his actions! In order to support monarchy, had he said, the other evening, that it was right to abuse every republican government that ever existed? Had he abused America, or Athens, or Rome, or Sparta? But every thing had been remembered that he had ever said or written, in order to render it the ground of censure and of abuse. He declared he could not caution the House too much against what had passed in France, but he had not called that country a republic: no, it was an anomaly in government, he knew not by what name to call it, nor in what terms to describe it:
"... a shape,
If shape it might be called, that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb;
Or substance might be called that shadow seem'd,
For each seem'd either; black it stood as night,
Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell,
And shook a dreadful dart; what seem'd his head,
The likeness of a kingly crown had on.
* * * * * * * *
A cry of hell-hounds never ceasing bark
With wide Cerberian mouths fall loud, and rung
A hideous peal.6"
It was, he added, "A shapeless monster, born of hell and chaos." After having repeated these emphatical lines, Mr. Burke observed, that the right hon. gentleman's words had gone deep to his heart when he had told him, "he knew how to draw a bill of indictment against a whole people." He knew not how to draw any such bill of indictment; but he would tell the House who could — the national assembly of France, who had drawn a bill of indictment against the people of St. Domingo. He could draw a bill of indictment against murder, against treason, against felony, or he could draw such a bill against oppression, tyranny, and corruption, but not a bill of indictment against a whole people.
After a great deal of remark and complaint on the ground of matter personal to himself, Mr. Burke at length came to consider the subject of the clause before the House. He said that the chancellor of the exchequer had spoken his sentiments upon the subject more eloquently than he could do. In a monarchy the aristocrary must ever be nearer to the crown than to the democracy, because it originated in the crown as the fountain of honour; but in those governments which partook not of any thing monarchical, the aristocracy there necessarily sprang out of the democracy. In our own constitution undoubtedly, as the right hon. gentleman had well defined it, our aristocracy was nearer to the crown than the people, because it reflected the honours of the sovereign. He must agree that a king of England was the root of the constitution, whereas, in France, he was only, as he had been made to state himself, the first minister. A king of England might, if he chose it, select any persons, however improper objects, for honours; but he did not do so, because it would, as he well knew, bring his crown into contempt; and therefore he exercised his prerogative in that respect cautiously and prudently. But could the king of France create nobility? He could not; because he was himself degraded, and a prisoner; his orders, therefore, would not be accompanied by respect, which ought ever to be the first attendant on nobility. Mr. Burke went much at large into the constitution of the House of Lords, declaring that the honour of a duke, a marquis, an earl or a viscount, were severally familiar to us: we knew the nature and origin of those honours. With us the crown was the fountain of honour; in other constitutions, the people said they themselves were. He spoke of the power of the crown to create a new order, as it had done in Ireland, and he said, let the title given to the hereditary nobility in Canada be what it might, there could be no manner of doubt that those whom the king designed to honour would have more or less respect. Mr. Burke took notice of the suggestion of Mr. Fox of having the council elective, which he owned he had put forcibly, because that right hon. gentleman never said any thing that was foolish! but he had gone beyond his point! it was true, we could not have in Canada ancient hereditary nobility as we had in this country, because we could not make that 100 years old that was made but yesterday: but an elective council would clearly be a democratical council. He next spoke much at length of the various sorts of governments that had obtained in different colonies. In some there were councils; others, again, had been a government by charter, consisting of a governor and a company, in which case the settlement was governed by the governor and freemen. He mentioned in particular the Mississippi scheme, which had been of that nature. He spoke of mere wealth alone as not a good ground for aristocracy, though wealth, he admitted, was a material thins in it. Undoubtedly, there might be titles, and baronetage he thought not an unfit one, as it was a species of hereditary honour, though not so exalted as the peerage; but in all these things, Mr. Burke said, they must resort to experience. He spoke of the various constitutions that had prevailed in our American colonies before we lost them; the one which had approached nearest to perfection, was that of Massachusetts; and yet the province rebelled; and so did the others, in which different forms of government prevailed. He did not therefore attribute the loss of our colonies to any one form of constitution for them; that form was undoubtedly the best under which they were the most flourishing and happy. He pointedly condemned what he called a close aristocracy which he said would prove a dead weight on any government, counteracting and ultimately clogging its action. He recommended above all things an open aristocracy, and said, he had always thought the power of the crown to make an admiral who had distinguished himself a peer, and occasionally to decorate the old nobility by the infusion of new ones on account of their merit and their talents, one of the first and most excellent principles of the British constitution.
