John Arthur Roebuck's Speech in the British House of Commons on March 9th, 1835
John Arthur Roebuck made this speech on presenting a petition from certain members of the Legislative Council and House of Assembly of Lower Canada. The Hansard transcript of the whole debate can be read here.
I am charged, Sir, with a petition from certain Members of the Legislative Council, and House of Assembly of Lower Canada, complaining of the grievances under which they labour; and I would most earnestly entreat the House to bestow upon it a calm, serious, and anxious consideration.
A more important document has not been laid before it, since the disastrous period of 1774. Then, in a humble but firm manner, our North American colonies laid before this House a statement of the grievances under which they laboured. The prayers of the colonists were, unhappily for this kingdom, treated with contempt and scorn. Instead of redress, coercion was attempted; and the result was, that the magnificent territories, now forming the United States of America, were for ever severed from the dominion of Great Britain.
More than half a century has passed since the conclusion of that disastrous attempt; and the inhabitants of the territories, which yet remain to us on the continent of North America, are almost precisely in the condition of the colonists in the year 1774. They complain of the same grievances; they appeal to the same authority; and, in case their appeal be disregarded, they are prepared (and I say this in the spirit of melancholy warning to the Gentlemen opposite) to have recourse to the same violent remedy.
As a Member of the British Parliament, as one anxious to maintain the integrity of our empire, I deem it my duty to use a language that cannot be misunderstood. I have been selected by the people of Lower Canada to appeal, in their name, to the justice of the Imperial Parliament. I have now, then, a double duty to perform—to state, as distinctly as I am able, the petitions of the colonists; to lay before you a description of their frame of mind, which, from my peculiar position, I believe myself better able to do than any other Member of this House. Having done this, I must remember my duty to the people of England, and consult with you, without favour or affection, as to the best mode of extricating ourselves from the difficulty under which we labour. The second part of my duty I shall, on another opportunity, attempt to fulfil; at present I shall confine myself to the task of explaining the actual condition of the colony—the circumstances which have given rise to this petition, and the several demands which it contains.
On the 2nd of the coming month, I shall propose a remedy for the evils, which I shall this night describe, and Parliament must, in its wisdom, determine, whether the course which I shall point out, is that which is best suited to calm the fears and allay the discontents which so long have vexed the inhabitants of the Canadas.
The petition which I now present, Sir, is the petition of four Members only of the Legislative Council of Lower Canada, and of sixty-one Members of the House of Assembly. As the winter had only commenced when this document was prepared, it was found impracticable to reach the whole of the various Members. Had that been possible, however, not more than about seven legislative councillors could have signed it, while the whole number of signatures, by Members of the Assembly, would have amounted to about seventy-eight out of eighty-eight. I am not aware of the exact number of the Legislative Council, though I believe it to be about thirty-four. So much, Sir, as regards the persons signing.
I now come to the petition itself, and the grievances of which it complains. These grievances, and the complaints to which they have given rise, are of long standing. I must travel back a few years, in order to make the House understand them. England, in 1791, bestowed upon the two Canadas a new Constitution; that constitution in each province consisted of—1. the House of Assembly; 2. the Legislative Council; and 3. the Governor. The Governor represents the King, the House of Assembly represents the people; and the Legislative Council represents nothing.
The Legislative Council is supposed, by the letter of the Act of Parliament, to be composed of persons selected by the Crown, and for life; in truth they have been since the first set were selected (and how they were selected I will immediately show) the creatures of their own election. When the first American war ended, there were certain persons who had espoused the English side, who fancied their interests would be better provided for, if they left their homes and went to Canada. This gentry called themselves sometimes United English (and now go by the name of United English), sometimes Loyalists. Out of this band many of the first Legislative Council were selected; from that time they have elected themselves. The Governor takes persons at their recommendation; they recommend persons of their own party and families, and thus the Legislative Council has become a sort of refuge for the destitute. They have made a party which they have artfully, but not falsely, called the English party, and pursue their own private interests with the most barefaced profligacy and assurance.
No sooner was the Constitution granted, than differences began to arise. For some time, the people, stunned by the conquest, and unused to the exercise of freedom, did not understand the force of the instrument granted to them. By degrees, however, they came to have a very English conception of the use of a House of Commons. They began to investigate the expenditure of the Government. This raised the ire of the Legislative and Executive Councils, and the Governors. Various arbitrary acts followed; all sanctioned by the Legislative Council, all opposed by the House of Assembly.
As we approach our own times, do these arbitrary acts become less atrocious? Sir James Craig dared to imprison the Members of the House; Lord Dalhousie spent the people's money without the consent of the House; Lord Aylmer insults the people and their representatives, and pays somebody's money—whose I know not—without the sanction of the Parliament. The great object of the House of Assembly, from the moment of their first establishment to the present instant, has been to obtain over their internal concerns a complete and efficient control. In this attempt they have been perpetually thwarted. Tired of continued contests, the House of Assembly, and the people, at length, in the year 1828, petitioned this House respecting their grievances; a select Committee sat, and investigated them, and made several important admissions, and several important recommendations. The people's hopes were raised by this proceeding on the part of the Imperial Parliament; and had these recommendations been candidly and honestly acted upon, I feel convinced that the colony would now have been peaceful and contented. In the mean time Ministerial changes took place, and Lord Ripon, and the noble Lord, the Member for Lancashire, successively held the Seals of the Colonial Department.
