History of the Insurrection in Canada in refutation of the report of Lord Durham

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History of the Insurrection in Canada in refutation of the report of Lord Durham
May 1839

Translated in 2007 by Mathieu Gauthier-Pilote from the French Histoire de l'insurrection du Canada en réfutation du rapport de Lord Durham.

The excerpts of the Report on the Affairs of British North America which Papineau selected are found in pages 11, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 32, 35, 36, 62, 66 and 89 of the said report. The original excerpts of the following were also inserted in this translation: "The Canada Question", in The United States Democratic Review, Volume 1, Issue 2, January 1838, pp. 205-220 (online via the Cornell University Library). "History of the Recent Insurrection in the Canadas - Part First", in The United States Democratic Review, Volume 4, Issue 3, March-June 1838, pp. 73-87 (online via the Cornell University Library). "History of the Recent Insurrection in the Canadas - Part Second", in The United States Democratic Review, Volume 4, Issue 3, March-June 1838, pp. 87-104 (online via the Cornell University Library). "The Execution in Canada", in The United States Democratic Review, Volume 5, Issue 15, March 1839, pp. 343-344 (online via the Cornell University Library).


The English government will perhaps be able to prolong its military occupation of the Canadas for some more time. But because it started the civil war against populations which had not provoked it, to which it had not been advised, which did not want it at the time it started, it has forfeited the law, and, without return, has lost the possibility to govern them.

Sixteen years ago

Sixteen years ago already, I was complaining to Lord Bathurst, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, and I was telling him, with the accent of a highly felt pain, how heavy was the yoke, and humiliating the condition of our colonial serfdom. He convened of it, and here is approximately the language that he used. I report this conversation, because it throws a great light on the political objectives, the apprehensions and the secret hopes of England.

Portrait of Henri Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst

I convene, said to me Lord Bathurst, that, for continental possessions where the populations double in few years, the regime of which you complain can only be a period of stormy transition and morbid evolutions, that must be followed, for the people which are submitted to it, by serene days, and a normal organization of political life and national independence. I even believe that the times of test will be short for you: French Catholics, governed by English Protestants, your position is forced, it must be well recognized; it goes against nature. You are too far away from England to appreciate it well, and too close to the United States of America not to be dazzled by their misleading prosperity. I thus ask of you only twenty-five years of patient resignation.

But, as a statesman, I foresee and predict, before the end of this period, great conflicts between the various parts of the American confederation. England would then be ready to grant the colonies which would have remained faithful to her, and their independence and institutions better than those which are based on the federative pact. Indeed, released from any counterweight, democracy would be impetuous and anarchistic, while it would be the best of possible governments if it were moderated by a hereditary magistrature, whose perpetuity would be ensured, in its glare and its strength, by the means of majorats and substitutions. It is clearly understood that the English government would grant these majorats to influential men like you, Sir, if they wanted to take part of such a wise arrangement.

By giving your support to this plan, and by making your compatriots welcome it, you would hasten the era of happiness and power for your country. We would attract in it the rich families of England which are friends of hereditary institutions, and those rich families of the United States, who are disgusted by the weak influence which the democratic ascendancy leaves to them.

Moreover, you would find in influential families, as much from those of the province as from those from abroad, the means to constitute a strong government, which would contract an offencive and defencive alliance of the nature of the one which binds England and Portugal. And thus you would no longer have anything to fear of the encroachments of your ambitious neighbours.

They are already but too formidable, and for little that their resources came to be added to those of Canada, they could very well challenge English supremacy over the seas. Now, if England ever went down to the rank of a third order power, it would be a misfortune for Humanity. Because, with institutions as perfect as hers, and a generally recognized primacy, England is on the continent the support of all the oppressed peoples, and often her representations have stopped the absolute governments in their tyrannical projects.

Painting of Napoléon Bonaparte on his white horse

A great struggle between two adversary principles is about to be engaged on all the parts of continental Europe. On the one hand, love of a freedom which could become disobedient and turbulent among peoples [which are] still little prepared to receive it; on the other, a calculated loathing by the kings to concede the reforms they promised during the frightening days that the prisoner of Sainte-Hélène made them live. Now, England would be the moderating power called upon to prevent the repetition of the spectacle of blood, of despotism and of impiety given by this revolutionary France, which we would have been forced to sit on the bench of peoples if she had not accepted the Restoration, sole bond of reconciliation, sole guarantee of rest, after the usurpation of the French throne by the ambitious soldier who had sat on it.

Ah well! the example of the United States is a disturbing cause that becomes an obstacle to the execution of these plans. I know well that it is but the enthusiastic ones, strangers to the practise of business, who get impassioned for this American demagogy, this manufacture of sand without cement, destined to collapse on the first day, but what can you do, their writings make disciples, they feed bad passions, they enlist worthless men who seek, in the overthrowing of higher orders, rank and fortune. And I acknowledge that all these cries of "cheap government", of exclusive sovereignty of the people following the American example, would worry us extremely, if we didn't clearly see, war being one of the unfortunately natural instincts of man, the causes which soon will bring about war in the United States, put the various parts of the confederation against each other, constitute distinct societies, create varied kinds of government, and the need, to protect them, to have stronger armies and institutions.

