Nothing would be more compromising for an honest man than to be praised, often and highly, by rascals. Nothing would tend to ruin more quickly a reputation of political integrity, of devotion to the cause of justice, freedom and the rights of the people, than to deserve a word of praise, to get a second compliment from The Transcript, or any other section of the Tory press of Lower Canada, such as it has been on the whole, since the first page of The Mercury to the last lucubration of The Courier. It is to thwart such a perfidious tactic, it is to push back such an offencive praise, as the one which the slanderous sheet, The Transcript, gives me by publishing that I said to a delegation of Irish fellow-citizens, that understood that the object of their meeting was concerned with foreign countries alone, and not Canada, I did not want to take any part in it, that I decided to give an account of the interview which I had with them.
I was being invited to become the chairman of a public meeting to demand the repeal of the oppressive Act of Union of Ireland, and to express our strong sympathies, for the heroism with which the French people destroyed a corrupting monarchy, made a bonfire out of a throne whose ashes, blown over the world by a favourable breeze, with the Westward wind of America, with the wind of freedom, started the burning of so many other thrones; and for the sublime moderation with which this people forgives the vanquished tyrants. These truths, I had called them holy. I had made myself their apostle; I had preached them. I was bound by the public, as by my conscience to make constant efforts to have them prevail, and I could have given an answer as wretched as the one which the Transcript charges on me! It is for that that I am praised! astute praise; atrocious lie, which proves the imbecility of the one who believed such news, or the corruption of the heart, the perfidy and spirit of intrigue of the one or the ones who invented and accredited it.
If I were capable of such a contemptible selfishness, of such a disgusting servilism, I would be worthy of falling to what I consider the lowest degree of the social scale: worthy to become, not by need or to win my bread, something to which an honest but unfortunate man could be reduced, to become, says I, a garçon-typographe-volontaire (what the courtesy of the English language would call a "volunteer devil") in the printing works of The Transcript.
The paper's tale is of infernal origin, since The Transcript ensures the readers that Beelzebub alone knows where the delegation came from. It is the editor's devotion to such a boss who undoubtedly hired him to become his servant and his echo, since he publishes, as truth, the lie to which he attributes such an origin. He believes it true because it comes from from where the majority of his inspirations and inventions come from, his discoveries and his denunciations in nocturnal assemblies, as real and criminal as were those of the sorcerers' Sabbath. The last ones who were judicially burned in Europe were so in England!
The veracious version of what this delegation was, and what it wished for, is that it was animated by feelings too human and too generous to be suspected of coming on behalf of Downing Street. Thus it did not come from Beelzebub. Well convinced of that, I felt my conscience safe to ear what it had to say. The delegation's feelings of hatred against all aristocratic tyranny, and of love for all popular freedoms, established from the start rapports of sympathy between its members and me. The conversation was thus frank and free, such as it would be between associates of Conciliation Hall.
When nearly two centuries before the birth of Christianity, on the theatre of pagan Rome, one of most elegant of her poets exhaled this suave sentence: "I am human, nothing that is human is alien to me", the unanimous applause of one hundred thousand spectators welcomed this evangelic revelation. There was not a single man in such a numerous assembly, to which assisted envoys of all the Roman colonies, ambassadors of all the parts of the globe where the Greek and Latin civilization, or even ours, had penetrated, who was not sensitive to this sentiment of the heart, to this cry of nature. How is it then that the whole of the Canadian Tory press believes that the duty and honesty of the British government require that it only expresses contempt and animosity for this Ireland, whose oppression produced a Golgotha too narrow to hide in its entrails the corpses that famine feeds it; the result being that they remain exposed on its surface, and find their burial in the entrails of dogs and birds of prey! Pity for Ireland! It would be an insult to the British government, so vigilant to punish those who would be hard and cruel for the Irish, object of predilection of the Lords Russell and Brougham, Palmerston and Stanley and hoc omne genus; a proof of it is the rigour of the punishment which they have just inflicted to Blake. In the night of last December 31, this mauvais riche, this great landowner, sent men to destroy the poor houses of a great number of Irish families and made them perish by the rigour of the cold. One then asked to the worthier of the viceroys which this valley of tears and tortures ever had if it were possible to have the infamous murderer punished. The viceroy answered no, that Mr. Blake was the Master of these houses and that he could do what he wanted with them; but that, wishing to punish, as much as the English legislation and sensitivity can allow, this outrage against humanity of the highest degree, he would strike out of the list of the Justices of the Peace this monster with a man's face, a tiger's heart, the hyena's instincts, enjoying the smell of corpses in a state of decomposition around his den!
