The Hon. Louis-Joseph Papineau's Address to the Electors of the City of Montreal
Since the conclusion of the last Session of the Provincial Parliament, several influential electors of the City of Montreal, several political and private friends, have written to me, some have visited me to sollicit my acceptation of the highly honorable position of Candidate for the representation of this Metropolis of Canada. To all I have uniformly replied, in perfect sincerity and good faith, that the fatigue caused by the anxieties and by the deep moral responsibilities which belong to public life, made me wish to retire from it. I told them that I was ahungered and athirst for repose; that, after forty years of incessant strife, I thought I had a right to my discharge. Having lived to the age of sixty-five years in the midst of agitations, severe and painful as those which have so rapidly succeeded each other in Canada since 1809, I sought in the bosom of my family and in the solitude of the banks of the Ottawa, for peace and tranquility during the few years which perhaps remain to me of my earthly pilgrimage.
In the situation which I had thus marked out of myself, I have been therefore surprised to receive an invitation on the part of more than five hundred electors, praying me to accept the candidature for the representation in Parliament of the City of Montreal. The links which enchain me — duty, love, and gratitude — to the free and independent electors of the finest, most enlightened, and most important of Canadian Cities, are strong and numerous, and they date from the period of my entrance on the Parliamentary career. To the appeal which my friends make to my proved patriotism, they add that I cannot, in the difficult and peculiar circumstances of the moment, when so great a number of those who formerly served the people's cause, have lately deserted it, allured by the love of power, of honours, of official patronage, and intoxicated by the incense of base adulation offered to those who exercise it, and enchained by the excessive emoluments attached to almost all the public functions — that I cannot by an ill-timed refusal, prejudice the cause of the great democratic party, which I have been always so active in forming, in rallying, in encouraging, both in good and evil fortune. They say that this refusal would be interpreted as a censure — a disavowal of the noble efforts, which are being made in Montreal and throughout the Province, for the largest possible renovation of the representation, of which the majority in the last Parliament forfeited their duty and their engagements taken at the Hustings. The Manifesto of the Committee of Reform and Progress, published at Quebec, was the professed political symbol — the wisely and moderately liberal flag displayed by every candidate chosen by constituencies where popular and democratic influence prevailed. Four years ago, there was not one of your candidates who would have dared to refuse his approbation to the doctrines enunciated in the able document; but candidates, transformed into ministers by the importance which you lent them, have quickly thrown that declaration to the four winds, and the crowd of parasites who swarm at their feet, did not find in it one iota, which they thought proper to vote in Parliament, after having proclaimed it and sworn to it at the hustings, as the program of their future legislative labors.
Under these circumstances, considering the situation of the country and of the party, and from whom this appeal comes, I cannot give an absolute refusal. I leave it to the Electors of Montreal to dispose of me. If they judge that I may still be of some use in their service and that of my country, I shall employ, as heretofore, all my efforts to the progress and development, moral and material, of a land so richly endowed by nature, but so much behind the age in consequence of the defects of many of her social and political institutions; but still such as she is dear to all her citizens, native or adoptive. If, on the other hand, the majority of the electors refuse me their suffrages, I shall remain satisfied in my retreat. I shall have quitted public life without disgrace or regret; without hatred or rancour; happy in the remembrance of my labors of forty years in a good cause — happy in the certainty of its speedy and certain triumph throughout the extent of our American World. Yes! our country, then consoled and prosperous, will one day be Republican, and that day you will see — you, the youth of Canada! though I and the other old athletes may have descended to the tomb before the advent of that great and glorious day!