It is the fashion on both sides of this House to lavish laudation on the noble Lord, the Member for Lancashire. His position in this House and out of it, together with the exaggerated opinion entertained of his abilities in debate, explain, very satisfactorily, the cause of all this amazing panegyric. I, Sir, am not about to follow in the train of those who have indulged in this pleasant business of laudation. On the contrary, I feel it my duty not merely to dissent in silence from all this violent praise, but also most unequivocally to declare, that, whatever people may fancy respecting his great Parliamentary talents, in the far higher and necessary qualities of a statesman, he has shown himself lamentably deficient. To me, Sir, the power of captiously sharing in a debate—the power of making oneself disagreeable—is but a vulgar capability. Vehement and petulant, doubtless every one will confess the noble Lord to be; but at the same time, I will prove him devoid of that calm temper, that wise forethought and sagacity, that enlarged and unprejudiced spirit, and that generous sympathy, which are requisite for a great statesman.
In none of his proceedings has any great and liberal principle been seen to be the guide of his conduct; but, in place of a liberal and exalted policy, we have always perceived dominant in the mind of that noble Lord, narrow and virulent prejudice. We have beheld violent energy exhibited to attain petty ends; and rancorous gall thrown upon those who stood in the way of aims, hastily resolved on, and doggedly pursued. I shall not go to Ireland for proof of my assertions. The noble Lord having exercised his hand on that unfortunate country, and having, by his conduct, brought the Irish to something very like open rebellion, next proceeded to make experiments on the other side of the Atlantic. It is from this country—from Canada, whose bitter complaints I am now uttering—that I shall seek my evidence of the noble Lord's incompetence. It should be borne in mind, however, that the conduct of the noble Lord was much more dangerous in the case of Canada, than in that of Ireland. Ireland is surrounded by the sea—has England for her close neighbour—but Canada is separated only by an imaginary line from the United States, in which States she will find a powerful and sagacious people, intimately sympathising in her feelings, and ready to succour her distress. It may be asked of me, in what way did the noble Lord, while ruling the Canadian people, evince this narrow-mindedness, this violent temper, and this virulent prejudice? With the permission of the House, I will explain how and when.
I may lay it down as a rule, from which no one will dissent, that laws must, in all cases, be framed with a reference to the peculiar opinions of the people who are to obey them. Any one, for example, who should attempt to legislate for the people of Hindostan, would, if pretending to the name of a prudent and sagacious lawgiver, bear constantly in mind the peculiar religious feelings of that curious people. In looking to America, what, I ask, are those peculiar feelings, which it behoves a lawgiver carefully to regard? Any one who knows that country must be aware that the predominant influence is that of the United States of America. This influence is predominant (that is, the feelings of the people of the United States materially influence the feelings of every inhabitant of that continent) from the city of Mexico to the city of Quebec.
The ruling feeling respecting government is the desire entertained by all classes for popular government. I do not mean thereby republican government; for, to a people as sagacious as the Americans, the difference between a well-regulated constitutional monarchy and a representative republic, is too minute to be a matter of concern. What they desire—what they deem absolutely essential to their happiness—is the possession of self-government. This feeling is as acute in Canada as in the United States;—it enters into all their speculations concerning their government; and nothing will ever appear to them a good government, which does not efficiently provide for the people, the uncontrolled power over their own concerns. Now, had the noble Lord but condescended to deem this feeling of democracy a mere vulgar and inexplicable prejudice, like the religious prejudice of the Hindoo, and legislated and acted with reference to it, he would never have committed the egregious follies that marked his administration. Instead of doing this, however, he haughtily and contemptuously turned from every proposal on the part of the Canadian people, speaking through their representatives, to render their government more in accordance with the feelings and habits predominant in America. He always fancied that he was legislating for England: he considered that he had the English aristocratic feeling always in his favour; and could not root out of his mind the prejudice of this position, or look with a liberal spirit upon a state of things differing from that in which he lived. What was the result? The petitioners, in whose behalf I am speaking, shall answer for me:
Resolved,—That, in the midst of these disorders and sufferings, this House, and the people whom it represents, had always expressed the hope and cherished the faith, that his Majesty's Government in England would not knowingly and wilfully participate in the political immorality of its colonial agents and officers; and that it is with astonishment and grief that they have seen in the extract from the despatches of the Colonial Secretary, communicated to this House by the Governor-in-Chief, during the present Session, that one, at least, of the Members of his Majesty's Government entertains towards them feelings of prejudice and animosity; and inclines to favour plans of oppression and revenge ill adapted to change a system of abuses, the continuance of which would altogether discourage the people, extinguish in them the legitimate hope of happiness which, as British subjects, they entertained, and would leave them only the hard alternative of submitting to an ignominious bondage, or of seeing those ties endangered, which unite them to the mother-country.
