John Arthur Roebuck's Speech in the British House of Commons on April 15th, 1834
John Arthur Roebuck, agent of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, made this speech on presenting a motion to set up a select committee to inquire the means of remedying the evils which exist in the form of the governments now existing in Upper and Lower Canada. The Hansard transcript of the whole debate can be read here.
—First, That the provinces are at this moment in a state nearly approaching to open revolt; that Lower Canada particularly, as far as words can go, is actually in a state of revolution; the House of Assembly (their House of Commons) having formally seceded from all communication with the Executive, and also having expressly declared their intention to impeach the present governor, Lord Aylmer.
—Secondly, I shall endeavour, also, to show, that this present disturbed state of these countries is the result of a long series of continuous bad government, and that the actual outbreaking of the people at the present moment springs immediately from the extremely rash and petulant behaviour of the present Secretary of the Colonies—who, unfortunately for this country, after having successfully fanned Ireland into a flame, has employed the same qualities to the same end in our Transatlantic possessions.
—Thirdly, My last object, after having pointed out the evil, will be to suggest the remedy, and to this end I shall endeavour to explain why I desire a Committee of Inquiry.
Before I enter upon this arduous undertaking, the House will, perhaps, permit me to allude very briefly (and I assure them that I do so with great reluctance) to the position in which I personally stand as regarding the present question. It may naturally be asked, why I should particularly interest myself in this matter, and whether I can bring to the discussion any peculiar information. I will answer both questions at once. The knowledge that I have upon this matter is greatly the result of personal experience. Many years spent in habits of great intimacy with the people of those countries, have made me intimately acquainted with their history, their feelings, their character, and their desires. The things that I shall describe I have seen, and I now come forward as a witness in this case, and humbly, yet firmly, claim for my testimony that respect which the House is accustomed to pay to the evidence of all percipient witnesses. The same intercourse which has enabled me to speak of this people's affairs as one personally cognizant of them, has made me also feel a deep interest in their welfare. This may, perhaps, be sufficient to account for and excuse my thus prominently standing forward in their defence. I shall soon show, however, that, as a Representative of the English people, the importance of this subject ought to claim my attention, even had I not those personal considerations to which I have alluded. Although in what I shall immediately advance I shall speak as of my own knowledge, and on my own experience, I shall not fail, nevertheless, to corroborate my own testimony by that of others; and I do hope that the evidence I shall adduce, and the documents on which I shall rest my assertions, will gain for my observations the kind and attentive consideration of the House.
Without further preface I shall proceed to discuss the matter in hand. I must observe, however, before I enter upon the descriptions with which I shall be obliged to trouble the House, that my remarks will, for the most part, apply to both provinces, though my illustrations, for the purpose of avoiding confusion, will be drawn chiefly, if not exclusively, from one,—namely, Lower Canada. In order to make any one competent to decide upon the resolution now before the House, it is necessary to give some description, however brief, of the Government to which it relates.
Every one tolerably acquainted with the history of our colonies knows, that the constitution or form of government now enjoyed by the Canadas was conferred on them by 31 George 3rd, c. 31. The province of Quebec was by that Act divided into the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada; and, in imitation of the form existing in England, a triple power was created in each province, consisting—first, of the governor, who was supposed to be analogous to the King here; second, the Legislative Council, supposed to be analogous to the House of Lords; and, third, the House of Assembly, analogous to our own House of Commons. It is necessary that I should say a few words upon each of these three estates. The governor, be it remembered, is a person sent from England—is removable by the will of the King—and, while in Canada he is a portion of sovereignty, he is but the immediate servant of the Government here. He then, it is clear, bears little or no analogy to the King of England. He is an officer chosen by the Executive, and responsible to the people of England.
Next comes the Legislative Council. These Councillors are appointed by the King, and for life. There is no landed aristocracy in Canada; and certainly the Legislative Council, even if we were to concede that such an aristocracy existed, cannot be said to represent it. They are usually old official persons appointed to the office of Councillor, as a reward for service, or for certain other purposes to which I shall immediately advert. Lastly, the House of Assembly does really represent the people, at least in Lower Canada. There may be some doubts as to the completeness and purity of the representation in the Upper Province. Such, then, is the Legislative Body.
The Administrative or Executive consists—first, of the Governor; and second, a Council, called the Executive Council. Now, one of the grand causes of all the bad government that has so long tormented these provinces is the composition of this Council, and that of the Legislative Council. These bodies hitherto have been two in name, but one in fact; the persons composing the one being the majority in the other; so that the persons composing the Executive Council could at any time put a stop to all the proceedings of Government, and forward to the utmost the sinister interests which they and their dependents wish to forward, If the House feel at all desirous of understanding the political condition of these provinces, it is absolutely necessary for them to obtain a very definite conception of the character of this Executive Council, and their dependents and connections. As the Governors sent from England go to the colonies only for a short period, and also exceedingly ignorant of everything connected with the business they are about to undertake, it is necessary that there should be always some persons existing, ready and able to instruct their ignorance: these persons are the Executive Council. They live always in the colony, and form the necessary link between succeeding governors. To persons thus serviceable rewards are necessarily given, which rewards consist of various places, money, or money's-worth, paid out of the provincial funds. Besides, these people form a special society, and surround and hem in the governor, so that no one not of their tribe or party can reach him. They actually govern the country—dispose of all its places of profit and distinction, and not only rule, but insult the people. Being thus really independent of all control, their insolence, rapacity, and corruption, know no bounds; and if, at any time, the Governor, or even the Home Government does aught to offend their high mightinesses, they rebel, and treat with scorn and contumely the commands sent from England.