The citizens of Montreal like those of Canada in general, are diverse in origins — Celts, Franks, Anglo-Saxons; some born here, many come from afar to make it their adoptive country; all sincerely desiring its prosperity; all having here their hearts, their families, and their interests. All other them, a little earlier or a little later, came from France or from the British Isles, to seek in America, for them and for their children, life, liberty and happiness. No one commits the absurdity of quitting Europe to seek here distinctions, institutions of privileges of aristocracies. All know before setting out (or learn at ounce on arriving) that there is not in this world any society better adapted for liberty and equality than that of Canada, where there are neither oligarchs with excessive fortunes and still more excessive pride and pretension; nor paupers obliged to crawl through their lives, often decimated by hunger, pestilence, and war. All the world here, by honest and moderate labour, maybe become landed proprietors and independent. Thus is Democracy socially constituted. And those who, because they admire the remarkable stability of the English government, wish servilely to copy its laws — who admire for example the Legislative Council because they admire the House of Lords — simply show that they have eyes to read texts; but no intelligence to interpret them, and to apply them to the manners, the desires, and the necessities of our country. They copy precedents in legislation, just as Attornies General copy indictments in the Queen's Bench, and in so doing make nothing but blunders. — These men of precedents, who believe themselves statesmen, do not understand our social condition; and they throw it into convulsion and trouble by their essays at constitution and law making in direct opposition and contradiction to the manners, instincts and tendencies of our young and vigourous society, which is struggling to develop itself and to attain its maturity, whilst those political quacks are endeavoring to bind it in the awarddling cloths and tinsel of the tottering Monarchism of Europe. The madmen! they thrown their sceptre to the tide, in hopes of cheeking its waves!
While all around us, colonies founded long after ours, and for a long time its inferiors in every respect, have since outstripped her, and become nations, and are now numbered among the first of Nations, those narrow-sighted men, with small heads and small hearts, tie their country stationary, in torpor and inaction. All its vitality is spent to counteract and neutralize their political empiricism: in the meantime, everything languishes, perishes; elementary instruction, and professional; education, social and political, which a good system of local municipalities and a decentralized administration could alone develop; the clearing and the better cultivation of land; manufactures and industry; commerce; the accumulation of wealth and capital. At present but one class seems to prosper — that of the high functionaries and the speculators who handle the public works and public treasure. He who does not advance, will fall back, in this age in which all proceeds so quickly; especially on this continent. Can this state of things last, ought it to continue? It is for you, Electors, to give the answer.
You have one day in four years, on which your sovereign voice can be heard. To this day you have now come. Let the great voice of the people thunder, let its breath drive away all those men of narrow and retrograde views who look in the history of old Europe to find the future of young Canada; and who seeks to impose upon a society perfectly democratic, the forms, the semblance, the budgets, the taxes, the patronage and the corruption, the centralization and arbitrary power, of a monarchical government. Especially let it drive away those men, so long your chiefs in the road to reform and progress, who denied their and your principles from the day when Sydenham put in practice that fundamental axiom of the political system invented by his predecessor Lord Durham:— "BUY UP THE CHIEFS OF CANADIAN DEMOCRACY WITH HONOURS, AND LUCRATIVE PLACES, AND THE DEMOCRACY WILL CEASE TO EXIST, THE PEOPLE WILL THEN BE NOTHING." We all shuddered with indignation, when Lord Durham threw this insult in our faces, Alas! that we should have to blush, and bow low our heads to day, when this audacious prophecy has been realized with so many of your old defenders!
Free, enlightened and progressive Electors! proclaim the maxim:— WE WISH HEREAFTER, FOR A PERFECT ACCORD AND HARMONY BETWEEN OUR SOCIAL STATE AND OUR POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS. To enjoy this harmony, which, without jar or violence, would cause to disappear the anomalies of our actual condition, and the elements of dissension and trouble, which now retard the advancement of our country in every respect, it is necessary, above all other things, to have the following legislation:—
- The extension of the elective principle to the Legislative Council and wherever it can be applied. The people can just as well judge directly of the choice of its servants — Justices of the Peace, Officers of Milita, etc. as they can do it by the intervention of the Executive Council, whose patronage is a source of corruption, very extensive and dangerous, and an evil which threatens the independence of public opinion.
- The establishment, on a firm and permanent basis, of a Municipal system perfectly organized, which shall not be subject to continual changes, and which, acceptable to the people and understood by them, would speedily become the most valued of their institutions, and the safeguard of all their liberties. It is the municipality which makes the power and glory of the democracy in England and the United States, and despotism never triumphed on the European Continent till it had destroyed the municipality. The municipality is the political school of the people, it is the temple of their liberty, it is the citadel of their rights. Without the municipality, democracy can never be long maintained. We cannot too strongly insist upon its establishment, immediate and perpetual.
- The foundation of municipalities implies the decentralization of the Administrative, the Judicial and even the Legislative Power. In giving privileges to the people, it, at the same time, removes the radical vice of our present system, in depriving the Executive Council of its patronage, and its consequent corrupt means of influencing its employés and public opinion. Municipal Corporations would also have within the limits of their attributions, numerous administrative and legislative local duties, which now embarrass an honest Executive, while they enable a dishonest Executive to interfere in a thousand ways in the affairs of localities, to barter their interests.
