John Russell's Speech in the British House of Commons on January 16, 1838
This is the intervention given by John Russell on proposing 1) an address to the Crown pledging the House of Commons' support to her Majesty in putting down the revolt in Lower Canada; 2) the temporary suspension the Constitution of Lower Canada. The Hansard transcript of the whole debate can be read here.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in pursuance of the promise which I made to the House on a former occasion, to bring under its consideration at the earliest possible opportunity, the affairs of Canada. In proportion to the satisfaction which I feel whenever it falls to my lot to propose any measure ensuring additional advantages to my fellow subjects, or an improvement in the laws, is the pain which I now suffer in having to treat of measures of an opposite nature, in regard to a part of her Majesty's dominions, in which the horrors and misfortunes of civil war are now prevailing, and to ask the House to suspend, though only for a time, the constitutional liberties of that portion of the British territories.
But, though I feel that I always approach one of these subjects with satisfaction and the other with sorrow, the one is a duty no less incumbent upon me than the other. I feel that lean no longer delay to ask the House for power to maintain the authority of her Majesty in Lower Canada. If it were only on the score of humanity, I am convinced, that, instead of preventing bloodshed, I should be only giving the word for all the horrors of civil war, were I to follow the advice which has been tendered by some, and withdraw the troops of her Majesty from that part of her dominions.
With these feelings, therefore, it is my duty to propose to the House, in the first place, that an Address be sent up to the Crown, stating the concern of the House at the revolt and disturbances which exist in Lower Canada, and pledging itself to assist her Majesty in restoring tranquillity in that part of her dominions: and in the next place to move for leave to bring in a Bill, by which, for a certain time, the calling of an Assembly in that province, which is now incumbent on the Governor for the time being, may be suspended, and, by the means which I shall state to the House, that authority be given to meet the present emergency, and to provide for the future government of the province.
In bringing this subject before the House, I feel that I shall not obtain its assent, unless I refute two propositions which have been confidently put forward. The first of these assertion is that the course pursued by this country in respect to Lower Canada has been unjust, and the second is, that whatever be the justice of the case, it is expedient to abandon the colony, and make an early separation between it and the mother country.
In debating the first of these propositions it becomes necessary for me, in many respects to arraign the conduct of the Assembly of Lower Canada. I am sensible, Sir, how invidious a task it may seem to arraign in this place, the conduct of any other, and particularly a distant Assembly: but I feel that in so doing in the present instance, I could not make out the case which I wish to establish, that in our present breach with the Assembly, our conduct has been founded in justice; that the course which we pursued last year was necessary, and, further, that we shall be justified now in suspending the constitution of that province.
I say, I shall be obliged to arraign the conduct of the Assembly of Lower Canada, but in what I say, and also in the course of policy which we may have to pursue, I wish that neither Parliament nor the Government to which I belong shall be chargeable with the vice of intemperance. In an individual, intemperance may be combined with the best feelings and dispositions, but in a Government it is the worst quality it can be possessed of. In a despotic government it becomes tyranny, we in that of a free country, intemperance influencing the passions, produces endless confusion, and finally, the subversion of the constitution.
In considering the conduct of the Assembly of Lower Canada we must look at the nature of the Government by which this country first proposed to govern that province. The title of this country to Canada depends upon the treaty of peace of 1763. Soon after that treaty a proclamation was published respecting the mode of government which it was intended to apply to it; but, in point of fact, for some time English courts pursuing the method, and regulated by the decisions of English courts, held jurisdiction in the province; and, according to a report from General Murray, who succeeded to the government of the province after its conquest by General Wolfe, many hardships and grievances were suffered by the French Canadians in the administration of justice.
But, whatever these hardships or grievances might have been, a remedy was applied to them by the act of 1774. Sir, I apprehend that never was a stronger inclination evinced by any country to act according to the feelings, habits, and prejudices of a dependent colony than in that act of 1774. By that act the Roman Catholic religion was established in the province of Canada, and the clergy of that persuasion were to continue to receive the tithes and other dues which they had been accustomed to receive; and, further, the French laws of property, and, indeed, the French laws in all matters except the criminal law, were to govern the colony.
Now, Sir, with respect to the former of these provisions, it should be borne in mind, that it was passed at a time when nothing was less favoured by Parliament than the Roman Catholic religion, as was shown in Ireland where the severity of the penal laws had been scarcely relaxed. With respect to the laws of property, nothing could be more adverse to the feelings of this country than the old feudal system of tenure which still prevailed in Canada. It had always been one of the greatest efforts made by the Parliament to wipe off what Blackstone calls "the slavery of the feudal tenures." That was at length accomplished in the reign of Charles and, and the writer whom I have just referred to, says that the benefit thus bestowed on the country was not less important than those conferred by the Habeas Corpus Act itself. Sir, those tenures were considered, and I think, rightly, of slavish origin. According to Montesquieu, the very terms used in them had a slavish import; for instance, that he who paid cens was a serf, and he who did not was free.
Then, in adopting the French law in this respect, the English Parliament was a party to the introduction of a species of law contrary to the genius of the British constitution, and to which all English settlers in that colony would naturally feel the strongest objection. But the reason why that law was adopted was the same as that which justified the establishment of the Roman Catholic religion, namely, because it was most congenial to the feelings and habits of the French portion of the inhabitants of that province.
Sir, this constitution remained in force till the year 1791. In that year, it was proposed to frame a new constitution, and I must say, that looking to the debates of that period, and to the enactments of the law itself, with the light which experience affords, I do not think that law was very wisely framed with a view to its permanent continuance, and with the intention of preserving permanent harmony between all classes of the people. Sir, the policy of this country with regard to her colonies has been generally one of great lenity. In some colonies where the population is chiefly British, and the feelings and habits are therefore chiefly British, the British laws and constitution have been introduced, so far as they were applicable to the different state of society in the colony from that in the mother country; and according to that constitution the people are left to regulate their internal affairs. In other colonies which are of foreign origin there has been a power of governor and council more despotic in its nature, without the form of a real constitution, but at the same time the inhabitants were always left to enjoy whatever was congenial to their habits or feelings in the laws of Spanish, French, or Dutch origin, or whatever it might be, under which the colony was originally founded, and by which its concerns bad been formerly regulated.
Sir, looking back to the past, with the benefit of experience, I think that what was proposed by Mr. Fox at the time of establishing a constitution in Canada, would have given a better prospect of permanent tranquillity than the constitution which was then adopted. Mr. Fox maintained it was not wise to separate the upper from the lower province, but that it would be better to encourage the influx of British settlers in both, and endeavour to introduce by degrees British laws, with, as he said, a due weight of aristocracy. It may be doubted whether it would have been proper at that time to leave the introduction of British laws to the gradual operation of custom and the influx of British emigrants. I own that it appears to me that the wise course would have been, when, if the legislature were determined to introduce a representative constitution, instead of the more despotic governor and council, finding that the more despotic authority which had hitherto subsisted was not sufficient for the welfare and contentment of the province, while it introduced the representative constitution, it should at the same time have made a settlement with respect to English and French law, and only adopted so much of the latter as was necessary to prevent the French Canadians from being disquieted in their possessions, and having so done, it should have made general arrangements for a Legislative Council and a representative House of Assembly.
But that course, which might have been taken, was not adopted at that period, and a law was passed on the presumption that the French would entirely inhabit one province and British settlers the other, Lower Canada being devoted or left to the French Canadians, and Upper Canada being the province into which it was expected British enterprise and emigration would flow. At the same time there was introduced into each province an assembly consisting of the representatives of the people, with rather a low rate of franchise, and a Legislative Council, to be formed partly of members with hereditary titles, and partly of members named for life by the governor.
With regard to the latter part of this arrangement I do not think that it was a just application of the British constitution. With regard to the House of Lords, though every privilege may be liable at times to abuse, yet we all know that there must be some distinction of eminence or some consideration of large property to justify a Minister in proposing to the Sovereign to elevate a commoner to the House of Lords. In Lower Canada the case was not the same: the person on whom the distinction was to be conferred was not so easily pointed out, and there was not that great and paramount check upon the exercise of this privilege which existed in this country.