While such is the nature and conduct of this petty and vulgar oligarchy, I beseech the House to consider the peculiar position of the people over whom they domineer. This people are in habits of daily—nay, hourly—intercourse with the Republicans of the United States of America. They are accustomed to behold across the frontier a great people—not more instructed, not more desirous of good government than themselves, self-governed—governed by thoroughly democratic institutions; and what is the result? A state of unexampled prosperity—quiet, rapid, and unceasing improvement. Laws and institutions that continue in their action as regular as a piece of physical machinery. They see cheap Government, and yet perfect protection—they see the governing body having interests identical with the people, and possessed of their ever-advancing spirit of improvement, aiding all enterprise,—in fact, performing the true functions of a Government,—not contented with protecting to its uttermost, property, person, and reputation to all its citizens, but assisting in all those great undertakings which are best forwarded by the combined efforts of a whole people. With such a sight before them, it is not wonderful that the Canadian people have imbibed the free spirit of America, and that they bear with impatience the insolence, the ignorance, the incapacity, and the vice of a nest of wretched officials, who, under the fostering domination of England, have constituted themselves an aristocracy, with all the vices of such a body, without one of the redeeming qualities which are supposed to lessen the mischiefs which are the natural attendants of all aristocracies.
It is of a people thus high-spirited, pestered and stung to madness by this pestilent brood, that I am now about to speak. Some years after the Constitution had been conferred upon them, and also after repeated solicitation, the two provinces were permitted to provide for their own expenses, and consequently to rule the expenditure of the Government. Those who had refused the request of the people to be allowed to provide for their own expenditure, well knew, that the control of the people would be a very different thing from that of the Government of England. The one was near, deeply interested in saving every farthing; the other was distant, and, amid the many millions of their expenditure, were not likely to be very solicitous respecting the small sums comprising the outlay of Canada. Therefore, when the people did at length obtain the control they so long had desired, a war began between the official persons on the one side, and the people by their representatives on the other,—the one party desirous of having the supervision of the people reduced to nothing; the other determined to maintain and exercise that supervision to the utmost. It is curious to see what various forms during the last twenty years the desire of the official tribe to be freed from supervision has taken, and in how many various ways they have attempted to compass their end, and in all of these, be it remembered, they have been regularly supported by the Government at home.
The House of Assembly, acting on behalf of the people, have been driven to various devices to maintain their very necessary, and legitimate control. Having the administrative body utterly opposed to them, and knowing that that administrative body could govern the determinations of one body of the Legislature—namely, the Legislative Council, and also the Governor in his legislative capacity, it behoved them to be extremely wary and stedfast in all their proceedings. One great point was, to ensure their being regularly convoked, and permitted, when called together, to interfere with the affairs of Government. How was this to be accomplished? In England, the House of Commons is necessarily convoked yearly, to vote certain expenses, and to pass certain annual enactments. The Executive has no funds at its disposal, and is utterly dependent on Parliament. It has been very properly the aim of the House of Assembly to approximate its own condition, and that of the Executive of Canada, to this wholesome state. To this end, as they have no Mutiny Bill to pass annually, and as their chief expenses are comprised in their Civil List, they have very wisely determined to pass the Estimates of the Civil List yearly. It is quite astonishing to learn what an outcry this determination raised amid the official tribe. Disloyalty, disrespect to his Majesty, and every evil quality that could possibly be found for the occasion, were attributed to the House of Assembly. And what in reality did it all mean? Simply this. The official tribe saw, that by this means an annual supervision was ensured, and they were sorely vexed thereat. What ought to have been the conduct of the Home Government on this matter? They ought, at once, to have acceded to the desires of the people, to have taken the Civil List yearly, and have aided the people to the utmost in maintaining that necessary supervision which they so ardently desired. Did the Government do this? No such thing. They waged war with the people by three successive Governors on this matter. The Duke of Richmond, Sir Peregrine Maitland, Lord Dalhousie—all fought this mean battle for the official tribe of hirelings who thus made a cat's paw of his Majesty's Government; and at this moment the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies is willing and endeavouring, to continue this mischievous and degrading warfare.
