Petition of the Inhabitants of the Townships of Lower Canada in favour of Uniting the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada under one Legislature

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Petition of the Inhabitants of the Townships of Lower Canada in favour of Uniting the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada under one Legislature
British Subjects of British birth or descent inhabiting "English Lower Canda"
1823



To the Honourable the Knight, Citizens and Burgesses, representing the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled.

The PETITION of the Subscribers, His Majesty's dutiful and loyal Subjects, of British birth or descent, Inhabitants of the Townships of Dunham, Stanbridge, St. Armand, Sutton, Potton, Stanstead, Barnston, Barford, Hereford, Farnham, Brome, Bolton, Hatley, Compton, Clifton, Granby, Shefford, Stukely, Orford, Ascott, Eaton, Newport, Bury, Hampden, Milton, Roxton, Durham, Melborne, Windsor, Shipton, Stoke, Dudwell, Simpson, Kingsey, Grantham, Wickham, Wendover, Brompton, and other Townships and Places situate in the Province of Lower Canada;

Humbly Sheweth.

That your Petitioners have learnt with the greatest heartfelt satisfaction, and the most profound gratitude, that a Bill was introduced into the Honourable the House of Commons, at the last session of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, for uniting the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada under one Legislature; a measure to which the inhabitants of the Townships of Lower Canada look forward as the only effectual means of terminating the difficulties and troubles under which they have laboured in times past, and of preventing the evils with which a continuation of the present state of things would threaten them for the time to come.

That the situation of the inhabitants of the Townships is different from that of any other portion of the British empire, and is likely to prove most unfortunate and disastrous for themselves and their posterity, unless the legislative aid of the land of their ancestors be extended to relieve them; as will be briefly shown in the following statement:—The province of Lower Canada, according to its present condition, may be separated into two parts; viz.: first, the Seigniories or French Lower Canada, which comprehends a narrow tract of land on each side of the river St. Lawrence, varying in breadth from ten to forty miles; and secondly, the Townships or English Lower Canada, which comprehends the remainder of the Province, and is more extensive, and capable of containing a far greater population than the Seigniories, or French Lower Canada. The Seignorial part of Lower Canada, whose population may be considered as about half filled up, is inhabited chiefly by Canadians, whose origin and language are French; but contains, besides these, a population of about 40,000 inhabitants of British origin. The Townships, or English Lower Canada, are peopled wholly by inhabitants of British birth and descent, and American loyalists, amounting at present to about 40,000 souls, who have no other language than that of their British ancestors, who inhabit lands granted under the British tenure of free and common soccage, who have a Protestant clergy, for whose maintenance a portion of those lands are set apart, and who, notwithstanding, are subjected to French laws, (the custom of Paris,) of which they know nothing, compiled in a language with which they are unacquainted.

In addition to the evil of subjection to foreign laws in a foreign language, the Townships or English Lower Canada, labour under the further difficulty of having no court within their own limits, for the administration even of those foreign laws, but are compelled for the most trifling legal redress, to resort to courts established at the cities of Quebec, Montreal, or Three Rivers, in Seignorial Canada, at a distance frequently from l00 to 150 miles, through a country where the travelling, by reason of the inadequacy of the laws regarding communications, is frequently difficult and dangerous; and to complete the measure of their grievances, the Townships are de facto without any representation whatever in the Provincial House of Assembly in Lower Canada. Their complaints to the Provincial Assembly have been always treated with contempt or indifference; nor can your Petitioners account for their being placed, as it were, almost out of the pale of civil government, by a neglect so different from the course pursued in the Legislature other British provinces, except on the supposition that the French Canadian House of Assembly has not been desirous that emigrants from Britain or of British origin should have inducements to seek an asylum or become settlers in Lower Canada. If such indeed were the object, it has not failed of partial success; as of the many thousand emigrants who, within the last few years, have arrived from Great Britain, scarcely 1,000 have settled in the Townships of Lower Canada; but great numbers of them have gone into the United States1, considering, possibly, that they should there find themselves in a less foreign country than in this British colony under its present circumstances, and under the foreign aspect of the representative branch of its Legislature.2

