Born in St. Andrews, Province of New Brunswick, I am a "good Tory," and not of a Revolutionary stock. My father's father, a Boston merchant, sacrificed his all for the Royal cause, and left for Halifax with General Gage, when Boston was evacuated, in 1776. My mother's mother emigrated from Postmouth to New Brunswick, with a daughter married to Captain Storrow, of the British army, from whom my name was taken. She was a "Wentworth," cousin to John Wentworth (afterwards Sir John, Governor of Nova Scotia), the last Royal Governor of New Hampshire; niece to Sir Berning, his predecessor; and granddaughter to John Wentworth, who preceded him. These three "Wentworths" - father, son, and grandson, - having governed New Hampshire for more than forty years.
When, at fifteen years of age, I came to Montreal, in the year 1818, I was already a politician from much reading of newspapers; but forming my ideas of what was right in men and things mostly from the lessons contained in "Plutarch's Lives." In the same year the Parliament of Lower Canada was for the first time called upon to make provision for the "Civil List," which included payment of all provincial salaries, in accordance with an offer made in 1810.
In those days there was no "Responsible Government" in the colonies, and no Colonial Ministry. Each had a House of Assembly elected by the people, a Legislative Council appointed for life by the Crown, and a Governor, who was some old military officer left on the hands of the Home Ministry by the Peace of 1815, and who knew little of governing beyond the word of command. The Executive Council, responsible no where, and to nobody, was a mere council of advice. That in Lower Canada became a controlling power. The representatives of the people could debate and vote, but there were no means of carrying on their decisions.
Our Parliament had at this time existed for nearly thirty years, with nominally all the powers of the British House of Commons; but in the long period when our insufficient revenue required that a large portion of the "Civil List," or expenditure for provincial purposes, should be paid from the Military Chest - That is, British Treasury, through the Commissariat - The Assembly could hardly question the expenditure, or its particular distribution.
I shall in this article use the words "Canadian", and "English", as the French use them and accord to our common acceptation here, - the first meaning non but ''French'' Canadians; and the second, all who are ''not'' French Canadians. With the call upon the Assembly to provide for the Civil List, came the protest that culminated in 1837. The Assembly was Canadian, and acting upon its positive right, demanded that all the revenue of the Province, should be placed at its disposal. The official body, including sinecurists and pluralists, being mostly English in numbers, and more so on the pay-list, instinctly foresaw reduction for their order. The Legislative Council, not a mere obedient appendage like the Legislative Councils of our day, or the "Senate", was a vigorous English body; and, taking part with the office-holders, put itself in direct antagonism to the Assembly. A great portion of the legislation demanded by the people through the Assembly was thrown out by the Council, till in the end there was an accumulation of over three hundred bills, passed by the Lower House, and thrown out by the Upper; and various governmental irregularities were committed, against continued remonstrances.
The constant demand of the Assembly for all the revenue, was met by tardy concessions by the British Government year after year, only to increase irritation; till in the end, as should have been in the beginning, all was surrendered. Then came the voting of supplies. The Assembly, having no other check on the Government, on the office holders, insisted on voting salaries annually and separately to each service or individual. The Governor, supported by the Council, insisted that they should be voted ''en bloc'', - in a lump sum - and for a term of years, to be devided by the Executive; and thus the conduct of public affairs became so insufferable that, in 1828, a deputation from Canadians (there had been deputations in former years) carried home a petition, signed by 87,000 people, which was laid before a Committee of the House of Commons. The Committee entered fully upon the question, gave the delegates a full hearing, and by a report sustained the House of Assembly in its allegations or grievances, but left the remedy in the hands of the Government.
Promises of redress were profuse, but in the multiplicity of reforms required at that time of the British Ministry, ours were overlooked till 1835, when Lord Gosford, a good natured Irish gentleman, of no political capacity or knowledge, was sent out as Governor, accompanied by an ex-captain of Engineers, and an excentric Indian judge to act with him as "Commissioners" to inquire into our grievances. The insult of appointing a commission to inquire into facts that had been re-echoed for fifteen years, when the Parliament of the Province could be the only inquest, was only equalled by the imbecility of selecting three men utterly incompetent for the task. The Commission was never recognized by our Parliament, nor did the British Ministry suppose it would be. It was sent out as a make shift; and its reports, in which in turn each Commissioner differed from his colleagues, ended with the printing.
