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2: The Fight For Self-Government

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The history of British North America in the quarter of a century that followed the War of 1812 is in the main the homely tale of pioneer life. Slowly little clearings in the vast forest were widened and won to order and abundance; slowly community was linked to community; and out of the growing intercourse there developed the complex of ways and habits and interests that make up the everyday life of a people.

All the provinces called for settlers, and they did not call in vain. For a time northern New England continued to overflow into the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada, the rolling lands south of the St. Lawrence which had been left untouched by riverbound seigneur and habitant. Into Upper Canada, as well, many individual immigrants came from the south, some of the best the Republic had to give, merchants and manufacturers with little capital but much shrewd enterprise, but also some it could best spare, fugitives from justice and keepers of the taverns that adorned every four corners. Yet slowly this inflow slackened. After the war the Canadian authorities sought to avoid republican contagion and moreover the West of the United States itself was calling for men.

But if fewer came in across the border, many more sailed from across the seas. Not again until the twentieth century were the northern provinces to receive so large a share of British emigrants as came across in the twenties and thirties. Swarms were preparing to leave the overcrowded British hives. Corn laws and poor laws and famine, power-driven looms that starved the cottage weaver, peace that threw an army on a crowded and callous labor market, landlords who rack-rented the Connaughtman's last potato or cleared Highland glens of folks to make way for sheep, rulers who persisted in denying the masses any voice in their own government—all these combined to drive men forth in tens of thousands. Australia was still a land of convict settlements and did not attract free men. To most the United States was the land of promise. Yet, thanks to state aid, private philanthropy, landlords' urging and cheap fares on the ships that came to St. John and Quebec for timber, Canada and the provinces by the sea received a notable share. In the quarter of a century following the peace with Napoleon, British North America received more British emigrants than the United States and the Australian colonies together, though many were merely birds of passage.

The country west of the Great Lakes did not share in this flood of settlement, except for one tragic interlude. Lord Selkirk, a Scotchman of large sympathy and vision, convinced that emigration was the cure for the hopeless misery he saw around him, acquired a controlling interest in the Hudson's Bay Company, and sought to plant colonies in a vast estate granted from its domains. Between 1811 and 1815 he sent out to Hudson Bay, and thence to the Red River, two or three hundred crofters from the Highlands and the Orkneys. A little later these were joined by some Swiss soldiers of fortune who had fought for Canada in the War of 1812. But Selkirk had reckoned without the partners of the North-West Company of Montreal, who were not prepared to permit mere herders and tillers to disturb the Indians and the game. The Nor'Westers attacked the helpless colonists and massacred a score of them. Selkirk retorted in kind, leading out an armed band which seized the Nor'Westers' chief post at Fort William. The war was then transferred to the courts, with heart-breaking delays and endless expense. At last Selkirk died broken in spirit, and most of his colonists drifted to Canada or across the border. But a handful held on, and for fifty years their little settlement on the Red River remained a solitary outpost of colonization.

Once arrived in Canada, the settler soon found that he had no primrose path before him. Canada remained for many years a land of struggling pioneers, who had little truck or trade with the world out of sight of their log shacks. The habitant on the seigneuries of Lower Canada continued to farm as his grandfather had farmed, finding his holding sufficient for his modest needs, even though divided into ever narrower ribbons as le bon Dieu sent more and yet more sons to share the heritage. The English-speaking settler, equipped with ax and sickle and flail, with spinning wheel and iron kettle, lived a life almost equally primitive and self-contained. He and his good wife grew the wheat, the corn, and the potatoes, made the soap and the candles, the maple sugar and the "yarbs," the deerskin shoes and the homespun-cloth that met their needs. They had little to buy and little to sell. In spite of the preference which Great Britain gave Canadian grain, in return for the preference exacted on British manufactured goods, practically no wheat was exported until the close of this period. The barrels of potash and pearl- ash leached out from the ashes of the splendid hardwood trees which he burned as enemies were the chief source of ready money for the backwoods settler. The one substantial export of the colonies came, not from the farmer's clearing, but from the forest. Great rafts of square pine timber were floated down the Ottawa or the St. John every spring to be loaded for England. The lumberjack lent picturesqueness to the landscape and the vocabulary and circulated ready money, but his industry did little directly to advance permanent settlement or the wise use of Canadian resources.