Your Petitioners will not enlarge upon the general statement they have given of their condition, by entering into the detail of the numerous hardships and difficulties with which they have had to contend, although sensible that the recital would call forth commiseration. They will content themselves with stating, that as settlements under these English tenures have been commenced, as immense tracts still remain to be settled, and as the population of Lower Canada is trifling compared to the amount which it is capable of attaining, there can be no sound reason for rearing up any portion of the province so as, at its maturity, to constitute a nation of foreigners, or for continuing a system calculated to deter Britons and their descendants from settling upon the waste lands of the Crown. In the management of colonies, as in the management of youth, prudence would seem to dictate that the lasting interests of the future maturity, not the momentary inclinations of the present condition, should be considered of the deepest import. Already within a recent period, near 100,000 emigrants of British birth have made Lower Canada only a place of transit; who, if the foreign aspect of the Legislature had not urged them to take an abode elsewhere, might have augmented the strength and means of the English population in the province. But notwithstanding the past checks to colonial increase, unless similar causes are allowed to operate thereafter, future emigrants and their descendants, joined to the English already established here, may ultimately form a great majority of the inhabitants, and render the country in fact, as it is in name, a British colony. And in the attainment of this happy result, no injury could be done to the just rights of others; nor would even any prejudices be affected, except those delusions circulated and fostered by demagogues "that the Canadians of French extraction are to remain a distinct people, and that they are entitled to be considered a nation;" prejudices from which it must follow as a necessary consequence, that the province of Lower Canada (of which not one sixth-part is settled) should be deemed their national territory, where none but those willing to become French ought to be allowed to establish themselves; prejudices which, however absurd they may appear, will obtain strength and influence if not speedily and completely discouraged, and will be found not only incompatible with colonial duty and allegiance, but also dangerous to the future safety of the adjoining colonies, and subversive of the rights of all the inhabitants of the Townships, as well as of all the English settled in seignorial Canada, through whose hands the entire trade with the mother country is conducted.

Your Petitioners, the inhabitants of English Lower Canada, had always flattered themselves that no laws would be imposed or continued on that portion of the country, having a tendency to compel them to resemble a foreign nation, and to deprive them of the characteristics of their British origin; and their confidence on this occasion was increased by their recollection of the promises of his late Majesty, to give English laws to his subject settling in Canada, and by the exception (an exception never yet enforced in practice) contained in the Quebec Act of 1774, declaring that the provision of that Act, establishing French laws, "should not extend to lands to be hereafter granted in free and common soccage," a tenure which exists exclusively in the Townships.

Your Petitioners felt, and they trust it is a feeling which cannot fail to meet with sympathy in the hearts of their countrymen, and the countrymen of their ancestors in Britain, that the knowledge of their native English language ought to be sufficient to enable them to learn their rights and to perform their duties as faithful subjects, while they resided under British tenures in what is, at least in name, a British colony. They felt that one great and glorious object of nations rearing up and protecting colonies, must be the establishment of a people who should perpetuate in after ages the honoured resemblance of the parent state; and they felt that it could neither be consistent with the dignity nor the interests of Great Britain, to rear up a colony to be hereafter in language and in laws a representative of France, while France was exempted from all the expense of it protection. They considered the Townships of Lower Canada, now inhabited solely by settlers of British birth and origin, speaking only the English language, and having a Protestant clergy upon whom one-seventh of the land is bestowed, as possessing a sacred claim upon the British Government for protection, against the painful and humiliating prospect, that their posterity might be doomed to acquire the language and assume the manners and character of a foreign people. And they also considered that the right of the Townships to a representation in the Provincial Assembly would not have been withheld from them in any other British colony, nor perhaps even here, had not their language and descent been British.

Your Petitioners would gladly limit their solicitations—to one point that of being allowed a representation in the Provincial Parliament, proportioned to the consequence and growing importance of the extensive districts they inhabit—if a sober view of their future safety would permit them to confine themselves to that object; but it is possible that even this sacred and inestimable privilege might, when accorded, be deprived of much of its advantages and inefficiency towards procuring the settlement of the wild lands by emigrants from Britain, in consequence of the influence of the majority of French Canadians, which would still be found in the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, who, in the midst of professions of attachment to the mother country, seek to preserve themselves a separate and distinct people. To secure and preserve to the colony, and to the mother country, the full benefit which would be likely to arise from the establishment of principles calculated to produce a gradual assimilation of British feelings among all inhabitants of whatever origin, it would be essentially necessary that a legislative union between the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada should take place.

There are many reasons, in addition to the one your Petitioners have just assigned, which render the legislative union of the two provinces indispensable for their common prosperity, and which cause that measure to be most earnestly desired by all the inhabitants of both, who are not influenced by national prejudices, which ought to be extinguished3, or by local or private interests, which are unworthy to be weighed against the general benefits to be obtained from the union.

Your Petitioners humbly represent, that no arguments can be urged against the union by the French Canadians, which will not, when analyzed, be resolvable into this real meaning, that they desire to remain a separate people thereby ultimately to become a French nation, or as they have denominated themselves the "Nation Canadienne." The Canadians, without owing any of their increase to emigration, have more than twice doubled their numbers since the conquest; and although they might, without any injustice or deprivation of actual rights, have been by this time assimilated to their British fellow subjects, they are nevertheless at this day, with but a few individual exceptions, as much foreigners in character as when that event took place; and must ever continue so, were the present state of things to be permanent. The present crisis therefore offers this alternative to Great Britain—either by uniting the provinces, to hold out inducements to the French to become English, or by continuing the separation, to hold out inducements to the English, in Lower Canada to become French. And the question is not, whether a country already peopled is to renounce its national feelings and characteristics, as the French Canadians may endeavour to represent; but whether a country, for the most part waste, and to be hereafter chiefly peopled by a British race, is to assume the character, language and manners of a foreign nation. Should the latter course be preferred, Great Britain will be rearing up a people of foreigners, to become at no distant period from their rapidly increasing population, a scourge to the adjoining colonies; whereas, it the union be adopted, it would ultimately remove national prejudices and hostility, derived from differences of origin, andd consolidate the population of both provinces into one homogeneous mass, animated by the same views for the public interest, and the same sentiments of loyalty towards their common Sovereign.4

