Address of the Confederation of the Six Counties to the People of Canada
FELLOW CITIZENS :—
WHEN a systematic course of oppression has been invariably harrassing a People, in despite of their wishes expressed in every manner recognized by constitutional usage; by popular assemblies, and by their Representatives, in Parliament, after grave deliberation; when their rulers, instead of redressing the various evils produced by their own misgovernment, have solemnly enregistered and proclaimed their guilty determination to sap and subvert the very foundations of civil liberty, it becomes the imperative duty of the People to betake themselves to the serious consideration of their unfortunate position — of the dangers by which they are surrounded — and by well concerted organization, to make such arrangements as may be necessary to protect, unimpaired, their rights as Citizens and their dignity as Freemen.
The wise and immortal framers of the AMERICAN DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, embodied in that document the principles on which alone are based the RIGHTS OF MAN; and successfully vindicated and established the only institutions and form of government which can permanently secure the prosperity and social happiness of the inhabitants of this Continent, whose education and habits, derived from the circumstances of their colonization, demand a system of government entirely dependent upon, and directly responsible to, the People.
In common with the various nations of North and South America who have adopted the principles contained in that Declaration, we hold the same holy and self-evident doctrines; that GOD created no artificial distinctions between man and man; that government is but a mere human institution formed by those who are to be subject to its good or evil action; intended for the benefit of all who may consent to come, or remain under, its protection and control; and therefore, that its form may be changed whenever it ceases to accomplish the ends for which such government was established; that public authorities and men in office, are but the executors of the lawfully-expressed will of the community, honoured because they possess public confidence, respected only so long as they command public esteem, and to be removed from office the moment they cease to give satisfaction to the People, the sole legitimate source of all power.
In conformity with these principles, and on the faith of treaties and capitulations entered into with our ancestors, and guaranteed by the Imperial Parliament, the People of this Province have for a long series of years complained by respectful petitions, of the intolerable abuses which poison their existence and paralyse their industry. Far from conceding our humble prayers, aggression has followed aggression, until at length we seem no longer to belong to the British Empire for our own happiness or prosperity, our freedom or the honor of the British Crown or people, but solely for the purpose of fattening a horde of useless officials, who not content with enjoying salaries enormously disproportioned to the duties of their offices, and to the resources of the country, have combined as a faction, united by private interest alone, to oppose all reforms in the Province, and to uphold the iniquities of a Government inimical to the rights and liberties of this colony.
Notwithstanding the universally admitted justice of our demands, and the wisdom and prudence of remedying our complaints, we still endure the misery of an irresponsible Executive, directed by an ignorant and hypocritical Chief; our Judges, dependant for the tenure of their office on the mere will and pleasure of the Crown, for the most part the violent partizans of a corrupt administration, have become more completely the tools and mercenaries of the Executive, by accepting the wages of their servility, in gross violation of every principle of Judicial independence, from foreign authority, without the intervention of the people to whom, through their Representatives, belongs the sole right of voting the salaries of their public servants; the office-holders of the Province devour our revenues, in salaries so extravagant as to deprive us of the funds requisite for the general improvement of the Country, whereby our public works are arrested, and the navigation of our rivers continue obstructed; a Legislative Council appointed by men resident three thousand miles from this country, and systematically composed so as to thwart and oppose the efforts of our freely-chosen Representatives in all measures for the promotion of the public good, after continuing unchanged during the present administration, thereby depriving the country of the advantages of domestic legislation, has at length been modified in a manner insulting to all classes of society, disgraceful to public morality, and to the annihilation of the respect and confidence of all parties in that branch of the Legislature, by the introduction of men for the most part notorious only for their incapacity, and remarkable alone for their political insignificance, thus making evident, even to demonstration, to all, whatever may be their preconceived ideas, the propriety and urgent necessity of introducing the principle of election into that body, as the only method of enabling the Provincial Legislature to proceed beneficially to the despatch of public business.
Our municipalities are utterly destroyed; the country parts of the Province, as a disgraceful exception to the others parts of this Continent, are totally deprived of all power of regulating, in a corporate capacity, their local affairs, through freely elected Parish and Township Officers; the rising generation is deprived of the blessings of education, the primary schools which provided for the instruction of 40,000 children, having been shut up by the Legislative Council, a body hostile to the progress of useful knowledge, and instigated to this act by an Executive inimical to the spread of general information among the people — the Jesuits' College founded and endowed by the provident government which colonized this Province for the encouragement and dissemination of learning and the sciences therein, has, with a barbarism unworthy of the rulers of a civilized state, disgraceful to the enlightened age in which we live, and unparalleled even among the Goths and Vandals, been converted into, and is still retained, as a barrack for soldiery, whilst the funds and property devoted to the support of this and similar institutions have been, and continue to be, squandered and mal-administered for the advantage of the favorites, creatures and tools of the Government; our citizens are deprived of the benefits of impartially chosen juries, and are arbitrarily persecuted by Crown officers, who to suit the purposes of the vindictive Government of which they are the creatures, have revived proceedings of an obsolete character, precedents for which are to be found only in the darkest pages of British history. Thus our Judiciary being sullied by combined conspiracies of a wicked Executive, slavish Judges, partizan Law Officers, and political Sheriffs, the innocent and patriotic are exposed to be sacrificed, whilst the enemies of the country, and the violators of all law, are protected and patronized, according as it may please the administration to crush and destroy; to save and protect. Our commerce and domestic industry are paralysed; our public lands alienated, at a nominal price, to a company of speculators, strangers to the country, or bestowed upon insolent favorites, as a reward for their sycophancy; our money is extorted from us without our consent, by taxes unconstitutionally imposed by a foreign Parliament, to be afterwards converted into an instrument of our degradation by being distributed among a howling herd of officials, against our will, without our participation, and in violation of all principles of constitutional law.