The self-contained life of each community and each farm pointed to the lack of good means of transport. New Brunswick and the Canadas were fortunate in the possession of great lake and river systems, but these were available only in summer and were often impeded by falls and rapids. On these waters the Indian bark canoe had given way to the French bateau, a square-rigged flat- bottomed boat, and after the war the bateau shared the honors with the larger Durham boat brought in from "the States."

Canadians took their full share in developing steamship transportation. In 1809, two years after Fulton's success on the Hudson, John Molson built and ran a steamer between Montreal and Quebec. The first vessel to cross the Atlantic wholly under steam, the Royal William, was built in Quebec and sailed from that port in 1833. Following and rivaling American enterprise, side-wheelers, marvels of speed and luxury for the day, were put on the lakes in the thirties. Canals were built, the Lachine in 1821-25, the Welland around Niagara Falls in 1824-29, and the Rideau, as a military undertaking, in 1826-32, all in response to the stimulus given by De Witt Clinton, who had begun the "Erie Ditch" in 1817. On land, road making made slower progress. The blazed trail gave way to the corduroy road, and the pack horse to the oxcart or the stage. Upper Canada had the honor of inventing, in 1835, the plank road, which for some years thereafter became the fashion through the forested States to the south. But at best neither roads nor vehicles were fitted for carrying large loads from inland farms to waterside markets.

Money and banks were as necessary to develop intercourse as roads and canals. Until after the War of 1812, when army gold and army bills ran freely, money was rare and barter served pioneer needs. For many years after the war a jumble of English sovereigns and shillings, of Spanish dollars, French crowns, and American silver, made up the currency in use, circulating sometimes by weight and sometimes by tale, at rates that were constantly shifting. The position of the colonies as a link between Great Britain and the United States, was curiously illustrated in the currency system. The motley jumble of coins in use were rated in Halifax currency, a mere money of account or bookkeeping standard, with no actual coins to correspond, adapted to both English and United States currency systems. The unit was the pound, divided into shillings and pence as in England, but the pound was made equal to four dollars in American money; it took 1 pound 4s. 4d. in Halifax currency to make 1 pound sterling. Still more curious was the influence of American banking. Montreal merchants in 1808 took up the ideas of Alexander Hamilton and after several vain attempts founded the Bank of Montreal in 1817, with those features of government charter, branch banks, and restrictions as to the proportion of debts to capital and the holding of real property which had marked Hamilton's plan. But while Canadian banks, one after another, were founded on the same model and throughout adhered to an asset-secured currency basis, Hamilton's own country abandoned his ideas, usually for the worse.

In the social life of the cities the influence of the official classes and, in Halifax and Quebec, of the British redcoats stationed there was all pervading. In the country the pioneers took what diversions a hard life permitted. There were "bees" and "frolics," ranging from strenuous barn raisings, with heavy drinking and fighting, to mild apple parings or quilt patchings. There were the visits of the Yankee peddler with his "notions," his welcome pack, and his gossip. Churches grew, thanks in part to grants of government land or old endowments or gifts from missionary societies overseas, but more to the zeal of lay preachers and circuit riders. Schools fared worse. In Lower Canada there was an excellent system of classical schools for the priests and professional classes, and there were numerous convents which taught the girls, but the habitants were for the most part quite untouched by book learning. In Upper Canada grammar schools and academies were founded with commendable promptness, and a common school system was established in 1816, but grants were niggardly and compulsion was lacking. Even at the close of the thirties only one child in seven was in school, and he was, as often as not, committed to the tender mercies of some broken-down pensioner or some ancient tippler who could barely sign his mark. There was but little administrative control by the provincial authorities. The textbooks in use came largely from the United States and glorified that land and all its ways in the best Fourth-of-July manner, to the scandal of the loyal elect. The press was represented by a few weekly newspapers; only one daily existed in Upper Canada before 1840.

Against this background there developed during the period 1815-41 a tense constitutional struggle which was to exert a profound influence on the making of the nation. The stage on which the drama was enacted was a small one, and the actors were little known to the world of their day, but the drama had an interest of its own and no little significance for the future.

