John Arthur Roebuck's Speech in the British House of Commons on March 6, 1837
John Arthur Roebuck, agent of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, made this speech in opposition to the Home Secretary's Ten Resolutions Relative to the Affairs of Canada. The Hansard transcript of the whole debate can be read here.
A few nights since, in the very place I now stand, I found myself advocating, in conjunction with his Majesty's Ministers, justice to Ireland. I did so, and I would fain have hoped that they did so, not in obedience to any pressing exigency, not for the sake of present expediency, but in accordance with the great, lasting, and universal principles of legislation, with those principles which teach us that if we desire the people to be well governed, we must allow them to govern themselves.
This hope, however, has been raised only to be disappointed; a week has not passed before my illusion has been destroyed, and I am compelled to see that we in vain desire such conduct from men in office amongst us, for they have neither the capacity nor the courage to be consistent. We have now before us a case in all its leading, all its important, particulars parallel to that of Ireland. We have, as I shall immediately prove, the same difficulties to overcome, the same prejudices to face, and yet I now find new and very different principles invoked, a very different conduct pursued. "England," said the noble Lord a few nights since, "has justice because she is inhabited by Englishmen. Scotland, because inhabited by Scotchmen." Let me finish his sentence. "Canada has justice denied her, because inhabited by Canadians." The same necessity does not press upon the Government, in the case of Canada, as now bears them down with regard to Ireland. They render justice upon compulsion; and not dreading any pressure from without to force them to be just to a distant colony, they follow their usual habit, the natural bent of their inclinations, and refuse justice to Canada.
I appeal, however, from the decision of the Government, to the people of England. I appeal to the people of Ireland—to the hon. Member for Kilkenny, and his friends in this House, I also appeal. We have fought their battle, the battle of Ireland, manfully, and without flinching. That fight still rages! If we are to hope for success, we must prove, by our steady love and pursuit of justice; that we deserve it. If we desire justice for Ireland, we must show ourselves ready to grant it to a suffering colony. We must prove ourselves above the paltry prejudices of national hostility. If we seek justice for Irishmen, who are our subjects, we must not deny it to Canadians, who are our subjects also. The cause of Canada and Ireland are the same—it is the cause of self-government and religious liberty—it is the cause of the suffering many who resist the overbearing insolence of a "miserable monopolising minority."
I call, then, upon all those who have fought the good fight for our suffering fellow-citizens across the Irish Channel, to extend the range of their benevolence, and prove, that if our dominion reaches beyond the broad Atlantic, so also does our justice, and that our desire for good government is co-extensive with our empire. I have said, that the cause of Canada and Ireland are the same. I will prove that assertion, and show, that the enemies of the majority in both countries proceed upon the same principles, have the same ends in view, while the people whom they seek to oppress, are in all particulars labouring under similar difficulties. Canada and Ireland have both been conquered by England; the majority of the people in both countries are of the Roman Catholic persuasion; and in both countries a small minority, who call themselves English, have hitherto domineered over, and insulted the people at large, whom they always stigmatise as foreigners and aliens. By the power of England, this monopolising minority has been supported in both countries. The English Established Church has been excited, and an attempt has been made to create religious as well as national discord. When at length reform has been loudly called for, the interests of the minority have been set up in opposition to the cry for justice: the minority has been called English, and its interests falsely identified with those of England—the majority has been branded as foreigners and aliens, and their interests have been held up to public prejudice and hate, as hostile to those of England. In the one case the Ministry seek to support the cry for justice—in the other they oppose it. The only reason that I can find for this discrepancy is, that they love not justice for her own sake, but are her friends and supporters by necessity.
I will now, with the permission of the House, lay the case of Canada before them. As shortly as I am able, I will relate the history of her wrongs, describe the claims she now makes for justice, and explain and answer the reasons which are adduced, in order to lead us to refuse her righteous and oft-reiterated demands. The House must bear in mind, that the present discussion relates solely to Lower Canada. The case of the Upper province is a separate matter, that must hereafter occupy our attention.