The geographical situation of two provinces, and the relations which nature has established between them, absolutely and indispensably require their union under one Legislature, for they have but one outlet to the sea, and one channel of communication with the mother country. The only key of that communication, the only sea-port, is in the possession of Lower Canada, and with it the only means by which, for a length of time in a new country, a revenue can be raised for the support of Government. To place, or to leave, the only key of communication, the only source of revenue, exclusively in the hands of a people like the French Canadians, anti-commercial in principle, and adverse to assimilation with their British fellow subjects, must be extreme impolicy; nor can the checks upon the imposition and repeal of import duties, provided by the Act of the last session of the Imperial Parliament, be more than a temporary remedy, inasmuch as Upper Canada is thereby only entitled to a species of veto, and no initiative or deliberative voice in the enactments; nor indeed can human wisdom be adequate to devise such a system of revenue upon imports, while the provinces shall remain separate, as will not give unfair and unequal advantages to the one or the other, and of necessity produce irritation and enmity.

Your Petitioners further humbly state, that the French Canadians have been long admitted to the enjoyment of the freedom and the rights of British subjects, rights far more extensive that the utmost they could have hoped for had they continued colonists of France5: but rights and duties are reciprocal; whenever the former exist, the latter are obligatory; and while the freedom and protection of Britain are bestowed upon Canadians, it can neither be unfair nor ungenerous to require in return the existence of such amended Constitution as shall encourage a portion of our brethren from Britain to establish themselves and their posterity upon the Crown lands in Lower Canada. From a union of the provinces, no individual could reasonably complain of injury, no right would be taken away6, no just pretensions would be set aside, and even no prejudice would be molested, save only such as might be found in those who cherish visionary views of the future existence of a Gallo-Canadian nation, which the union would at once and for ever dispel.

To discover with certainty what are the real feelings which excite opposition to the union, (however diverged the pretexts assigned maybe), it would only be requisite to consider, whether, if the population were all of the same origin in provinces situated as the Canadas are with respect to each other, any objections to the measure would be made? The answer is obvious; there would be none. And if the real motives of opposition on the part of the French Canadian fellow subjects, whether openly avowed or speciously disguised, arise from the intention of continuing or constituting a separate people, which would perpetuate among us the disastrous national distinctions of English and French, they form the strongest possible reasons in favour of the union. Your Petitioners had humbly hoped that the guardian care of the parent state would, under Providence, secure her colonies in this part of the Globe from the ultimate danger of those national animosities and distinctions which have existed for so many ages, and proved such fertile sources of evil to Britons in Europe. And entertaining, as they do, the most perfect confidence that the salutary measure of the union of the Canadas would in the most equitable and beneficial manner secure their posterity from the evil they have mentioned, they humbly conceive that the honour, as well as the humanity of the mother country, require it to be effected while it is yet easily practicable, before the population shall be formidable in numbers, and before continually recurring exasperations shall have rendered animosity bitter and hereditary.7

Your Petitioners therefore most humbly pray that an Act be passed to authorize the Provincial Executive Government to divide the townships of Lower Canada into counties entitled to elect members, so as equitably to provide for the interests of their future population according to the extent of their territory, and also to unite the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada under one Legislature, in such manner as may allow of representation proportioned in some measure to territorial extent, which thereby will provide for the growing state of the country, and also of necessity be ultimately proportioned to wealth and population.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.



The foregoing Petition was transmitted from the Townships in 1823, and signed almost unanimously by all the heads of families in the Townships: the number of signatures exceeded 10,000. This Petition, together with others, even from the Seignories of Lower Canada, as well as from Upper Canada, in favour of the union of the two provinces, can now be produced, if required.


Notes

1. This problem, the removing of emigrants from Lower Canada to the United States, is discussed at length in the Report on the Affairs of British North America. The reasons why Lower Canada was unable to retain its immigrant population had much to do with the vicinity of the United States and little to do with the alleged interference of the majority in the House of Assembly of Lower Canada.

2. The majority of the representatives, previously described as "Canadians, whose origin and language are French" have now conveniently become foreigners... in Canada, the country of their birth, because their ancestors were French. The facts are that the Canadians were granted the status of British subjects by the terms of the capitulations of 1759 and 1760, terms which entered international law with the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, by which the King of France ceded Canada to the King of Great Britain.

3. And the means that is proposed to extinguish these national prejudices is to extinguish the weaker nation...

4. A careful observer might come to wonder if speaking English really improves loyalty to the crown, considering the conduct followed by the population of the Thirteen Colonies.

5. The authors of the petition are assuming here that the Ancien régime would have somehow subsisted in Canada despite France becoming a republic.

6. What about human rights?

7. Or in other words before Canada becomes another Ireland.

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