In one aspect the struggle for self-government in British North America was simply a local manifestation of a world-wide movement which found more notable expression in other lands. After a troubled dawn, democracy was coming to its own. In England the black reaction which had identified all proposals for reform with treasonable sympathy for bloodstained France was giving way, and the middle classes were about to triumph in the great franchise reform of 1832. In the United States, after a generation of conservatism, Jacksonian democracy was to sweep all before it. These developments paralleled and in some measure influenced the movement of events in the British North American provinces. But this movement had a color of its own. The growth of self- government in an independent country was one thing; in a colony owing allegiance to a supreme Parliament overseas, it was quite another. The task of the provinces—not solved in this period, it is true, but squarely faced—was to reconcile democracy and empire.

The people of the Canadas in 1791, and of the provinces by the sea a little earlier, had been given the right to elect one house of the legislature. More than this instalment of self-government the authorities were not prepared to grant. The people, or rather the property holders among them, might be entrusted to vote taxes and appropriations, to present grievances, and to take a share in legislation. They could not, however, be permitted to control the Government, because, to state an obvious fact, they could not govern themselves as well as their betters could rule them. Besides, if the people of a colony did govern themselves, what would become of the rights and interests of the mother country? What would become of the Empire itself?

What was the use and object of the Empire? In brief, according to the theory and practice then in force, the end of empire was the profit which comes from trade; the means was the political subordination of the colonies to prevent interference with this profit; and the debit entry set against this profit was the cost of the diplomacy, the armaments, and the wars required to hold the overseas possessions against other powers. The policy was still that which had been set forth in the preamble of the Navigation Act of 1663, ensuring the mother country the sole right to sell European wares in its colonies: "the maintaining a greater correspondence and kindness between them [the subjects at home and those in the plantations] and keeping them in a firmer dependence upon it [the mother country], and rendering them yet more beneficial and advantageous unto it in the further Imployment and Encrease of English Shipping and Seamen, and vent of English Woollen and other Manufactures and Commodities rendering the Navigation to and from the same more safe and cheape, and makeing this Kingdom a Staple not only of the Commodities of those Plantations but also of the Commodities of other countries and places for the supplying of them, and it being the usage of other Nations to keep their [plantation] Trade to themselves." Adam Smith had raised a doubt as to the wisdom of the end. The American Revolution had raised a doubt as to the wisdom of the means. Yet, with significant changes, the old colonial system lasted for full two generations after 1776.

In the second British Empire, which rose after the loss of the first in 1783, the means to the old end were altered. To secure control and to prevent disaffection and democratic folly, the authorities relied not merely on their own powers but on the cooperation of friendly classes and interests in the colonies themselves. Their direct control was exercised in many ways. In last reserve there was the supreme authority of King and Parliament to bind the colonies by treaty and by law and the right to veto any colonial enactment. This was as before the Revolution. One change lay in the renunciation in 1778 of the intention to use the supreme legislative power to levy taxes, though the right to control the fiscal system of the colonies in conformity with imperial policy was still claimed and practised. In fact, far from seeking to secure a direct revenue, the British Government was more than content to pay part of the piper's fee for the sake of being able to call the tune. "It is considered by the Well wishers of Government," wrote Milnes, Lieutenant Governor of Lower Canada, in 1800, "as a fortunate Circumstance that the Revenue is not at present equal to the Expenditure." A further change came in the minute control exercised by the Colonial Office, or rather by the permanent clerks who, in Charles Buller's phrase, were really "Mr. Mother Country." The Governor was the local agent of the Colonial Office. He acted on its instructions and was responsible to it, and to it alone, for the exercise of the wide administrative powers entrusted to him.

But all these powers, it was believed, would fail in their purpose if democracy were allowed to grow unchecked in the colonies themselves. It was an essential part of the colonial policy of the time to build up conservative social forces among the people and to give a controlling voice in the local administration to a nominated and official class. It has been seen that the statesmen of 1791 looked to a nominated executive and legislative council, an hereditary aristocracy, and an established church, to keep the colony in hand. British legislation fostered and supported a ruling class in the colonies, and in turn this class was to support British connection and British control. How this policy, half avowed and half unconscious, worked out in each of the provinces must now be recorded.

