Address of the Fils de la liberté of Montreal to the young people of the colonies of North America
Unofficial translation. Read the original French language address here.
When urgent events in the affairs of a country make it necessary for citizens to form associations, the respect that is due to the opinions of society requires that these citizens explicitly declare the motives which led them to coalize, and the principles that they intend to establish by the means of their organization.
We consider that, based upon the privilege of each individual to act on his own behalf, by the very basis of society, the privilege to join all of one's energy to that of its co-citizens, in all projects aiming for defence or mutual interest, and consequently the right of association, is a right as sacred and as unalienable as that of individual liberty itself. We sustain that governments are created for the common good and can only rightfully exist with the consent of the governed, and that whatever artificial change may occur in the affairs of society, a chosen government is nevertheless an inherent right of the people. Since it cannot be alienated, one should not need to ask before putting it in practise.
All governments being instituted for the good of the whole people, by no means for the honour or the profit of only one individual, any claim to rule according to a divine or absolute authority, claimed by or for any man or class of men, is blasphemous and absurd, just like it is monstrous to inculcate it and degrading to admit it. The authority of a motherland over a colony can only exist for as a long as the colonists who live in it find this relation to their advantage; because it has been established and populated by these colonists, this country belongs to them by right, and consequently can be separated from any foreign connection whenever the disadvantages, resulting from an executive power located abroad and which ceases to be in harmony with a local legislature, make such a step necessary to its inhabitants, in order to protect their lives and their freedom or to acquire prosperity. By taking the name of Fils de la liberté (Sons of Liberty), the association of the young people of Montreal by no means intends to make it a private cabal, a secret junta, but rather a democratic body full of strength, which will be composed of all the youths that the love of the fatherland renders sensitive to the interests of their country, whatever their belief, their origin or that of their ancestors may be.
The reasons, which in the current situation imperatively call upon all classes, but especially that of the young people, to active life and heroic devotion to the cause of their country, are many and imposing.
At the time of the cession of this province in 1763, in order to consolidate British power on the banks of the St. Lawrence, certain rights of ownership, of religion and government had been guaranteed to the Canadiens, and had been confirmed later, in 1774, when the noble revolution of the American States rendered concessions to the new subjects of the empire an urgent policy. The brilliant successes of the United States and the movement of the French revolution, having given England a reason to fear for its remaining possessions in America, it passed in 1791 the Constitutional Act, which divided the province into Upper and Lower Canada, and established a representative assembly for each one. In 1812, conciliation again became a necessary measure because of the declaration of war of the United States. These times of danger were for Canada periods of an apparent justice, while those intermediate as well as those which followed provide but a long history of injustices, atrocities and repeated usurpation. Thus we saw British administrators displaying a cowardice and a perfidy completely unworthy of a powerful nation, never ceasing to delude the Canadien people with promises full of disappointment, and that in times of urgent need who, once the crisis had passed, would not redden when resorting to all kinds of expedients to differ or avoid to honour their most solemn engagements.
After seventy years of English domination, we are forced to see our country in a state of misery when compared to the flourishing republics that had the wisdom to shake the yoke of the monarchy. We see the emigrants of the same classes coming from the other side of the sea, poor wretches on our soil, turn happy the moment they join the great democratic family, and everyday we realize the sad experiment that it is only to the noxious actions of the colonial government that we must allot all our evils. An alleged protection paralysed all our energies. It preserved all that was good, and blocked all measures of reform and improvement.
While each of the townships distributed over the immense territory of our neighbours has the advantage of being wisely governed by a free democracy, which it itself formed, and to act energetically, we on the other hand, are abandoned to the mercy and control of a government in which the people have no voice, whose influence tends to corrupt public virtues at its source, discourages entrepreneurship, and destroys the generous impulse of all that can effectively lead to the advancement and prosperity of our country.
A legion of officers appointed without the approval of the people, to which they in the majority are opposed and for which they are never responsible, while they hold their position during the prosperity of an Executive without responsibility, is now in authority above us with wages that are enormously disproportionate when compared to our means as and their services, so that these employments seem created for family interests or personal elevation, rather than for the advantage of the people or to satisfy its needs.
The trial by jury that we had come to see as the palladium of our freedoms, has now become a vain illusion, an instrument of despotism, since the sheriffs, creatures of the executive, on which they depend each day for their continuation in a charge to which enormous emoluments are attached, have the freedom to choose and summon such jury that they like, and consequently can become the arbiters of the people in the political lawsuits launched by its oppressors.
Funds of an immense value, given by a wise and far-sighted government or by individuals distinguished by their generosity, to the above order of the Jesuits and devoted solely by them for the benefit of education, were diverted of such a creditable object, to be used as instruments of corruption by useless and almost always reprehensible officers, while the children of the province who were deprived of the funds intended for their instruction, grew up without being able to take advantage of this benefit, and saw themselves being reproached for their lack of education later on in life.
Our public lands, defended during two consecutive wars by the bravery of the inhabitants of the country, later turned valuable by the opening of communications done with much of tirednesses, and by establishments extended as far as the desert, were sold or given, ignoring our representation, to a company of speculators, living on the other side of the Atlantic, or were divided amongst parasite officials who, for reason of interest united in a faction to support a corrupted government, enemy of the rights and opposed to the desires of the people, while our fathers, our parents, our colonist brothers are served only refusals, or are unable to get these uncultivated lands to establish themselves.
Laws on land tenancy, absolutely inapplicable to the condition of the country, unjust in their operation, have been imposed on us by a foreign Parliament, which in order to favour private and sinister interests, confiscated the power over interior legislation, which solely belongs to the legislature of the province.