To this there was added another source of contention. The people's representatives, still desirous of complete control over the expenditure, determined to vote their money by items—so much to this functionary, so much to that; a very wise precaution, and one almost universally adopted by the English House of Commons. As usual, the tribe of employés set up a howl. This was destructive of the prerogative—making the King (always the King, about whom they care in reality as much as they do for the Emperor of China) a cipher. This was dreadful, unbearable, republican, and cheap. The Governors joined with the officials, and the Government at home joined with the Governors. The whole business of the State was completely stopped, and confusion, and every description of ill-feeling between the people and the provincial Government necessarily followed. And who, I beg to ask, was in the wrong? Can we hesitate a moment in declaring the conduct of the Assembly in the highest degree wise and circumspect, while that of the provisional Government was corrupt and vicious—that of the Home Government the very act of folly. As a specimen of the mode in which the Governors sent from England have sought, under the direction of the Executive Council, to foster good-will towards this country and its dominions, I will state one or two instances of their dealing with the representatives of the people. The House will be able to appreciate from these the manner in which the present heated condition of the popular mind in these provinces has been brought about. During the administration of Sir James Craig, certain members of the Assembly offended the Governor by things said in the House, in their character of representatives. The Governor dealt in a summary fashion with these disagreeable legislators. He arrested five of them, and put them into the common gaol at Quebec; and one, who was afterwards a Judge, he confined a whole year. They were eventually turned out of prison, unable to learn what was their offence, or to obtain a trial. What, I ask, must have been the condition of the administration of justice—what the independence and uprightness of the Judges, in a country wherein such things were permitted?
This was one class of acts. I will now mention another. For many years the Representatives of the people had endeavoured to obtain from the Executive an account of the monies in the possession of the Receiver-General of the province. Now, I ask this House—I ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite—whether this demand ought not to have been immediately complied with? Whether the conduct of the Executive, in refusing such accounts, in evading the demands of the Assembly, were not in the highest degree censurable, and evincing a corrupt and vicious system of administration? This demand, wise, necessary, and important, as it was, was steadily refused by the Executive; and by none more steadily than that immaculate person Lord Dalhousie. What was the result? The Assembly, after repeated refusals, evasions, and deception on the part of the Executive, determined to lay on no more taxes, and thus drive the Governor to draw upon the Receiver-General. The result but too truly verified their worst anticipations. The Governor thus compelled, and no longer able to shelter the Receiver-General, Sir John Caldwell, did draw upon him; and then it was discovered that this servant of the Crown had disposed of 100,000l. of the people's money, and was a bankrupt. Was this bankrupt brought to account? Was he punished? No such thing. He still possesses the property acquired by the money of the people; and is, moreover, a Legislative Councillor, and has lately been active in abusing that very nation whom he had before so unmercifully robbed. During the whole administration of Lord Dalhousie the war between the Executive and the Representatives of the people was carried on with bitter animosity, and every device, legal and illegal, was attempted to, obtain a revenue independent of the control of the House of Assembly. It happens, that many sources of revenue exist which are supposed not to be within the dominion of the House, although the people of Canada do, in reality, furnish that revenue. For example, certain dues are levied at the port of Quebec under Acts of the Imperial Legislature; these are entirely withdrawn from the supervision of the House. Again, the estates of the Jesuits have become the property of the Crown; these also are withdrawn from the supervision of the House; and lately an attempt has been made to acquire a revenue by the sale of waste lands; and all this to the end of escaping from the control of the people's Representatives. Can we wonder that the people are irritated by this mode of proceeding? Can we wonder that they are exceedingly jealous of all attempts of this description? What would this House say, if it should perceive the Privy Council and the Crown endeavouring to find ways of taxing the people without their consent or control? I ask the House, and I appeal to the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies, whether we should not be justified in resisting every such attempt, and in punishing all advised it? I have already observed, that the war between the two parties has manifested itself in various shapes; all these, however, it is impossible for me now to describe. All that I am now desirous of effecting is, to create a complete and vivid conception of the sort of feeling existing among the colonists. I want to make this House understand that this war of many years has embittered the whole public mind—that it has broadly divided the country into two hostile, nay deadly hostile, sections—that on the one side a small band of persons in office, using and abusing the name of England, have fought the fight of corruption; while, on the other, the whole people, by their Representatives, have steadfastly insisted on the right to control all expense, and, in fact, to govern the country. I wish, I say, to make the House to understand, that for years this unhappy country has been in a state of trouble and combustion, created and continued by this small band of official persons, who, unfortunately, by means of the Legislative Council, and by the assistance of the home Government, have been able to keep in check the great body of the nation, with their Representatives at their head.
Chance unfortunately threw in the way of the unprincipled tribe of official persons another means of dividing the people, and, thereby, of strengthening their own pernicious power.Earl of Ripon, during the last five months of his Administration as Colonial Secretary, had begun to be sensible of the real condition of the colony, and had begun partially to act in a way to conciliate the people. Hopes were thus raised among the Canadian people, that the evils under which they had so long suffered were about to be removed; and, although they had much fault to find with every branch of their Executive, from the highest to the lowest, they began to believe that, at length, the Government in England was really beginning to understand their condition, and to be possessed of a wish to relieve it.
It was upon a people thus excited by long-continued oppression, and lately-created hope, that the right hon. Gentleman was about to exercise his control and guidance.
Now, before I begin to describe what he has done, let me ask, what course any man really cognizant of the condition of the people, and possessing the calm temper and sound knowledge which should distinguish a statesman, would have pursued in so peculiarly critical and delicate a position? I think, Sir, above all things, having become thoroughly possessed of the true condition of the people; having learned their ways of feeling, their hopes, their wishes; and, having found how excited, and naturally excitable they were,—I say, above all things, he would have abstained from all language that was likely to irritate or disgust them. Knowing, that a people imbued with democratic feelings are not to be driven but led to an object, he would in all cases have endeavoured to make "persuasion do the work of fear." Knowing, that this people are in habits of daily intercourse with the United States, and naturally led to compare their own condition with that of their happy neighbours, he would, if desirous of maintaining the supremacy of England, have done nothing which should have led that people to envy the position of the Americans, either as regards the more material matters of Government, or even the deportment of their Governors. Whatever might be the bearing of rulers in Europe, he would have been fully sensible, that in America there must be no petulance, no passion, no threats, no blustering. He would, therefore, have afforded in his own person an example of calm decorum and benevolent consideration respecting the wishes and the feelings of the people.