I answered Lord Bathurst that my Utopia differed from his, and appeared to me all at the same time to be more desirable and more realizable; that the American confederation would in the future be one and indivisible; that it appeared to me to go towards aggregation and growth rather than towards mutilation and impotence; that on the day of our independence, the right of common citizenship and free trade between Quebec and New Orleans, Florida and the Hudson Bay, would ensure Canada an undetermined, but long, period of peace, conquests on nature, progress in moral, political and industrial sciences, with individuality for each Sovereign State, under the protection of the congress, which could not become tyrant, having neither subjects nor colonies, and having attributions only in questions of peace and war with foreigners and foreign trade. I added that such advantages were too great and too manifest for Canada to let itself be intertwined in offencive and defencive alliances with England against America; and that, as for this 25 years deadline fixed by himself, Lord Bathurst, it would certainly be shortened by the partiality of the metropolis, the incompetence of its decisions and the corrupt practises of its agents.

Lord Bathurst promised reforms: none were carried out. The time is up.

Restoring the truth

Portrait of John Colborne, Baron Seaton
Portrait of John Lambton, Earl of Durham

Close friend of a great number of my colleagues in the representation, honoured with the regard and the confidence of all, since, for the past twenty years, they elected me, often unanimously, always with a great majority, Speaker of the House of Assembly, I am perfectly aware of everything that occurred in Canada up until the moment when the disorders started. I know the acts and statements of twenty-five of my colleagues and of many outstanding citizens, some who suffered death, others who, like me, saw, so to speak, their head put at a price, and were, like me, dragged in exile without trial, often without charge, always without confrontation, then released without trial, despite their asking for a trial by verbal or written requests, addressed either to the bloodied dictator Colborne, or to the other dictator, falser but no less vindicatory, Durham. Because weren't we all liable of the same punishments? They were all guilty of the same crime! Their virtues were dear to their compatriots, odious to their foreign oppressors! Well then! I challenge the English government to contradict me, when I affirm that none of us had prepared, wanted or even envisaged, armed resistance. But the English government had resolved to rob the Province of its income, of its representative system; it had resolved to send us, some to death, others to exile; and it is to this end that it had proposed to proclaim the martial law, and to have the citizens judged by martial courts for acts which, a few weeks before, it had admitted could not lead to any charge, founding the necessity of creating military courts on the impossibility of obtaining death sentences from the civil ones. Yes, once again, the executive power has put in the works, against innocent men, for what is wrongfully taken for the metropolitan interest, inhuman plans that it had admitted not having the right to allow itself: it is from the government that the provocation came.

Thereof, among the actors of this bloody drama, is there not a single one who repents to have attempted resistance; and among their fellow-citizens, not one in a thousand to reproach them to have done so. Only, there is in the hearts of all a deep sorrow that this resistance was unhappy, but at the same time a great hope that it will be re-taken and that this time it will prevail.

It is not that the insurrection was illegitimate, but we had resolved not to resort to it yet. It is what our seized papers taught to a government that became a slanderer to justify its persecution.

And when I make this statement, it is only to restore the historical truth and not to repudiate the moral responsibility of the resistance to a power risen against the holy rights of humanity, risen against "the inalienable birth rights of British subjects", as the legal advisers of Great Britain say, a mocking expression with regard to the colonies and imagined to provide the English aristocracy with Spartan pleasures, such as, for example, the pleasure to hunt down the Helots of Ireland, the Helots of the Canadas, the Helots of Jamaica, the Helots of all its remote possessions, each time the serfs who inhabit them wish to stop being corvéable, taillable and mortaillable and mercy and mercy.

I understand, indeed, the holiness of the historian's ministry. Well understood, it excludes all that is not the truth, but such is the impiety of the English tyranny that, even sheltered from its poisoning influence, and from its chocking pressures, the historian of the Canadas cannot say all there is to say of the period of the military occupation of these provinces, plundered, set on fire and decimated. Because the power abandoned itself to such orgies that it became drunk on it. Tell the government its crimes: far from leaving them, it plunges in them, and only swims back up to pass from its torpor to the fury of intoxication, which redoubles its blows against the country, where it hates everywhere and everywhere is hated. Tell the government the names of the men faithful to the cult of the fatherland: you are a denouncer who populates dungeons, a ferocious spectator keeping his fist closed to have the Christians thrown to the beasts.

One can thus quote only public facts and documents, well-known in America, ignored, or worse, denatured in Europe. The English government, indeed, was careful to place under lock and key, at the same time as the editors and the printers, all the characters and printing machines which were not already up for sale; the government bought all that it did not put under lock and key; and to undoubtedly guide the imperial Parliament on its plans for the future government of Canada and to enlighten the English public opinion, and, by it, to instruct the world on the doings of the governors and the ingratitude of the governed, the government worked out these rough materials, men and types bought in pages of contemporary history. The means known, the goal is revealed. From the English press, you learnt but the official lies.