How to explain the savage cry of hatred against men oppressed to this degree; how not to share the natural feeling of all of Rome, electrified by the hollow voice of Terence? It is because at that time the Roman government was a civilizing conqueror, whereas the English government was for Ireland, for India, for New France, an exterminating conqueror. Pagan Rome had agreed to give peace to Carthage only at the condition that she soften her sanguinary cult and abolish human sacrifices. The mercantile government of the Indies had its Christian dignitaries assist the holocausts of the widows, burned alive with the corpses of their husbands; same for the processions of Juggernaut where, by the hundreds, fanatics are each year crushed under the wheels of the cart carrying an idol much more avid of human blood than ever was that which is honoured by the African ferocity.
There can be no sympathy expressed in the Tory press for the anguish of Ireland. Its Masters do not give gold for such paragraphs. They give advertisements, gold, places and honours to those who desert and curse Ireland and Canada.
Damned be Ireland and Canada; blessed be the acts of Union of Ireland and of Canada, say the men and the newspapers devoured by hunger and thirst for advertising, gold, places and what they call honours.
Delegation: Dear Sir, there was in Quebec City a nice public meeting, in which people denounced the tyranny of England, poured tears for the sufferings of Ireland, and expressed their aspirations for her relief; and a cry of joy for the pure and unstained glory of republican France. Here where we are twice as numerous as our compatriots of Quebec City; here, in the capital of two big provinces, shouldn't we hold a similar one? We want to have it and we pray you to chair it.
Mr. Papineau: You are right, my friends, to want to organize a meeting similar to that of Quebec City. To this end, my voice and my heart are all yours. But you are not right to want me to chair it. There are life and honour in Quebec City. There was some when, under the reign of terror and under the inspiration of freedom, in the presence of Lord Durham, people faded the tyranny he exerted against the exiled of the Bermudas; withered the exuberance of his insanity when he published that by returning to the country the absent defendants would commit high treason, for which they would suffer death, without any trial; when Le Fantasque edified its readers, on the daily follies of the dictatorship's actions of the time (the current one could very well resuscitate it in all its liveliness); when people protested and petitioned against the Act of Union; when last summer they organized themselves in a committee of reform and progress; when finally, in a recent meeting, some gathered for the exaltation of French heroism, the execration of English despotism, the commiseration for the groans of agonizing Ireland. Yes, in Quebec City there is life and honour. In Montreal, that is another story. We have the seat of the responsible government there. We have statesmen, politicians as deep as the abyss and men as mute as grave stones, who choke all measures which were born in Quebec City. Why do they do it? They did not tell me their secrets. I do not have enough perspicacity to guess them. It is necessary that you know if they like it that you have the public meeting you are planning.
Delegation: We have reasons to think that they would be happy if we did not have it. We asked Mr. Drummond, chairman of our association for the recall of the act of Union of Ireland, and Mr. Ryan who was secretary, to convene this meeting as was done in Quebec City: they refused. They said that our compatriots from Quebec City had done something thoughtless in holding this meeting, which was inopportune, without having beforehand consulted any of the members of the government here [in Montreal]; that was to cause embarrassment to a friendly authority, which we would in the end grant all that we would like if, with enough patience, we could wait long enough; that now that they had tied themselves to the government they had to detach themselves from our association; that we could elect other officers. That is why we wish to choose you as chairman and at the same time we want to have public resolutions voted for the recall of the Union and for the exaltation of the virtue and French bravery, which vivify all peoples and, at the price of forfeiture, convert all kings.