I fear, Sir, the conduct of the right hon. Secretary bears little resemblance to that which I have here been describing. He has assumed a dictatorial tone and manner; he has arrogated to himself the situation of a master; and has dealt with a jealous and high-spirited people as if they were willing to wait upon his nod, and bow down in abject submission before his supreme decrees. He has insulted the people's Representatives—he has threatened them with coercion—he has thrust upon them his determination of maintaining monarchical dominion—and has insisted so firmly upon maintaining the King's prerogatives untouched, that he has seriously endangered them all, and has really rendered it doubtful whether the power of England can be maintained even a few years longer. I may be asked, Sir, for a proof of these assertions; the proof is at hand,—the opinion of the people themselves speaking through their Representatives. Let no one say, that the opinion expressed by the House of Assembly is not sufficient upon this point. It was the business of the right hon. Gentleman so to have conducted himself as to win the favourable regards of the people over whom he governed. The fact, that so far from gaining their good regards, he has raised them in formal and openly declared hostility to himself, and the Executive under him, is damning proof of his insufficiency for the task he has undertaken.
This House is doubtless by this time aware that the House of Assembly in Lower Canada has formally seceded from all communication with the Executive; that they have passed a vote of determination to impeach Lord Aylmer, the Governor-General, acting under the command of the right hon. Secretary; and that they have expunged from their journals the despatches of the right hon. Secretary, as being of a nature so insulting and derogatory to their own dignity and honour, as to be unfit to remain upon their records. They came to these Resolutions:
That, in the midst of these disorders and sufferings, this House, and the people whom it represents, had always cherished the hope, and expressed their faith, that his Majesty's Government in England did not knowingly and wilfully participate in the political immorality of its colonial agents and officers; and that it is with astonishment and grief that they have seen in the extract from the despatches of the Colonial Secretary, communicated to this House by the Governor-in-Chief, during the present Session, that one at least of the Members of his Majesty's Government entertains towards them feelings of prejudice and animosity, and inclines to favour plans of oppression and revenge, ill-adapted to change a system of abuses, the continuance of which would altogether discourage the people, extinguish in them the legitimate hope of happiness which, as British subjects, they entertained, and would leave them only the hard alternative of submitting to an ignominious bondage, or of seeing those ties endangered which united them to the mothercountry.
Such is the language held by this body of representatives—and such I take to be sufficient proof, even of itself of the extreme rashness and inconsiderateness of the right hon. Secretary. But it may be asked, what were the circumstances which have led to this deplorable result? I will briefly state them; and begging the House to bear in mind the excited state of the people, and their peculiar political and geographical position, I have little doubt but that it will be immediately seen, that the course pursued was eminently qualified to lead to such a disastrous conclusion.
Before I mention the circumstances which, under the direction of the right hon. Secretary, have produced these results, I must allude to a circumstance which occurred the year before last; and which, though in no way attributable to the right hon. Gentleman's government, still serves to exasperate the people, and to sharpen all their jealousies.
During an election for the city of Montreal, a riot took place, and three unoffending Canadians, persons totally unconnected with any of the election proceedings, were shot by the military. Now, such a circumstance might produce little sensation in Ireland; but in any of the quiet and well-regulated communities of America it was calculated to excite feelings of the deepest sorrow and alarm. The people, generally, are very nearly connected by relationship; they are all of a happy and comfortable condition; they are grave, sedate, and live a peculiarly quiet and well-regulated life. Such an event, therefore, caused regret, and spread consternation through every part of the province. It is not now my intention to express any opinion as to the case in question; that is, whether the officers and soldiers were or were not guilty of murder; but I am exceedingly desirous of calling the attention of the House to the events which succeeded this calamitous occurrence, and entreating them to observe how well calculated they were to disgust and excite the people. Certain of the officers commanding were deemed culprits by the great body of the people; and it was necessary to have them brought to trial. In that country the Attorney-General, and Solicitor-General act as public prosecutors, and have or claim an exclusive privilege of prosecuting all offences committed against the Crown. But in this case it was notorious, that the law officers were sent from Quebec to shield the officers, to use their legal skill in extricating them from the difficulty in which they were placed. Those persons who deemed the officers guilty, sought to have an advocate to aid the prosecution, besides the law officers, thus believed to be partial; this was refused; and it is now said by this disappointed people (with how much justice it is not for me now to say), that the military officers were, by the favour of the law officers, saved even from trial. The Grand Jury (which it is asserted was packed) ignored the bills; and then the Governor, in direct opposition to the feelings of the people, issued a general order, praising the officers and the soldiers who had thus killed the unoffending passengers. The public mind was wrought into a flame by this proceeding; and the House of Assembly spent much time last Session in prosecuting a very minute investigation of the matter, and the publication of the evidence laid before them did not a little tend to heighten the exasperation of the people, and to sharpen their jealous feelings against the Executive and the Judiciary.