It is no longer to me to be the indicter of the English government, as it was of my duty to do so for thirty years of my public life. This government confessed itself guilty in the hundred and twenty folio pages which Lord Durham has just published. Systematic corruption, shameful peculations, antipathies against the peoples, revolting examples of irresponsibility among the agents of power, monopolization of the public domain, nothing is missing in this so hideous portrait that its equivalent could only be seen in the history of one other English possession: Ireland.

And yet, the author has uniformly softened his accusing formulae against the authority of which he is an organ, and of which he wants to preserve the lead sceptre over the colonies by so pitiful means that he lost his reputation as a statesman.1

Wanting to prove that his favourite race, the Saxon race, is the only one worthy of command, Lord Durham untruthfully painted it beautiful while he obscured with the darkest colours the faux portrait which he drew of the French Canadians. But in spite of this degrading partiality, I direct with confidence all the honest readers to this strange report, as I am well convinced that they will draw this conclusion from it, that the Canadians have no justice to expect from England; that for them, submission would be blamable and a death sentence, while independence, on the contrary, would be a principle of resurrection and life. It would be even more, it would be the rehabilitation of the French name terribly compromised in America by the shame of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, by the mass proscription of more than twenty thousand Acadians driven out their homes, finally, by the sound of six hundred thousand Canadians ruled since eighty years with a ceaseless injustice, now decimated, tomorrow condemned to political inferiority, by hatred of their French origin.

Durham Report

True when it accuses the power, false when it accuses the people, the report of Lord Durham will also serve to prove that the independence of Canada is an event wanted by the interest of both the old and the new France, and by the interest of the whole of humanity. It is why I will provide here a summary of this work, which it is necessary to know in order to appreciate the morality of the facts that I have to tell.

The circumstances of the early colonial administration, says the report, excluded the native Canadian from power, and vested all offices of trust and emolument in the hands of strangers of English origin.

[...] It was not till within a very few years, as was testified by persons who had seen much of the country, that this society of civil and military functionaries ceased to exhibit towards the higher order of Canadians an exclusiveness of demeanour, which was more revolting to a sensitive and polite people than the monopoly of power and profit; [...] The races had become enemies, ere a tardy justice was extorted; and even then, the Government discovered a mode of distributing its patronage among the Canadians, which was quite as offensive to that people as their previous exclusion.

Never will the present generation of French Canadians yield a loyal submission to a British government; never again will the British population tolerate the authority of a House of Assembly, in which the French shall possess or even approximate to a majority. [...] The militia, on which the main defense of the province against external enemies, [...] the attempting to arm or employ it would be merely arming the enemies of the government. [...] In 1832, the number of emigrants who landed at the port of Quebec, amounted to 52,000; and in 1838, it did not amount to 5,000. Insecurity begins to be so strongly felt by the loyal inhabitants of the Seignories gouvernement, that many are compelled, by fear or necessity, to quit their occupations, and seek refuge in the cities. [...] none even of these considerations weigh against their present all-absorbing hatred of the English.

[...] they would purchase vengeance and a momentary triumph, by the aid of any enemies, or submission to any yoke. This provisional but complete cessation of their ancient antipathy to the Americans is now admitted even by those who most strongly denied it during the last spring, and who then asserted that an American war would as completely unite the whole of the population against the common enemy, as it did in 1813. My subsequent experience leaves no doubt in my mind that the views which were contained in my despatch of the 9th of August are perfectly correct; and that an invading American army might rely on the co-operation of almost all the entire French population of Lower Canada.

Every measure of clemency or even justice towards their opponent they regard with jealousy; [...] that they feel that being a minority, any return to the due course of constitutional government would again subject them to a French majority' and to this I am persuaded they would not peacefully submit.

[...]; the hostility of the races being probably insufficient to account for all the evils which have affected Lower Canada, inasmuch as nearly the same results have been exhibited among the homogeneous population of the other provinces. It is too evident that Lower Canada, or the two Canadas, have not alone exhibited repeated conflicts between the executive and the popular branches of the Legislature. The representative body of Upper Canada was, before the late election, hostile to the policy of the government; the most serious discontents have only recently been calmed in Prince Edward's Island and New Brunswick; the government is still, I believe, in a minority in the lower house in Nova Scotia; and the dissensions of Newfoundland are hardly less violent than those of the Canadas. It may fairly be said that the natural state of government in all these colonies is that of collision between the executive and the representative body. [...]

[...] A state of things so different from the working of any successful experiment of representative government appears to indicate a deviation from sound constitutional principles or practise. [...] But when we examine into the system of government in these colonies, it would almost seem as if the object of those by whom it was established, had been the combining of apparently popular institutions with an utter absence of all efficient control of the people over their rulers. Representative assemblies were established on the basis of a very wide and, in some cases, almost universal suffrage[5]; the annual meeting of these bodies was secured by positive enactment, and their apparent attributes were locally nearly as extensive as those of the English House of Commons. At the same time the Crown almost entirely relied on its territorial resources, and on duties imposed by imperial Acts, prior to the introduction of the representative system, for carrying on the government, without securing the assent of the representative body, either to its policy, or to the persons by who that policy was to be administered. [...] It was not until some years after the commencement of the present century, that the population of Lower Canada began to understand the representative system which had been extended to them, and that the Assembly evinced any inclination to make use of its powers. -- Immediately, however, upon it so doing, it found how limited the powers were, and entered upon a struggle to obtain the authority which analogy pointed out as inherent in a representative assembly.] Its freedom of speech immediately brought it into collision with the Governor; and the practical working of the Assembly commenced by its principle leaders being thrown into prison. In the course of time, however, the government was induced, by its necessities, to accept the Assembly's offer to raise and additional revenue by fresh taxes ; and the Assembly thus acquired a certain control over the levying and appropriation of a portion of the public revenue. From that time until the final abandonment in 1832, of every portion of the reserved revenue, excepting the casual and territorial funds, an unceasing contest was carried on, in which the Assembly, making use of every power which it gained for the purpose of gaining more, acquired, step by step, and entire control over the revenue of the whole country.