With regard to the House of Assembly, also, I think that that constitution was not wisely framed when the state of education in that colony is considered, and the power that constitution bestowed on the people. However, there could be no doubt that the constitution was so framed, whether wisely or no—and the criticisms he made on it might be unfounded and injudicious—but that the constitution was so framed with the sincere view to enlarge the privileges and provide for the welfare of the people of Canada it was impossible to deny. No one can doubt that the intention of the Legislature was, not to draw any undue power to the Government of this country, but to provide mainly, and in the first instance, for the welfare of the colony.
I think, then, I may say, that with respect to the constitution of 1774 and 1791, this country had not been an oppressor in the mode by which it was proposed to administer the affairs of her colonies. I do not wish to state this for the purpose of making a debtor and creditor account between Lower Canada and this country, as relates to benefits mutually given and received—still less do I state it for the purpose of imputing ingratitude to the people of that colony. On the contrary I am happy to say, that whilst the intentions of the Legislature were those of kindness towards Canada on two great occasions, namely, in the war with the United States, and towards the conclusion of the last war with France, the Canadians came forward with loyalty and zeal to show their affection for this country; so that if we had been kind on the one hand, we had met with a return of affection and loyalty on the other. But the constitution so framed did contain within itself the seeds of difficulty, although for some time the difficulties were not felt.
In 1810 there were some violent measures on the part of the Governor of Canada, and violent opposition on the part of the Assembly, which ended in the dissolution of that body, and the excitement of an angry state of feeling in the provinces. But the dissensions on which much of what subsequently passed had turned began in the year 1818. It had been for some time the practice in Canada to vote certain sums for the maintenance of the Government, what was further required being supplied by the votes of the House of Commons. The Assembly of Canada had asked that all the supplies should be voted by themselves, that their Government might not be left dependent on the votes of the House of Commons. A petition was presented to that effect, which, though rejected at the time, was afterwards acceded to; but when the Duke of Richmond was there, a new mode of voting the supplies by chapters was proposed, and soon afterwards, under Lord Dalhousie, a permanent grant was required for a considerable part of the supplies. This led to a resistance on the part of the Assembly, and both those propositions were given up; the Assembly gained its point, the supplies were regularly proposed, item by item, and nothing more beyond the annual vote was asked for.
This decision, however, led to new debates, and after a certain time, Mr. Huskisson, who was then Colonial Secretary, thought it fit to bring the questions under the consideration of Parliament, and caused a Select Committee to be appointed to consider the question then at issue with the House of Assembly. Before I state what the report of that Committee was, and the result of what was done, I wish to call the attention of the House to the instructions which were given by Sir George Murray, who was subsequently Secretary of State under the Duke of Wellington, before the report of the Committee had been taken into consideration.
I wish to quote those instructions, in order to show that the policy of the Government of that day was, as of every Government since, a policy of forbearance and moderation, evincing a constant desire to consult the interests and to meet the wishes of the inhabitants of Lower Canada, as far as possible, consistently with a due regard to the maintenance of British authority. Sir G. Murray found, that according to the law of France, certain duties, imposed by an act passed by the Imperial Parliament in 1774, and which were granted in lieu of other duties that had been found more oppressive, were the only ones that could be appropriated by the Lords of the Treasury in this country to discharge the various expenses of the Colonial Government. He, therefore, instructed Sir J. Kempt, who, fortunately for this country, was then at the head of the Government of the province, in what manner to proceed with respect to those duties. Although the extract is of considerable length, I will read it, as it will show the policy which the British Government had thought it becoming and necessary to pursue towards the Canadians.
The proceeds of the above-mentioned duties, said Sir G. Murray, and of the territorial revenue of the Crown, with the produce of fines, forfeitures, and other incidents of that nature, appear to constitute, however, the only fund which his Majesty's Government can lawfully apply, at its discretion, to the defraying the expenses of the civil government and those of the administration of justice in the province. It is, therefore, to be understood for the future, as a fixed and unalterable principle, that, with the exception of the funds already mentioned, no part of the revenue of Lower Canada must be applied to the public service, nor to any object whatever, except in pursuance of an act of appropriation passed by the three branches of the local Legislature. I am by no means insensible to the consequence which must necessarily result from the recognition and the observance of this principle. So long as the Assembly is called upon to provide for and to regulate any portion of the public expenditure, it will virtually acquire a control over the whole. If the entire charge of the civil government of the province could be limited to the amount of the Crown revenues, it might be possible to act without any dependence on the Assembly But whether such a result would be desirable, or would be really conducive to the welfare of the province at large, it is unnecessary for me to inquire. It is sufficient to say that, under the existing law, the executive government of Lower Canada cannot be relieved from a state of virtual pecuniary dependence upon the Assembly, by any constitutional means; and methods of a different nature must not be resorted to.
This instruction clearly shows, that Sir George Murray meant to bind himself and the Government to which he belonged, to a precise and exact observance of the constitution. Sir George Murray saw that the adoption of the principle laid down in the instructions quoted, would necessarily make the Government dependent on the House of Assembly for the pecuniary supplies indispensable to its support; but he embraced that necessity, and determined that the constitution should not be departed from. I next come to the course adopted by the Committee of 1828, which made a report to this House containing many suggestions regarding the affairs of Canada. I will read to the House the 15 language employed in allusion to this report in an address agreed to by the House of Assembly on the 21st of November, 1828. The noble Lord then read the following extract from an Address of the Assembly of Lower Canada to Sir James Kempt, in answer to the speech with which he opened the session of the Provincial Parliament on the 21st of November, 1828:—
As soon as the inhabitants of Lower Canada made known to the King the sufferings of the country, and suggested the remedy for those evils—as soon as their humble petitions were laid at the foot of the throne—the Sovereign, ever inclined towards constantly faithful subjects, positively ordered that those petitions should be forthwith submitted to the supreme tribunal of the empire. The charges and well-founded complaints of the Canadians, before that august senate, were referred to a Committee of the House of Commons, indicated by the Colonial minister; that Committee exhibiting a striking combination of talent and patriotism, uniting a general knowledge of public and constitutional law to a particular acquaintance with the state of both the Canadas, formally applauded almost all the reforms which the Canadian people and their representatives demanded, and still fervently demand. After solemn investigation, after deep and prolonged deliberation, the Committee made a report—an imperishable monument of their justice and profound wisdom—an authentic testimonial of the reality of our grievances, and of the justice of our complaints, faithfully interpreting our wishes and our wants.
Now, one would have supposed, when the Canadian Assembly spoke in this manner of the report of the Committee, and eulogised it as an imperishable monument of justice and profound wisdom—that after the Government and people of this country had proved themselves anxious to perform—ay, more than perform, all that was asked for, and that was indicated by the report of the Committee, some satisfaction would have been produced in the minds of the Canadians, and some expression of cordiality towards the British Government would have been used by them. The effect, unfortunately, I am sorry to say, was so much the reverse of this, that after an attempt made to fulfil every wish entertained by the Canadians—after an attempt to remove every grievance under which they laboured, the complaints of the Assembly were uttered in a louder tone, and assumed a more bitter form. If I desired to enumerate the particular instances in which the Government of this country had attempted to comply with the suggestions of the report, I need only refer to the very clear statement of them made in a minute drawn up by Lord Aberdeen, and intended, to be transmitted for the guidance of Lord Amherst, when that nobleman was appointed Governor of Lower Canada.