In the year 1791, the then province of Quebec was divided into two separate colonies, the one called Upper, the other Lower Canada. Lower Canada was then, as now, chiefly inhabited by persons descended from French proprietors, and was governed, as respected civil law, according to the Customs of Paris. By 31 Geo. 3rd, c. 31, a constitution was granted to Lower Canada, in form something similar to our own, in substance widely different. The Government was tripartite—1. There was a Governor, representing not the King, but, in reality, being the mere lieutenant of the Colonial Minister. Not, indeed, responsible to the people, but wholly subject to the ministry at home: in nothing did he resemble the King in England. He was merely the lieutenant of the Colonial Minister. I do not mean Lord Glenelg; but I mean certain parties who inhabit a certain office in Downing street; and I doubt not there is a certain person siting under that gallery who is the real colonial minister. 2. There was a Legislative Council, called the upper House; but in nothing else resembling the House of Lords, having no wealth, no estates, and chosen for life, chiefly from among the official ranks. They thus constitute a faction, having no natural ties or influence in the country; and, thirdly and lastly, there was created a House of Assembly, which really represents the whole population. Such was the constitution.
I will now proceed to detail the consequences of creating it. The real history of the present discontents, the circumstances which have given birth to all the existing disquietude, as well as the great principles really involved in the discussion, are all carefully kept in the back ground by those who favour the present ministerial scheme; and this House is now called upon to act blindfold in a most delicate and difficult case.
I will now endeavour to state for the information of the House—briefly, indeed, but I hope clearly—the real story of this 1338 long-continued and dangerous strife. Some years after the constitution I have just described was granted to the Canadians, they became fully sensible of the value of the gift, and determined to use it to the purposes for which it was intended. This determination quickly brought out the latent errors that had been committed in the construction of their Government. The sinister interests of the Legislative Council were at once brought to light, as well as the mischievous power which the constitution gave of successfully promoting them. The House of Assembly desired to relieve the mother country from all unnecessary burdens, and sought to take charge of their own peculiar concerns. To this end, in the year 1810, they demanded permission to provide for their own civil expenditure. The House of Commons may not know that within the lifetime of most of its members there were committed acts by the English rulers of Canada very similar to those which this House had to bear in the reign of Charles the first. For the demand of the House of Assembly three of its Members were sent to gaol by Sir James Craig, and were eventually contemptuously turned out of prison, without trial or explanation.
It may be demanded of me why this outrage was committed. The answer to the question is the key to all the future discontents and disputes, and explains the present condition of the province. The official people of Canada dreaded responsibility to the House of Assembly. They, therefore, at the outset thus violently opposed the demands which they clearly saw necessarily brought with them this disagreeable condition. The great expenditure of England, and the pressing difficulties of our position during the great struggle with Napoleon, at length compelled the colonial Government to accept the offer of the Canadian representatives; but the official tribe did not lose their fear of responsibility, and therefore determined to lessen the evil they could not wholly avoid. Three several plans to this end were devised, and these three plans are at this moment in full force, and are about to be carried partially into effect by the noble Lord. The one was, first to demand that the monies to pay the expenses of the Government should be voted in one sum, in what was then termed en bloc leaving the distribution of the several salaries and items in the Executive Government. To this demand the House of 1339 Assembly would not accede, and now was shown the real character of the Legislative Council. That body determined to receive no appropriation Bill unless the money were voted en bloc. A disgraceful fight was maintained on this point by the official party, aided by the colonial minister, and using the Legislative Council as their weapon of attack and defence. The justice of the Assembly's demands, however, eventually prevailed, and the civil expenses were allowed to be voted by items.
The next scheme after this failure was somewhat more artfully concocted. It was determined to demand a permanent civil list—one for the life of the sovereign. This was also resisted: and the House of Assembly was again successful. It was then proposed to have a civil list for a term of years. To this again the House of Assembly has repeatedly refused to accede, and their determination on this head is now as firm as ever. The House saw plainly what was the real intent of the scheme proposed; and as they determined that the public officers should be responsible to the representatives of the people, they wisely refused to permit this scheme to be carried into effect. I shall hereafter have to discuss this matter, when speaking of the plan of the noble Lord.