Lord Gosford, however, did something. He gave at Quebec a St. Catherine's ball, and, to the disgust of all loyal Britons, gave the chief place to a Canadian lady; which disgust was amplified by concessions of many things, before withheld, and a judicious bestowal of offices to certain Canadian politicians. On return, a portion of the Quebec wing of what was now called the "Papineau Party" split off, and desired reconciliation. Satisfied with what they had in hand, and promises of more, they declared the cry for reform meant revolution.
To no party in a colony does the British nation, at home and abroad, owe so much as to the "Papineau Party", to which I had the honor of being attached. To no man born in a colony does the British nation, at home and abroad, owe so much as to Louis Joseph Papineau, - one who, by that spirit that in heroic times falls upon choosen men, towered gigantically admits his compeers. Though here the struggle was presented as a contest between the French and English, in other colonies it was distinctly between the people and the colonial oligarchy.
In 1837, there was chronic dissatisfaction in every British colony,
and each was besieging the Colonial Office for redress of grievances, having their common source in the contest of people, speaking through their Houses of Assembly, and the Colonial Office holders supported by imbecile Governors, through and irresponsible Legislative Council. The unwavering determination of the Papineau Party forced questions ot their ultimate decision: and the British Government, when awakened to the necessity, with a magnanimity seldom found in history, acknowledged the errors of the past, and noticed all the colonies that henceforth their own government should be in their own hands, and her authority never again be invoked against their rights. From that time to this there has been no colonial disloyalty, discontent, dissatisfaction, or complaint. The question in England then was, how shall we keep the colonies? The question now is, how can we shake them off?
The session of Parliament in 1836 was, like its predecessors, one of strife between its Lower and Upper House, and ended without a vote of supplies. We then owed no public debt; there were no public creditors, except the provincial officials. There was for their payment one hundred and forty thousand pounds in the provincial chest, but without
the "vote"not a shilling could be paid; and, from the judges downwards, all were suffering for want of their "arrears".
Thus matters dragged till the 7th of March, 1837, when the great constitutional statesman, Lord John Russell, in the spirit of an absolute despot, introduced into the House of Commons a series of resolutions, authorizing the Governor of Lower Canada to draw from the Provincial chest this one hundred and forty thousand pounds, and pay off all arrears of salary, without waiting for a vote of our House of Assembly, which, voted so far as concerned the Province with all the powers and privileges of the House of Commons, had the sole control. Many members, who expressed the true British heart, protested against such anti-British and unwarranted resolutions, and told as we should be a disgrace to the British name and to humanity if we did not resist them to the uttermost; but they were carried by a great majority in the House; and in the Lords, Lord Brougham was the only dissident.
Lord John, however, became frightened with his own success. He said, in answer to inquiries, the he should not act upon the resolutions, but bring a bill. Though twitted by Lord Stanley - now Earl Derby - the bill did not appear; and in June, after accession of our beloved Queen, he declared that, not wishing to commence the reign with so "harsh" a measure, he would ''drop the resolutions, and add one hundred and forty thousand pounds to the army estimates, to enable the Governor to pay off the arrears from the military chest'', and wait the return from the province to a convenient season. And so it was done. The commissariat obtained the money by special bills sold in New York, and commenced paying salaries on the 12th of October.
But the mischief was done. The news of the passage of the resolutions set the country in a blaze in April, and the news of this wretched ending only reached us in August, when the fire was too wide-spread to be smothered. Had Lord John Russell proposed in March to borrow from the military chest, instead of to rob our own, there would have been no "troubles of 1837". Whatever may have been the offences of that year, his offence was the greatest, and he the greatest of all offenders.
Our organs, the ''Vindicator'' and ''Minerve'', taking their direction from the philosophic democrats of the House of Commons, on the 14th of April, sounded the key-note, - "Agitate, agitate," - and quickly came responses from all parts. Parties became arrayed in most violent antagonism. On one side were all the Canadians, with the exception of a small party in Quebec and a few stragglers, the Catholic Irish, and a few scattering English. On the other side were all the English, with the above exceptions, and some in the townships, who only in the county of Missisquoi made any great demonstration.
There being no Parliament in session, or likely to be called, the people could only speak by public meetings, which it was decided should be held by counties. Richelieu set off, under the impetuosity of Wolfred Nelson, on the 7th of May. Montreal followed on the 15th of May, at St. Laurent, to consider the means necessary to protect the rights and liberties of the people, and Mr. Papineau spoke for hours. Neither at those meeting, nor in any that followed in country after county, from May to August, was any revolutionary propositions adopted, - the whole subject of addresses and resolutions being a reiteration of the complaints of maladministration in the Government and neglect of our petitions, declaration of approval of the House of Assembly, and of the Papineau Party, and demands for redress. All that went beyond this was to use no article of British manufacture, and by the use, encourage domestic manufactures; and so far as concerned other merchandize, to evade the payment of duties by encouraging the smuggling from the States, on the principle that, the payment of imposts to a Government, and the legal expenditure of the proceeds by the Government, were reciprocal obligations, and that when the law was violated, the first was dissolved.