Resolved,—That this House, and the people whom it represents, do not wish or intend to convey any threat; but that, relying, as they do, upon the principles of law and justice, they are and ought to be politically strong enough not to be exposed to receive insult from any man whomsoever, or bound to suffer it in silence; that the style of the said extracts from the despatches of the Colonial Secretary, as communicated to this House, is insulting and inconsiderate to such a degree, that no legally-constituted body, although its functions were infinitely subordinate to those of legislation, could or ought to tolerate them; that no similar example can be found, even in the despatches of those of his predecessors in office, least favourable to the rights of the colonies; that the tenor of the said despatches is incompatible with the rights and privileges of this House, which ought not to be called in question, or defined, by the Colonial Secretary, but which, as occasion may require, will be successively promulgated and enforced by this House.
The House of Assembly so deeply resented the insulting language of the noble Lord, that they expunged his despatch from their journals, and thus conveyed a reproof that no Minister of the Crown had ever before received. It matters not whether it be true that the noble Lord does feel the animosity supposed,—it is enough that he has so acted as to make the people believe that he does. It is quite sufficient evidence against a ruler, that the whole people, over whom he rules, conceive him to be their enemy. In the present instance, such is the fact; the public of Canada distrust and hate him; and, when I say the people, let me be understood. Poll the inhabitants, and above four-fifths of them will express their opinions, as I have here described them. I would here, with the permission of the House, read a passage in a speech of Mr. Burke, on a subject precisely similar. There are many persons fond of the authority of that celebrated Statesman, and, perhaps, the noble Lord will condescend to take a warning from him, even though my voice should utter it. Mine, indeed, is the voice, but the words are those of Burke:—
These were the considerations, Gentlemen, which led me early to think, that in the comprehensive dominion which the Divine Providence had put into our hands, instead of troubling our understandings with speculations concerning the unity of empire, and the identity or distinction of legislative powers, and inflaming our passions with the heat and pride of controversy, it was our duty, in all soberness, to conform our Government to the character and circumstances of the several people who composed this mighty and strangely-diversified mass. I never was wild enough to conceive that one method would serve for the whole; that the natives of Hindostan and those of Virginia could be ordered in the same manner; or that the Cutchery Court and the Grand Jury of Salem could be regulated on a similar plan. I was persuaded that Government was a practical thing, made for the happiness of mankind, and not to furnish out a spectacle of uniformity, to gratify the schemes of visionary politicians. Our business was to rule, not to wrangle; and it would have been a poor compensation that we had triumphed in a dispute, whilst we lost an empire. If there be one fact in the world perfectly clear, it is this,—'That the disposition of the people of America is wholly averse to any other than a free Government;' and this is indication enough to any honest Statesman how he ought to adapt whatever power he finds in his hands to their case. If any ask me what a free Government is, I answer that, for any practical purpose, it is what the people think so; and that they, and not I, are the natural, lawful, and competent judges in this matter.
It may, however, be said, Sir, that Canada being inhabited by persons of French and English origin, there is a marked division of parties according to the nation or race from which they have sprung—that while the French party thus view the noble Lord with feelings of disapprobation, the English party trust and esteem him. This assertion, which I know will be made, I will now answer—and answer in a way to preclude the repetition of the statement by any man of fairness and candour.
Lower Canada is divided into seigneuries and townships: the seigneuries, for the most part, are inhabited by French Canadians—the townships entirely by persons of British, Irish, and American descent,—they are English; that is, they speak the English language. Now, if there were an English and a French party, always divided, and governed only by the feelings of race and origin, the townships would side entirely with the English party as it is called. But what is the fact? During the discussion of last year, I stated that it would be found that the townships would side with the remainder of the people, because their interests were identical; and I find that the townships of Drummond, L'Acadie and Stanstead (the latter the largest of the townships) have returned Members favourable to the popular cause.
Again, Sir, the city of Quebec hitherto has elected persons of English origin; and yet, during the last election, it has sent persons to Parliament favourable to the popular cause. But I have a still more striking fact. Out of eighty-eight Members, there are twenty-one members of English origin. If we recollect that only one-fifth of the inhabitants are English, this surely is a large proportion of Representatives. Of these twenty-one Members, ten have signed the petition which I now present. If the statement were true respecting the English and French party, this could not be the case.
It is requisite that I should now explain the meaning of this false assertion respecting an English and French party. The official party in Canada have chosen to take a title which they know, on this side of the water, will be an attractive one:—they call themselves, par excellence, English. They pretend to be the English interest—to care about England—to be loyal and obedient. The truth, in fact, is, that they are a peculiarly selfish party. They care nothing for England and her interests, excepting in so far as England supports their abominable dominion; and the moment any English Minister shews an intention to listen fairly to all parties, and do justice to all, they begin furiously to abuse that Minister, and that England which supports him. They are loyal and English only, when to be so is favourable to their little, despicable, and mischievous oligarchy. Before I have done, I shall exhibit some remarkable instances of this conduct on their part. The consequence of the proceedings of the noble Lord was easy to be foreseen. The House of Assembly so strongly felt the injustice and insult of which he had been guilty, that they determined to petition this House; and that petition I last year presented, and it was referred to a Committee that sat upon the affairs of Canada.