While the public were thus in a state of fermentation from these various causes, the right hon. Secretary came into office. The first matter in which he has given such bitter offence to the people of the province, is that relating to the Address of the House of Assembly, respecting the Legislative Council. Every person who has reflected on the composition of this Council must at once admit, that it is in the highest degree mischievous and absurd in its present constitution. For this there might be cited many authorities, and among these the opinion of a Committee of this House, appointed to inquire into the state of the province. There is also another authority, who uses these words respecting the Legislative Council.
How ill that Council had discharged that office, they might judge from the papers before them. The members of that Council, upon every occasion, had enrolled themselves on the side of the Government, and against the people; they stood as an important screen between the Government and the people; they neither repelled the people on the one side, nor impelled the executive on the other; but while they enabled the one to maintain the war against the other, they were the means of keeping up a continual system of jarring and contention between the Government and the people. This Council was the root of all the evils which had taken place in the administration there during the last ten or fifteen years. - Hansard (new series) xix. p. 337.
These words, perhaps, the House may know were spoken by the right hon. Secretary in 1828, while he was on this side of the House. But I will not press this opinion. I certainly do not attach much weight to it; and I dare say the right hon. Secretary has seen reason on this occasion, as on many others, to repent the rash and careless expressions he has used. He must bear in mind, however, that the world out of doors are not always in a position so well to appreciate the worth of his opinions. The people, unfortunately may suppose expressions to be the result of deep consideration, and to proceed from a desire to promote the great interests of the people, which are, in fact, but hasty talk; and for the purpose of disturbing an existing Ministry. The people, dazzled by his position, and his name, would fancy, that then his opinions were of worth, as resulting from a deep conviction of the mischievous effects of the institution in question, while he, himself, would hold them at nought, deeming them either the rash expression of an inconsiderate youth, or the common places of a ready partisan. With the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, I am content to dismiss this his opinion, as not worthy regard. But, nevertheless, he must not be surprised, if the world then misled, should now charge him with tergiversation—with advocating one set of opinions when out of place, and another when admitted to office. It did so happen, however, that the persons best able to form a correct judgment coincided in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman. They also saw, that the Legislative Council was the bad and mischievous part of the Constitution; and seeing this, and actually feeling its evil effects, the House of Assembly sought to effect some change in the composition of this mischievous body; and in so doing, be it remembered, they but followed the suggestions of the Committee appointed by this House in 1828.
But now, Sir, it may be objected by the right hon. Secretary, that there was no need to seek for any alteration in that body, as the Government had already, in compliance with the opinion of the Committee, essentially altered the composition of the Legislative Council, by promoting to it various persons resident in the colony. I, however, will anticipate this objection, by asserting that this change was one in name merely, and not for the better. The evils complained of in the composition of the Legislative Council were, that, as now constituted, that body had interests diametrically opposed to the interests of the people—that neither by birth, by predilections, nor by property were they connected with the people of the country, and the object of the House of Assembly was to make them so. The Government, it is true, had promoted certain persons to the Legislative Council; but the determinations of that body they well knew, would be precisely the same as before. But what they knew the people also knew—and knowing were disgusted; they saw that a trick was played upon them. These people are a practical and sagacious—they are a downright and plain straightforward people—not to be duped by such a vulgar artifice. I will trouble the House with the opinion of the House of Assembly as to the supposed ameliorations of the Legislative Council.
[The hon. Member read certain Resolutions of the House of Assembly in which they condemned in very strong terms the Legislative Council, as composed at present.]
In accordance with the opinions expressed in this last Resolution, the House of Assembly proposed to the right hon. Secretary, through the Governor, that in order to learn what really were the wishes of the people, a body of persons should be called together, after having been elected by the people, in order simply to determine this single matter—namely, what alteration they desired in the Legislative Council. This plan was proposed—first, to learn distinctly the opinions of the people—it having been asserted by a certain party in the country, that the body of the people desired no change; second, to ensure a quiet and deliberate consideration of a very grave matter. For, as the Representatives in this case would be charged with one matter alone, and acting under a very serious responsibility, it was believed, that they would be the more likely to give it a singular and complete attention. Now, this body thus proposed to be called together by one person or other was unfortunately termed a "Convention". The right hon. Secretary immediately called it a "National Convention", and straightway there danced before his imagination the recollection of the French Revolution and the disastrous year of 93—and Gensonné, Guadet, and Louvet, Robespierre, Danton, and the revolutionary leaders and deeds of that day all rushed upon his mind, and, in an agony of terror and indignation, he penned the following pithy despatch to Lord Aylmer respecting the proposal of the House of Assembly.
I have also laid before the King the addresses of the House of Assembly. I cannot pass over this document without observation. The object of this address is to pray his Majesty to sanction a national convention of the people of Canada, for the purpose of superseding the legislative authorities, and taking into their consideration in which of two modes the constitution of Lower Canada shall be altogether destroyed; whether by the introduction of the elective principle, or by the entire abolition of the Legislative Council. On the mode proposed, his Majesty is willing to put no harsher construction than that of extreme inconsiderateness; to the object sought to be obtained his Majesty can never be advised to assent, as deeming it inconsistent with the very existence of monarchical institutions. To every measure which may secure the independence, and raise the character of the Legislative Council, his Majesty will be most ready to assent.