I had for years been a steady adherent of the Papineau Party, at a pecuniary and social sacrifice, inevitable to him who is separated from those who may be considered his own people, and found in stormy times ranked with an opposing party, alien in blood and language. The reply to that article of the capitulation of 1759, which required safe guard for the Canadians was, "They are subjects of the King." In 1791, a free Parliament was granted to them, and it appeared to me that manliness in the British people forbade the withholding of any right from a handful of French descent, that the fortunes of war had left in British territory. I saw, too, in their pretensions, the same principle that had been consecrated
by the triumphs of the British Commons in their victories over the "Prerogatives" in time past; and felt that an instinctive dread of French supremacy, which I could not share, alone prevented the entire people from making common cause against such a Government and Colonial Office as we had. There was something excitingly chivalric in devotion to a cause where one had everything to lose and nothing to gain.
Coming into town in the morning of the 20th June, I met the late James Duncan Gibb, who informed me that Lord Gosford had issued a proclamation forbidding the holding of public meetings - or "Anti-Coercion Meetings" as they were called. "This," said I, "is more than British subjects can submit to. Not only will the country meetings already called be held, but we will hold one in Montreal;" and this I repeated to his party, before reaching any one of my own.
An Anti-Coercion meeting in Montreal involved serious considerations, of riot and bloodshed, with which, in the bitter tumult of the previous ten years, our city was familiar. I vehemently urged the necessity of defiance to the proclamation in Montreal, as encouragement to the country, which might consider us poor braggarts who only dared to show themselves where the was no man to oppose. Timid counsels had well nigh prevailed when, at one of our discussion, a young man in the corner, who I never heard speak in public before or since, came out so violently in favor of the meeting that none present dared to vote "No." The meeting was held on the St. Lawrence Market, on the 29th of June, and all passed of quietly. The English held an opposite meeting about the same time, but no collision occurred. They also held, during the summer, several meetings in the city, and some small ones in the country, to denounce the proceedings of the Canadians.
The meeting in Montreal, as I expected, gave new vigor to country meetings. Justices of the Peace and militia officers, as conspicuous men, figured frequently as movers and seconders of resolutions. The Governor, through his Secretary, Mr. Walcott, addressed letters of inquiry to those persons, and getting back somewhat sancy answers, they were peremptorily dismissed. The Executive should never have noticed these demonstrations. An imbecile opposition only gave them greater consequence. The proclamation was treated with great contempt.
An active moving power in our machinery of agitation was the "Permanent and Central Committee", which held open sittings at the Nelson Hotel, in Montreal, attended by the ardent Canadians of towns and country. Here every movement in all parts of the province was echoed and applauded, and now ideas were sent forth for action elsewhere. Here, too, militia officers and magistrates who had incurred Executive displeasure were glorified; country notables, often made "Chairman", went home elated with the honor, especially when seen in print.
Though the Gosfordites were strong in Quebec, Papineau was stronger in the neighboring counties, and one of the largest Anti-Coercion meetings was held at St. Thomas. Doctor Taché - afterwards the Premier, Sir Etienne, - was indicted for assaulting a man who at this meeting shouted, ''Hourra pour le Roi des Anglais'', - "Hurrah for the English King"!
Our Parliament assembled in the middle of August. Gosford had in a manner, during the past two years, promised many unaccomplished things. He had no answer for old complaints, and the Assembly, declaring that the redress of grievances must precede all legislative action, separated without waiting for the hasty prorogation intended by the Governor. Thus ended the last Parliament of Lower Canada.
Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm of the district of Montreal, of the intelligence with which the questions of the day were understood. The houses along the roads we took to public meetings were decorated. Crowns stood for hours listening to speeches and resolutions. In going to the Napierville meeting, the train of vehicles behind us must have been over two miles long. On one occasion, when Mr. Papineau came from St. Hyacinthe by the way of St. Charles to Verchères, and up the river to Montréal, the people turned out ''en masse'', and conducted him from parish to parish.