The third scheme to which I have alluded had the same end in view, viz., to escape from the disagreeable responsibility to the House of Assembly which threatened the official party. The scheme consisted in separating the revenues of the provinces into two distinct classes, and withdrawing one class wholly from the control of the Assembly. The House of Assembly saw through this scheme also, and again wisely determined to bring every portion of the revenue derived from the people of the province under their own control. The struggle of the two parties was, on these two points, carried on between the representatives of the people, strong to defend the public interests, and to make the public servants responsible; and by the official tribe, endeavouring to fight off this painful scrutiny, and to maintain their long-enjoyed and pleasant freedom from any check or control. Let this House bear in mind that they are now called upon to decide which of these two parties have justice on their side. In carrying out their determination to make public officers responsible, the House of Assembly demanded to see the accounts of the Receiver-general of the province. Now, I beg the serious attention of the House to this history, as it shows the real purposes and principles of the two contending parties. Hon. Members will hardly believe, that these accounts were for a long series of years steadily refused. At length, however, the House was determined to bring the question to issue, and they refused supplies. This proceeding forced the Governor-general, Lord Dalhousie, to draw, in spite of himself, upon the Receiver-general, who was then found to be a defaulter to the amount of 100,000l. I now entreat the House to remark upon the peculiar points of this case. Here was a public servant refusing to show his accounts. Who supported him in his contumacy? The Executive or Legislative Councils, the official party—brother officials—with the Governor at their head. And in what did they support him? In hiding his bankruptcy—in robbing the public. Let me inform the House that this debt, amounting to 150,000l. principal and interest is still unpaid. So far as regards one of these immaculate gentlemen, the official people of Lower Canada. This struggle respecting the Receiver-general continuing, and the House refusing to furnish any supplies but in items and annually, and also demanding to see the accounts, Lord Dalhousie was left without any money legally at his disposal; he, nevertheless, put his hand into the public coffers, and, without legal warrant, used it.
This outrage, as it was then deemed—though later times have effaced, by repetition, the notion of its being an outrage—raised the anger of the Assembly to such a point that they determined to petition the Imperial Parliament, stating their grievances, and requiring at their hands a remedy. In 1828, in consequence of this petition, a Committee sat to inquire into the situation of Lower Canada, and that Committee, though of an unreformed Parliament, justified entirely the House of Assembly, severely rebuked the Governor, and proposed to do, what the noble Lord now proposes—to reform the Legislative Council. At that time had the reform proposed been honestly carried out, this change in the character of the Legislative Council would have satisfied the people of Canada. Now no such palliation will be sufficient. They have learned by subsequent experience that reforms are not to be expected from 1341 Downing-street, and they in their next petition demanded a complete change in the constitution of the second charter. The reason of this demand was the nonperformance on the part of the Government of its promise to reform the colonial administration. All the former abuses were suffered to exist, and to increase, and new ones have been added. The House again petitioned, and no redress was granted. They thereupon again stopped the supplies, and have resolved not to grant money till their grievances are redressed.
I will now shortly state what their grievances are, and what is the plan which they propose as a remedy, and contrast it with that now submitted to us by the noble Lord. The grievances I am about to enumerate are elaborately set forth in ninety-two resolutions of the House of Assembly. I admit they are too numerous; their grievances might have been summed up in two words—"bad government." To those resolutions the House still adheres, so that I cannot be said to act on this matter without authority.
1. The first class of grievances relates to finance. The House of Assembly complains that a revenue is raised from the people without their consent that the control of the provincial revenue is withdrawn from the House—and that accounts have hitherto been denied.
2. The second class of grievances relate to the administration of justice. The judges are wholly irresponsible, and the present disgraceful situation of the judicial bench proves the necessity of an immediate and searching reform. They complain, moreover, that all judicial reforms by which justice may be made cheap and easily accessible—have been refused by the Legislative Council.
3. The House complains that the revenues which ought to have been devoted to public instruction have been diverted from that end. The Jesuits' estates belong to the public, but have been usurped by the official party and applied to their own uses. The House complains bitterly of this enormous grievance; moreover, they further complain that 1,600 primary schools have been closed by the Legislative Council, acting from party and personal pique.
4. They further complain that the British Parliament interferes with internal concerns; and,
5. They assert that the general administration of the Government is mischievous, creating jealousies, distrusts, and alarm, doing many things which it ought not to do, and leaving undone those things which it ought to do. They complain, in fact, that they are deprived of the Government of their own affairs, and they say that they are made the prey of a faction, who cajole the people of England, and rob the people of Canada.