[...] The Assembly, after it had obtained entire control over the public revenues, still found itself deprived of all voice in the choice or even designation of the persons in whose administration of affairs it could feel confidence. [...] ; it might refuse or pass laws, vote or withhold supplies, but it could exercise no influence on the nomination of a single servant of the Crown. The Executive council, the law officers, and whatever heads of department are known to the administration system of the province, were placed in power, without any regard to the wishes of the people or their representatives; nor indeed are there wanting instances in which a mere hostility of the majority of the Assembly elevated the most incompetent persons to posts of honour and trust. [...] If a law was passed after repeated conflicts, it had to be carried into effect by those who had most strenuously opposed it.

Painting of the Language debate held in the first Parliament of Lower Canada on January 21, 1793

[...] A governor, arriving in a colony in which he almost invariably has had no previous acquaintance with the state of parties, or the character of individuals, is compelled to throw himself almost entirely upon whom he finds placed in the positions of his official advisers. [...] Thus, a Governor of Lower Canada has almost always been brought into collision with the Assembly, which his advisers regard as their enemy. [...] Fortified by family connection, and the common interest felt by all who held, and all who desired, subordinate offices, that party was thus erected into a solid and permanent power, controlled by no responsibility, subject to no serious change, exercising over the whole government of the province an authority utterly independent of the people and its representatives, and possessing the only means either the government at home, or the colonial representative of the Crown. [...] It appears, therefore, that the opposition of the Assembly to the government was the unavoidable result of a system which stinted the popular branch of the legislature of the necessary privileges of a representative body, and produced thereby a long series of attempts on the part of that body to acquire control over the administration of the province. [...]; and when nothing else could attain its end of altering the policy or the composition of the colonial government, it had recourse to that ultima ratio of representative power to which the more prudent forbearance of the crown has never driven the House of Commons in England, and endeavoured to disable the whole machine of government by a general refusal of the supplies.

[...] The collision with the executive government necessarily brought on one with the Legislative Council. The composition of this body, which has been so much the subject of discussion, both here and in the colony, must certainly be admitted to have been such as could give it no weight with the people, or with the representative body, on which it was meant to be a check. The majority was always composed of members of the party which conducted the executive government; the clerks of each council were members of the other; and in fact, the Legislative Council was practically hardly anything but a veto in the hands of public functionaries on all the acts of that popular branch of the legislature, in which they were always in a minority.

The fact is, that according to the present system, there is no real representative of the crown in the province: there is in it, literally, no power which originates and conducts the executive government. The Governor, it is true, is said to represent the sovereign - and the authority of the crown is, to a certain extent delegated to him; but he is, in fact, a mere subordinate officer - receiving his order from the Secretary of State - responsible to him for his conduct - and guided by his instructions.

[...] It has, therefore, been the tendancy of the local government to settle every thing by reference to the colonial department, on Downing Street. [...] the colony has, in every crisis of danger, and almost every detail of management, felt the mischief of having its executive authority exercised on the other side of the Atlantic. [...] The repeated changes, caused by political events at home, having no connection with colonial affairs, have left to most of the various representatives of the colonial department in parliament, too little time to acquire even an elementary knowledge of the condition of those numerous and heterogeneous communities for which they have had both to administer and to legislate. [...] Since the time of the late Lord Bathurst retired from that charge in 1827, your committee believe there has not been less than eight colonial ministers, and that the policy of each successive statesman has been more or less marked by a difference from that of his predecessor.2 [...] The most important business of government was carried on - not in open discussions or public acts - but in a secret correspondence between the governor and the secretary of state. Whenever the mystery was dispelled, it was long after the worst effects had been produced by doubts and misapprehension;

[...] But I must here notice the mischievous results prominently exhibited in the provision which the government of Lower Canada makes for the first want of the people, the efficient administration of justice. [...] I cannot but express my regret, that among the few institutions for the administration of justice through the country which have been adopted in Lower Canada from those of England, should be that of unpaid justices of the peace. [...] The institution has become unpopular among the Canadians, owing to their general belief that the appointments have been made with party and national bias. [...] I a grieved to be obliged to remark, that the British Government has, since its possession of the province, done, or even attempted, nothing for the promotion of general education. Indeed the only matter in which it has appeared in connection with the subject, is one by no means creditable to it - For it has applied the Jesuit's estates, part of the property destined for purposes of education, to supply a species of fund for secret services, and for a number of years it has maintained an obstinate struggle with the Assembly, in order to continue this misappropriation.