- Put the House of Assembly above the influence of corruption, and, on the other hand, render the Ministers really responsible to the House, by enacting a law forbidding the acceptance of any office under the Crown, by the representatives of the people, pending the exercise of their mandate, or for one year after its expiration, unless the appointment is ratified by re-election. — The scandalous traffic in parliamentary consciences during these latter years, by the distribution of public offices among the representatives of the people, eloquently pleads in favour of the passage of a law, by which it might be stopped.
- Extension of the Suffrage. The want of this extension is above all things felt in our towns, where many honest artisans and heads of families, householders and respectable citizens, are deprived of their right of voting at elections, because they pay a few dollars less rent than their neighbors. It is a fact that a very large portion of our citizens are thus disfranchised in our towns and cities — this ought not to be.
- It often happens also that the peaceable elector, who desires to perform one of the most valuable and holy rights of a citizen, that of declaring at the poll the candidate of his choice, cannot do so without being insulted, intimidated and assaulted by scoundrels hired and paid to violate the elector franchise by the candidates of the minority, desirous of being returned by brute force. There is a simple and efficacious remedy for this disgrace of our elections. It is the vote by ballot. Every six months, throughout the vast extent of the United States, thousands of polling places are opened, and millions of electors resort to them, for the purpose of depositing the sealed ticket containing the names of the candidates of their choice, and never do we hear of riots, or mobs, or of any citizen being maltreated, with very rare exceptions at long intervals and that only in those districts of large sea-ports, inhabited by the most lawless and worthless of the community.
These are grand reforms, of the greatest importance, and the influence of which, if effected, would be most beneficently, immediately felt throughout our country. There are still others, such as a good system of elementary instruction, agricultural schools, the codification of the laws, the free navigation of the St. Lawrence, and above all, the most strict economy in the public expenditure, which demand prompt and energetic action on the part of the Legislature.
There is question which, at the present time, greatly agitates public opinion. It is not surprising that the population of a Province, already burdened with so considerable an amount of debt, such as ours, should manifest the greatest emotion and anxiety when it sees a Parliament about expiring, about to restore its mandate to the people whose confidence it had forfeited, daring, in the name of that people which it no longer represents, to contract new pecuniary engagements by which their debt will be doubled, and leaving it as a fatal legacy to generations yet to come. The friends of progress, are desirous of advancing the interest of the industry and commerce as well as ameliorating our political institutions, and as men truly practical, they rejoice to see the numerous railroad enterprises now commenced, and which will soon traverse our beautiful country in all directions; because these various lines of road will bind together the distant sections of our territory, and tend to make this Province the highway of communication and transport between the sea-ports on the Atlantic and our own vast Lakes of the interior, and the new States which are being formed so rapidly in the rich valley of the Mississippi. They know that the Portland, Quebec and Richmond, Champlain, Lachine and Plattsburg, Western, Huron and Simcoe, Prescott and Bytown, and Bytown and Montreal railroads, will be profitable to their stockholders and an immense benefit to the settler, to the farmer, and to the merchant. They are impatient to see the link between Montreal and Toronto completed. But they do not wish — on the contrary, they protest against and repudiate the folly or the treachery of the ministry, who wish to make us construct at the expense of Canada, for the military purposes of England, a railway from Halifax, which at the lowest computation will cost $16,000,000 and of which the receipts afterwards will not suffice to meet the working expenses: This is a monstrosity of which the late ministry appears willing to take, in turn, the responsibility. It is for you, electors, again to decide, if you will permit this injury to your interests.
I conclude, fellow citizens. Let the electors of Canada do their duty at this critical and decisive period, and our country will return to its natural course, to its normal condition, its democracy will attain gradually, peaceably, its legitimate development; and it will soon become the equal in happiness, prosperity and contentment of the neighboring fortunate republics.
L. J. PAPINEAU
24th November, 1851.
- Letter addressed to the Speakers of the Several Assemblies in the British North American Colonies (1836)
- History of the Insurrection in Canada in refutation of the report of Lord Durham, by Louis-Joseph Papineau (1839)
- Second Manifesto, by Louis-Joseph Papineau (1848)
- The Political Testament, of Louis-Joseph Papineau (1867)
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