In 1828, a Committee of the House of Commons carefully investigated the grievances alleged by the inhabitants of the Canadas, and amongst them the constitution of the Legislative Council was a matter of serious deliberation. The Committee reported that one of the most important subjects to which their inquiries had been directed, was the state of the Legislative Council in both the Canadas, and the manner in which those Assemblies had answered the purposes for which they were instituted. The Committee strongly recommended that a more independent character should be given to those bodies; that the majority of their members should not consist of persons holding offices at the pleasure of the Crown; and that any other measures that might tend to connect more intimately that branch of the Constitution with the interests of the colonies, would be attended with the greatest advantage. With respect to the Judges, with the exception only of the Chief Justice, whose presence on particular occasions might be necessary, the Committee entertained no doubt, that they had better not be involved in the political business of the House. An examination of the constitution of the body at that period and the present, will sufficiently shew in what spirit his Majesty's Government have laboured to accomplish the wishes of Parliament.
The House of Assembly state correctly, that it has often been avowed, that the people of Canada could see nothing in the institutions of neighbouring countries to which they should look with envy. I have yet to learn that his Majesty's subjects in Canada entertain such sentiments at present, or that they desire to copy in a monarchical government all the institutions of a republic, or to have the mockery of an executive, absolutely dependent for its existence upon a popular body usurping the whole authority of the State. I am not prepared to advise his Majesty to recommend to Parliament so serious a step as the repeal of the Act of 1791, whereby the institutions of this country were conferred separately upon the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. Serious as are the difficulties by which your Lordship's administration is beset, they are yet not such as to induce me to despair of the practical working of the British Constitution; but should events unhappily force upon Parliament the exercise of its supreme authority to compose the internal dissensions of the colonies, it would be my object and my duty, as a servant of the Crown, to submit to Parliament such modifications of the charter of the Canadas as should tend, not to the introduction of institutions inconsistent with monarchical government, but to maintaining and strengthening the connexion with the mother-country, by a close adherence to the spirit of the British Constitution, and by preserving, in their proper place, and within their due limits, the mutual rights and privileges of all classes of his Majesty's subjects.
I would now beg the House to weigh this matter rather more carefully than the right hon. Gentleman has done, and endeavour to learn how Monarchy and Monarchical Institutions are to be destroyed by the simple, and I think, extremely proper method suggested by the House of Assembly. It appears that the House of Commons, itself supposed to be a democratic body, proposes that alterations should be made in a particular portion of the provincial Government—what alterations it did not, however, specify. Well, then, in order to learn what those alterations should be, the House of Assembly proposes that a body of persons should be elected by those most interested in the matter, and by those certainly best able to judge of the wants and wishes of the people; viz. the people themselves, in order to suggest the requisite changes. What is there in this subversive of Monarchy? It was not sought to make this body a Sovereign Legislative Assembly—it was not intended to supersede the King, Lords, and Commons; but it was intended to give the Imperial Legislature the best means of learning the wishes of the people and their actual wants in the matter of Government.
This, I again assert, was a wise and considerate proceeding, and in no way deserving the rebuke and reproaches which the right hon. Secretary too rashly hazarded. But let us suppose for a moment that this plan was not a wise one. What shall we think of the tone and manner of the despatch which condemned it? Had the right hon. Secretary considered for a moment he must have been aware that the people of Canada were not copying revolutionary France, but quiet and well-governed America. He would have remembered, that every day almost in the United States bodies are thus chosen to determine particular questions, and the people of Canada sought only to follow a plan which, on the opposite frontiers, they saw pursued by the most sagacious and best governed people on the earth. Would he not (if acting wisely and calmly), even if he differed from the House of Assembly, have expressed in very temperate language his dissent—have stated quietly his reasons for dissent—have pointed out some other, and what to him appeared a wiser plan? But he did none of these things. He at once, and without disguise, accuses a whole body of representatives, who had been acting in the solemn discharge of a sacred duty, with desiring to overthrow the Constitution of their country. He accuses them of wishing to introduce republican measures, as if by that epithet he at once condemned the plan proposed, and then, without further ado, he violently threatens them with a second edition of his Irish Coercion Bill. It is idle to mince the matter. We know very well what that round-about phrase was intended to signify. It meant threats—threats of changing their form of government—threats of taking away power from the popular branch of the Legislature;—and why was all this angry language used? Simply because the House of Assembly had proposed a mode of learning the people's wishes and wants which was distasteful to the right hon. Secretary.
Now, Sir, what was the answer of the House of Assembly to this rash and inconsiderate menace. Just what any one acquainted with the people would have expected—just what any high-spirited body would have given; and, for my part, had they given any other, they would have had my contempt, and not, as now, my sympathy. It was this:
That this House, and the people whom it represents, do not wish or intend to convey any threat; but that, relying as they do on the principles of law and justice, they are and ought to be politically strong enough not to be exposed to receive insult from any man whomsoever, or bound to suffer it in silence; that the style of the said extracts from the despatches of the Colonial Secretary, as communicated to this House, is insulting and inconsiderate to such a degree, that no legally-constituted body, although its functions were infinitely subordinate to those of Legislation, could or ought to tolerate them: that no similar example can be found even in the despatches of those of his predecessors in office, least favourable to the rights of the colonies: that the tenor of the said despatches is incompatible with the rights and privileges of this House, which ought not to be called in question or defined by the Colonial Secretary, but which, as occasion may require, will be successfully promulgated and enforced by this House.