The history of that Committee I must now detail to the House. It was appointed and selected by the noble Lord. It should be borne in mind that most of the insides of the "Derby dilly" sat on that Committee; and, as was to be expected, it justified the noble Lord in all its proceedings. Perhaps, the noble Lord will ask if I consider that such a justification clears him in my opinion? I frankly answer, not at all. Few persons would be condemned, if they had to choose their judges: still fewer, I suspect, if they sat in authority on the bench, and controlled the whole proceeding. To call such a farce a trial of the Government is an abuse of terms. When I went into that Committee I was certain that such would be the result; and the only benefit that I expected to derive from it was, that I might be able vividly to depict to them the discontents of the people, and the danger of continuing such a course of Government as that adopted by the noble Lord: what I did not hope from their justice, I did hope to obtain from their fears.
It may be said, and said in this House with much effect, that it is strange that I should put no more faith in the honour and justice of a set of English Gentlemen. I feel, assured, Sir, that I shall be driven to answer this objection: I therefore anticipate it. In the first place, I knew that all the sympathies of the Members composing that Committee, naturally went with the noble Lord. They were in habits of daily intercourse with him—they were his friends, his associates, and some of them his colleagues; they, therefore, I foresaw, would look with jealousy upon anything inculpating him; and would receive, with implicit confidence, anything in his favour. Moreover, the petitioners were 3000 miles off: their opinions had no influence upon that Committee. It was careless of their good as well as ill opinion.
There was also another and very important circumstance connected with this inquiry. All the complaints, with one exception, were respecting small sums of money, persons having small salaries—petty officers, frequently with petty incomes, in the eyes of Englishmen,—accustomed, many of them, to deal with thousands of their own, and to dispose of millions belonging to the people. To make thorn feel the injustice in matters of a few pounds, or to understand the importance attached to it by the petitioners, was impossible.
But my main fear arose from the general frame and tenour of mind of the Members of the Committee. Every man, of any station in England, has strong aristocratic leanings, and he dreads, as well as dislikes, the democratic spirit. My whole case rested upon democracy: the people whom I was representing are democrats—they seek for democratic institutions—they are surrounded by democratic neighbours. The Committee, I knew, would go with the noble Lord in his opposition to that spirit; and would be, like him, blind, from prejudice, as to the dreadful evils likely to result from such a conduct. I was, therefore, in prudence justified in expecting a full exculpation of the noble Lord; but I hoped for some practical suggestions which might serve to alleviate the evils of the petitioners.
In the midst of our deliberations the noble Lord retired from office, and was succeeded by the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the town of Cambridge. I beg that it may be understood that I have not the slightest intention of setting the two ex-Secretaries together by the ears; but I am bound to say, that I did hear with great joy of the retirement of the noble Lord, and the accession of his successor; because I knew the noble Lord to be headlong, prejudiced, and self-confident; and I hoped to find the right hon. Gentleman amenable to reason, and willing to do justice. The right hon. Gentleman, told me, and with much truth that he was entirely ignorant of the whole matter under dispute, that he sincerely desired to do justice to all parties; and that if the Canadians would only grant him time, he would, to the utmost of his power, forward what he conceived to be the true interests of the country. He said that he could not, in his present state, be expected to form an opinion. On one thing, however, he had determined, and that was, not to press the Acts introduced by the noble Lord, the object of which was to take away from the Colonists certain revenues, and thereby to free the Colonial Government from their control. This he promised not to do; only asking that the Colonists would, in the next Session, pass a Bill, the same with that they had passed under Sir James Kempt, providing for the civil Government, under a protest and understanding, that thereby they created no precedent in prejudice to their cause. This they, on my request, promised; I then agreed to close the Committee, and to leave the reformation of the existence of abuses, in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman.
The House must, however, at once understand that this was not all the assurance I received. Certain things were very pointedly stated by me, and acquiesced in by the right hon. Gentleman, and another Member of the Government, peculiarly connected with Canada. They spoke my language respecting the then state of the country; and I was certainly led to believe, that very marked changes would have rapidly followed the accession of the Member for Cambridge. I am sorry to say, that I fell greatly into error—nothing has been done—all the evils complained of still exist,—more mischief has been added,—and the state of the colony is now such, that unless some immediate steps be taken to redress what the Colonists deem their grievances, I am convinced that an immediate outbreak will happen among the people:— that unless their demands be granted, they will rebel—and if the mischievous system which has hitherto prevailed, is to continue; if the same heart-burnings are to be allowed to be created for the gratification of a small and mischievous oligarchy, who spread a moral pestilence over the land; if these are to be the fruits of our dominion—however, for the sake of England, I may deplore such a result, for the sake of the human race, to me it appears that the sooner they rebel the better. If our dominion is to be a curse, wisdom and humanity alike require that it should immediately cease.