Having spoken much at large on the clause before the committee, Mr. Burke recurred to his own situation. The House he hoped would not consider him as a bad man, although he had been excommunicated by his party and was too old to seek another. If his book stood an object of odium, he might possibly belong to a faction, but not to a party, and consequently could be of less use to his country. He defined the distinction between a party and a faction. A party, he had ever understood to mean a set of men, bound and united by principles to act together in watching over the conduct of ministers, and taking care that nothing should be done that was likely to prove injurious to the constitution; whereas a faction did not draw together upon any known principles, but was devoid of all principle of union and common interest. He said, that his making use of the words "disciplined troops" had been deemed uncivil, whereas he meant no incivility by them. Discipline he had ever considered as one necessary quality of a party, and he trusted he had ever shown himself reasonably a friend to discipline, which was that sort of connexion which made men act together as a compact body, having one common object, and professing to feel it in common with their leader. In that sense he had meant the word discipline the other evening, and he trusted the gentlemen of the party that had excluded him, would with their usual fairness continue to act against their common adversaries, on the common principles of public good, and not direct their weapons against a poor unfortunate man, who had been twenty-six years exerting his best endeavours to serve his country.
He gave an account of his first entrance into parliament, declaring that he remembered the first question he ever brought forward he lost; the next he attempted, was to oppose the taking off the duty of one shilling from the land-tax, being of opinion, perhaps weakly, that it was necessary to keep up the taxes, although it was a period of peace, in order the sooner to reduce the debt of the country; and nothing could prevail on him to abandon his purpose. He had mentioned, at the time, that he had laid his political principles very low, in order that they might stick by him, and he by them, all his life. He had done so, and he had seen, on one occasion, two great parties join against him who had never acted together before — Mr. Grenville's party, and the late lord Rockingham's. He had then persisted, with the same pertinacity with which he now supported his unfortunate opinions on the French revolution. He complained of being obliged to stand upon his defence by that hon. gentleman who, when a young man, in the vigour of his abilities, at the age of fourteen years, had been brought to him, and evinced the most promising talents, which he had used his best endeavours to cultivate; and this man, who had arrived at the maturity of being the most brilliant and powerful debater that ever existed, had described him as having deserted and abandoned every one of his principles!
He said, that at a time when there was not a plot, indeed, but open and avowed attempts were made by clubs and others, to circulate pamphlets and disseminate doctrines subversive of the prerogative, and therefore dangerous to the constitution, it was unwarrantable for any good subject to be day after day holding out a parade of democracy, in order to irritate a mob against the crown. It should not, and it ought not to be. The perpetually making violent and flaming panegyrics on the subject of what had happened in France, he condemned as dangerous; and he now supported the monarchy, not that he thought it better than the aristocracy or the democracy, but because it was attacked and endeavoured to be run down. In like manner when lord George Gordon acted as a firebrand, and caused the proud city of London to bow its head to its very base, if they had joined in the cry against popery, was it not clear that they would have done infinite mischief? And yet he believed neither the right hon. gentleman nor himself were suspected of a violent attachment to popery; but was that the hour to stand up for protestantism? If they had been rash enough to have done so, they must have known that they would have clapped a firebrand to the pile; and that not only the metropolis, but all England would have been in a blaze. Let them take warning by that event. Let them recollect, that the mere suggestion that 40,000 persons could not assemble in a room — for no room was large enough to hold them — which appeared ridiculous and contemptible at first, had produced in one day such terror and alarm, that all ranks of people felt indescribable apprehension, and knew not whither to fly for safety. Just so there was at present a run against monarchy, which was said to be the child of his wild ungoverned imagination. Let them not rest securely on such a conception, but take care in time to prevent the possible effects. In paying what he had upon the subject, he was conscious he had done his duty; and he hoped he had in some measure averted what otherwise might have effected the downfall of the British constitution. That being the case, separate and unsupported as he was, let not the party who had excommunicated him, imagine that he was deprived of consolation — although all was solitude without, there sunshine and company enough within.