Mr. Papineau: Ah! Mr. Drummond and Mr. Ryan, free men, were officers in your society; and, civil servants, they now repudiate it? But there certainly is something very serious and very compromising underneath it . I must know your goal and your rules, before I venture myself to affiliate myself with you. Would they have discovered, since they were commissioned, that there is some odour of disloyalty in these deplorable rules, that I do not know? Were they your officers for a long time? Did they take part in your discussions?
Delegation: Oh! for that, yes. They spoke more often, more thickly, bigger and louder than any of the other members of the society.
Mr. Papineau: Good them. You make me happy. There was nothing criminal in your masonry, when they spoke; I conclude that there is nothing criminal now that they are keeping silent. It is not you who changed; it is them who are changed, or who are not changed; but...
"Their task it is to seem it all — Chameleons, monkeys, great and small." 1
Oh! well in my case, me who has no other Master than the law, I could dare to speak when they will not dare to do it? True. It is amusing to learn that one can become one of yours without being too easily persecuted by the Solicitor General, who was also one of you.
Delegation: Not only should he not prosecute his associate brothers, but we believe that it is this quality of chairman of the associate brothers which made him Solicitor General. It is not only because of his Irish origin that we elected him in the representation. It was even more because of his energetic and reiterated protests of passionate love for popular freedoms; of hatred against a centuries-old oppression, regularized against our unfortunate fatherland, for the profit of the nobles and priests who were foreign enemy, precisely odious, from the devastations of the Plantagenets, Tudors and Stuarts to the proscriptions of Cromwell, the treasons of Castlereagh, the cheatings of Lord Russell: it was because of his promises to echo the denunciations fulminated by Grattan and O'Connell against the traitors, who sold Ireland to the Sassenagh, that we sent him in the representation, the widest and easiest of all paths to personal advancement, under the happy system of responsible government, honest, economic, disinterested, great worker for little remunerations, system which we have had the happiness to enjoy for seven years.
Mr. Papineau: Is it so? Then you can be sure that you have misunderstood your chairman. He cannot pretend that all the respectability that there is in your association has been withdrawn as soon as he left it. Neither him, nor any member of our liberal cabinet can have the presumption of condemning as a thoughtlessness a meeting such as that of Quebec, chaired by a respectable priest, in daily connection with his ecclesiastical superiors, His Grace the archbishop, his coadjutor and others of our most enlightened priests in the country; encouraged by the presence and the participation of all the representation of the city and the vicinity of Quebec, including one of the representatives who was also member of the cabinet. He was since made judge, which could not have been, if there had been something disloyal in these activities. If he had seen some imprudence in any of the resolutions that were discussed and voted, he would not have failed to propose some judicious amendment. I thus advise you to re-examine your chairman, to request that he continue to exercise his function, and to keep the feelings which made you choose him as your representative; to ensure him that I would not want to take part in a movement which, badly interpreted, would give the impression of my wanting to steal an honour which he so well deserved. I esteem him. He is man of distinguished talents, and had solid and brilliant education. Men of this gauge, I honour them, to whichever school they belong; but it is by predilection that I honour them when they belong to the Canadian and Irish liberal schools. Go and meet him again as a group. Renew your request. Let there be no surprise. Say to him that, if he gives you reasons to desist which appear good to you, you will let them be known to the public, to apologize for not imitating the beautiful and good example which Quebec gives us; that if his reasons appear to be bad, you will not desist, and will publish those reasons so that you and him may be judged in full knowledge of the case.
Tell him that, if he wants to chair at the meeting that you wish to have, I will second him open heartedly. If, to my surprise, he refuses, even that would not constitution a sufficient reason for you to give me the honour of choosing me as chairman, neither of your association nor of your meeting. Believe a sincere friend of the good cause in which you are engaged, a friend who has gained some experience of men and business, of those of your country in particular.