Such is the general outline of the circumstances which resulted from the petitions of the Canadians respecting their grievances. In order that the House may better understand the nature or the grievances themselves, I will, with its permission, explain the matters complained of. So soon as the constitution existing was conferred on the Canadas, disputes arose, as I have already said, between two parties in the colony. Those disputes arose, because the people, speaking through their representatives, demanded to have the government of their own concerns; and the Legislative Council party wanted to keep dominion in their own hands. In order to attain their end, the Legislative Council had two schemes, intimately connected one with the other:—the one was to make the servants of the public independent of the House of Assembly, by obtaining a permanent civil list; and the other, was to leave, at the control of the Assembly, certain portions of the revenue. In furtherance of the first part of their plan, it was proposed to the House of Assembly, by various Governors, that they should vote one large sum of money, as it was then called, en bloc—and that, too, for the life of the King. En bloc meant, that no separate items should be discussed, but that the whole should be voted at once, and that the Governor and those around him, who really governed, should apportion it out amongst themselves. This the house strenuously resisted: they refused such a supply; and, in return, Lord Dalhousie illegally took the money out of the public chest. At length the en bloc demand was given up; still they insisted on a permanent civil list. By degrees, this civil list was confined to the judges, the governor, his secretary, and the attorney-general and solicitor-general. The House was inclined to grant so much of this last demand as related to the administration of justice, on certain conditions. They passed a bill for the appropriation of a permanent salary to the judges, directing that these salaries should be paid out of the casual and territorial revenues. The meaning of this cannot be understood without an explanation of the second part of the plan above alluded to. The House of Assembly have uniformly insisted on their right to control the whole of the revenue. On the 6th of December, 1828 the House resolved,—
That, under no circumstances, and upon no considerations whatever, ought this House to abandon, or in any way compromise its inherent and constitutional right, as a branch of the provincial Parliament representing his Majesty's subjects in this Colony, to superintend and control the receipt and expenditure of the whole public revenue arising with in this province.
This resolution was passed because the official party had classified the revenue, and chose to consider, that certain of the classes were legally and rightfully beyond the control of the Assembly. This reserved revenue consisted—1. Of the proceeds of certain English and provincial Acts of Parliament; 2. Of the Jesuits' estates: 3. Of the land and timber fund; 4. Of certain rents and fines arising from lands held under the Crown.
In time, the Government saw the justice of giving up the first class, which was at that period the most productive; but they still reserved the remainder. Respecting the Jesuits' estates, the Canadians bitterly complained that they had, while in the possession of the Jesuits, contributed to the education of the Canadian Catholic youth, and that now they were appropriated in a manner wholly opposed to this. They complained, and with justice, that the Jesuits' College in Quebec, one of the largest buildings in Canada, was made a soldiers' barracks. They complained that the proceeds of these reserved funds were appropriated to the maintenance of an exclusive Church Establishment; and surely these were legitimate subjects for complaint.
The truth is, the spirit that in England makes us maintain the Church in spite of the whole dissenting body—which in Ireland continues it though bloodshed and riot are the consequences,—makes us cross the water, and breed confusion and doubt, distrusts and heart-burnings, among the principal inhabitants of Canada. This Church Establishment has been the evil genius of England, and has in too many instances been the curse of her dominions. In consequence of the reiterated complaints of the Canadians, at length the Home Government consented to give up the Jesuits' estates. Those in the Island of Montreal were given up; those of Quebec, however, were, and are still retained; the College still continues a barrack, and all accounts respecting the Jesuits' revenues, were peremptorily refused to the House of Assembly. What faith can the House have in statements respecting these estates, if the official and authentic documents are all carefully withheld from them? This matter of the Jesuits' estates, however, is but a small part of the grievance.
The remaining portion of the casual and territorial revenues, is equally pregnant with mischief and discontent. It should be remarked, that all the complaints of the Canadians respecting the two first classes of the reserved revenues, were, after long discussion, and vehement reviling of the Representatives, declared by the Home Government to be just and well founded.
There was, however, no language too bitter for the official party to use, while discoursing on the unheard-of audacity of the House of Assembly, in demanding to know what was done with the people's money. They were called republicans, disloyal, anti-English levelers, democrats, incendiaries, rebels, traitors, enemies of their country, and contemners of all that was just and holy. All this storm was raised by the constitutional demand on the part of the people's Representatives to know how the proceeds of the people's industry was disposed of by the servants of the public. The storm on these two separate claims at length ceased, but only to rage with greater fury respecting the claims of the people to the remaining portion of the reserved revenue.