I will allude at present only to three or four of the grievances specified in a resolution of the House of Assembly. It was stated by the Committee of the House, that they were of opinion that the revenue implied in the act of 1774 should be given up to the Assembly, but that they at the same time thought, that while the judges should not hold office for life, or, even during good behaviour, those functionaries should be relieved from dependence on the annual votes of the Assembly. There is much good sense in this recommendation, as appears by a circumstance which happened in Canada, but which certainly will hardly be credited in this House. One of the judges having expressed certain opinions, some time before his nomination to that office, adverse to the notions entertained by the Assembly, that body thought it decent and proper to withhold his salary as a mark of their disapprobation. However, on the opinion of the Committee being made known in Canada in the year 1828, the Assembly allowed that the proposition made by the Committee with reference to the judges was reasonable, and they resolved, on December 6, 1828—
That on the permanent settlement before mentioned being effected with the consent of this House, it will be expedient to render the governor, lieutenant-governor, or person administering the government for the time being, the judges or executive councillors, independent of the annual vote of this House, to the extent of their present salaries.
That amongst those questions not particularly mentioned on the present occasion, this House holds as most desirable to be admitted, and most essential to the future peace, welfare, and good government of the province, viz., the independence of the judges, and their removal from the political business of the province; the responsibility and accountability of public officers; a greater independence of support from the public revenues, and more intimate connexion with the interests of the colony in the composition of the Legislative Council; the application of the late property of the Jesuits to the purposes of general education; the removal of all obstructions to the settlement of the country, particularly by Crown and clergy reserves remaining unoccupied in the neighbourhood of Roode and Settlewaite, and exempt from the common burdens; and a diligent inquiry into, and a ready redress of all grievances and abuses which may be found to exist, or which may have been petitioned against by the subjects in this province, thereby assuring to all the invaluable benefit of an impartial, conciliatory, and constitutional Government, and restoring a well-founded and reciprocal confidence between the governors and the governed.
Now, Sir, I will state what has been done in order to remedy the particular grievances thus set forth. With respect to the independence of the judges, and their removal from the political business of the province, Lord Goderich (now the Earl of Ripon) fully concurred in the reasonableness of the proposal, and himself suggested the manner in which the object might be accomplished. But the House of Assembly, instead of following out the suggestion, tacked to the law by which the independence of the judges was to be secured, certain provisions relating to the hereditary revenues of the Crown to which they pretended a claim, and other provisions respecting a court of impeachment for the judges.
This was a method of treating the proposal of the Crown well calculated to excite a suspicion that the object put forth by the House of Assembly was not what it really wished to attain. The independence of the judges was simply and of itself a positive good, and the annexation of perplexing conditions was a tolerably good proof that it was not their wish to rid themselves of the grievance of which they complained. Certainly it was the practice of former times in this House, when the Crown asked for a supply or made some other request, to grant it only on certain conditions which the House might think advisable for the benefit of the subject; but I never heard, when a Bill for the benefit of the subject, and solely proceeding from the wish of the House, was passed, that it was usual to clog it with impracticable conditions.
With respect to the accountability of public officers, on this subject, too, Lord Ripon had proposed a measure which the House of Assembly would not allow to pass, though it was planned with a view to secure greater independence of the public revenues in the officers of Government and a more intimate connexion with the colonies of the persons composing the Legislative Council. With respect to that subject, on which unfortunately there had been the widest difference of opinion between the Assembly of Lower Canada and this country, no objection has been advanced, no opposition has been offered, to a compliance with the terms of the Assembly's resolution. It was determined at once, that the judges should be told they ought not to sit in the Legislative Council, with the exception of the chief-justice, and a number of persons were added to that body having no connexion with the Crown, totally independent of office, and giving on the whole a great majority in the Legislative Council, to those who were, unconnected with the Government of the colony.
An attempt was likewise made to effect a measure always desirable—to introduce a greater proportion of French Canadians into the Council, by far the majority of the new Members of that body being of that extraction. The Assembly might indeed say, that those were not persons agreeable to their wishes, or acquainted with their wants; but the question was, whether they were not independent of office, and intimately connected with the interests of the colony. If other persons can be found, from their station in the colony and their independence, who deserve to be placed in the Legislative Council, that is a matter surely of arrangement and compromise, and not one sufficient to warrant a disturbance of the tranquillity of the colony. Thus stands the matter at present, according to the last determination of Lord Gosford, which had been approved by her Majesty's Government. Of the forty Members of the Council, not less than eighteen are French Canadians. Many of the Members of English origin are not likely to attend again, having removed from the colonies, and thus the majority was on the side of the French Canadians, there being only seven in official connexion with the Government of the province.
So far as the Assembly's demands of 1828 are concerned—so far as the nature of the grievances, as they were called, could be met, a remedy had been already applied. Another question regarded the application of the property of the Jesuits to the purposes of general education. That demand has already been assented to by the House; the whole of the income derived from the property of the Jesuits has been ordered to be applied to purposes of education; and the only shadow of grievance connected with this subject now remaining, as declared in a subsequent resolution, was, that leases of the property had been given to persons other than those whom the Assembly desired to possess it. That was a grievance which, unless the uncontrolled administration of 19 these estates was placed in the hands of the Assembly, to be conferred upon their friends and nominees, it was quite impossible to remove.
Another question relates to the removal of all obstructions to the settlement of the country presented by the Crown, and clergy reserves which remained unoccupied in the neighbourhood of the cultivated lands. On this subject I will refer the House to a despatch of Lord Ripon, which does the highest honour to the wisdom of that nobleman, who declared that he was ready to put an end to the former system, while, at the same time, he stated, that he was not ready to adopt the remedy proposed by the House of Assembly. The noble Lord stated it to be his opinion that none of the particular lands alluded to, or of any lands in the possession of the Crown, should be given except for an adequate consideration, and pointed out, that they should be sold at a fair price, without any distinction being made or favour shown. The Assembly had particularly adverted to the management of the waste lands, in consequence of which they declared applicants were excluded from competition, and prevented from holding the land by secure titles without much expense and delay. Lord Ripon said,
"I must dissent from the view here taken by the Assembly, and must say, that a careful consideration of the subject induces me to think that the prevention in some degree of the extreme facility of buying land, instead of being injurious to the occupants of the Crown lands, would be found favourable to their success, no less than to the welfare and prosperity of the province at large."
Having stated this, he went on to say,
"I am of opinion that an end should be put to the system of setting apart any portion of waste lands to the support of the Protestant clergy, since a system which would be objectionable in rendering Government independent of the Assembly would be still more objectionable when applied for the support of the ministers of religion."
Lord Ripon added, that in order to guard the governor against the slightest suspicion of partiality in the disposal of the lands, the utmost freedom of bidding should be encouraged, the greatest publicity given to the sales, and the lands, as a matter of course, secured to the highest bidder. Now, Sir, I ask whether that proposition of Lord Ripon was not one which was more calculated to benefit the province, more lair in itself, less liable to any suspicion of partiality, and less open to the charge that Government will hereafter derive influence from the disposal of those lands, than that which the Assembly itself had made; and whether, for this grievance, a full and adequate remedy has not been proposed?
Sir, there was another grievance, as I before stated, or rather another dispute. It was the dispute with respect to the duties derived under the Act of the 14th of George 3rd. With respect to those duties it was urged, and no doubt rightfully urged by those who then held the Government of this country, that that law bound the Treasury abroad for the sum derived from the duties which it imposed. It was urged, rather by inference from the spirit of the constitution than in accordance with the letter of the law, that the Acts of 1778 and 1791 taken together, made it fit that those duties should be left to the appropriation of the local assembly. A Committee recommended that the view of the assembly should be adopted, but recommended likewise that a permanent settlement should be made for the salary of the judges and other officers. The assembly, while it agreed to be responsible for what it had itself proposed, did not consent to carry the whole recommendations into effect.
But what, then, was the conduct of the Government of this country?
There was introduced into this House, in the year 1831, an Act, originally moved by Lord Ripon in the other House of Parliament, which entirely repealed the power of appropriation by this country, and left it to the Assembly of Lower Canada (without condition—without stipulation) to dispose altogether of those duties.