Tyranny has been so exorbitant against your deplorable fatherland, made as joyful and beautiful by the good doings of the Providence as it has been obscured by the misdeeds of your governors, that she developed, among the generality of your kind, virtues which are native to you and vices which the foreign dominator gave birth to. You have been living in a more frequent state of conspiracy than any other people, against iniquities more atrocious than any other nation had to suffered. From there your more enthusiastic love for the cult of the fatherland; for your cherished dignity, Erin the beautiful, Erin dispossessed by the despoiler insulting her. This love of the country, is the first of virtues for the English who gives orders; and it is to his eyes the most hateful of feelings that the people could nourish in his colonies of Ireland and Canada. It is the virtue which he most generally and most pitilessly punished. You give your confidence, with a limitless burst of generosity, to whoever is devoted to your cause. You know that I am one of these men; you want to testify your recognition to me in a manner which exceeds the limits of discretion, of national pride, of the feeling of esteem that you must nourish and display for yourselves, for your nationality and your nationals. Associations must be created to tighten the bonds of confidence and mutual dependence among the associates. Do not do anything which can slacken the bonds of complete confidence between you all, in an Irish association, created for an Irish interest: the repeal of your harmful Act of Union.
Often decimated in punishment of your strong love for your country, you have too often organized in secret societies, in which the English gold, the English spies were pushing you to revenge; and, the day before the explosion, betrayed you. This made you suspicious. It is the vice to which the foreign dominator gave birth in natures which the Providence made to be the most trustful that there ever was on Earth. Ireland has currently more chances of salute than ever, because she does not have secret societies. Her hatred is as highly avowed as it is properly organized.
Don't you feel that eventually one will murmur in the ear of one another among you: "Eh what, you are twenty thousand Irish people here, and you considered that not one among you deserved the honour to chair your meeting; you have ruled that a foreigner should be installed above you all, when the question is not of a social interest as important for all our mixed populations, but of a special national interest for you." No. You must keep the leadership and the chair to yourselves. Others have a better right to it than me.
You have on other men more control and a better right to require than they answer your call, than you have on me. It is the first time, Messrs, that we meet. Are there not some other public men with whom you had a more frequent relationship than me; who sought you when they needed you; to whom you rendered services that they requested from you; with whom it was pleasant to receive your votes and who, in return of your votes in their election, promised soft words, respect and civility to you; who said to you that you had the right to their advice, their energetic encouragements, on any occasion you would ask them; the right to their cordial support everywhere you needed it? The time and the occasion have come when you should appreciate to their right value the sincerity and the importance of their promises. Go towards your representatives, go ahead with frankness and with the same declarations that I advised you to bring to Mr. Drummond. It is your right to require, it is their duty to give you their support, if the objects which you seek are as they appears to be, as far as I can tell, useful and honourable to your fatherland, to you and all those who will second you. If they undeceive you, we will be obliged to them for it. Skilful operators, they will have given light to the unhappy ones who were groping in a thick darkness. They could disillusion us, we could reveal them truths they are unaware of. It is only by comparing our doctrines that we can determine which one is the just and true doxy, ours or theirs.
I am thrown in the political life against my inclination. After I frankly explained my dissatisfaction and my scorn for the political order forcibly imposed to my country, with the same hostile aim, by the same perverse means which chains yours, by a fatal and degrading Union for Ireland, as ours is hostile to us and more degrading even for Lower Canada, colony twice subjugated to two metropolises, that of England which oppresses by antipathy, that of Upper Canada which exploits us by cupidity, the county of Saint-Maurice chose me to represent it. If this county meets to deliberate on the general interests on the country, its local interests, or questions related to the cause of the justice, exerted by generous vanquishers against oppressive kings; or to that of the rights, freedoms, and happiness of our Co-Subjects in any part of the Empire, this county has the right, if I keep the mandate it gave me, to order my assistance and my participation in its discussions. In Montreal, I am but a simple citizen who timidly takes part to the deliberations, when its representatives disdain to do it. One so often said to my fellow-citizens, in speech as in writing, that I was a changed man, that I have become a paragon of devotion to the government against which I had fought all my life; that I applauded to the determination which Misters Viger and Papineau had taken to give their support to the administration of Lord Metcalfe, since they remained in power, longer than those who were burning with the envy and the desire to replace them; that, without the benevolent welcoming which 7,000 of these same fellow-citizens gave me in their recent meeting, I would have believed myself pushed away by the majority of them, with as much solicitude as I was by their new leaders. Before my return and since my return, one so high proclaimed to my country that one should be careful not to elect a man whose principles were so unknown, floating and changeable that mine, unless one made him do his political profession of faith; and when I wanted to formulate it, so many intrigues were done to prevent me from publishing it that I had to consider those actions as expressing the charitable care of men who were saying to me:
" Do not speak you would not be listened to. If you want to talk in the same way we do, it is your right. Then make your statements short like ours. Do not speak much, do not say anything on the merit or the demerit of the Union; representation proportional to the population; the extension of the right to vote to all; of the usefulness that at least a part of the representation be selected among the resident voters; that the eligibility should depend only on public confidence, not on the badly or justly acquired property of the candidate. Do not say that the conviction, in front of a legally sworn jury, such as we have not yet seen in the country, of the use of corruption methods in an election, should forever disqualify the convinced culprit, of his rights as voter and eligible, and of the aptitude to fill any public function of honour and profit. Do not insinuate that it would be desirable that the administration be working more and especially be less expensive, it is against the intention of those who gave us the responsible government and against the interest of those who exert it; do not say a good word or other trifles of this nature, which you have the habit to take care of; these are rather useless details since the symbol that represent the good citizenship card, the essential certificate of eligibility has been translated into one supremely simple sentence. Here it is for you to use: "I believe in the Baldwin-La Fontaine ministry and I swear a blind obedience to it." "
My own formula is to give a cordial support to all measures that will seem good to me; and give a free censure with refusal to support those measures which will seem bad to me. With the antecedents that I have given myself and with those which other gave me, I do not have strong motives to court, in Montreal, the disloyal inventors and the easily fooled victims of this vulgar stratagem. Those who sold and those who printed these lies against me knew that they lied. They had their reasons to do it. Whether they collect or do not collect the honours and the profits which systematized trickery and falseness deserve, that is their business and their study; not mine.
Remote and dispersed as you are, it is no your efforts that could tear off the hands of your tyrants, neither the thunder by which they devastate and sterilize your fatherland, nor the lead sceptre under which they crush it. It is less for your fatherland than for yourselves; less for its happiness that for your honour, that you should not give up, disband, and dissolve your association on the perilous day of the upcoming dangers or the next chances of salute which shine on your country. Throughout Christendom, from religious Rome to philosophical Paris, autocratic Russia to the democratic United States, rises a universal cry of love and pity for Ireland, wrapped in her shroud of plague and famine, woven and sewn around it by aristocratic hands. Montreal alone, [distracted] by I do not know what juggler, would not be able to find, in the middle of the sheds devoted to death which England pours from her European Ireland onto her American Ireland, a word of sympathy for pains and sufferings such as the lamentations of Jeremiah alone could let us imagine the horror! Shame on the men who can be demoralizing enough to want for Montreal to be as lethargic as they are apathetic!
It is only a few weeks ago that you were organized, bribed and armed to meet, head to head, other organized, bribed and armed men. Those who enrolled you were less faulty than those against whom they pushed you. You, resident voters, were armed for the defence of your rights. Tories, seeking sacaires outside the limits of the county, armed others for the illegal invasion of your rights. They were placing you in a position of legitimate self-defence. Nevertheless, the ball and the sword are blind instruments which could as well reach your innocent chests as the culprit chests of your adversaries. The courts of justice are a closed field, where the fight begins in the middle of a night as dark as the Erebus, of a labyrinth of turns and stratagems where justice is sometimes mislaid; where the skilful lawyer wins bad causes. You faced the dangers of the battle field, and the greater dangers of the lair of squabbles.
You thus have some right to the services of those whom you placed on the bulwark, of those that you made great, putting your lives in peril. Go toward your representatives. You have the right to ask, that those who seek you before the elections hear you after the elections; that they guide you and help you in your efforts, if they are useful and honourable to you; let them persuade you to discontinue them, if they prove you that they are harmful to the public interest, and, consequently, not very honourable for those who shared your efforts.
Delegation: But it is useless, since we will be refused. We will be rudely pushed away.