Speaking about the colonies where the population is not mixed but all English, that of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick which are the former French Acadia and Prince Edward's Island, previously the Saint-Jean Island, the report continues:

But their varied and ample resources are turned to little account. Their scanty population exhibit, in most portions of them, an aspect of poverty, backwardness and stagnation; and wherever a better state of things is visible, the improvement is generally to be ascribed to the influx of American settlers or capitalists. Major Head describes his journey through a great part of Nova Scotia as exhibiting the melancholy spectacle of "half the tenements abandoned, and lands every where falling into decay;" "and the lands" he tells us "that were purchased 30 or 40 years ago, at 5s. an acre, are now offered for sale at 3s." "The people of Prince Edward's Island are," he says, "permitting Americans to take out of their hands all their valuable fisheries, from the sheer want of capital to employ their own population in them. [...]" [...] These provinces, among the longest-settled on the North American continent, contain nearly 30,000,000 of acres, and a population, estimated at the highest, at no more than 365,000 souls, giving only one inhabitant for every 80 acres. [...]

[...] I allude to the striking contrast which is presented between the American and British sides of the frontier line, in respect to every sign of productive industry, increasing wealth, and progressive civilization.

[...] On the American side, all is activity and bustle. [...] The observer is surprised at the number of harbours on the lakes, and the number of vessels they contain : while bridges, artificial landing places, and commodious wharves are formed in all directions as soon as required. - Good houses, warehouses, mills, inns, villages, towns, and even great cities are almost seen to spring up out of the desert.

[...] On the British side of the line, with the exception of a few favoured spots, where some approach to American prosperity is apparent, all seems waste and desolate.

[...] The painful but undeniable truth is most manifest in the country districts through which the line of national separation passes for 1,000 miles.

[...] Throughout the frontier, from Amherstburg to the ocean, the market value of land is much greater on the American than on the British side. In not a few parts of the frontier this difference amounts to as much as 1,000 per cent., and in some cases even more. The average difference, as between Upper Canada and the states of New York and Michigan, is notoriously several hundred per cent. [...] the price of wild land in Vermont and New Hampshire, close to the line, is $5 per acre and in the adjoining British townships only $1.

[...] I mean the great amount of re-emigration from the British colonies to the border states. This is a notorious fact. [...] What the proportion may be of those emigrants from the United Kingdom who, soon after their arrival, remove to the United States, it would be very difficult to ascertain precisely. [...] making no allowance for their increase by births, the entire population of Upper Canada should now have been 500,000, whereas it is, according to the most reliable estimates, not over 400,000. It would therefore appear, making all allowance for errors in this calculation, that the number of people who have emigrated from Upper Canada to the United States, since 1829, must be equal to more than half of the number who have entered the province during the eight years. Mr. Baillie, the present Commissioner of the Crown lands in New Brunswick, says, "a great many emigrants arrive in the province, but they generally proceed to the United States, as there is no sufficient encouragement for them in this province." Mr. Morris, the present Commissioner of the Crown lands, and surveyor-general of Nova Scotia, speaks in almost similar terms of the emigrants who reach that province by way of Halifax.

(page 20, paragraph 2) Such is the lamentable and hazardous state of things, produced by the conflict of races, which has so long divided the province of Lower Canada, and which has assumed the formidable and irreconcileable character which I have depicted. [...] Such are the lamentable results of political and social evils which have so long agitated the Canadas; and such is their condition, that at the present moment we are called on to take immediate precautions against dangers so alarming as those of rebellion, foreign invasion, and utter exhaustion and depopulation.

Lord Durham

Such is the English government painted by itself. Such is the softened and flattered sketch of these colonies' condition made so by this pretentious aristocracy which poses in front of the other nations, and presents itself as a model of wisdom and science, which they must study and copy to learn how to govern themselves.

One of its most eminent superiorities, is this Lord Durham who signed the report which contains the bloody charges, though weakened, that we have just read: nothing is more likely to emphasize how artificial and false the social system of England really is, than the reputation of capacity, enlightenment and liberality which this ignorant despot usurped. His alleged rare talents, his alleged high virtues were the reasons why all the parties in Parliament rallied in his favour and granted him his dictatorship, as if it were not presumable that he could come to abuse it.

And still, within less than a month after having eagerly seized this absolute power which had disturbed much stronger intelligences, corrupted much purer virtues than his, he had dishonoured himself by vile proscriptions sentenced without investigation against innocent men. Within two months, he had been repudiated and censured by the Parliament; within less than three months, this wise man sent to alleviate the revolt had fallen to it himself, and, with as much thoughtlessness as exuberance, rid himself of his commission, deserted his office, without the authorization of the power which had given it to him; and finally dropped his dictatorship, created for him alone, in the hands of the first soldier of fortune who, by his rank, found himself at the command of Canada.

Two traits will suffice to prove how weak was the head, and bad the heart of this man so liefully adulated. The one who could sign the report written above dared to publicly say to delegations in Canada: "It will not be in the next one hundred, three hundred, nor one thousand years that we will see the separation of these provinces from the metropolis. They are one of our most beautiful crown jewels, they must therefore remain an eternal dependence, and it is only to obtain this result that, equipped with the amount of powers suitable to ensure it, I have agreed to come here." Was there ever more shameless charlatanism, if Lord Durham did not believe what he said?