Though so politically active, 1837 was commercially a hard year. Owing to a general failure of crops in 1836, wheat as imported from Europe to New York, to supply western want. Many cargoes from the continent were landed at Quebec, and some were purchased for Upper Canada. Nor was wheat the only article; even pork and butter were imported at a profit. All the American Banks suspended specie payment in May. Ours followed immediately, except the Bank of Upper Canada, which the Governor would not permit to do till some moths afterwards.
Matters were not gloomy with leading politicians, who paused and hesitated; but the masses in their movement, headed by men newly warmed to public action,
sw no barriers. Annoyed at the timid counsels that nearly stopped our Montreal meeting in June, I had projected a "Young Men's Party"; but met with no encouragement till the end of August, when I found that a member of Young Canadians had formed an association, called the "Sons of Liberty,"to which I at once attached myself. It was in two divisions; the one civil, of which Mr. Ouimet, a young lawyer, was President, and our late mayor, Mr. Beaudry, Vice-President; the other military. The city was divided into "sections", the young men of each, being under a chief, ''Chef de Section''. I was choosen general; and we speedily became the most offending of the offenders, holding frequent meetings, and marching in strong numbers.
I had, in 1836, commenced a series of letters published in the New York ''Express'', over the signature of "L. M. N.", which, at first, presumed to proceed from
high authority, were every where republished, and commented on like manifestoes of a party. They had reached the twelfth number, threatening armed resistance, and were now known by our party to be solely published by me on my sole responsibility. I was a constant writer for the ''Vindicator'', and author of many "imprudent" articles. I had, perhapds, attended and spoke at more public meetings than any other man, and none had more to do with their organization. I was everywhere, day and night; one of the youngest of the actors, everywhere active, everywhere enthusiastic, everywhere confident. May hand was on the plough, and I looked not back. The Government of the country was at a dead lock. I saw no remedy but to push on the movement were were engaged in to its ultimate results, let that be what it might.
Ardent, devoted, disinterested, and fearless of consequences, with no enmity against any one, and no self-object in view, I felt impelled by a necessity that can alone be understood or apprehended by those who, in times of peril, find themselves forced into prominence. The course taken by our party was the true one. Thirty years reflections confirms the opinion that we pursued a right course, and the only one open. We could not silently submit to Russell's resolutions. We could only protest by public demonstrations. They were legal, and we were, as British subjects, right in resisting their oppression; and when, in the end, illegal warrants for high treason were issued, we were justified in attempting self defense.
Many magistrates and militia officers, who had not been questioned by the Executive for their part in public agitation sent in their resignation accompanied by letters expressing very determined opinions, which were published at length, as more aliment for excitement. Not content with these voluntary demonstrations, the people in many parishes forced others to follow the same course. About the end of October, sixty-six voluntary or forced resignations were sent from the County of Lacadie, with letters that, when published filled a page of our newspapers.
The county of Two Mountains, guided by Girouard and Scott, the members, and Charter, Priest of St. Benoit, had been particularly active from the beginning, and now held a meeting which, after declaring that the country could have no confidence in any person holding a commission from the Executive, proposed that magistrates or pacificators should be elected, to whom all matters of civil contest should be referred for adjudication.
The Canadian clergy, with few exceptions, resolutely opposed all public agitation. Never was there such severance between the people and their pastors. Monseigneur Lartigue, acting as bishop of the diocese of Montreal, issued a ''mandement'', or pastoral letter, denouncing positively all agitation and agitators. A few priests refused to read it to their parishioners, or did no with an apology. I some of the parishes the men left the church when the reading commenced.
The greatest and closing public meeting of the season, was that of the "Five Counties", held at St. Charles, on the 23rd day of October, which was attended by more men of superior position than any of the preceeding. The speakers were Papineau, L. M. Viger, Louis Lacoste, E. E. Rodier, and Dr. Côté, all members of Parliament, and myself. The resolutions, moved and seconded by men of highest repute in the District insisted on the duty of the British authorities to amend our form of Government: stigmatized the dismissal of officials; declared that there could be no confidence in their successors, which made the election of "pacificators", as proposed in Tow Mountains, necessary; protested against the English Government for sending on troops for the destruction of our liberties; disapproved all recent appointments of Lord Gosford, as evidencing and continuing a system of fraud. The organization of the Sons of Liberty was approved, and hopes expressed that Providence, and the sympathies of our neighbors - Provincial and American - would bring round a favorable opportunity for our emancipation. An armed party fired salutes, and a plan for the confederation of six counties was adopted.