That with regard to the following expressions in one of the said despatches, "should events unhappily force upon Parliament the exercise or his supreme authority to compose the internal dissension of the Colonies, it would be my object and my duty, as a servant of the Crown, to submit to Parliament, such modifications of the charter of the Canadas as should, tend, not to the introduction of institutions inconsistent with Monarchical Government, but to maintaining and strengthening the connexion with the mother-country by a close adherence to the spirit of the British Constitution, and by preserving in their proper place, and within their due limits, the mutual rights and privileges of all classes of his Majesty's subjects;" if they are to be understood as containing a threat to introduce into the constitution and other modifications than such as are asked for by the majority of the people of this province, whose sentiments cannot be legitimately expressed by any other authority than its representatives, this House would esteem itself wanting in candour to the people of England, if it hesitated to call their attention to the fact, that in less than twenty years the population of the United States of America will be as much greater than that of Great Britain, as that of British America will be greater than that of the former English colonies, when the latter deemed that the time was come to decide that the inappreciable advantage of governing themselves, instead of being governed, ought to engage them to repudiate a system of colonial government, which was, generally speaking, much better than that of British America now is.
But, says the right hon. Secretary, they had a republican intent in view; they desired to destroy the Monarchical character of the Constitution, by proposing to make the Legislative Council elective by the people. To make it, in fact, similar to those Republican Senates which are to be found in the Constitution of the United States. Let us learn what is the worth of all this outcry. I would observe, however, for myself, by way of preliminary remark, that I do not advocate an elective Council—a double Chamber appears to me a clumsy contrivance—a mode of increasing the defects always attendant on legislative bodies, by multiplying the number of the persons composing them. The Council, in my eyes, is a nuisance; and my way of getting rid of a nuisance, is simply to abate it—in other words, to clear it away entirely. I would utterly abolish the Legislative Council, and set up nothing in its stead, leaving the Government composed of the Governor and the House of Assembly. It appears, however, that certain persons proposed to have an elective Council, and here-upon the fright arises respecting Monarchy. Let me ask of the right hon. Gentleman, if Monarchy is supposed to be of such a nature as necessarily to entail a nuisance on the people? Is a badly-constituted second branch of the Legislature necessary to the maintenance of Monarchy? because, if it be so, I will meet the right hon. Secretary at once, and declare, that the more rapidly the one and the other are got rid of the better. If we cannot maintain our dominion over our colonies without also maintaining a scourge, our dominion is a curse; and if the people be wise, they will cast us and the Legislative Council off at the same time.
But, Sir, there is, I assert, no such necessity. I assume, that the Government of England has no intentions hostile to the interest of the people of the colony. I assume, also, that the House of Assembly will know, and will endeavour to attain, what is most conducive to the welfare of their constituents; therefore, I say, it follows necessarily, that the wishes of the English Government, and those of the House of Assembly, will be identical. That, to bolster up a good dominion, such a mischievous institution as the Legislative Council is utterly unnecessary; that it is useful only to bad purposes, and an incumbrance even when it acts most wisely. Does any one believe, that our dominion over the Canadas is maintained by some score of mischief-making old men, collected together, and called a Legislative Council? The Governor is not strengthened by them;—he would not be weaker in reality were they abolished to-morrow. How, then, I should like to know, is this body necessary to monarchy? But it may be said, allow two bodies of the Legislature to be chosen by the people, and you make the people paramount. I ask, in answer to this,—do you desire things different from what the people desire? If you do, you seek to establish bad government. If you do, you make bad government and Monarchy in this case identical. I, having a better opinion of the intentions of the English Government, suppose it to wish what the people wish, and, so wishing, that it would act in harmony with the people's Representatives, whether sitting in two Chambers or one. Therefore, I say, this supposed proposal of an Elective Council is, in no ways, opposed to monarchical institutions; and that it only seeks to establish a good for a pernicious institution.
The right hon. Secretary, however, was not content with thus declaring war against the Assembly generally. He took care to quarrel with them in a matter peculiarly relating to their own privileges. The House of Assembly is fond of imitating the proceedings of this House; and, in order to ensure the purity and independence of the Members, it was determined to take a precaution which this House has established. In the year 1680, this House passed the following Resolution:
That no Member of this House shall accept of any office or place of profit from the Crown without the leave of this House, or of any promise of any such office or place of profit during such time as he shall continue a Member of this House. Resolved, that all offenders herein shall be expelled this House.
The House of Assembly, in imitation of this, resolved, that all Members accepting place should vacate their seats, thereby making their constitution, in this particular, similar to our own. Some time since, Mr. Mondelet, being a Member, did accept of office; and the House declared, that he thereby vacated his seat, and called upon the Governor to issue a new writ for the county of Montreal. The Governor refused, and reported his refusal to the right hon. Secretary, who thereupon sent him a despatch, approving of his refusal to affix his name to the new writ for Montreal.