Mr. Fox said, that however the right hon. gentleman might be unkind enough to impute democratical or republican sentiments to him, he could assure him that his sentiments, whether on religion or any other topic, always made a due impression on his mind. He said, that he did not like bestowing fulsome and unnecessary praises on the English constitution; they reminded him of a passage in one of our best poet's best plays; he meant, he said, king Lear; who asks his three daughters how much they love him? Goneril and Regan answer him in terms of the most extravagant and studied panegyric; but when he puts the same question to Cordelia, she answers just as he would answer the same sort of question, if it were put to him respecting the constitution, when he should say, he loved the constitution of Great Britain just as much as a subject of Great Britain ought to love a government under which he enjoyed such blessings. They were all, Mr. Fox said, bound to love a constitution under which they lived happily; and whenever it should really be attacked, all he should say was, that he would not be found the most inactive in its defence. With regard to the right hon. gentleman's declaration, that he was separated from the party, if he was so separated, it must be his own choice; and if he should repent that separation, he might be assured his friends would ever be ready to receive him, to respect him, and to love him, as heretofore. With regard to the situation of the seignories in Canada, the right hon. gentleman had shown himself weak in that part of his argument, and had evaded an answer; and the right hon. gentleman on the same bench with him was utterly and completely ignorant of the fact — he did not mean ignorant in an invidious sense of the word. Let the two right hon. gentlemen inquire further, and they would find that he was right in his declaration, because there was no stuff to ingraft hereditary honours upon, no rank of persons at all qualified to receive those honours. The right hon. gentleman near him, Mr. Fox observed, had said he preferred an open aristocracy to a close one; he would show that the sort of aristocracy that he had recommended could not be a close aristocracy, which he disapproved as much as the right hon. gentleman himself. With regard to the declaration of the right near him, that the whole must be governed by experience — experience was undoubtedly, a very good general guide in most matters, but it was rather a strange argument to resort to in the present instance, for which there never had existed a precedent. There was no colony, ancient of modern, that ever had precisely the same constitution; it resembled that of some of the American states, but that of Massachusetts the most nearly of any.
Mr. Fox then took notice of Mr. Pitt's having said, that his principles were so far republican as he had described. Mr. Fox declared he had no difficulty to admit that his principles were so far republican, that he wished rather to give the crown less power and the people more, where it could be done with safety, in every government old or new; and from that principle it was, that whenever any bills for that purpose had been introduced, he had given them his support, and the right hon. gentleman opposite to him, he observed, had maintained republican principles, according to his own mode of defining the word republican; for he had made several propositions of that kind to the House, and it was well known that the right hon. gentleman near him had done the same; they were equally chargeable, therefore, with republican principles; and to the extent that he had described, Mr. Fox said, he was extremely willing, nay, desirous, to remain chargeable. With regard to foreign colonies, he was of opinion that the power of the crown ought to be kept low. It was impossible to foresee what would be the fate of distant colonies at a distant period of time; but in giving them a constitution, his idea was, that it was our interest, as well as our duty, to give them as much liberty as we could, to render them happy, flourishing, and as little dependent as possible. We should make the free spirit of our own constitution applicable, wherever we could render it so; and if there was any risk or danger in so doing, he was persuaded the danger was not greater on one side than on the other; indeed, he thought the more despotic the constitution we gave a colony, the more we made it the interest of that colony to get rid of such constitution; and it was evident the American states had revolted, because they did not think themselves sufficiently free.