In Upper Canada party struggles did not take shape until well after the War of 1812. At the founding of the colony the people had been very much of one temper and one condition. In time, however, divergences appeared and gradually hardened into political divisions. A governing class, or rather clique, was the first to become differentiated. Its emergence was slower than in New Brunswick, for instance, since Upper Canada had received few of the Loyalists who were distinguished by social position or political experience. In time a group was formed by the accident of occupation, early settlement, residence in the little town of York, the capital after 1794, the holding of office, or by some advantage in wealth or education or capacity which in time became cumulative. The group came to be known as the Family Compact. There had been, in fact, no intermarriage among its members beyond what was natural in a small and isolated community, but the phrase had a certain appositeness. They were closely linked by loyalty to Church and King, by enmity to republics and republicans, by the memory of the sacrifice and peril they or their fathers had shared, and by the conviction that the province owed them the best living it could bestow. This living they succeeded in collecting. "The bench, the magistracy, the high officials of the established church, and a great part of the legal profession," declared Lord Durham in 1839, "are filled by the adherents of this party; by grant or purchase they have acquired nearly the whole of the waste lands of the province; they are all powerful in the chartered banks, and till lately shared among themselves almost exclusively all offices of trust and profit." Fortunately the last absurdity of creating Dukes of Toronto and Barons of Niagara Falls was never carried through, or rather was postponed a full century; but this touch was scarcely needed to give the clique its cachet. The ten-year governorship of Sir Peregrine Maitland (1818-28), a most punctilious person, gave the finishing touches to this backwoods aristocracy.

The great majority of the group, men of the Scott and Boulton, Sherwood and Hagerman and Allan MacNab types, had nothing but their prejudices to distinguish them, but two of their number were of outstanding capacity. John Beverley Robinson, Attorney General from 1819 to 1829 and thereafter for over thirty years Chief Justice, was a true aristocrat, distrustful of the rabble, but as honest and highminded as he was able, seeking his country's gain, as he saw it, not his own. A more rugged and domineering character, equally certain of his right to rule and less squeamish about the means, was John Strachan, afterwards Bishop of Toronto. Educated a Presbyterian, he had come to Canada from Aberdeen as a dominie but had remained as an Anglican clergyman in a capacity promising more advancement. His abounding vigor and persistence soon made him the dominant force in the Church, and with a convert's zeal he labored to give it exclusive place and power. The opposition to the Family Compact was of a more motley hue, as is the way with oppositions. Opposition became potential when new settlers poured into the province from the United States or overseas, marked out from their Loyalist forerunners not merely by differences of political background and experience but by differences in religion. The Church of England had been dominant among the Loyalists; but the newcomers were chiefly Methodist and Presbyterian. Opposition became actual with the rise of concrete and acute grievances and with the appearance of leaders who voiced the growing discontent.

The political exclusiveness of the Family Compact did not rouse resentment half as deep as did. their religious, or at least denominational, pretensions. The refusal of the Compact to permit Methodist ministers to perform the marriage ceremony was not soon forgotten. There were scores of settlements where no clergyman of the Established Church of England or of Scotland resided, and marriages here had been of necessity performed by other ministers. A bill passed the Assembly in 1824 legalizing such marriages in the past and giving the required authority for the future; and when it was rejected by the Legislative Council, resentment flamed high. An attempt of Strachan to indict the loyalty of practically all but the Anglican clergy intensified this feeling; and the critics went on to call in question the claims of his Church to establishment and landed endowment.