Such being the evil, the House of Assembly thought it necessary to suggest a remedy. Knowing well the seat of the disease, their remedy is applied to the really peccant part, and would, if adopted, completely eradicate the evil. The evil is the irresponsibility of the public servants; the means by which this irresponsibility has been maintained is the Legislative Council. This council is responsible to no one, and therefore recklessly pursues its own interest, and treats with contempt the interests of the province. The House of Assembly, therefore, proposes to render this body elective, thus making it responsible to the people, and depriving it of that reckless and mischievous character which now distinguishes it. They propose further to this House to repeal the Canadas Tenures Act, and the Act creating a Land Company, because such Acts interfere with their internal Government. And, lastly, they require, that all the revenues of the province should be subjected to the control of the provincial legislature.
I will immediately proceed to the discussion of certain objections which have been urged to this plan, but before I do so I would beg of the House to compare the enormous extent of the difficulties of the case before us, and then to estimate the worth of those inadequate remedies proposed by the noble Lord. The representatives of a great colony have repeatedly petitioned for redress. You have told them that you would give all due attention to their complaints, and to that end you sent out an expensive commission to investigate their grievances. The people told you long since, and your own Commissioners tell you, that the points in dispute are great questions of policy, involving principles upon which rests the whole science of government. You are told that a people complain of the responsibility of its public servants. You hear that supplies have been refused by a vote almost unanimous of the House of Assembly. You see that demands are made to remedy a defective constitution, and the noble Lord brings before your notice a pitiful evasion of the whole matter in dispute —a sort of cut-purse remedy, "Rob me the Exchequer, Hal," being his motto and rule upon the occasion. He proposes merely to pay certain arrears of salary, to destroy thus the moral force of the Assembly, and to leave the whole evil without the least remedy or check. The coming year must bring back every difficulty; again arrears will exist; again supplies will be refused; again the Legislative Council will be complained of; and again the official tribe will send their hirelings across the Atlantic, and rouse the sympathies of their brother officials in Downing-street.
Compare, I say, this paltry expedient, this shuffling and disgraceful evasion of the difficulty, with the bold, honest, and comprehensive plan of the Assembly. You may call yourselves statesmen, and fancy yourselves superior to the people whom you are about to insult; but the day is not far off when your puny efforts, your pretences at legislation, will receive the scorn they so richly merit, and contempt will be duly reflected from the measures to their authors. Look, too, Sir, at the machinery which has been employed to produce this mighty project of legislative wisdom. Not content with the statements of the people's representatives, you sent out an expensive commission to make inquiries, and now propose to do what you could have as easily have done two years since. Have all your inquiries had this effect alone? Have your three special Commissioners done nothing more than this? Has all their wisdom, and that of the ministry to boot, been able to suggest no wiser plan than this pitiful pettifogging chicane? In good truth, Sir, spite of my indignation, I cannot help pitying the degraded position both of the Government and their Commission in this wretched proceeding.
Having mentioned the Commission and the Commissioners, I will here express my opinion of themselves, their proceedings, and their production. The very appointment of the Commission was in itself an insult to the people with their representatives at their head. You had given the people a constitution, and the representatives have the marked confidence of their constituents. This body often sent back to the people, and as often re-elected, set forth their measures and their demands, and you in answer sent out a body of Commissioners to make inquiries as to the truth of the Assembly's complaints. That is, you set aside the statements of the natural leaders of the people —of persons born among them, well knowing their failings, wants, and wishes,— acquainted with their manners and their laws—and you sent out these gentlemen from this country to supersede the House of Assembly in their function of representation, the grievances of the people, to the Throne and to Parliament. Now the first inquiry necessarily must be, is there any peculiar knowledge or certainty in these persons to fit them for this invidious position? Before we can answer such a question we must know what was the subject matter of their inquiries. Let it be remembered that the subject matter of inquiry was here twofold—
1st. A great practical difficulty arising in the government of a colony under very novel and intricate circumstances;
2nd, A body of very complicated laws which are said to require reform. This body of laws is composed of the old Roman or, as it is called, the civil law, of the Customs of Paris as existing in the seventeenth century, certain portions of the English common law, of the English statute law, of ordonnances, and provincial statutes.