Now, I ask, could any remedy be more full—less indicative of hesitation or distrust? Could any remedy be proposed which showed a more generous confidence than that with which Lord Ripon proposed to meet the grievance which was complained of? It has been urged, certainly, and it may be contended, that the Government went too far in making that concession. It may be said, that this was an incautious assent to the demand of the House of Assembly. I am not of that opinion. I think if we had not made that compact, we should have been driven into a quarrel on ground on which it would not be safe to contend. Questions of revenue, on which Government takes a view in contradiction to that of the Assembly, are the most difficult to maintain; for when the question regards duties similar to those of which the Assembly possesses the control, no doubt there is a strong argument from analogy in its favour. If we had not made this arrangement, no doubt the Canadians would have asked Government to surrender the revenue unconditionally; and if it had refused, a quarrel might have ensued on less defensible grounds than those which now supported them—a quarrel in which none of our North American colonies would have taken part with the mother country, and in which they would rather have sympathised with the Canadian Assembly.
For these reasons I think the proposition of Lord Ripon displayed a wise as well as a generous confidence; but, at the same time, I am of opinion that it might have been expected that, after having made that concession, after having remedied whatever grievances were complained of in the full manner which was proposed by the course to be taken by the Government, a disposition would have been shown by the Assembly of Lower Canada to meet what had been done with a conciliatory disposition, and to consider the remaining grievances in a friendly and amicable spirit.
I regret to say that this was not the case. In the year 1833, at the time that these questions had been either settled, or proposed to be settled, conformably to the wishes of the Assembly, a supply bill passed that House of Assembly, containing the most unusual conditions, and providing that the persons holding certain offices should not be all ed salaries unless they ceased to hold certain other offices. Sir, these propositions may have been in themselves just or unjust, reasonable or unreasonable; but the Bill was rejected on the ground—which the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) who was then Secretary of the Colonies, approved—that these propositions were tacked to a money bill, which, therefore, as a matter of supply, could not be passed in that shape. I think the noble Lord was right in urging that these questions should have been proposed in a different shape.
But the Supply Bill having failed in that year, in 1834 the Assembly met again, and adopted a new course, which has led to the present difficulties. I say that it adopted a new course, which led to the present difficulties, because, with respect to all that had been before stated—with respect to the investigation of the Committee of the year 1828, which had furnished, they said, a report which was "an imperishable monument of wisdom and justice"—and with respect to their own statements in the reports and petitions of their assembly, every grievance had been met, fairly considered, and nearly all of them had been adequately remedied.
Well then, Sir, what was the result?—contentment, satisfaction in voting the supplies, and a more harmonious working of the Canadian constitution? Quite the reverse. The course taken was, that the Canadian Assembly passed ninety-two resolutions, some of grievance, some of eulogy, some of vituperation, some directed against individuals, some against the governor of the province, some against the government at home, but all amounting to a long and vehement remonstrance, which they passed a whole session in framing, and separated without passing any supply bill whatever. This was the point of departure taken by those who caused a new breach in the proceedings of the Assembly. Those who on former occasions appeared before us as the able interpreters of their wants and wishes, at this time deserted the prosecution of their grievances. They comprised men whose names are known to this House, who have been most familiar with the history of Canadian affairs, and who had been the most able and intelligent in laying before the Legislature their grievances, and in many cases urging just grounds for redress—these men when they saw that the object was to put a stop to the machine of government and to make impracticable conditions with the executive, at once withdrew from the contest and separated themselves from the violent party who took the lead in it. And on this occasion let me call the attention of the House to the benefit which is to be derived in all contests like the present from applying to all real grievances a satisfactory remedy. I know that some there are who, from feelings of national pride, and from a mistaken sense of national honour, are inclined to say, "the petition is couched in disrespectful language; it goes much too far, let us not listen to it."
But it is the duty of the House, and it is more especially the duty of those who are intrusted with the administration of the country, to examine into all real grievances, and as far as they can, to remedy them; and when that is done, they might be sure that, though there might be persons who for a time might succeed in misleading the people as to their real interest, those who were sincere in their complaints, and who sought not their own individual aggrandizement, but the real welfare and prosperity of the country, 23 would stand by the Government in resistance to all ulterior and unreasonable demands; and thus by every remedy which it granted it gained additional strength to sustain any new contest which might be forced on it. Such has been the effect of the late measures taken with respect to Lower Canada—such continues to be the effect of them even up to the present hour. But to return to the events which I feel it to be my duty to refer to at large upon this subject—for I am bound to lay before the House the whole of the case respecting the affairs of both the Canadas—after passing the resolutions in 1834, to which I have already adverted, there was no one occasion on which the House of Assembly had voted the supplies which were necessary to carry on the machinery of local government. And yet the Government of this country had not been backward in its endeavours to remove all the real grievances of which the Canadians complained. At the end of the year 1834, as the House well knew, the right hon. Member for Tamworth became Prime Minister of this country. That, the right hon. Baronet did not intend to adopt any harsh course with respect to the Canadian Assembly may be concluded, not only from his language in this House, but from the appointments which he had made. One of the appointments made under his government was that of Lord Amherst, who had been sent out not merely as a governor, but as commissioner to investigate and redress all grievances affecting the administration of the province. Sir, the character of Lord Amherst himself—even if the object of his appointment had not been announced in The Gazette which contained it—would show that at that time was appointed a person who, by his mild and conciliatory character, would remove every thing which he should find really to affect the interests or to injure the welfare of the Canadians. Sir, on the retirement of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite from office, and the resignation by Lord Amherst of the post to which he was appointed, the government of Lord Melbourne, which succeeded, proposed to send a commission to Canada for inquiry into the grievances which had been alleged, giving them great latitude, as may be seen by the instructions with which they were furnished, and appointed Lord Gosford as governor, with certain directions for his guidance.
I shall take the liberty to quote one passage from the instructions which were given, because it shows the spirit in which the Government 24 thought that the affairs of Canada should be managed, and because I think those instructions constitute an answer to some charges which had been made with respect to the Government of the colonies in general. Lord Glenelg said, in his dispatch to Lord Gosford, dated July 17,1835.—
It may not, however, be improper to address to your Lordship one caution of a different nature. Whatever may be the ground of the disputes which have so long prevailed between the Executive Government and the House of General Assembly of the province, it could not, with any degree of truth, or even of plausibility, be alleged that they have either originated, or have been prolonged, with a view to any interests, real or imaginary, excepting those of the people of Canada themselves. No motive could possibly be assigned as influencing British policy towards this part of his Majesty's dominions, except the advancement of the social welfare of the inhabitants, and the development of the resources of the country.
In promoting these great ends, the King has found an object worthy of the noblest ambition and of the most earnest solicitude. Even if the counsels submitted to his Majesty for the government of Lower Canada were admitted to be as injudicious as they have been sometimes described to be; yet, even on that supposition, the singleness and disinterestedness of the motives by which his Majesty's confidential advisers have been actuated would be beyond dispute. What has Great Britain to gain by the misgovernment of so important a portion of the British empire? There is no single ground of national competition which could induce the metropolitan state to abuse her authority, or which should make that authority a subject of reasonable distrust to the Canadian people, if it could, with any justice, be supposed that those who are honoured with a place in his Majesty's more immediate councils could be diverted by the sordid desire of patronage from the upright discharge of duties so clear and important as those which they owe to British North America. Yet it is demonstrable that so unworthy a motive has not exercised the slightest influence on their deliberations. I do not find, for many years past, a solitary example of any place, excepting that of the governor himself and one or two of the chief officers of customs, having been conferred, in Lower Canada, on any person except the settled inhabitants of the province, or in consequence of any recommendation but that of the governor. No British Minister, during the present or the last reign, has ever used the patronage of British North America either to promote his political power or the personal advantage of himself or his connections. I need scarcely add that his Majesty is firmly resolved to enforce the observance in future of the same just and liberal policy.