Mr. Fox summed up this part of his argument, by declaring, that he was decidedly of opinion that the constitution of this country was more liable to be ruined by an increase of the power of the crown, than by an increase of the power of the people. He next took notice of what Mr. Burke had said of inflammatory publications. If any dangerous doctrines were disseminated in pamphlets, he said it behoved the government to look to them, and in case the law officers of the crown failed in doing so, it was then the duty of that House to remind the ministers of their neglect. He owned, however, that for his part, he was of opinion that free discussions of the principles of the constitution ought to be suffered. If the constitution had opposers, it would also have advocates, and the more it was discussed the better. He hinted that it was misusing the functions and privileges of that House, for any member to come down, and by holding long discourses, personal to himself, and relative to imaginary plots, which he (Mr. Fox) really believed had no foundation in fact, prevent a committee from doing its duty, and examining the clauses of a bill of great importance. It was their duty also to look to the conduct of the executive government, to watch and examine the measures of ministers, and to guard, check, and control the public expenditure. For any gentleman to suppose, that by the authority of discussions on personal topics in that House, what he said there would have any effect on public opinion, respecting a matter to which they had made up their mind, he believed it would be found a vain and fruitless expectation.
Mr. Burke rose in reply, and began with retorting on Mr. Fox for what he had said respecting the eulogies on the constitution. He said, they were at least as useful as that right hon. gentleman's almost daily professions of admiration of the revolution in France. As the right hon. gentleman had thought proper to appeal to a passage from one poet in praise of the constitution, he would take the liberty of remembering another line from another poet — "Qui non defendit, alio culpante." He referred to the books that were in circulation, and said, there was serious cause for alarm, when associations publicly avowed doctrines tending to alienate the minds of all who read them from the constitution of their country, especially at a time when it was notorious that it was systematically run down abroad, and declaimed against as the worst in existence. He again reminded the committee, from how trivial a commencement lord George Gordon's riots began, in consequence of which London had bowed its head so low. He said, he had never desired any books to be prosecuted, but the right hon. gentleman near him had done so more than, once. He took notice of what had been said, that if he would repent, he would be received. He stood, he said, a man publicly disgraced by his party, and therefore the right hon. gentleman ought not to receive him. He declared he had gone through his youth without encountering any party disgrace; and though he had then in his age been so unfortunate as to meet it, he did not solicit the right hon. gentleman's friendship, nor that of any man, either on one side of the House or the other.e
Mr. Martin rose to observe, that the right hon. gentleman had said, that certain societies had circulated pamphlets relative to the constitution, the doctrines of which he reprobated as foolish and. adulatory. He had, in particular, mentioned by name, the Constitutional Society, the Revolution Society, and, what was rather strange, the Unitarian Society. So far from thinking he had any cause to be ashamed of belonging to the Constitutional Society, it was his pride to be a member of it, persuaded, as he was, that they acted upon motives too pure to merit reprehension; and surely no gentleman would think a society instituted to commemorate the Revolution, illaudable.
Mr. Wilberforce complimented the Constitutional Society, declaring that he believed them more likely to repress, than to excite, clamour or commotion. He wished to know from Mr. Fox, whether he intended his elective council to be for life, or for a term of years?
Mr. Fox said, he had not decided upon that point, but was rather inclined to constitute them for life.
Mr. Wilberforce then contended, that, let the elective council be for life, or for a term of years, in the one case they would clog the prerogative, and deprive the subject of its protection: in the other point of view, it would be a democracy under another name, and give the popular branch of government too much power. Whereas if they adopted an hereditary council, they would form an open aristocracy; and though, at first, produce only saplings, in a course of years they would become forests, capable of bearing up against any innovation, either of the crown or people.
The clause was then passed.
Thursday, May 12
Debate on the Clause Respecting the Number of Members of Assembly and that Respecting the Clergy
The House having again resolved itself into a committee on the bill, Mr. Pitt proposed, that the number of members to be chosen for the House of Assembly in Upper Canada should not be less than 16.