The land question was the most serious that faced the province. The administration of those in power was condemned on three distinct counts. The granting of land to individuals had been lavish; it had been lax; and it had been marked by gross favoritism. By 1824, when the population was only 150,000, some 11,000,000 acres had been granted; ninety years later, when the population was 2,700,000, the total amount of improved land was only 13,000,000 acres. Moreover the attempt to use vast areas of the Crown Lands to endow solely the Anglican Church roused bitter jealousies. Yet even these grievances paled in actual hardship beside the results of holding the vast waste areas unimproved. What with Crown Reserves, Clergy Reserves, grants to those who had served the state, and holdings picked up by speculators from soldiers or poorer Loyalists for a few pounds or a few gallons of whisky, millions of acres were held untenanted and unimproved, waiting for a rise in value as a consequence of the toil of settlers on neighboring farms. Not one-tenth of the lands granted were occupied by the persons to whom they had been assigned. The province had given away almost all its vast heritage, and more than nine-tenths of it was still in wilderness. These speculative holdings made immensely more difficult every common neighborhood task. At best the machinery and the money for building roads, bridges, and schools were scanty, but with these unimproved reserves thrust in between the scattered shacks, the task was disheartening. "The reserve of two-sevenths of the land for the Crown and clergy," declared the township of Sandwich in 1817, "must for a long time keep the country a wilderness, a harbour for wolves, a hindrance to a compact and good neighborhood."

A further source of discontent developed in the disabilities affecting recent American settlers. A court decision in 1824 held that no one who had resided in the United States after 1783 could possess or transmit British citizenship, with which went the right to inherit real estate. This decision bore heavily upon thousands of "late Loyalists" and more recent incomers. Under the instructions of the Colonial Office, a remedial bill was introduced in the Legislative Council in 1827, but it was a grudging, halfway measure which the Assembly refused to accept. After several sessions of quarreling, the Assembly had its way; but in the meantime the men affected had been driven into permanent and active opposition.

The leaders of the movement of resistance which now began to gather force included all sorts and conditions of men. The fiercest and most aggressive were two Scotchmen, Robert Gourlay and William Lyon Mackenzie. Gourlay, one of those restless and indispensable cranks who make the world turn round, active, obstinate, imprudent, uncompromisingly devoted to the common good as he saw it, came to Canada in 1817 on settlement and colonization bent. Innocent inquiries which he sent broadcast as to the condition of the province gave the settlers an opportunity for voicing their pent-up discontent, and soon Gourlay was launched upon the sea of politics. Mackenzie, who came to Canada three years later, was a born agitator, fearless, untiring, a good hater, master of avitriolic vocabulary, and absolutely unpurchasable. He found his vein in weekly journalism, and for nearly forty years was the stormy petrel of Canadian politics. From England there came, among others, Dr. John Rolph, shrewd and politic, and Captain John Matthews, a half-pay artillery officer. Peter Perry, downright and rugged and of a homely eloquence, represented the Loyalists of the Bay of Quinte, which was the center of Canadian Methodism. Among the newer comers from the United States, the foremost were Barnabas Bidwell, who had been Attorney General of Massachusetts but had fled to Canada in 1810 when accused of misappropriating public money, and his son, Marshall Spring Bidwell, one of the ablest and most single-minded men who ever entered Canadian public life. From Ireland came Dr. William Warren Baldwin, whose son Robert, born in Canada, was less surpassingly able than the younger Bidwell but equally moderate and equally beyond suspicion of faction or self-seeking.

How were these men to bring about the reform which they desired? Their first aim was obviously to secure a majority in the Assembly, and by the election of 1828 they attained this first object. But the limits of the power of the Assembly they soon discovered. Without definite leadership, with no control over the Administration, and with even legislative power divided, it could effect little. It was in part disappointment at the failure of the Assembly that accounted for the defeat of the Reformers in 1830, though four years later this verdict was again reversed. Clearly the form of government itself should be changed. But in what way? Here a divergence in the ranks of the Reformers became marked. One party, looking upon the United States as the utmost achievement in democracy, proposed to follow its example in making the upper house elective and thus to give the people control of both branches of the Legislature. Another group, of whom Robert Baldwin was the chief, saw that this change would not suffice. In the States the Executive was also elected by the people. Here, where the Governor would doubtless continue to be appointed. by the Crown, some other means must be found to give the people full control. Baldwin found it in the British Cabinet system, which gave real power to ministers having the confidence of a majority in Parliament. The Governor would remain, but he would be only a figurehead, a constitutional monarch acting, like the King, only on the advice of his constitutional advisers. Responsible government was Baldwin's one and absorbing idea, and his persistence led to its ultimate adoption, along with a proposal for an elective Council, in the Reform party's programme in 1834. Delay in affecting this reform, Baldwin told the Governor a year later, was "the great and all absorbing grievance before which all others sank into insignificance." The remedy could be applied "without in the least entrenching upon the just and necessary prerogatives of the Crown, which I consider, when administered by the Lieutenant. Governor through the medium of a provincial ministry responsible to the provincial parliament, to be an essential part of the constitution of the province." In brief, Baldwin insisted that Simcoe's rhetorical outburst in 1791, when he declared that Upper Canada was "a perfect Image and Transcript of the British Government and Constitution," should be made effective in practice.