It is impossible to deny the truth of the allegations of the noble Lord who is now Secretary for the Colonies. I believe it to be impossible too to deny that Lord Gosford, in undertaking the charge which he did, entertained an anxious desire to second the Government in their attempts to allay animosity, to remedy the grievances which were found to exist, and to establish harmony between the different parts of the Legislature of that province. I stated last year the various recommendations which were made by the Commissioners on the subjects which were proposed for their consideration. I am sorry to say that these recommendations were not even waited for by the Canadian Assembly. The Members of that assembly thought proper to continue in the resolution which they had adopted, of determinedly refusing the supplies. They adhered to this course during the years 1835, 1836, and 1837, except on one occasion of a vote for six months, and that was given in so objectionable a manner that it could not be sanctioned. Their resolution then has been to put an end to the machinery of Government, to stop entirely the possibility of carrying on the Government, and thus have they made it necessary for this House to interpose with respect to the important questions which are submitted to it.
I stated, on a former occasion, that the course adopted by this House in proposing to appropriate part of the revenues of Lower Canada was not a measure of finance but of defence. I adhere to that statement. In a constitutional Government it is quite impossible if the supplies be refused year after year that the machinery of Government can go on. If they were refused in this country even for a single year, the most calamitous consequences would be produced. To refuse the supplies is to disorganise the army—to refuse the supplies is to shake public credit—to refuse the supplies is almost to dissolve the constitution. Well, then, what was to be done on the refusal of the supplies by a provincial Parliament. There could be in such a case but one or two courses left to adopt—either to accede to all the demands, or to take some means by which the mischief might be remedied. It was quite impossible that the courts of justice and all the other means of civil Government could be carried on; and the conjuncture must arise when a stop must be put to all legislative proceedings in consequence of the refusal of the supplies, unless one remedy or the other was applied. I stated to the House that it was impossible to adopt the former alternative.
With regard to an elective council, the report of the Commissioners sent out by this country states it as their belief, without discussing the abstract question of an elective council, still less the policy or impolicy of its establishment in the North American continent—that the consequence of such a change in the Legislature of Lower Canada would be to place the Government in the hands of one of two extreme parties and that from the resistance of the other party must arise the additional danger of a civil war. I fully believe the truth of the statement of the commissioners. I am persuaded that after the dissensions which have prevailed, an elective council, representing the passions, the violence, and the desire for extraordinary changes found to exist in the assembly, would be considered by the British settlers of the province as nothing else but a declaration that their interests would not be protected, and they would be thus driven to some other means to produce a change in the constitution.
Their next demand is, that the Executive Council should only be responsible to the House of Assembly. Sir, I stated that there was one place in which the power of the executive could be thus entirely controlled, and that was at the seat of the imperial Government. If the Sovereign of this country were to select those who had the confidence of the Crown but who possessed none of the confidence of the House of Commons, there must be a speedy change in the administration, and the constitution could only proceed in consequence of that change. But in a colony, if the Legislative Council are to be named according to the will of the assembly, there is another question which arises, namely, what is to become of the orders given by the imperial Government and the governor of the colony? You are here placed in the situation that your authority is completely set aside. You have a Canadian ministry responsible only to the assembly, with a power of dismissing or driving away from particular places British troops, and of admitting the ships of a power, perhaps at war with this country, into the ports of Canada. If they have not the power to make such restrictions, they must be made responsible. If they have, it then a supreme and independent governor has no place in the colonies. Not only should there be an irresponsible executive, but every judge and public officer should be appointed not according to the laws of the constitution, or the rule of the imperial monarchy of the mother country, but in accordance with the institutions and usages of a new and independent republic.
Another question in these proceedings was, whether a repeal should be granted of an Act passed by this country with respect to land in Canada, under which certain rights had accrued. The Royal Commissioners said, and most justly, that it was impossible to take these away without doing an act of flagrant injustice to rights and titles granted under the sanction of an Act of Parliament. Another subject, on which we declared we had no objection to enter, was an alteration in the tenures, provided the rights, which could not be set aside without injustice, were duly maintained and preserved. As we were obliged to declare, that we could not consent to have the relations between this country and Canada disturbed in the manner which had been threatened, and as the demands of the Assembly were declared repeatedly to be the only conditions on which they would consent to carry on the ordinary business of the constitution, I say, by their own act, and without any interference of the superior power, the Government was ipso facto suspended by themselves.
Therefore, we proposed, in that difficulty, in that extremity, when this House could not agree to the propositions of the Assembly, that some measure should, be taken to remedy this extraordinary embarrassment, and that some measures should be adopted by which the judges and others holding official situations should receive what otherwise would have been voted by the Assembly, and that the governor should have the power to appropriate these sums. Sir, I do not think that we went at all beyond the necessity of the case. At the same time it was evident, that the House of Assembly of Canada must either continue to suspend the constitution altogether, or must re-consider the grounds of their complaints. They had repeatedly declared, that their misgovernment was owing to the Colonial Secretary of State, or to the Executive Government of this country, and that they relied on the wisdom of Parliament to remedy their grievances. On receiving, however, these resolutions, they did not take the peaceful part of the alternative. They did not agree to look to other methods for the redress of the grievances of which they complained. Be it remembered, that when we said we could not agree to their demands, I stated expressly myself, that if any mode of arranging the differences which existed were suggested, otherwise than by the appointment of an Elective Council, we should be ready to undertake the consideration of it, and if possible to adopt it. I proposed myself certain mitigations as to the manner of appointment in future. Instead of having persons chosen by the Governor unknown to the inhabitants (a matter which was frequently complained of,) it was determined that the Executive Council should state their opinion of the fitness of the persons intended to be appointed.
When Mr. Roebuck, formerly a Member of this House, proposed that the Legislative Council should be abolished, I did not at once say, that the proposition was inadmissible, but I wished to know whether the House of Assembly agreed to that mode of remedying the grievance of which they had complained. I did not propose the remedy which was suggested. I was not disposed to think it well considered; but I felt, that the course which was to be taken should not be in the face of the repeated resolutions of the Assembly, declaring, that the Imperial Parliament could not otherwise act for their benefit than by making the Legislative Council elective. I could not, therefore, consent to a course entirely new, and at variance with that plan which had hitherto been looked upon as the sole means for accomplishing their wishes. But what was the answer of the Assembly in their meeting of August, 1837? Their answer was, that they would not suggest anything, that they would not propose anything, but if the Government of England should think proper to propose certain modifications in the Legislative Council, they would endeavour to determine what changes would enable the Government of the colony to be carried on beneficially. What was the meaning of this? By repeated evasions of the questions which had been asked them, and of the resolutions of that House, they seemed resolved to give this interpretation to their conduct, if we should introduce certain favourable changes: "We rejoice that you have got rid of the Legislative Council as an obstacle to our desires, but you have not fulfilled the whole conditions on which we rest our case, and we insist still upon an Elective Council as the only means by which future harmony can be established."
Is it not obvious that such would have been the answer—is it not clear, from the spirit in which the controversy has been conducted, that no other reply would be received from the Canadians in answer to concessions volunteered by the Government. In August, 1837, therefore, the Assembly, having met, refused altogether to comply with the request of the Governor to grant the supplies, and persevered in their former demands, with the trifling admission, that there was a possibility of granting them at some future time. They were accordingly prorogued. With respect to all that has happened since the events of which I have been speaking, as there is a sufficiently succinct narration to be deduced from the papers which have been laid before the House, I do not mean to refer to them in detail, contenting myself with a reference to their most prominent features. It appears that soon after the reception of the resolutions of which I have just spoken, violent meetings were held in Canada, at which these resolutions were arraigned, the Government of the colonies held up to odium and scorn, and at which not unfrequently the example of the United States of America was held up as the one it behoved the Canadians to follow.
The nature and objects of these meetings were very boldly expressed, but still it appears, by repeated despatches from Lord Gosford, that for a long time he did not consider these demonstrations of importance, and even in his later communications he has more than once said, he thinks that the system of agitation has failed in accomplishing its objects, that a better spirit is commencing to prevail, and that many who were but a little time past favourably disposed to the alleged objects of the movement party, have lately expressed themselves as better inclined to the mother-country. But after the meetings I have described above, had gone on for a considerable time, it appears, others commenced which were certainly of a more formidable character.