Mr. Fox objected to the number. He contended that after so much had been said about obtaining a proper aristocracy for that colony, they were not now to lose sight of giving it a proper share of democracy likewise, which was allowed on all hands to be requisite. Sure he was, that 16 was a good number for an aristocracy, but by no means for a democracy, he was perfectly aware that it was idle to expect, that in a representative house the number of the elected should bear a strict analogy to the number of the electors. He knew there was no necessity for it; and that 558 members of that House were just as good a representative of the people of England, amounting to eight millions, as any larger number whatever; but, if they were legislating for a much more populous country, France, for instance, he did not believe he should be told that 558 members were sufficient. He thought 16 by no means enough to form any thing that could bear the name of a popular assembly; he should rather have imagined that 100 would have been the number, if 100 fit members of assembly could have been obtained in Upper Canada.
Mr. Pitt said, that as there were not above 10,000 individuals in Upper Canada (including men, women, and children), he thought 16 in the present state of the province was about a reasonable proportion of those who were fit persons to be chosen members of the house of assembly, and could spare time enough for due attendance.
The blank was filled up with the word "sixteen". It was here observed by Mr. Pitt, that the bill did not limit the number of members to 16, but only showed that it ought not to be less than 16. The number of the members of the house of assembly in Lower Canada was moved to be filled up with the word "thirty".
Mr. Fox thought the number too small. To transmit the British constitution to all the colonies of Great Britain, he well knew was impossible; but to pretend to do any thing like it, and to name 30 persons as a popular assembly representing 100,000, was so gross a fallacy, that he hoped it would no longer be attempted to be said that we gave Canada even a sketch of the British constitution, or any thing like it.
Mr. Dundas said, they could not pretend to give Canada the same constitution as they themselves lived under; all they could do was to lay the foundation for the same constitution, when increased population and time should have made the Canadians ripe to receive it, and to enjoy the same blessings.
Mr. Fox insisted on it, that an assembly, consisting of 30, as the representative of 100,000, might be an excellent assembly, a wise assembly, a virtuous assembly, or an enterprising assembly, but it could not be called a popular assembly.
Mr. Martin wondered that Mr. Dundas should argue, that the constitution would be ruined by a more equal representation. Did he wish the assembly in Canada to resemble some representative bodies in other countries, where there were sham elections, and footmen dressed up in their masters clothes, and sent to parliament?
The motion was agreed to.
When they came to the clauses respecting the clergy,
Mr. Pitt said, that the first gave the governor and council a power, under the instructions of his majesty, to distribute out of a sum arising from the tithes for lands or possessions, and set apart for the support of Protestant clergy, in order to give them a competent income, and the second clause provided for the permanent support of the Protestant clergy, a seventh proportion of the lands to be granted in future. The meaning of the act was to enable the governor to endow, and to present the Protestant clergy of the established church to such parsonage or rectory as might be constituted or erected within every township or parish, and to give to such Protestant clergyman of the established church, a part, or the whole, as the governor thought proper, of the lands appropriated by the act. He further explained, that this was done to encourage the established church, and that possibly it might be proposed to send a bishop of the established church, to sit in the legislative council.
Mr. Fox objected to the plan. He thought the Roman Catholic religion ought to be the established church of the colony, or the Presbyterian, that of the kirk of Scotland; he conceived that a seventh part of the lands was too great an allotment, and that the idea of sending a bishop of the established church of England to sit in the legislative council, was in every point of view unjustifiable.
The clauses were agreed to.
Monday, May 16
Fox's Motions Regarding Hereditary Legislators and the Number of Representatives in the Assembly of Lower Canada
The report being brought up, Mr. Fox said, there were two points in the bill on which he should take the sense of the House: first, the clause providing hereditary legislators, and, secondly, the clause admitting 30 to be a sufficient number for the assembly of Lower Canada.
The question being then put on the first clause, the House divided: Yeas, 88; Noes, 39.