Now, let us inquire respecting the remaining portion—namely, the land and timber fund. I know that the waste lands of Canada are called Crown lands. This is a mere technical expression; the waste lands do not belong to the King of England, but to the people of Canada. It is idle for us to let mere law jargon impose upon our sober senses. Upon all principles of policy, on the score simply of common sense, I claim as the undoubted right of the people of Canada, the lands of that province. The grounds of this demand cannot be invaded. The inhabitants of Canada are protected by the government of Canada—they are subject to the laws of Canada. Upon the government of Canada devolves the duty of securing the lives, the property, and the reputation of the inhabitants. For the fulfilment of this obligation, it is endowed with certain powers, and is bound to take advantage of all the facilities which its situation affords. When a new settlement is formed, new duties arise for the Government. Waste lands afford a means of revenue to fulfil those duties; they, that is the lands, are not then to be diverted from this purpose, to gratify private cupidity, or to make a revenue for England. The administration of these lands forms a very important portion of the internal affairs of the Colony; and we have, as well by Act of Parliament, as by a long course of policy, given to this Colony the right of managing its own internal affairs. Therefore I claim, for the Canadian people, the administration of the waste lands, and the right to the monies that may be derived from them, as well as the power of appropriating them.
It happens that this fund is a growing fund. The United States derive a large revenue from this source; and the people of Canada are justified in expecting that they, living in the same climate, possessed of the same facilities, should derive the same benefits. The official party, however, desirous of having a disposable fund, hating the control of the people's representatives, wish to have this territorial and casual revenue, free from the power of the Assembly. The Assembly, on the other hand, are determined to prevent such reservation. In the midst of the disputes on this matter, arose the question of freeing the administration of justice from any domination on the part of the Assembly. This was a popular topic, and the Representatives of the people determined to grant this demand. They said "yes, we will make the Judges independent, as well of ourselves as of the Crown; they shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and not the pleasure of the Crown; and they shall have permanent salaries, instead of salaries annually voted; they shall have salaries of the same amount as heretofore, and they shall be paid out of the monies accruing from the casual and territorial revenue." And what was the consequence? Why, the British Government that had made such wonderful professions of a desire to have an independent judicature, refused the assent of the Crown to this Bill, though passed by the House of Assembly, and, unanimously, by the Legislative Council. In this state of the case, the House of Assembly are accused of breach of faith; they have resolved:—
That on the permanent settlement before-mentioned (of the financial question) being effected with the consent of this House, it will be expedient to render the Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, or person administering the government of the Province for the time being, the Judges, and Executive Councillors, independent of the annual vote of this House, to the extent of their present salaries.
And it is asserted, that they have not acted up to this resolution. Now, I ask, after what I have stated respecting the reservations made, whether the financial question can be said to have been permanently settled? Until the whole revenue be given up to the people without reserve or evasion, this question will not, cannot be settled; and no breach of faith can be imputed to the House of Assembly, while the whole affair remains in its present unsatisfactory condition. That House has made many advances towards conciliation; they passed the Bill above alluded to, respecting the Judges, which Bill was opposed by the Crown, even when the people did no longer insist upon their demands. The people yielded, but the Government would not. It will be found no easy matter to bring the Representatives back to that state; their demands are now greater, and must be satisfied.
I have not yet exhausted the grievances of the Canadian people respecting English interference with the appropriation of their lands. Last year a Bill, as a private Bill, passed this House, establishing a land company with certain powers, in opposition to the wishes and the laws of the Canadians. What would be the feelings of the landed gentry of this House, if the Canadian people should constitute a Company to buy lands in England by bargain with the Government, which lands belonged to the people of England? And what would be the feelings of the lawyers on the Treasury Bench, if, not contented with this invasion of English rights, the Canadians should also make new laws of conveyance, in contradiction of the existing law of England?
I will tell the House what the Canadians have determined to do; and I am anxious that the people of this country should be made acquainted with the fact. They have determined never to allow a title to any lands which this Company may purchase or sell. On the next meeting of the provincial Parliament, the House of Assembly will pass a resolution to this effect; and I desire to direct the attention of the hon. Member for Worcester to this circumstance. He is, I know, a very important fraction of this said land Company, and will be responsible to every one who shall be deceived by representations on the part of that Company which cannot be realized.
The people of England, the poor emigrants, should know—and I hope he will be careful to disseminate this information—that if any one go out to Canada in the expectation of finding lands of the Company to which they can give a sure and peaceable title, he will be egregiously mistaken; for the Canadian Legislature are determined to overturn this Company, which they deem illegal, and a gross violation of their liberties. They are determined—no matter how long may be the possession of the settler—no matter what the sum that may have been paid by him—to take all these lands back into their own hands. If any persons suffer, after this very distinct announcement made by me, in the name, and on the behalf of the Canadian Legislature, they have themselves to blame. If they put faith in the deceptive promises of the Company after this warning, they must pay the penalty of their folly. It remains with the Company to determine, whether they can honestly continue to hold out prospects which they must know to be false, and to entice people to emigrate to lands on which they must be certain they will meet only with difficulty and distress. This Land Company is connected with the Financial Question, because they serve, by their payments, to swell the amount of that fund, which is reserved from the control of the Legislature. It is on this ground that I now include it in my list of grievances.