Lord Gosford's attention having been called to their existence, and to the propositions discussed before them, he conceived it to be his duty to dismiss from the militia, certain officers who had taken part at these violent, and I will say seditious, assemblies. Upon this the people met, and after most violently impugning the conduct and motives of the Governor for the dismissal, they proceeded to elect officers for themselves; and passed resolutions, pledging themselves not to submit any case of theirs to a magistrate holding authority from her Majesty, and concluded, by declaring themselves ready to act in any manner that should be required 30 under certain "pacificators," appointed by themselves, and the officers of the militia they themselves had just elected.
It was obvious from the very selection of these officers, and from the people proceeding to obey their commands, that the intention was, to throw off all allegiance to the mother country; but unfortunately, matters did not stop here. These seditious meetings continued to be held; and, goaded on by the inflammatory declamation of the orators, the mob proceeded, in, many instances, to acts of personal violence against all who refused to obey the mandates of these illegal meetings. Parties went round at night threatening with destruction all who refused to join the ranks of the disaffected; in many instances houses and property were destroyed, and the extreme vengeance of an infuriated rabble was held out to those officers of the militia who had not been dismissed by the Governor, and evinced an inclination to perform their duties with loyalty and fidelity.
On the 2nd of September, Lord Gosford, in a dispatch to Lord Glenelg, says—
It is evident that the Papineau faction are not to be satisfied with any concession that does not place them in a more favourable position to carry into effect their ulterior objects, namely the separation of this country from England, and the establishment of a republican form of government. M. Papineau has gone such lengths, that he must now persevere in the course he has taken, or submit to a defeat which would annihilate all his power and influence. The plan he pursues clearly shows that he is determined to do all that he can to obtain his ends. The violent and unjustifiable attacks which have been made by the ultra Tory party upon the French Canadians generally, have caused an animosity which M. Papineau does not fail to turn to account, and I attribute much of his influence over so many Members in the Assembly to this cause. M. Papineau has emissaries in various directions; and though I do not conceive there is any ground for alarm, still great caution and vigilance are required to guard against the evils that might follow from the attempts making to excite discontent among the people by the most abominable misrepresentations. The executive requires more power, and under my present impression, I am disposed to think that you may be under the necessity of suspending the constitution. It is with feelings of deep regret I state this, but duty compels me to communicate it to you.
On the 8th of September he again writes—
We can now 31 make no terms with Mr. Papineau; you must either put him down, or submit to let him put you down; there is no halting between two opinions. By at once increasing the power of the executive, and suspending the constitution, you at once paralyse the designs of these mischievous men. It would establish confidence in the minds of those disposed to peace and good government, and at no distant period you might be solicited to restore the constitution to the province, under arrangements better calculated to afford satisfaction than could be accomplished by any effort or proposal in the present state of things; for until you nullify Papineau's power you can never be in a position to treat on anything like fair and liberal terms with a man of his extravagant, uncompromising, destructive views, exercising as he does, complete control over the minds of many who have been too long accustomed to be under his yoke.
Notwithstanding the positive tenour of this dispatch, I find, that on the 9th of September, Lord Gosford wrote to say, that he did not believe the disaffection wide spread. He observes in this dispatch—
That this state of affairs seriously augments the difficulties of carrying on the government, and operates most injuriously upon the welfare and prosperity of the province, must be quite obvious. With the exception of some of the counties in the district of Montreal, I believe the mass of the population is contented and loyal, and that the attempts that are making to shake its allegiance and to create confusion will be unsuccessful.
At a later period, however, there did occur a collision in the streets of Montreal between two parties, the one calling themselves the followers of Mr. Papineau, and the others adherents to the constituted authorities, under the designation of the Doric Club. This was very soon after followed by information of so alarming a tendency, that the Governor of the province conceived it to be his duty to send the Attorney General to Montreal to collect all possible information upon the subject, and to write to Sir John Colborne to ascertain what might be his means of putting down any disturbance that might arise. It appears the Attorney General very soon obtained what he conceived sufficient evidence of secret and unlawful organization; and in consequence he determined on putting on trial, for what was termed high treason, several persons of the Montreal district, and the requisite orders for their immediate arrest were issued.
In pursuance of these orders, the force, known as the county police, made several efforts to take into custody the persons inculpated, but in the end were obliged to relinquish the attempt. It appears that afterwards, when Sir John Colborne, in the exercise of his duty, sent out troops to obtain possession of the guilty parties, an armed rebel force was found prepared, in the villages of St. Denis and St. Charles, to resist the Queen's troops, and then an open insurrection broke out.
I imagine, Sir, that when matters came to this point, there can be no doubt on the mind of any man loyally disposed as to the object sought: no man so disposed would deny—indeed, I hope, no man so disposed would attempt to deny—that it was the duty of the governor of the province in which these acts of insubordination and rebellion took place to take every means his position afforded him to restore tranquillity and protect the well-disposed of her Majesty's subjects.
Fortunately, most fortunately, the person who is intrusted with the military command of the troops in Canada, is one intimately acquainted with the country in which he has to act, and endowed with all the vigour of intellect and firmness of purpose requisite for his highly important station. Sir John Colborne immediately adopted the steps which the occasion required, and, as far as we have been able to learn, up to the present moment, the result of those measures has been the defeat of those who were in arms against the troops of her Majesty, and the restoration of tranquillity to a great portion of the disturbed district.
So far, therefore—although in common with all I must lament that civil war should prevail in any part of her Majesty's dominions—I think we have all common cause of congratulation; I think, Sir, there can be but few—I think there can be but very few—to whom it can be a matter other than of congratulation that her Majesty's troops have been successful in the performance of the service they were legally and constitutionally employed upon. I do trust, Sir, that, in the course of this or any subsequent debate on this subject, we shall hear no more of those inconceivable wishes, of those guilty hopes, that the armies of her Majesty may encounter defeat, and the British name be covered with dishonour. I do trust, Sir, and I do believe, that if such a feeling exists at all—and the balance of my opinion I am bound to say is against its existence—that it is confined to a very narrow portion—I will not say of this House—but of the whole population of the empire.
This, at least, is clear, that with respect to other portions of our North American colonies, with respect to Upper Canada—although a base traitor of the name of M'Kenzie has attempted to disturb that province—that in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick the feeling, I may say, the universal feeling, has been one of loyalty to the British Government, and attachment to the connection with the mother country. We have seen that not only the regular authorities of her Majesty's Government acted with the promptitude which became them, but we have also seen a large portion of the loyally disposed inhabitants of the provinces holding meetings, volunteering to take arms, and doing every other act in their power to show the depth and sincerity of their attachment to the constitutional government, and the desire for the continuance of the connexion between the provinces and the mother country; and let me say further, I was asked at the commencement of this Session, whether the Government had not received intelligence of an increased amount of desertion among the British troops employed in Canada? At the time this question was asked I was not aware as to how the fact stood, and I answered accordingly; but I am most happy in being able to state that, upon inquiry, I find desertion among the troops in Canada, so far from having been on the increase during the past year, was considerably diminished in amount. The hon. Gentleman who asked me the question may, perhaps, be surprised that, with the addition to his ordinary duties of a civil war, a winter campaign, and very severe duty, there should not be an increase of desertion; but when I tell him that my supposition, the reverse of his, is based on these very circumstances, I think his surprise will be increased. In my opinion, when a British soldier finds the question is, whether or not he shall remain at his post to maintain his allegiance to his Sovereign, and support the honour of his country, those very hardships I have enumerated would induce him to be firm, and that, bearing up against them with the heart of a Briton, he will be found to the last faithful to his Queen, and true to the interests of his country.