Now, who do we send there in these difficult and intricate affairs? Men bred to the study of government as a practical science—of jurisprudence, of positive law? No, no. The first commissioner is a sort of country squire—a peer, indeed, but in his habits and education a mere country gentleman, whose knowledge of the Pandects is probably confined to the fact that they were compiled by Justinian; neither can he be supposed to know much of Canadian law. Sir George Gipps is a soldier; and Sir Charles Grey, though an East Indian judge, cannot be expected to know more than his Colleagues. They have been extolled because of opposite political sentiments; and the Report on your table, evinces the greatly beneficial result of quarrelling commissioners. Sir George Gipps has a leading towards liberality; Sir Charles Grey is a high Tory; and as for poor Lord Gosford, he seems to have led a disagreeable life, between the snarling Whig and the arrogant Tory, and was evidently distressed to choose between the two, knowing nothing of the subject matter of dispute. Such is your piebald commission, which superseded the Representatives of the people in their duty of discovering and explaining the grievances and wants of the community.
And what has the Commission done? It has done just what I predicted it would do—spent money, and gained no information. Look at the Report—I hope hon. Members have read it. The noble Lord, indeed, thought fit, in his official capacity, to give it official praise: but, unburthened by any conventional authority, I am bound to say, that a more unworthy document was never laid upon your table. It sins in every possible way against the rules according to which such a document ought to be framed—confused, contradictory, illogical, insincere, containing few facts worthy of record, and no reasoning worthy of the name; it is beneath contempt; it is a disgrace to its authors, and to the Government to which it is addressed. I defy any one to point me out a single particular of importance of which the Government had not already ample information. I challenge any one to show me an argument which is not condemned by the premises stated in the volume itself. It tells no truth worth knowing—it records many falsehoods long- since refuted—it has cost a large sum of money, and will probably cost us also the colony itself.
I now, Sir, return from this digression to the consideration of the two plans of reform before us; and I first solicit the attention of the House to that proposed by the Assembly. The objects of the Assembly are twofold—
1st, they desire to make all the public functionaries responsible to the people whom they serve; and,
2nd, they desire to have subject to the control of the representatives of the people the whole of the revenue derived from and paid by them.
To these ends, the first great means is the destruction of the irresponsibility of the Legislative Council, by which, in fact, hitherto every malversation has been defended, every recusant officer protected, every abuse of whatsoever description supported. In accordance with the successful practice of their intelligent and powerful neighbours of the United States of America, the Canadian House of Assembly have endeavoured to render this second chamber elective. My own opinion on the matter has been very freely expressed to them; and I have sought to convince them that this was not, in my belief, the wisest plan—my scheme contemplated the abolition of the Council. However, to this, as far as I can ascertain it, I believe the feeling of the people to be averse. They believe that a second chamber is requisite to wise legislation, and this opinion they share in common with the large majority of those who have spoken and written on the subject. This elective council it is proposed to elect by a different mode from that by which the Assembly is chosen; and the councillors are to be eligible at a later period of life than the members of the Assembly. Their number also is to be smaller. In short, the model is, the Senate of the various legislatures of the United States.
In the Report on your table, the Commissioners, though opposed to this elective Council, are obliged to confess "that in such a country (as Canada) the people will be little inclined to respect any legislative body which does not emanate from, themselves; and that this effect must be enhanced in Lower Canada by the example of the powerful states which flourish so immediately in her neighbourhood."
Acknowledging, then, that in principle the plan of the Assembly is correct, what objection do they urge to its establishment? Merely what they are pleased to state present circumstances. If it had been asked earlier—if it had been asked later—we would have granted it; but seeing that it was asked just at the time that it was asked, we are bound to refuse your demands. To refuse what? The means of good government; means which they themselves allow to be necessary—a remedy for an abuse which they themselves admit to be a crying one. If we were to grant this demand, say the Commissioners, we should give a victory to one party—we should wound English feelings and injure English interests. They thus echo the cry of the official tribe of Canada.
They have adopted the fallacy, and to the best of their endeavours propagate the falsehood which these peculating and refractory servants have been concocting for the last four-and-twenty years. One part of this statement I allow. You will, if you grant this elective Council, give a victory to one party; so you will, if you pay these arrears, by your violent interposition. In the first case, the party to whom you will give the victory will be the people at large, demanding securities for good government; in the second case, you will give the victory to dishonest public servants, who have been plundering the people and fighting off responsibility by every effort in their power. Choose which course you will preserve. But I deny wholly the remaining portions of the Commissioners' assertions. I assert boldly that this is not a quarrel of races, but a quarrel of principle. The dishonest party choose to call themselves English, but I deny that their interests are English interests, or that race or language marks out the contending parties. I take two separate passages of the Commissioners' Report to show this.