Upon the clause being read for 30 members to form the house of assembly for Lower Canada, Mr. Pitt moved to leave out the word "thirty," and insert "fifty." Mr. Fox objected to this number as still insufficient; and on dividing the House on his proposition of inserting the words "one hundred," there appeared, Yeas, 40; Noes 91.
Mr. Pitt's amendment was then put and carried.
Debates in the British House of Lords
Monday, May 30
Debate on the Quebec Government Bill
The House having resolved itself into a committee on the Quebec Government Bill, counsel were heard in support of the petitions against the bill. After the counsel had withdrawn,
Lord Grenville said, he did not think himself called upon, on the present occasion, to go into the bill that was passed 17 years ago; nor did he conceive it necessary to enter much at large into any argument to show that it was proper to make some alterations in that act. That bill passed under particular circumstances; but how far it was adapted to those circumstances, it was not at all necessary to enter. The parliament at that time foresaw that an alteration would be necessary in some future period, when it would be proper to adopt another plan. That moment, he conceived, was arrived. There was now no necessity of withholding from Canada a participation of those privileges which were enjoyed by every other British colony. The province of Canada stood in a different situation from the other British possessions in America. It was not a colony planted, or originally conquered by this country, and to which the laws of Great Britain might be transported; but it was a province conquered from another nation, a colony already in possession of settled laws, much agriculture, and an extensive commerce. This was the state, with regard to the great majority of the lower province of Quebec; but there had been particular circumstances, since the conclusion of the last peace, which had created a population in upper Canada of a different sort: a population which had not only been formerly acquainted with British privileges, but which had retired to that country for the express purpose of enjoying them in greater perfection than they could elsewhere. — His lordship entered into a most able justification of the bill. He said, from the circumstance of the inhabitants consisting of two classes, it was judged proper to divide the province into upper and lower Canada, such division having a distinct legislature within itself. It had been stated, that the French inhabitants of Canada were so much attached to the prejudices of the Canadians, to their customs, laws, and manners, as to prefer them to the laws of England. He thought such an attachment deserved a better name than that of prejudice. He conceived it was an attachment founded in reason, or in something better than reason; in the best feelings of the human heart. — It was undoubtedly a mistake to suppose that any government was free only as it approached to democratic principles. Absolute monarchy, absolute aristocracy, absolute democracy had each been tried, and had been found wanting. Our own constitution, which was compounded of these three, was the envy of every surrounding nation. They were now about to communicate the blessings of the English constitution to the subjects of Canada, because they were fully convinced that it was the best in the world. The legislature of Canada consisted of three parts, representing that of this country. The governor represented the king; the legislative council represented that body in this country, which he then had the honour of addressing; and it had been objected, among other things, to that council, that it would consist of two different classes of persons, some only to sit for life, and others by inheritance. He said, there was precisely the same objection to the august assembly he had then the honour of addressing; some of that House derived their titles by inheritance, while others only sat for life, and a third class only during one parliament. — It had been stated, as an objection to the bill, that the lower province might oppress the higher, as all the trade of the higher province must come through the lower; that the lower province might enact what duties it pleased, and might harass and oppress the upper to any extent; and that Great Britain could not possibly interfere, consistently with her profession of giving a free constitution to Canada. He conceived that there was a difference between a free constitution and a free and independent constitution. Great Britain had not only the power of enacting laws, which were obligatory on the inhabitants of this country, but she could alter and new model those laws according to the circumstances and exigencies of the times. If the lower province were to oppress the upper, by imposing exorbitant duties, it was competent to this country to hold the balance between the two provinces and to remove the grievance. — Another objection had been taken to this bill, because all the commercial law of England had not been transferred in a lump to Canada. Such a step would have been attended with many inconveniences. In the first place, many parts of the commercial laws of this country did not at all apply to Canada; and even in the city of London, where trade and commerce were better understood than in any nation upon the face of the globe, it was conceived improper to admit common juries at Guildhall, to exercise the rights of juries on mercantile questions, which were always tried by special juries of merchants. If this was so, how much stronger did it apply to the inhabitants of Canada, who were infinitely less acquainted with the commercial law