I have not yet even exhausted the long list of evils connected with the lands of this country. I shall here, however, merely allude to that mischievous piece of legislation, the Canadian Tenures Act. Upon another occasion, I will shew how necessary will be the repeal of that ill-advised and ill-digested measure. These various grievances were all of them, excepting that of the land Company, necessarily brought under the consideration of Lord Goderich; and, although he was unable to settle all the differences arising from them, he shewed a great desire to conciliate, and was especially anxious to create no unnecessary discontent. Fatally for the peace of Canada, he was led to believe it necessary to insist upon the reservation of this casual and territorial revenue. This rendered it impossible for him to answer the question; but still he continued to maintain a good correspondence with the House of Assembly, and was always treated by them with great respect and courtesy, because he himself set the example by his manner towards the House.
It was reserved for the noble Lord who succeeded him to insult the Assembly, and thus to break off all connexion with the House. The House of Assembly found, after many years of patient trial, that no hope of accommodation remained while the Legislative Council was constituted as it then was, and is; but they, deeming that the direct recommendation of any great constitutional change in the Council was beyond their mission, stated to the governor that they desired that the people themselves should decide upon the matter.
It is the custom in America to do this. A convention is called to determine on organic changes. The representatives are chosen for that one purpose, and are solemnly endowed with power to alter the Constitution. The Canadian Assembly wished that a convention of the same description should be called in Canada; and signified their desire to the Home Government through the Governor. The noble Lord, without the slightest regard to the peculiar condition of the people—of the state of feelings and opinions, at once insults the Assembly for proposing such a plan—calls their proposed convention a national convention, and would lead us to believe that we ought to expect the doings of Robespierre and Danton at the hands of the Canadian leaders.
The noble Lord, I see, expresses his dissent. If he did not mean this, why call it a national convention? He well knew the feelings of Englishmen on that subject, and why insinuate what he did not openly wish to avow? If the epithet meant anything —and I cannot suppose the noble Lord used it for no purpose—it meant the unfair inference to which I have just alluded.
He sent the despatch of which I have above spoken, and from that moment to the present, it has been found impossible to bring the House of Assembly to any terms, but those which they originally proposed. They are determined to have a complete control over their own concerns, and they are determined to work out all changes necessary to that end. I have now to speak of the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Cambridge, and the first matter on which I have to remark is, that he has allowed Lord Aylmer to remain Governor of the province. He, Sir, knows as well as I know—that all confidence is destroyed between the House of Assembly and his Lordship—and he must have been aware of the impossibility of accommodating the differences existing, while Lord Aylmer remained.
I will give the House a specimen of his Lordship's fitness for governing, in his late proceedings respecting the quarantine. But, before I do this, I must make a grave charge against the noble Lord, the Member for Lancashire, respecting this same matter. He misled the House, last year, by one of the most extraordinary statements that, I think, was ever made by an official person of his station and eminence. Surely this House has a right to expect that the communications made to it by his Majesty's Ministers, be not lightly made. The Ministers are in possession of the best evidence, and when they speak, they speak with authority. Now I charge the noble Lord with having—not, indeed, intentionally asserted what was not the fact, but with having—in culpable haste, and culpable neglect of the evidence before him, made an accusation against the House of Assembly, utterly unfounded. The charge was a grave one; it produced a great effect upon the House of Commons; it ought to have been borne out by evidence, but was utterly unfounded from the beginning to the end.
The noble Lord last year, in a speech made in answer to my statement respecting the grievances complained of by the House of Assembly, made the following charge:—
Before I go further, I will give an instance of the spirit in which the Assembly has recently acted. Last year the Assembly broke up at a very early period, having done very little business during the Session, and the financial affairs of the province were left wholly unprovided for. The cholera not having subsided, the quarantine establishment was in the greatest distress; a famine raged through a portion of the country; and under these circumstances the Governor felt himself justified in taking (partly, too, from his own private resources,) about 7,000l. for the relief of those persons who were suffering from famine and pestilence.
At the commencement of the present Session he applied to the House of Assembly for indemnity and reimbursement, but he was met by a resolution taunting him with a misappropriation of the public money. It was not for the purpose of paying salaries to the Judges, or any other high Officers, that the Governor had made this advance of money; nor for the sake of benefiting himself, but for the sole object of assisting the starving and the sick — the wretched population of the country. With a degree of honesty, candour, and liberality, which does high honour to the individual, the Governor, relying on the good faith of the Legislative Assembly advanced this 7,000l. in a manner that I have stated, and I regret to say, that he has been disappointed, and has met with nothing in return for his generous conduct but revilings and taunts of the most bitter description.