The first passage will show that some French people join the official herd, because they, like them, have sinister interests. The second passage will show that a large body of the English have joined the popular party, because their interests, being that of the people at large, are identical. "We do not know where any persons," says the Report, "are to be found of British descent who enjoy any influence in society, and, at the same time, wish for an elective Council"—(This, while they wrote it, the Commissioners must have known to be a falsehood)—"whilst of the higher class of French Canadians, there are several who have no desire for it."
Here, then, are several of the higher class of French Canadians siding with the official party (as appears by the general Report), when we have it distinctly allowed, that all the large body of persons descended from citizens of the United States, and living in Canada, persons speaking English, are hostile to the official party. How then, I ask, could any man in his senses say, that the quarrel was a quarrel of races? But the Commissioners have had the hardihood to assert that no persons of English descent of any influence in society have joined the popular party.
What do the Commissioners say to the names of the provincial M. P.'s? The House must pardon me if I dwell on this topic. The official party, when they found their case becoming desperate, artfully invented this protest of English interests to influence the English people. They knew that prejudice against everything French, and particularly French republicanism, was strong in this country; they, therefore, have laboured industriously to make out that the popular party in Canada are French and republican; that they desire to persecute the English minority; and, that the Legislative Council has been the sole means of security for the English—the sole barrier against a persecuting majority of French Catholic republicans. It is my duty to destroy this fallacy; and, with the permission of the House, I will proceed to the task.
The population of Lower Canada is something beyond 500,000, and of these, I will allow for the present 100,000 to be persons speaking English. But this 100,000 must be classified also. There are three distinct classes of persons speaking English; first, there is the large majority of the whole who are agriculturists—now these people live chiefly in the townships by themselves, and very little intermingle with the French Canadians, and of these townships one-half, in point of numbers, have sent members to the House of Assembly, who are staunch friends of the popular party. I press this fact upon the consideration of the House. I challenge any one to deny it; and I ask how any one who is solicitous of his character as a person loving the truth can, with this fact staring him in the face, dare to assert that the question is one of race, and not of principle? I refer members who are doubtful upon this matter to the minute of Sir George Gipps at the end of the General Report.
The next section of the English-speaking minority are the merchants of Montreal and Quebec; and these merchants having, as I shall soon show, a sinister interest, they for the most part side with the third section, viz., the official people and their families.
Now I desire anxiously to know in what way the Legislative Council protects English interests; for I assume, first, that it is in the interest of England, as a nation, that the colony be well governed; and next, that the interests of the majority of the persons speaking English, are precisely the same as those of the French Canadians. Now, if these assumptions be correct, and I challenge any one to disprove them, how does it happen that for their protection an irresponsible and hitherto mischievous body is needful? These legislative Councillors have no such influence in the country, either personally or as a body— they are not the great land-owners of the country—they are powerful only because they have a veto upon all legislation.
How, then, came their peculiar, their sinister interests, so identified with those of the laborious English settler? But it may be objected, that the interests of the French and great body of English Canadians may be the same, but the French desire to persecute. They have hitherto been the persecuted. Their desire of vengeance will induce them to run counter to their interests, and ill-treat their fellow citizens speaking English. Therefore, we must give the minority power in the government equal to that of the majority. My answer to this is, that the Canadians have hitherto given no evidence of their desire to persecute; they have, in all things, proved themselves kind neighbours, hospitable hosts, firm friends to those English who have gone to their country; in none of their legislative proceedings have they shown any, the least partiality to French Canadians; they have never attempted to draw any line of distinction between the English and Canadians.
I also desire to know how, in what manner, the Legislative Council have hitherto opposed the desire to persecute? Has it been by shielding peculating officials; preventing the increase of education; fighting a disgraceful fight in favour of every abuse, and resisting reform at every step? If such conduct be a defence of English interests, then, indeed, may the Legislative Council lay claim to the character of their supporters. The House, doubtless, must be struck with the identity of the language used respecting the minority in Canada and in Ireland. In Ireland, nevertheless, we have determined to grant power to the majority—we have done nothing to shield the minority—why should we do so in Canada? Some nights since, when I attempted to give my reasons for believing that the majority would not persecute the minority, the House and his Majesty's Ministers were pleased to receive, with approbation, my arguments, and to adopt my conclusions. The same spirit which dictated the pretext in the case of Ireland set it up in that of Canada; and we, in consequence, shall treat the pretence in both cases with the scorn it richly deserves.