Statue of Roman Emperor Tiberius

And if Lord Durham was sincere, I ask, was there ever more meaningless verbosity, more complete ignorance of the most uncontested principles of political economy and of the results which the separation of the old English colonies of North America have had in the past and must have in the future?

It is said that this idol of both the populace and the great ones of England is a most valuable statesman. The papers which he bribes affirm that only him is able to save England from the bloody catastrophes which threatens her. According to those, he would only need to have all the power to himself to achieve the marvellous tour de force of firmly constituting in England (and that with the assent of the proudest and strongest oligarchy which ever weighed on the world) the purest of democracies by triennial Parliaments, quasi universal suffrage, and ballot voting; and to establish at the same time the purest despotism in all the English colonies of North America (and that with the assent of the colonies in which one would seek in vain social elements other than the principles of equality, and active influences other than those provided by the example and vicinity of the United States of America).

Where I ask did this man deserve to take the first place: in the Council of State or in Bedlam?

The detailed history of Lord Durham's mission would reveal a hardly believable excess of personal vanity. His entourage was composed exclusively of men full of defects and perversity, but who did not save him flattery. As for the honest men who, on the account of parliamentary praise, tried to approach him, to entertain him of other things than himself, and to bring his mind back from the intoxicating heights where he pleased himself to the ground of tears and pains, these men were indecently pushed back. Tiberius had delivered himself to the Sejanuses.

Even before his departure from London, the vomitory of the prisons were the sewer where the noble Lord had gone to take by the hand, to raise them to his level, to make them sit at his table, to install them near his wife and his daughters, to initiate them to his intimate councils, two men both condemned by justice: the first, because he had allured a child and stolen her fortune, the second, because he had submitted his wife's sister, and traded one for the other.

These choices shocked to the morality, however débonnaire it may be, of the House of Lords. What effect were they to produce on the American society, so moral and austere?

Adam Thom

Portrait of Adam Thom

The same vanity, which called around Lord Durham those who intoxicated him with the fume of the coarsest incense, placed him at the feet of certain men who had furiously outraged him and of which he wanted the praise at all costs.

Of all the men odious to the Canadians, not one who was such with a righter honour than the editor of the newspaper the Montreal Herald. An impetuous Tory, this man, named Adam Thom, had for several years been dragging in the mud the names of all the whig ministers including that of Lord Durham.

But the John Bull, unable to provide enough libellous anecdotes to feed the malignity of Adam Thom, his personal correspondences, real or simulated, made public the turpitudes, true or false, of the majority of the outstanding men in the liberal opinion.

The news of the nomination of Lord Durham, which mystified whigs and radicals applauded in a manner that appears so strange today, created an incredible overflow of insults. The barking of the Cerberus tore the ears of Lord Durham so painfully, that he hastened himself to throw it the soporific cake. And a few weeks after the pompous disembarkment of the viceroy, and because he had outraged him, Adam Thom became his commensal and his adviser.

This man, who was but an impassioned partisan, of poor talents, daily excited by the abuse of strong liquor, when he treated of English politics, was turning insanely furious, when speaking of the French Canadians. When exalted by the thirst for blood, his hatred was limitless. For several years, insults against the whole nation and reiterated incitations to assassinate the most popular representatives had each day soiled the pages of his newspaper; one had seen him appear, as gang leader, in several riots which, during four years, had burst in Montreal: riots lead by English magistrates against the citizens who, in the elections or in the House of Assembly, had placed themselves in opposition to the executive power. Were these violences ever repressed? Did we only once seek the perpetrators? No. The troops at the disposal of the magistrates bloodied our cities; they violated the course of justice by prohibiting the victims' parents the exercise of their sacred right to pursue punishment for the crime in front of the courts, and confiscated the regular procedures in order to withdraw the culprits from any trial and replace those by fake lawsuits.

Adam Thom had organized the Doric Club, an armed society whose acknowledged aim was to submit the French Canadians by force if the government granted them the ceaseless object of their requests: an elective legislative council. Five months before his promotion to the council of Lord Durham, and while the prisons were being filled up with Canadians, he wrote:

the punishment of the leaders, however pleasant it might be to the English inhabitants, would not make as much a major and as useful an impression on the mind of the people as would the sight of foreign farmers placed in the dwelling of each agitator in each parish. The spectacle of the widow and the children spreading out their misery around the rich residences of which they would have been dispossessed, would provide for a good effect. One should not hesitate to carry out this measure. Special commissioners must be immediately appointed and given the task to carry out the lawsuits of this bunch of traitors who are now in prison. It would be ridiculous to fatten these people all winter just to lead them to the bracket later.

Such is in Canada the language of the press which is subsidized, not by fixed salaries because the elected representatives do not grant any for these kinds of services, but by the honours and the remunerated offices that the government distributes and to which infallibly lead similar diatribes, by the subscriptions of the English employees and the monopoly of the opinions or the advertisements of the administration for contracts and supplies of all sorts.