I have now, Sir, stated what has been the course of the present Government in respect to Canada, from the commencement of our career to the present time. I have shown, I think, that we have no reason to reproach ourselves with tyranny or oppression, or even with carelessness or senseless indifference in our Government of these provinces. I come now to a question which has been argued in a very different temper—it is the question whether it is for our interest to abandon Lower Canada altogether. I say, at once, I cannot bring my mind to the conclusion that it would be so. I say at once, that the single motive of the attachment of a considerable portion of the population to the British constitution, and the situation in which they would be left if we abandoned the province to the French party, that single motive would be a sufficient reason with me for emphatically saying "No" to such a proposition. I ask the House would they be ready to desert the men who are now so nobly evincing their loyalty—would they leave them exposed to the plunder that would be inevitable on a separation—and if they would, I then ask them could they do so consistently with justice, and with the maintenance of their country's high character? But if the reasons I have mentioned were insufficient, there are other considerations which would induce the Government to oppose any project of abandonment. Supposing the St. Lawrence under the command of the United States, and a Canadian republic established at Quebec, does any one believe that the other provinces, the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, could be kept under control? No, Sir; I am convinced if such a state of things should by any mischance come round, the question would arise, whether we should not try to regain Lower Canada, or abandon North America altogether. Is England prepared for such an alternative? I do believe that the possession of our colonies tends materially to the prosperity of this empire. On the preservation of our colonies depends the continuance of our commercial marine; and on our commercial marine mainly depends our naval power; and on our naval power mainly depends the strength and supremacy of our arms. I think, then, I may say, without arguing the question any further, that it is our policy, as well as but fairness and justice to our fellow-subjects, that we should not think of abandoning those provinces. Sir, I have thought it necessary to address the House at this great, I fear too great, length on the subject of our affairs in Canada, because I do think it is most important, that Parliament and the country should be put in possession of the whole of our proceedings, so that when the fitting time arrives the conduct of the Government in regard to the question may be fairly and fully discussed. I say, for my own part, if I thought our conduct was founded in injustice to any party, from it, I would at once retreat. I say, likewise, if I could find, that it is not the interest both of this country and of the colony itself, that Canada should continue to be a part of the British empire, I should be prepared to counsel a separation; but coming as I do to a most decided conviction on both these questions, I am quite prepared to come to the further question, namely, what is the course we should adopt to preserve the union in peace and prosperity? I conceive there can be no doubt, that the first duty of the country and of the House, if hon. Members concur in the view of the question which we take, is to propose, that sufficient means be afforded in order to put down the insurrection. I am not going to argue the question whether or no the present Government were to blame in not having at this moment a greater military force in Canada.
The question which we wish to propose for the consideration of the House to-night, is whether or not the House be prepared to maintain the sovereignty of the Crown in the colonies, and not whether her Majesty's Ministers were to blame. I see opposite to me a noble Lord who is reported to have said, that Ministers should appear at the bar of the House for suffering an insurrection to break out. If that noble Lord, or any other hon. Member, thinks we are to blame, let him arraign us, and we shall be ready to meet the charge. Before, however, they do so, I shall suggest to their consideration for a moment, two points:—firstly, Whether any authority, civil or military, or any body of persons whatever, hold the opinion, that the force at present in Canada was inadequate, and ought to have been increased; and secondly, Whether, up to the present moment, the force in Lower Canada has been proved inadequate for the suppression of the disturbance. However, I repeat, I do not wish at the present moment to argue this question. I am ready to do so should any hon. Member think fit to propose a vote of censure on us; but the question to-night is, what are the means we ought to adopt, and what are the points on which we can agree in order to maintain in these provinces good order and tranquillity. With respect to force, it will be, I think, absolutely necessary, that a very sufficient force should be in the St. Lawrence in the spring, to be landed in Canada as soon as the navigation opens. For my own part, I may say, I entertain no apprehensions as to what may have hitherto been done by these insurgents, abandoned as they seem to have been by the great body of the British, and even French Canadians. From this, I say, I do not feel any apprehension whatever. But it is obvious at the same time, that, an insurrection having once broken out, a temptation is by the very circumstance presented, to many—a temptation not to be resisted—to endeavour to shake the British power in Canada. Let me be understood as not meaning to say, that any treaties or friendships with this country are likely to be forgotten on the present occasion, either by the great powers of Europe or by America. I have no intention of even insinuating the possibility of such an occurrence, and the conduct of the United States Government since the commencement of the disturbances in Canada strongly tends to convince us, that from the United States the Canadian rebels will meet with neither sympathy nor assistance. But at the same time it is impossible not to see, that both in Europe and America there are many whom the want of employment at home, and the hope of a participation in those splendid spoils so temptingly held out by the abettors of the rebellion, will induce to flock to the scene; and for this reason, even though circumstances may in the end prove that the precaution is unnecessary, I think it will be quite necessary that we should be prepared for action by the next spring, and have in the St. Lawrence ready for disembarkation a force sufficient to put down every vestige of the insurrection. Then comes the question with respect to the civil Government. It is obviously quite impossible, that we should think of convening the Assembly, or of asking them to pass laws, or do any act properly belonging to their jurisdiction. Unhappily, some of the most prominent Members of the Assembly have taken part with the insurgents, so that, as I before said, the Assembly itself may be said to have suspended their constitution.
I may as well here state, that the general plan I shall have the honour to propose is embodied in a Bill which I shall to-night ask for leave to introduce. Its leading provisions I shall now briefly state. In the first place, to ask Parliament to suspend that part of the constitution of 1791 by which it is made necessary to call together the Members of the Legislative Assembly. We then propose, that the power of legislation shall be given to a Governor in Council. The Bill does not, in its present shape, propose any particular number of which that Council should consist; but it provides that not less than five members of it should be present at any deliberation, and that every subject of deliberation should be brought forward and proposed by the governor. It then proceeds to provide that all the powers of legislation which may be necessary for the government of the provinces shall be intrusted to this body, I mean the Governor in council; that they may renew, if expedient, any acts which may have expired owing to the non-convocation of the Legislative Assembly, and that they may pass such acts as the occasion may require for the Government of the province; but the Bill does not propose that either the Governor or council should have power to change the constituent body. But, Sir, while this authority may be given, there remains this further question, in what manner is the constitution again to be re-established? It is our intention, and we adopt this plan with no other view, than that permanently a free constitution should exist in Canada. For this purpose we mean not only to limit the period of the authority of the new Governor, but also the period of the authority of the laws which we give him power to enact. If there are any who think that the present occasion ought to be taken to adopt any other than a free Government in Canada, or that the English party should have a concession made to all their wishes, and that the French Canadians should be subjected to a form of Government unpalatable to them, or one from which they could not expect full justice, or the due consideration of their interests, I have only to say that to such a proposition her Majesty's Government will be noparties. We propose only to do that which we consider the interests both of the mother country and the provinces require. We do not propose to govern Canada in any other way than that which must tend to the welfare of its inhabitants. I am firmly of opinion that the difficulties which have hitherto prevented an adjustment of this question have entirely arisen from the peculiar constitution of the House of Assembly (convened, unfortunately, at the will of one ambitious demagogue), and of a Legislative Council, in the composition of which, by former governors, the interests of the provinces and the characters of the individual men were not sufficiently consulted. I think, therefore, that with respect to the principal questions on which the alleged grievances of the Canadians are based, a satisfactory adjustment may, in the course of time, be arrived at. At the present moment I doubt very much whether we have before us all the elements upon which to decide the terms of such an adjustment; but I think, nevertheless, we have sufficient to justify our expressing an opinion that a consummation so much in every sense to be desired, is not considered by us either impracticable or even difficult.