To show the House the identity of the two cases, I must once more quote from the Report. Not content with retaining the Legislative Council, the Commissioners entertain the inquiry of how the House of Assembly may also be made subject to the minority, and one of the Commissioners, Sir Charles Grey, tells us how he would have acted in the Irish Municipal Bill, and wishes us to treat the Canadians as he would have treated the people of Ireland.
[Here the hon. Gentleman read the passage in the General Report, containing Sir C. Grey's scheme of voting.]
I must now dismiss this topic, and turn to another, the interests of the merchants of Montreal and Quebec, about which I shall content myself with this remark. To maintain these merchants, and enable them to aid in keeping a large colony in turmoil, we consent to lose a million and a half a year by our restrictions on timber. Whether we derive corresponding benefit, let the House determine.
The last objection I shall notice at present to the plan of the Assembly, relates to their conduct on the tenures of land. In a passage I have quoted, the Commissioners insinuate that the House of Assembly is in love with antiquated feudal customs, and determined to retain a mischievous system of law. I would, in answer, remark, that Sir George Gipps, a soldier, and Lord Gosford, a country gentleman, are but little qualified to judge of the difficulties attendant on changing a law of this kind. They know nothing of the law of France, and the incidents and complicated peculiarities of the tenures they deny, and I suspect Sir Charles Grey is pretty much in the same condition. It so happens that the great body of the public desire a change, but they desire that the change should be made by their own representatives, and not by those so ignorant of the whole matter as the Imperial Parliament. For this they are abused, and a reason is hence deduced for maintaining a corrupt and corrupting body, that is itself also incapable of working out the reforms needed and desired by the people.
To the other items of the Assembly's plan I shall not now advert, but shall resume the remarks I have to offer when the separate resolutions are submitted to the Committee. I am come to the plan of the noble Lord; and I am pleased to know, respecting this whole project, the following things:—
That 1. The plan, if adopted, will be a signal and gross breach of faith on the part of this House.
2. That it is wholly inadequate according to the noble Lord's own showing; and
3. That it is unjust and impolitic.
When the disastrous consequences of the attempt to tax one of our American colonies in 1770 were dearly proved by the loss of those flourishing possessions, and the independence of the United States of America, the Legislature of this country passed a law, by which it solemnly gave up, as a great concession to a great principle, all power of taxing the colonies. That power was after this solemn concession to rest with the colonists; and in 1793 we established a constitution in the Canadas, by which we gave a means of checking the public servants of the province which we ourselves possess—a power rude indeed, and not well fitted for the end in view—I mean that of stopping the supplies. The clumsiness and inefficiency of these means resulted, however, from the nature of the constitution.
In America, where the people do really govern, the power of remedying all grievance is directly and immediately occasioned. No roundabout course is adopted. If public servants act unworthily, they are at once dismissed; if changes are desired in faulty institutions, they are immediately made. But in our colonies (in the colonies all are Tories) as in England, the people govern only by a sort of side-wind; they can if they please make bad government so uncomfortable to the governors, that to maintain grievances will prove more distasteful than even reforming them. This effect is produced by the circuitous method of stopping the supplies. This method is in strict accordance with the powers you yourselves conferred on the representatives of Canada; and you now, because you fancy yourselves strong, determine not to remedy the grievance, but to punish the representatives for believing your constitution a reality, and you selves not to be impostors. You told them you had given them a constitutional power, which you considered one beyond all price; you told them they were the House of Commons of Canada, and you now punish them for putting faith in your assertions. You are about to take upon yourselves the taxation of the people; you are about to declare that your solemn declaration in times past, a declaration wrung from you by a bitter and disgraceful experience, was a solemn farce, and that you keep your faith only so long as you are not afraid of the consequences of breaking it. What is now the value of your protestations? Your faith will be a by-word among the people and following your mischievous example, the people will obey only so long as they fear you. Need I say anything to prove the utter inadequacy of this plan?