The same Adam Thom, three months before the arrival of Lord Durham, was pushing death cries against four hundred people piled up in a room where two hundreds would have been jammed up. He was writing that a government which deferred the trial examination showed a culprit hesitation; that if it were possible to imagine that one wanted to rob the Doric Club of his prey, the club was strong enough to render its own justice in spite of the prison walls of the soldiers' bayonets; that the Doric Club could punish just as it had been able to protect; that it was to grant only a short time after which it would be seen that its opinions were not but trivial threats.

Indeed, the dreadful plot conceived by this rowdy character and his trustworthy bunch took such a consistency, that the authorities were obliged to strengthen the prisons by additional works and the doubling of the doors. Here is the poor wretched that Lord Durham sat at his table and sat in his councils. His antecedents were known of all of Canada.

An old union bill

By making such a foolish and depraved choice, was Lord Durham, openly sent on a peace and conciliation mission, treacherous to his engagements, or was he only a cheater charged to continue the plan begun the previous year, by the metropolitan government perhaps, by the provincial government undoubtedly, plan which consisted in pushing the people to illegal actions to legitimize the violence being done and as such give birth to a pretext for the violence to be made?

Portrait of James Mackintosh
Portrait of Edward Ellice, father

On the remainder, just before his departure from England, the dictator had so closely bound himself to the faction of the old enemies of the French Canadians, for the doings of his nephew, Mr. Edward Ellice, his intermediary between them and he, that hardly just arrived, he immediately landed on their agents, those agents of the English merchants of Quebec and Montreal who, from time immemorial, have shown an indestructible hatred of the Canadian people and its representatives. It is them who, in 1808, fixed the tyrannical government's plan of which Lord Durham today only adopts the shameful paternity. In 1822, they had just about surprised the approval of the plan in Parliament. Only the unforeseen resistance of the virtuous sir James MacIntosh ruined their projects.

Under this circumstance, the systematic demoralization of the English government was revealed with more impudor and clumsiness than ever before.

One of their agents, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, exclaimed in the House of Commons: "Hasten yourselves, I avert you, to adopt this bill before the interested parties are informed of it, otherwise, I predict, you will be importuned by their complaints and their opposition: we are informed that the great majority of them would push it back."

It is indeed what happened the following year. The project was pushed back, successfully pushed back by the large majority of the Canadians. Designated to carry the protests of my fellow-citizens, I found, I must say, among a tory government, conservative and absolutist, a benevolent reception and an honest respect.

The plan of which I speak today is more odious, more universally rejected than it was it then; yet, Lord Durham, the peer of the people, dominated by the intriguers who misled Lord Bathurst, welcomes it favourably and as it appears will impose it to the Whig government. Not a very difficult thing in the remainder: because this government, allegedly liberal, reformed and reforming, in all its conduct towards the British colonies, has boldly violated the holiest laws of humanity.

A young woman of twenty years old reigns on England. And it is under such auspices that, in the Canadas, five hundred people were condemned to death by exceptional tribunals, by martial courts! Ah! I need to believe that, to obtain the approval of their sovereign, the ministers violated the feelings of pity natural to her sex and her age; I need to remember that the monarchy, in England, is but an instrument in the hands of the nobles, a shiny trinket that on certain days the charlatans scintillate before the eyes of crowd.

The illegality of the establishment of the martial courts in Lower Canada was manifest and had been proclaimed by the judges of the civil courts. But what value have rights, legality and justice for the oppressors? The magistrates, guilty of having executed their duty with courage and honesty, were suspended from their duties. Censured in England, by the ministers, this quasi dismissal they maintained in Canada, and ignored the executions of the condemned.

In Lower Canada, twelve unhappy ones underwent the last torment. As many legal assassinations! In Upper Canada, the number of victims amounts to more than thirty. But these cruelties, far from consolidating the domination of the savage power which ordered them, on the contrary, made domination forever impossible. They raised the horror of the civilized world.

Seen from the United States

Portrait of Sir John Oldcastle (Cobham)

In the United States, especially, the impression was profound; my readers can judge of it by the following extract of the Democratic Review, a monthly newspaper, published in Washington, under the direction and with the support of the most influential public men of the Union.

This proscription order, fulminated before the eye of the congress, in the early days of last March, against the English domination in America, has, for who knows its source, the greatest implication.

[...] It is impossible to apply to this case the justification of legal right. The laws of England, which have been defiled by her monarchs with penalties for every crime, sanguinary as the code of Draco, authorize the penalty of death in unnumbered instances, where the daily practice of her Courts show that it is necessary for justice sake to preserve the life. The law of High Treason in particular; under which these hideous murders have been committed, is as old as the reign of Edward III, and ordains capital punishment for conspiring the death of the King! If the great Jefferson in the sincere respect of a philosophic lawgiver for the rights of posterity, and with the sacred deference to the progress of opinion, questioned the power and doubted the propriety of a legislature's enacting laws binding more than one generation, what shall we think in our land and in an age subsequent to Jefferson, of the horrid criminality of these bloody executions in Canada, under a law some hundreds of years old and for an offence and American and a Republican cannot commit. No, the spirit of murder is essentially combined with the spirit of British Monarchy.