of this country, than any persons in the city of London? If this system, therefore, was to be introduced, it would be attended with the greatest uncertainty and confusion. Another objection that had been stated to this bill was, that it had not rendered the judges independent. This was certainly a circumstance of great importance, and a most desirable object; but, from the present uncertain state of the law in Canada, he thought the appointing judges in the way in which they were appointed in Great Britain would be attended with much more evil than good. In this country no danger could possibly be apprehended from appointing a judge for life, because the laws were so well known, and the bar so enlightened, that if an improper act were to be committed by any judge, it was sure to be detected, exposed, and punished. Although the judges of Canada were not made independent by this bill, as it was at present conceived improper to appoint them but during their good behaviour, yet he conceived the time was very near when this could be done, so as to be productive of the greatest good. Before it could be done, there must be a general system of known laws, and such salaries settled on the judges, as would induce men of real abilities to undertake the office. — His lordship next adverted to the state of the clergy, showing that it was wished to make a decent and proper maintenance for the Protestant clergy of Canada. He said, the government of Great Britain had been anxious to communicate to Canada a participation of all the blessings of the English constitution, as far as the circumstances of the case would admit. They did not mean to give Canada exactly the same constitution, as for instance, 558 representatives. That was impossible; but their great object had been to adhere as nearly as possible to the purity and principles of the English constitution in every part of the bill.
Lord Abingdon gave his hearty assent to the bill, as it was founded on two reasons that very forcibly impressed themselves on his mind: first, that this bill operated as a repeal of two of the most unfortunate acts, to say no worse of them, that ever found their way into the statute books; he meant the acts of the 14th and 16th of the present reign, called the Quebec act, and the declaratory act; the first of which laid the foundation-stone of disunion between the North American colonies and this country; and the second riveted that disunion, by attempting to carry into effect the declaration of a right "to bind in all cases whatsoever." The second reason was, that by this bill, this country was restored to its right, not of internal legislation over the colonies, for that right it never had, notwithstanding the pretended omnipotence of the declaratory act, but to its undoubted external right of regulating the commerce of all its dependencies, for the sake of the navigation, and, insomuch, for the safety and general benefit of the whole British empire; a right which, if preserved, America had not been lost; which, if maintained, and not given up to Ireland, as it was, Ireland had not been in the state it had been, in the state he feared eventually it would be.
Lord Rawdon was anxious to offer a few remarks on the three principal points, which seemed to those who were best informed on the subject, to be the most exceptionable. These points were, 1. The division of the provinces: 2. The creating of hereditary nobility; and lastly, The independency of the judges to be appointed for Canada. He knew that it was not practicable to introduce the whole of the English laws, either criminal or commercial, at once; but he had no doubt that a knowledge of such parts of them as might be transferred to Canada now, would soon encourage the gradual introduction of more. With regard to the division of Canada, he was not prepared from any thing he had heard, to give it his approbation; on the contrary, in the way proposed by the bill, he thought it would be sacrificing, in some measure, one part of the province to the other; and he was not quite satisfied that there was a power in the crown, to make such a division as that marked out by the bill. The experiment of hereditary nobility, which the bill set forth, he was afraid could not be attended with any good effect, but would rather be a dangerous and unnecessary scheme; for he would ask, of what class those people were, that it was intended to make nobility? Was there, by the existing laws of Canada, any set of men, whose property entitled them to form any sort of a proper, respectable, and useful nobility? He feared there was not; and even if there should be, at this moment, what might be reckoned a sufficient number to form the necessary degree of aristocracy in that province, might it not be a question, whether it was proper to confer hereditary honours upon them, or of what utility that could be to the other inhabitants? The other point was the independency of our judges. Now, as far as he could understand the provisions of the bill, and that clause making the council for life, he could not perceive any one provision tended to make them independent, as the judges in England were. It was not merely because an English judge held his office during good behaviour, that he was independent; the law had wisely provided an allowance of income which enabled him to hold his situation with dignity, and added in an essential manner to his independence. The gentleman whom he had heard was to be appointed governor, was of all others, the fittest for the situation. If Canada was to be governed under the present bill, it would be well for this country, and well for Canada, that colonel Simcoe was the governor.