Trade regulations for this colony, adopted by a foreign Parliament are currently enforced against our consent. By that we find ourselves limited to a small subset of opportunities and deprived of the means to extend our trade to all the ports of the world, when the markets of Great Britain are not as advantageous to the disposal of our products; from there the impotence and inertia of our commercial undertakings.
The representation of the country has become a notorious object of mockery. A corrupted executive has constantly worked to make our House of Assembly an instrument suited to inflict slavery upon its constituents; and seeing that it did not succeed in this vile project, it rendered its action impotent by frequent prorogations or dissolutions, or by refusing the sanction to laws essential to the people and that had been passed unanimously by the representatives.
A legislative council whose members are responsible for the appointment of an authority that is ignorant of the affairs of the colony, and located at a distance of 3000 miles, mainly made up of people who have no sympathy for the country, still currently exists as a sort of an impotent screen between the government and the governed, always ready to nullify all attempts at useful legislation. An executive council appointed in the same way, whose influence poisons the heart of each successive governor, still remains intact, protecting the accumulation of office positions and all the abuses which are attached to each public department. A governor as ignorant as his predecessors, and following the example of each one of his predecessors, turned into an official partisan, leads the governmental machine for the advantage of the small number, and is little concerned with the interests of the majority, or is even determined to be an obstacle to it.
Our objections were accurately recorded and on several occasions submitted to the King and to the Parliament of Great Britain, in resolutions passed by our popular assemblies and our representatives assembled in Parliament, and in the humble petitions of all the nation. We made our remonstrances heard with all the power of arguments, and through the moral strength of the truth. No remedy was put forward, and in the end, when the tyranny of those who are invested with power in the province increased at an unbearable level because of the impunity which is assured for them, an ungrateful motherland took advantage of a time of general peace, to force us to close our eyes and approve our own depreciation, by threatening us to seize our public incomes by force, challenging natural rights, and all the principles of law, of politics and justice.
The current state of degradation of our country being the result of three-quarters of a century of cordial devotion to our connection with England, and of our trust misled in British honour, it would be to show ourselves criminal and born for slavery to limit our resistance to simple representation. The perfidious projects of the British authorities broke all bonds of sympathy with a motherland that shows herself to be insensitive. A separation has started between our two parts and it will never be possible to cement this union again, and in fact, the separation will continue with an increasing strength, until one of these unexpected and unforeseen events, such as those we sometime see in our current times, provide us with a favourable occasion to take our place among the independent sovereignties of America. We have let two superb occasions slip by: let us be prepared for a third one. A destiny full of glory is reserved for the youth of these colonies. Our fathers spent a long career of anguish fighting against all the phases of despotism day after day. By leaving this world, they bequeathed us with an heritage, which they worked hard to increase at the price of all the sacrifices dictated by patriotism. In us is entrusted the duty to continue their sublime projects, and to free, in our days, our beloved fatherland from any human authority other than one with an intrepid democracy sitting in its midst.
With such an encouraging prospect before our eyes, with a responsibility as high as the one which rests upon us, it is our responsibility to put aside all the flightful fancy of the youth, and to dedicate ourselves entirely to the considerations of politics, and the needs and resources of our country; to augment its wealth by encouraging its manufacturers and its products; to preserve all its strength by stopping the consumption of all the articles imported from overseas; but above all, to accustom ourselves to sacrifice, by cutting off our personal expenditure, by avoiding excess and superfluity, will it be possible to give us the means of supporting one another in the fight for life and freedom to which sooner or later we will be committed to, until the arrival of the glorious day that will see us leave a long and obscure slavery to enjoy the brightness of light and freedom.
Consequently, we, the officers and members of the Fils de la liberté association in Montreal, in our own name, as in the name of those we represent, we solemnly commit ourselves before our maltreated homeland, and each one of us, to devote all our energy, and to hold us ready to act, according to whether the circumstances require it, in order to get for this province :
- a system of reformed government, based on the principle of election;
- a responsible executive government;
- control by the representative branch of the legislature of all public incomes of all sources;
- the recall of all the laws and charters passed by a foreign authority that could encroach on the rights of the people and its representatives and especially those which pertain to property and the tenure of lands belonging either to the public or to the individuals;
- an improved system for the sale of public land, so that those who desire to settle can do it with as little expense as possible;
- the abolition of holding multiple offices and the irresponsibility of public officers,
- and a strict equality before the law for all classes without distinction of origin, language or religion.
Trustful in the providence and strong of our rights we invite by the present all the young people of these provinces to create associations in their respective localities, for the purpose of obtaining a just government, cheap and responsible, and ensuring the safety, the defence and the extension of our common liberties.
André Ouimet, president
J.L. Baudry, Joseph Martel, vice presidents
J.G. Beaudriau, treasurer
J.H.E Therrien, minute secretary
G. Boucherville, correspondent secretary
Frs. Tulloch, deputy correspondent secretary
J.S. Neysmith, Toussaint Demers, N. Lafrenière, Pierre Grenier, Louis Dumais, Joseph Letorre, L.P. Boisvin, R. Courselle, Casimir Arcourt, Amable Simard, J.B. Label, Jos. Gaudry, James Finey, Louis Lebeau, Thomas Barre, F. Tavernier, Joseph Dufaut, Joseph Leduc, Paul Martin, A.B. Papineau, J.B. Brien, P.G. Damour, André Lacroix, Henry Lacaille, Pierre Larceneur, N. Berthiaume, Narcisse Valois, H. Carron, H.A. Gauvin, L. C. Perreault, C. de Lorimier, Norbert Larochelle, André Giguère, Louis Barre, Simon Crevier, André Lapierre, R. Desrivières.
Montréal, October 4, 1837
Notes and comments
- Taken from Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, texts collected and presented by Jean-Paul Bertrand, Montréal, VLB Éditeur et l'Union des écrivains québécois, 1988, 304 p. ISBN 2-89005-313-X