Portrait of Robert Emmet

[...] We attach no blame to the People of England for these atrocities. Their influence, wherever it has found its way into the legislation of their country, has been - like that of the people in all countries - uniformly beneficial, enlightened and humane. The influence of her Monarchy has been, on the contrary, as uniformly bad, [...]. We have not now space nor heart to illustrate the holocaust of illustrious names comprising the brightest and the best of Britain's children, which has been sacrificed to appease and confort this Moloch of her Monarchy.

What a noble army of martyrs, yet and that soon, to be honored as they deserve, would not these names compose; From the Cobhams and the Balls of her early history, to the Russells and Sydneys, or Emmets and Lounts of her modern annals, whose fame will shine in brightness undiminished, when the loathing and wrath of aroused and free opinion shall have prostrated forever the system that destroyed them, because it could not exist in the same age with so much of purity and worth. The inexpressible indignation and disgust which the perpetration of these atrocities in this hemisphere has occasioned throughout the whole length and breadth of this land - where public opinion is so free and healthy, that it may be said to resemble the voice of posterity, may image forth the reaction of that tide of virtuous feeling that ere long will swell up in a strength that will at once atone and avenge the whole. Yes! let it go forth. - Never, never will the loathing which the judicial murders of the hapless Canadians has attached, in all enlightened opinion, to the British Monarchy be effaced, nor the indignant abhorrence they have excited, subside until a power thus disgustingly alien to the feelings, the interests, and the sympathies as well as the soil of freemen, shall have been utterly expelled from the broad expanse of the North American continent, whose free soil its odious an cruel policy has thus foully polluted.


To the disorders which Lord Durham unrolled the never ending tableau, and to the more numerous and worst disorders which he did not even mention, what dam does he claim to oppose? He announces what good was produced by freedom among independent Americans, what evils were produced by despotism among British Americans; he proves the impossibility of prolongating the government of England over Canada, and he concludes to the maintenance of this very state of affairs. What a fatal inconsistency!

I will show in a forthcoming article how unjust the complaints of Lord Durham against Canada really are.

It is nevertheless from these so-called complaints that arise the great and only measure of legislative reform which Lord Durham recommends: the absorption of the French population by the English population by means of the union of two Canadas. It is this measure which had been adopted in 1808 by the fur trade monopolists at a time when they lost the majority which they had enjoyed hitherto.

Daguerrotype of Louis-Joseph Papineau around 1852. Attributed to T.C. Doane

Since that time, and during thirty years, a supposedly constitutional government, based on minorities, has constituted itself as a source of permanent hostility against the majority of the representatives, who, after the last two general elections, were in one of the assemblies, seventy-eight against eight, and eighty against ten in the other. Of the members composing these minorities only one was born in the colony. At the time of their elections, these majorities had received from their constituents the mandate to insist on an organic change in the institutions, and to ask that the second house be made elective. This unanimous complaint, Lord Durham rejected it with the same scorn as the Tories, his predecessors. The British Parliament also pushes it back. "What you ask", says it, "we refuse it. But we are benevolent and we want you to be happy with what we will decide is good for you. The Saxon race is much more suited to govern than you could ever be yourself. In Upper Canada, it is sifted with debts, while you have none. Ah well! we will form a large and beautiful province which will no longer owe anything to anyone, after the mixing of the full and the empty. You will then have a viceroy, and in her position as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, our gracious sovereign will add: and of British North America. Abjure this narrow nationality. Take a greater and nobler one. Leave the short name of Canadiens, and take that of British North Americans!"

Alas! if our name, erased by an act of the Parliament, was too small, wouldn't the one which replaced it be too long? and isn't that of independent Americans in righter proportions?

An historical account, impartial and concise, of the events which occurred in my country during the past two years will put in all the minds the conviction that it is not the English statutes that will determine the near future of Canada; but that this future is written in the declarations of the rights of man and in the political constitutions that gave themselves our good, wise and happy neighbours, the independent Americans.

Those Americans know very well, moreover, that their revolution is not yet entirely finished. In the opinion of their statesmen, it will only be so the day the Union will no longer have, as neighbour, a power that, since the Treaty of 1783, has not ceased, even in times of peace, to intrigue in order to bring about the dismemberment of the confederation; an anxious power that triggered the Indian Wars, perfidiously nourished them by the distribution of weapons and food to the belligerent tribes; and maintained itself in a violent occupation of certain parts of the territory, although under the treaties, these invaded part should have been, long before this day, restored to the Americans! Finally, an ambitious power which no longer preserves the Canadas in legitimate plans of trade and colonization, but as a military station from where it prepares itself to fall onto the American confederation, to bring it disorder, division and ruin!

Louis-Joseph Papineau
Paris, May 1839
End of the first part

Editor's Notes

1. Here Papineau is no doubt referring to the embarrassing manner in which Durham was forced to quit his post and return to London.

2. The list of people who held the office of Secretary of State for the Colonies between 1827 and 1838 is 1) Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst, 2) Frederick John Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich, 3) William Huskisson, 4) George Murray, 5) Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, 6) Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, 7) Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington 8) George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen

See also

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