Lord Porchester followed the noble secretary of state through all the clauses of the bill, upon each of which he commented, reserving his amendments, in hopes that they would not be pushed through the committee that night.
Viscount Stormont combated the different provisions in the bill.
Lord Loughborough stated several forcible objections to the bill, which he was desirous of correcting, without materially altering the clauses.
Lord Grenville agreed to go again into the committee on Wednesday.
a. "From the moment of the debate on the 15th of April on Mr. Baker's motion relative to the was with Russia, a rupture between Mr. Burke and Mr. Fox was distinctly foreseen. On the morning of the 21st of April, the day appointed for the re-commitment of the Quebec bill, Mr. Fox, for the last time, paid Mr. Burke a visit, accompanied by a common friend. Mr. Burke talked over with them the plan of all which he intended to say, opened the different branches of his arguments, and explained the limitations which he meant to impose on himself. Mr. Fox, on his part, treated him with confidence, and mentioned to him a political circumstance of some delicacy. What it precisely was, Mr. Burke declined telling, even in the heat of altercation. But from the tenor of the charge, which he seems most anxious to refute, and, from some intimations in one of Mr. Fox's answers, we may form a reasonable conjecture. The king, it seems, was represented to have used some expressions favourable to Mr. Fox. In order, therefore, to secure himself in his situation, the minister was asserted to have given out the watch-word, that Mr. Fox was by principle a republican, and it was supposed, that, in pursuance of this plan, he instigated Mr. Burke to the discussion. Mr. Burke undeceived his friend, by relating the fact as it was. Still it was requested by Mr. Fox, that at least the discussion might not take place on the recommitment of the Quebec bill; but Mr. Burke was unwilling to forego an opportunity which he could not hope to find again in any other business then before parliament, or likely to come before it. They walked however to Westminster together, and together entered the House, where they found Mr. Sheridan, in the mean time, had moved to postpone the business till after the holidays." Annual Register, 1791.
b. "It is probable that a little incident which happened in the course of Mr. Burke's reply contributed to draw from him the expressions considered as disorderly by Mr. Grey. In his speech Mr. Fox had intimated an intention of leaving the House, if the committee should suffer Mr. Burke to proceed. While the latter gentleman was speaking, the former, being perhaps now resolved on a rejoinder, accidentally went towards the lobby for some trifling refreshment, with which he soon after returned to his place. But in the mean time about 20 or 30 gentlemen, of those most personally attached to him, mistaking his departure for the execution of his declared intention, rose from their seats, and followed him out of the House." Annual Register for 1791.
c. In the course of the above speech, Mr. Burke having said that Mr. Fox had of late years forborne that friendly intercourse with him, by visits, etc. which he had formerly preserved, the latter, in reply, said, that the omission complained of was purely accidental; that men, at different periods, fell into different habits; and without any intentional neglect, it frequently happened that they did not see their friends so often as they might have done in preceding years; but at the same time, that their friendship was as warn and since as ever. Mr. Burke likewise, while in one of the parts of it, where he was reasoning with great warmth, checked himself, and addressing himself to the chair, said, "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and soberness."
d. See Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, Burke's Works, Vol. vi. p. 74. The following paragraph appeared in the Morning Chronicle of the 12th of May 1791: — "The great and firm body of the Whigs of England, true to their principles, have decided on the dispute between Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke; and the former is declared to have maintained the pure doctrines by which they are bound together, and upon which they have invariantly acted. The consequence is, that Mr. Burke retires from parliament."
e. Thus ended the friendship between Mr. Burke and Mr. Fox — a friendship which had lasted for more than the fourth part of a century.
2. William Shakespeare: Macbeth. Act IV. Scene 1.
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