Mr. Papineau: Impossible. I refer you to gentlemen.
Delegation: We were politely but peremptorily refused by Mr. Coursol, who said to us that he did not want to help us to embarrass the government and that our actions would not be pleasant to him.
Mr. Papineau: Ah! Here is one who is not in the government and who takes part in the secrecies of a government as mysterious as ours! No, you are wrong. It is not an established fact which he reveals you; it is a clever assumption to which he arrived according to a rather plausible calculation of probability, that the quietude of rest and the wisdom of silence are as pleasant to the Canadian ministry as the din of Ireland is annoying to it, and to Lord Russell too. I repeat you, go to the source of all these reports. See your representatives. My own opinion, is that active and judicious ministries, inside which "several Irish members" and "of Irish extraction", should give themselves the honour to prove that their heart is not made of ice for the anguishes of their country; to give themselves the honour not to choke your patriotic fervour. If they can be excused not to be there in person, they must at least encourage their friends to attend your meeting, to prepare the resolutions with you, so that, in not exceeding the limits of the law, you may go as far it permits, as did their very devoted partisans in Quebec City. See Mr. Holmes, he is your representative, he is friends with the Cabinet, he is of Irish origin; you have on him rights which you do not have on me: he must be your chairman if you call him there.
You come after your fellow-citizens from Quebec, to organize a demonstration similar to that which they organized and which particularly interests you. Having the benefit of their example, and the time to reflect on the matter, you must endeavour to do something more than they did.
Though you must, in this occasion, hold an Irish meeting, you will add importance to it, if you call upon, among all the origins of which our society is composed, to the men who are human, devoted to the cause of progress, to the respect of justice, the hatred of oppression, and if you ask them to assist you. Have the various nationalities which are somewhat numerous be represented in your meeting. Elect Canadian, English, Scottish, American, and German vice-chairmen. Learn to know the liberty of sentiments, the thirst for liberality, equality and fraternity of the majority of your fellow-citizens of French extraction. Invite them to take part in a demonstration for the purpose of giving a free expression to the feelings which inflate their generous chests, the hatred of oppression, the pity for the national sufferings of Ireland, as for her individual sufferings, as proves the adoption, by Canadian families, of such a great number of the orphans from Ireland, orphans made so by the cowardice of the Whig ministries meanly controlled by mercantile interests and, in consequence of this servility, letting the owners of English vessels operate the trade of the Irish with an even more sordid greed of lucre, a more brutal inhumanity, a more murderous improvidence than the privateer of Cuba and Brazil did in the trade of the blacks.
The interest of the slave trader is to have a short passage and to sell a complete and healthy cargo. The interest of the Stanley, Palmerston, Blake and others of their caste and their temperament, is to drive out of their vast Irish fields those whom they made poor and who can no longer pay them. The more the vessel which carries them is encumbered, the more the field and the heart of the mauvais riche is alleviated, and the more the income is increased. They cannot enforce, do they inform us officially, their law which would tend to prevent the congestion. They "do not want" to have it enforced. They obtain profit and pleasure from it being eluded. From there, the expressed angers of Stanley against our colonial law. From there the hyperbolic lowness of Grey and all his colleagues, blaming the last colonial law passed according to their instructions. Here is the responsible government in its source, in all its sincerity, its benevolence, or its nudity as one will want to call it! Should we be astonished that it be so thickened with blood and mud when we see this government going all the way to Sandwich to chose representatives who will understand and recommend it!
Taken from L'Avenir on May 15, 1848 as reproduced in Louis-Joseph Papineau. Cette fatale union. Adresses, discours et manifestes. 1847-1848, introduction et notes de Georges Aubin, Lux Éditeur, 2003, ISBN 2-89596-009-7
- 1. Quote from The Funeral of The Lioness, one of the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine (Fable XIV, Book VIII) The original quote was Qui sont tenus de le paraître. Peuple caméléon, peuple singe du maître.
Also by Papineau
- The History of the Insurrection in Canada in refutation of the report of Lord Durham, 1839
- The Political Testament of Louis-Joseph Papineau, 1867
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