What is the evil— what the proposed remedy according to your own statement? You declare that great misey exists among the public servants; we do not deny it. Well, miser is created, what do you propose to do? Do you propose to prevent the recurrence of the mischief? Not at all; you pay the arrears. Who will pay the servants next year. Do you believe that the House of Assembly will do so? Are you not well assured that next year will bring but the same difficulty? The grievances complained of exist, the House of Assembly exists, their feelings and their power are the same as formerly. What, then, will happen next year? You know as well as I do that the supplies will again be stopped that the same doleful outcries will again be raised by the public servants, and then, I suppose, we shall have another special commission—another delay of three years —another evasion of the difficulty— another breach of faith—and that so long as Canada is ours, discontent, distrust will continue, exasperation will increase—their powers of resistance will increase also, one effort will be made, and you and your shuffling policy, your degraded government, your unworthy, peculating, and mischievous officials will be dismissed with ignominy and hatred. Need I say any thing more to prove this proceeding unjust? You seek to punish and insult the faithful guardians of the people; you protect and sympathise only with the unworthy, recusant, and peculating servant; you set aside with contumely the grievances of the people; you have compassion only for the suffering of public servants. I hear eternal talk of the evil consequences of stopping the supplies to those official people. I hear nothing in reproof of the Legislative Council, who shut up last year all the public primary schools in the country, and left 60,000 children without instruction. All your regards are turned the wrong way—all your inquiries have a wrong end in view. You sought to make out a case of hardship to the servants of the people, but you turned a deaf ear to all complaints of evil to the people themselves.
The House of Assembly seeks to make the servants responsible— the servants seek to avoid responsibility; you thrust yourelves into the dispute, and instead of doing what your duty dictates, you take the part with the profligate servant, and ill treat the already injured master. Such, Sir, is the course his Majesty's Ministers now seek to pursue. At the commencement of the Session I stated, in reviewing the colonial policy of the present Government, that in no way were they better than their predecessors, and they now affirm my assertion. I said, that abroad they did not fear the anger of the people of England, they knew that the people pay little attention to the colonies—in the colonies, therefore, ministerial feelings have full sway, and revel in undisturbed security. What is the result? Behold it now on your table—behold it in the propositions of the noble Lord, in the division of this evening; you will at once learn the apathy of the people of England, and the innate spirit of jobbing, and unworthy leaning to unworthy servants, which rules uncontrolled in the hearts of the servants of the crown. But I would ask his Majesty's Ministers, if they have well weighed the policy of this measure, and do they know its inevitable results? Lest they should have been negligent on this head, and in order to prevent the possibility of their saying at any future time, "we did not anticipate such results, and no one pointed them out,"
I will, for their information, and for that of the House, state what my knowledge of the country leads me to expect as the result of this measure. The first immediate consequence will be, intense anger in the minds of the great majority of the population, who will see in this proceeding insult and injury. This anger will produce a determination as soon as possible to get rid of a dominion which entails on them results so mischievous and degrading. Every year will hereafter strengthen this feeling, and lasting enmity and discord will thus be created between the mother country and the colony; discord that will cease only when the colony shall become like the United States, a great, powerful, and independent community. The immediate effects of this anger will not be seen in open and violent revolt, but in a silent, though effective warfare against your trade. Non-intercourse will become the religion of the people. They will refuse your manufactures, and they will smuggle from the States. The long line of frontier will render all your attempts to prevent this smuggling unavailing. The people will refuse your West-India produce, and they will view with hatred your shoals of unprotected emigrants. They will withdraw themselves from your communion, they will teach their children to hate you, and they will look with longing eyes to this happy States adjoining their frontier. Impatiently will they wait for the moment in which they shall obtain their freedom, and become part of that happy, and, for our interests, already too powerful republic. A war will be waged through an unrestricted press upon your Government and your people.
In America you will be held up as the oppressors of mankind, and millions will daily pray for your signal and immediate defeat. To restrain this press will be impossible; printing presses will be established along the line, and inflammatory papers will be imported into your colony, spite of an army of custom house officers and lawyers. The fatal moment will at length arrive. The standard of independence will be raised; thousands of Americans will re-cross the frontier, and the history of Texas will tell the tale of Canadian revolt. The instant you have passed the resolutions of the noble Lord, a wide and impassable gulf will be opened between you and your colony, the time for reconciliation will be gone for ever, and the bitter lesson taught us by the mighty empire we have already lost will be repeated. We may then indeed repent our folly, but repentance will be vain—our loss will be irreparable—shame, defeat, and ignominy, will be our portion, and we shall leave for ever the shores of America, amidst the hootings, and reviling, and exultation, of the many millions of her people whom we have successively injured and insulted.
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