In the midst of their honest and unwearied efforts to procure a redress of the foregoing grievances, our fellow citizens have been insolently called on to give an account of their public conduct, for which they were responsible to no individual, least of all to the person whom chance or ministerial patronage may place for a season at the head of our Provincial Government. They have been harrassed and annoyed by dismissals from offices of mere honor, held for the benefit and at the request, of their own immediate neighbours, because they vindicated the rights of their country, like American Freemen; and as an index of further intended aggression, armed troops are being scattered in time of profound peace throughout the country, with the presumptious and wicked design of restraining by physical force the expression of public opinion, and of completing by violence and bloodshed our slavery and ruin, already determined upon beyond the seas.
Such an aggression as this might justify the recourse, on the part of an outraged people, to all and every means to preserve the last of their insulted privileges — the right to complaint. But, thanks to the blindness of the aggressors, the wickedness of the measure will be providentially neutralized by its folly. The regiments about the be quartered among us are composed of men sprung from, and educated with, the Democracy of their country. They, for the most part, entered on their present profession, not from choice, but because they could not find any other employment in their native land. Instead of being stimulated to good conduct by the hope of promotion, too poorly paid, they are exposed to every sort of petty tyranny, and if a murmur escape their lips, they are subjected, like the bonded slave, to the ignoble punishment of the lash. Contrasting this hard fate with the freedom, content, employment and high wages to be obtained in the United States, and certain that the inhabitants of these Counties lying near and bordering upon, the Lines, will not impede the efforts which these soldiers may make to emigrate to the neighbouring Republic, it will become morally impossible to keep in Her Majesty's Province, whilst scattered in detachments, the men who are now about to be made the vile instruments of our slavery and their own dishonor.
The long and heavy chain of abuses and oppressions under which we suffer, and to which every year has only added a more galling link, prove that our history is but a recapitulation of what other Colonies have endured before us. Our grievances are but a second edition of their grievances. Our petitions for relief are the same. Like theirs, they have been treated with scorn and contempt, and have brought down upon the petitioners but additional outrage and persecution. Thus the experience of the past demonstrates the folly of expecting justice from European authorities.
Dark, however, and unpromising as may be the present prospects of this our beloved country, we are encouraged by the public virtues of our fellow-citizens to hope that the day of our regeneration is not far distant. Domestic manufactures are springing up amongst us, with a rapidity to cheer us in the contest. The impulse given but a few short months ago by the example of generous and patriotic minds, of wearing domestic cloths, has been generally followed, and will shortly be universally adopted. The determination not to consume duty-paying merchandize, and to encourage Free Trade with our neighbours, matters of vital importance, is daily becoming more general, resolute and effective. The people are every where being duly impressed with the conviction that the sacrifices to be made must bear some proportion to the glorious object to be achieved, and that personal inconvenience for the good cause must therefore be not only freely, but readily, endured.
FELLOW-COUNTRYMEN! Brothers in affliction! Ye, whatsoever be your origin, language or religion, to whom Equal Laws and the Rights of Man are dear; whose hearts have throbbed with indignation whilst witnessing the innumerable insults to which your common country has been exposed, and who have often been justly alarmed whilst pondering over the sombre futurity preparing by misgovernment and corruption for this Province and for your posterity; in the name of the country, and of the rising generation, now having no hope but in you, we call upon you to assume, by systematic organization in your several Townships and Parishes, that position which can alone procure respect for yourselves and your demands. Let Committees of Vigilance be at once put in active operation throughout your respective neighbourhoods. Withdrawing all confidence from the present administration, and from such as will be so base as to accept office under it, forth with assemble in your Parishes and elect Pacificator Magistrates, after the example of your brother Reformers of the County of Two Mountains, in order to protect the people at once from useless and improvident expense, and from the vengeance of their enemies. Our Young Men, the hope of the country, should everywhere organize themselves, after the plan of their brothers, "The Sons of Liberty" in Montreal, in order that they may be prepared to act with promptitude and effect as circumstances may require; and the brave Militiamen, who by their blood and valour have twice preserved this country for ungrateful rulers, should at once associate together, under officers of their own choice, for the security of good order and the protection of life and property in their respective localities. Thus prepared, Colonial Liberty may haply be yet preserved.
In this hope, and depending for a disenthralment from the misrule under which we now groan, on the Providence of GOD, whose blessing on our disinterested labours we humbly implore; relying on the love of liberty which the free air and impregnable fastnesses of AMERICA should inspire in the hearts of the People at large, and upon the sympathy of our Democratic neighbours, who in the establishment of arbitrary rule on their borders, wisely and clearly foresaw the uprearing of a system which might be made a precedent and instrument for the introduction of the same arbitrary rule into other parts of the American Continent, and who can never consent that the principles for which they successfully struggled in the Eighteenth, shall, in our persons, be trampled in the dust in the Nineteenth century, WE, the DELEGATES of the Confederated Counties of Richelieu, St. Hyacinthe, Rouville, L'Acadie, Chambly and Verchères, hereby publicly register the solemn and determined resolution of the People whom we represent, to carry into effect, with the least delay possible, the preceding recommendations, and never to cease their patriotic exertions until the various grievances of which they now complain shall have been redressed; and WE hereby invite our fellow-citizens throughout the Province to unite their efforts to ours to procure a good, cheap and responsible system of government for their common country.
Signed for, and on behalf of, the Confederation of the Six Counties, this 24th day of October, 1837.
WFD. NELSON, President.
J. T. DROLET, F. C. DUVERT, Vice Presidents.
A. GIROD, J. P. BOUCHER-BELLEVILLE, Secretaries.
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