Now for the answer to this accusation. Captain M'Kinnan, aide-de-camp to Lord Aylmer, was examined by the Committee, and I put the following questions and received the answers I shall now read:—
What are the circumstances which led the Governor, on his own responsibility, to advance a sum, for which he has since been indemnified, for the use of the quarantine department?—the fear that pervaded the province generally, that the cholera would appear a second time, and the anxiety all the inhabitants felt that there should be a quarantine station. It was merely a renewal of what took place in 1832, when a vote of money was passed by the Legislature, in case the cholera should make its appearance; and Lord Aylmer made the advance on his own responsibility, in consequence of the Quarantine Bill of 1833 having failed in the Legislature.
Do you know of a sum of 7,000l. being advanced by Lord Aylmer out of his own private funds?—He advanced a sum of money, but not to that amount.
Was it not 500l.?—He made an advance out of his own private funds, on account of the distress that existed in parts of the province from the failure of the harvest; the exact amount I cannot state; it was not large; about 600l. or 700l.
Did the Assembly refuse to grant that sum?—They indemnified him. So that the many statements that have been made as to the misapplication of funds, are incorrect?—The best answer I can give to any statement of that kind, as to misapplication of funds, is that Lord Aylmer, was indemnified for all the advances he made without the authority of the Assembly.
A year has been passed since the accusation, and only now am I able to refute this groundless and unjustifiable charge. I leave the matter to the consideration of the House, expressing this hope, that hereafter the noble Lord will take warning, and remember that when he brings a charge, it is his duty to ascertain the facts before he hazards any accusation. From this specimen we shall learn to be cautious low we trust him; and, before we believe, shall ask for his evidence.
But as to the matter immediately in hand. Again—did the Quarantine Bill fail in the Legislature, and again did the cholera make its appearance?—The corporation of Montreal, on its appearance, applied to the head of the executive, Lord Aylmer, in order that steps might be taken to avert the dreaded danger. What was the conduct of this sapient and benevolent ruler? The party that had offended him, if he was offended, was the House of Assembly. The inhabitants of Montreal, the corporation of Montreal, were innocent. Yet he, regardless of his duty as a Governor—regardless of humanity and justice—insults the corporation, takes no heed of the pestilence, but coolly allows affairs to go their own way; the consequence was, that the pestilence carried off many hundreds of the inhabitants, who might have been saved had the Governor been endowed with but common humanity. Is it wise, is it decent, is it Christian-like, thus, from personal pique, to visit the poor and unoffending with the dreadful scourge of a pestilential disease? But if the Governor's justice and humanity are small, his prudence is yet more minute. He and the ex-Attorney-General (Mr. Stuart) have, within a few weeks, been exhibiting themselves in the newspapers. They have disgusted all sober and serious people by their sad antics. Mr. Stuart has chosen, in terms hardly allowed by the courtesy of civilized life, to give his Lordship the lie; and the correspondence closes by his threatening to call his Lordship out to mortal duel, when he shall have ceased to be Governor. We may smile, perhaps laugh at these things; but it is a somewhat strange spectacle to be merry about. Here is a man clothed with all the power and dignity of a representative of his Majesty; and he thus chooses to descend from his station to take part in a vulgar and degrading altercation. A pretty situation, truly, for one almost clothed with the imperial purple to figure in!
But these two charges are not all that I have to bring against this Governor—I ask the right hon. Gentleman—I ask the Members whom I see here, and who were on the Canada Committee of 1828—what is their opinion of Mr. Gale? Is it not notorious that he is a red hot partisan—that he is one of the most furious of what I may fairly call the Orangemen of Canada? And yet this man has been promoted to the Bench. I do hope, I do believe that the right hon. Gentleman has some answer to this charge. But if he have, what can he think of the discrimination, the judgment, the honesty of that Governor who could recommend this partisan, who had been marked by the Committee of 1828, as one not to be favoured,—who was represented by that Committee to the Colonial Office as a person to be carefully kept out of office—to take a seat on the Bench, and to administer justice to the people? What can the House think of the party which would choose him, of the Governor which could approve of him? I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman did not sanction that approval. But I do confidentially ask him, wherefore, he permitted so imbecile and unfit a Governor to remain in a Colony, the most critically situated of any now under our dominion.
Here, Sir, I must close the long list of Canadian grievances; not that I have enumerated the whole painful catalogue, but because I may not further weary the House with the detail. But, before I sit down, let me entreat the right hon. Gentleman opposite to approach this subject in a spirit of wise conciliation. I have spoken faithfully what I believe to be the present condition of the Colony. I have done it boldly,— I believe I have done it correctly. This is no time to tamper with the disease. Coercion will not succeed; and nothing but a full and complete concession will now satisfy the people. They demand the privilege of self-government; and no wise and prudent statesman would at this time, and under the peculiar circumstances which surround this people, refuse or evade so reasonable a demand. The country is one of democratic habits. There is a great equality in the condition of all the inhabitants—no aristocracy exists; neither can the elements of an aristocracy be discovered. Around them the Canadians see democratic neighbours—happy, peaceful, and successful. They demand for themselves a like condition and like privileges. I sincerely hope that these demands may not be refused too often.
I beg leave to bring up this petition.
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