I shall propose, therefore, that the Governor and his council, with the view to this final adjustment, should have recourse to the opinions of the Canadians themselves, summoning for that purpose a kind of board, to consist of twenty-six persons, of whom ten should be representatives of the assembly in Upper Canada, ten of the assembly in Lower Canada, three to be members of the Legislative Council of Lower Canada, and three members of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. I do not, however, propose—I should not be justified in proposing—that the final settlement of this matter should be left to this body in conjunction with the Governor. The Imperial Parliament is naturally the supreme legislative authority in the British empire, and I do not think we should on this occasion—on this so important and solemn an occasion—depart from the principle so invariably advocated by every great statesman and lawyer, of leaving to it the supreme control. I, therefore, propose that the propositions which may emanate from this assembly, after having been assented and agreed to by the Governor, should be transmitted to this country, and then proposed to Parliament, with a view of making such modifications in the constitution of 1791 as may conduce to the interests of all, and eventually prove the foundation of an harmonious and, I would add, a free constitution for the people. I do not despond. I say that such a foundation may be laid; but at the same time I think it is most important that the person to be sent from this country should be one whose conduct and character should be beyond exception—a person conversant not solely with matters of administration, but with the most important affairs which are from time to time brought before the Parliament of this country. I think he should be conversant also with the affairs of the various states of Europe; and moreover, that it should be implied by his nomination that he was not at all adverse to opinions the most liberal, and that he was favourable to popular feelings and popular rights.
Having said this much, I know not why I should refrain from adding that her Majesty has been pleased to intrust the conduct of this affair and these high powers to one whom her advisers think in every respect fitted for the charge—namely, the Earl of Durham; and the Earl of Durham having accepted the office, will proceed in due time to perform its important duties.
I will now proceed to say a few words as to the advantages which I think are at present enjoyed by the people of Lower Canada. It is the general opinion of all persons who are conversant with the subject, that there are no people on the face of the globe who are in a condition of greater comfort and ease, or who enjoy more extensive and peculiar advantages, than the habitans of Lower Canada. That is their present condition, and with the general progress of improvement it is fairly to be expected that that condition will improve. In addition to the benefit which they derive from the enjoyment of laws congenial to their own habits, feelings, and prejudices, they have the benefit which they derive from the enjoyment of British laws. It is certainly true that, with all these advantages, they do not enjoy complete independence. They do not enjoy that absolute freedom of action which is altogether inconsistent with their state, if they are still to be considered as the inhabitants of a colony belonging to a mother country.
But, Sir, in return for that disadvantage (if, indeed, it be a disadvantage), there are circumstances which go far to compensate them. Among the first of those circumstances is the privilege which they possess of being defended from foreign attack by the armies and by the navies of this country without charge. In the last year a sum of 220,000l. was voted for the naval and military defence of Canada, of which sum not above 1,200l. or 1,500l. was paid by Canadians. What would they have to pay if they were in the situation of the United States? In the last year the charge for the naval and military expenses of the American states was little less than 5,000,000l. Then again, with regard to taxation. The taxes in the Canadas are exceedingly light. The disposition of the revenue is also in the highest degree favourable to the interests of the people. The largest annual sum that has been voted in Lower Canada (I speak in round 40 numbers) was 157,000l. Of that sum 57,000l. was appropriated to the expenses of the civil government; 70,000l. to the expenses of roads, enclosures, and other internal improvements; and 25,000l. to the purposes of education.
Now, I ask whether, if we were in this condition, if all we had to pay was the expenses of the civil government, the expenses of internal improvements, and the expenses of public education, it would not be thought that we were in a very enviable situation? But, Sir, if the people of Canada have no great reason to complain of the laws under which they live—if they have no great reason to complain of the taxes which are imposed upon them—if they have no great reason to complain of the disposition of their revenue—still less reason have they to complain on the subject of trade. With respect to trade, it has always been admitted, that an Imperial Legislature has a right to compel a colony to receive the produce of the mother country, and a right to restrict that colony in its commerce with other nations. But, if Canada were separated from Great Britain—if Great Britain and Canada were two independent nations, could the trade of Canada by possibility be in a state so beneficial to that colony as at present? If, then, the situation of the people of Canada be so happy with respect to their internal condition, to their laws, to their finances, and to their trade, I think I have a perfect right to come to this House and to ask it to agree to the proposition which I am about to make.
The Address which I mean to propose, after "thanking her Majesty for her gracious communication of papers relating to the affairs of Canada," and "assuring her Majesty that the anxious consideration of this House shall be given to the preparation of such measures as the present exigency may require," proceeds "to express to her Majesty our deep concern that a disaffected party in Canada should have had recourse to open violence and rebellion, with a view to throw off their allegiance to the Crown. To declare to her Majesty our satisfaction that their designs have been opposed, no less by her Majesty's loyal subjects in North America than by her Majesty's forces, and to assure her Majesty, that while this House is ever ready to afford relief to real grievances, we are fully determined to support the efforts of her Majesty for the suppression of revolts and the restoration of tranquillity."
Sir, I think I have laid quite sufficient grounds to induce this House to consent to repose this confidence in her Majesty and her Majesty's Government, who are, with me, not prepared to give immediate independence to the British provinces in North America. Although, I repeat, that I am not prepared to give immediate independence, this I will say, that if the time were come at which such an important change might be safely and advantageously made, I should, by no means, be indisposed to give the 1,400,000 of our present fellow-subjects who are living in the provinces of North America a participation in the perfect freedom enjoyed by the mother country. If it were a fit time, if circumstances of all kinds were such as to render such an arrangement desirable, I think that our colonies might with propriety be severed from us, and formed into a separate and distinct state, in alliance, offensive and defensive, with this country.
The hon. Member for Kilkenny and the hon. Member for Bridport cheer this sentiment. Of this I am sure, that if things had arrived at the state which I have described, if the time for such a separation had arrived, (which I utterly deny) we should then have as allies men influenced by the most amiable and affectionate feelings towards the mother country; not men who would wish to see the British arms defeated, or who would entertain the aspiration that the power of Great Britain might sink into insignificance and contempt. On the contrary, I am convinced that we should find in them men who would cheer on the efforts of this great empire, who would reverence our character, and share our triumphs. Until such a time, however, shall arrive, until separation shall be the mutual interest of the British colonies and the British empire, we will not consent that these provinces shall lose British protection, in addition to the privileges which they enjoy in common with their fellow-subjects. If the time be not come for the separation to which I allude, at least let us not consent to the separation of a small portion of persons who have carried their ambitious designs into effect by breaking into open rebellion in Lower Canada. If you consent to such a proposition, you will indeed create a civil war, you will excite plunder and pillage, you will give the signal for a long and sanguinary interruption of public tranquillity; and if the individuals to whom I have alluded fancy that they can establish a free, a happy, and an orderly republic, in that expectation they will most signally fail. Sir, such are the reasons and such are the grounds on which I ask this House to assent to the Address which I am about to propose.
I feel confident that the House and the country will do her Majesty's Government the justice to believe, that they entertain no wish to avail themselves of the means which, they trust, will be placed at their disposal for purposes of severity, still less of vengeance, with reference to the misguided people who have been induced to take a part in this insurrection. I am sure that no one can be more anxious than the noble Lord, the present Governor of Canada, and I am sure that no one will be more anxious than the noble Lord who will succeed him, to make the present warfare as little attended by circumstances of a painful and sanguinary nature as possible. I feel confident that they will consider clemency the best road to reconciliation; for I also feel confident that the defection of the greater portion of those who have been led into rebellion in Lower Canada may be justly attributed to ignorance. The few really guilty, the designing men who have exasperated others, and induced them rashly to appeal to arms, will hereafter be held in detestation by their own countrymen. Confident as to the issue of this contest, I feel it my duty to call upon the House to uphold those who have been faithful to their Sovereign, to their country, to their oaths, and to the integrity of the empire.
The noble Lord concluded by moving the following Address:—
"That an humble Address be presented to her Majesty, to thank her Majesty for her gracious communication of papers relating to the affairs of Canada."
"To assure her Majesty that the anxious consideration of this House shall be given to the preparation of such measures as the present exigency may require."
"To express to her Majesty our deep concern that a disaffected party in Canada should have had recourse to open violence and rebellion, with a view to throw off their allegiance to the Crown."
"To declare to her Majesty our satisfaction that their designs have been opposed no less by her Majesty's loyal subjects in North America than by her Majesty's forces; and to assure her Majesty that while this House is ever ready to afford relief to real grievances, we are fully determined to support the efforts of her Majesty for the suppression of revolt and the restoration of tranquillity."
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