[The hon. Member read the despatch.]
It is quite evident, that the right hon. Secretary was egregiously in error, when he asserted, that the House of Commons never arrogated to itself this power. I have quoted this instance; and this proof of his own fallibility will, I hope, lead him to judge of others in future with something more of mildness. The tone of this despatch, like the one I have already read, is, in the highest degree, unworthy of any one claiming the character of a statesman. This sneering comparison of the knowledge and prudence of the House of Commons, and of the House of Assembly, was more fitted for the flippant critique of a review, than the grave document of a responsible Officer; and this comparison, too, is made in favour of a body who passed, nemine contradicente, the resolution I have above quoted, who expelled Wilkes, and who, twelve years afterwards, expunged the record of that expulsion from their Journals. Surely, surely the right hon. Secretary must study a little more carefully the history of his country, and learn to be less hasty and positive in assertion, when he finds that he has thus grossly erred. But what said the Assembly to this? Their answer was directly in the teeth of the right hon. Gentleman's assertions.
[The hon. Member quoted some other resolutions of the House of Assembly.]
The result, then, of all this imprudence on the part of the right hon. Gentleman is, that the province now is, in reality, without a Government. The three bodies of the Legislature are at open war, and no communication exists between them. In the Executive the Governor is powerless, for no monies have been granted; and besides, the Governor has utterly lost the confidence of the people. In addition to this, the Judiciary is vehemently suspected by the whole province; so that, in fact, the administration of justice may be said to be at a stand.
And now, Sir, I ask, amid all this confusion, what is to be done? The right hon. Secretary has refused the plan proposed by the House of Assembly; and by his proceedings generally, he and his officer, the Governor, have put the country into a flame. A revolution (I will not hide it from the House) is at hand; and here comes the question,—what ought this House to do? Is it not, I ask, high time that we should carefully investigate the matter, and afford the people some means of redress—the Executive some means of exculpation? Is it not the height of madness to allow the confusion to continue, without inquiring whether the House is inclined to agree with the opinions which I have expressed respecting the conduct of the Home and Colonial Governments?
I think, then, I have made out a sufficient case for the House to grant me the Committee which I ask. I have shown, beyond all doubt, that, whether wisely or unwisely, I shall not now ask, the provinces are in a state nearly approaching to revolution. I have explained, that the cause of this great excitement was a belief existing in the minds of the people of the colonies that their Government is a bad one. I have shown how necessarily they must be led to make comparisons between their own condition and the happy state of the American Republics; and that, therefore, it is highly necessary, if we desire to retain a peaceable dominion, that we should give the colonists every opportunity of expressing their complaints, and of seeking redress for their supposed grievances, through the ready intervention of the Imperial Legislature.
On these grounds, I say, Sir, if we be governed by the dictates of a sound and benevolent policy, we shall unhesitatingly grant the Committee which I ask for, and allow the people to bring their complaints before us in a direct and straightforward manner. I hope, therefore, whatever else the right hon. Secretary may say on this occasion, he will not oppose the Resolution with which I intend to conclude.
Before closing the observations which I have deemed it my duty to make, I would solemnly appeal to the prudence of the right hon. Gentleman, whose opinions will, I know, guide the determination of this House. I would beseech him to pause and reflect upon the consequences that will follow any rash declaration of hostility; and would earnestly entreat of him to listen to the dictates rather of a calm and sane policy, than the rash impulses of an impetuous temper. Let him recollect, that the great Republic of America, with her swarming citizens,—adventurous, wary, and sagacious,—is the close neighbour of our Canadian subjects; that thirteen millions of enthusiastic Republicans will watch with intense interest, and with selfish views, any dispute that takes place between the colonies and the mother country. Let him also be certain, that, if any rupture takes place between us, the colonists will ask, and will indubitably receive, assistance from their all-powerful neighbours. And on what terms will that assistance be granted? But on one only:—that the Canadians become part of the great Federal Republic. And when this event shall take place, who is there that, on surveying the vast possessions of this already but too formidable power, but will tremble for the fate of England. From the North Pole to the Sea of Mexico,—from the Atlantic to the Pacific,—will her gigantic territories extend. With a coast unequalled in the whole habitable globe,—with wise and beneficent institutions,—with a well-instructed and sagacious people, where shall we fix the limits of her power?—where find a check to her over-whelming force? The fleets of England will dwindle into insignificance,—her naval supremacy will shrink into obedient servitude to her Transatlantic offspring. The day is not far distant which will see this prophecy fulfilled, if we rashly drive into rebellion the provinces of Canada.
If we yield to their wishes, on the other hand, we may bind them to us by the gentle, but firm bonds of friendship,—we may foster them by time into an opposing power to the giant strength of America, and may erect in the more northern territories of that happy Continent a rival to the United States in force, in commerce, and in happiness. Gentle treatment—wise conciliation—will effect this. Any rash and impetuous contempt of their desires will revive the disastrous days of 1774; and the colonies now, as then, will, with arms in their hands, at once and for ever, proclaim themselves independent of our dominion. Woe to that Minister who leads us to this result!
The hon. Member concluded by moving "The appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the means of remedying the evils which exist in the form of the Governments now existing in Upper and Lower Canada."
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