The course of the conflict between the Compact and the Reformers cannot be followed in detail. It had elements of tragedy, as when Gourlay was hounded into prison, where he was broken in health and shattered in mind, and then exiled from the province for criticism of the Government which was certainly no more severe than now appears every day in Opposition newspapers. The conflict had elements of the ludicrous, too, as when Captain Matthews was ordered by his military superiors to return to England because in the unrestrained festivities of New Year's Eve he had called on a strolling troupe to play Yankee Doodle and had shouted to the company, "Hats off"; or when Governor Maitland overturned fourteen feet of the Brock Monument to remove a copy of Mackenzie's journal, the "Colonial Advocate", which had inadvertently been included in the corner stone.

The weapons of the Reformers were the platform, the press, and investigations and reports by parliamentary committees. The Compact hit back in its own way. Every critic was denounced as a traitor. Offending editors were put in the pillory. Mackenzie was five times expelled from the House, only to be returned five times by his stubborn supporters. Matters were at a deadlock, and it became clear either that the British Parliament, which alone could amend the Constitution, must intervene or else that the Reformers would be driven to desperate paths. But before matters came to this pass, an acute crisis had arisen in Lower Canada which had its effect on all the provinces.

In Lower Canada, the conflict which had been smoldering before the war had since then burst into flame. The issues of this conflict were more clearcut than in any of the other provinces. A coherent opposition had formed earlier, and from beginning to end it dominated the Assembly. The governing forces were outwardly much the same as in Upper Canada—a Lieutenant Governor responsible to the Colonial Office, an Executive Council appointed by the Crown but coming to have the independent power of a well-entrenched bureaucracy, and a Legislative Council nominated by the Crown and, until nearly the end of the period, composed chiefly of the same men who served in the Executive. The little clique in control had much less popular backing than the Family Compact of Upper Canada and were of lower caliber. Robert Christie, an English-speaking member of the Assembly, who may be counted an unprejudiced witness since he was four times expelled by the majority in that house, refers to the real rulers of the province as "a few rapacious, overbearing, and irresponsible officials, without stake or other connexion in the country than their interests." At their head stood Jonathan Sewell, a Massachusetts Loyalist who had come to Lower Canada by way of New Brunswick in 1789, and who for over forty years as Attorney General, Chief Justice, or member of Executive and Legislative Councils, was the power behind the throne.

The opposition to the bureaucrats at first included both English and French elements, but the English minority were pulled in contrary ways. Their antecedents were not such as to lead them to accept meekly either the political or the social pretensions of the "Chateau Clique"; the American settlers in the Eastern Townships, and the Scotch and American merchants who were building up Quebec and Montreal, had called for self-government, not government from above. Yet their racial and religious prejudices were strong and made them unwilling to accept in place of the bureaucrats the dominance of an unprogressive habitant majority. The first leader of the opposition which developed in the Assembly after the War of 1812 was James Stuart, the son of the leading Anglican clergyman of his day, but he soon fell away and became a mainstay of the bureaucracy. His brother Andrew, however, kept up for many years longer a more disinterested fight. Another Scot, John Neilson, editor of the Quebec "Gazette", was until 1833 foremost among the assailants of the bureaucracy. But steadily, as the extreme nationalist claims of the French-speaking majority provoked reprisals and as the conviction grew upon the minority that they would never be anything but a minority,(1) most of them accepted clique rule as a lesser evil than "rule by priest and demagogue."

In the reform movement in Upper Canada there were a multiplicity of leaders and a constant shifting of groups. In Lower Canada, after the defection of James Stuart in 1817, there was only one leader, Louis Joseph Papineau. For twenty years Papineau was the uncrowned king of the province. His commanding figure, his powers of oratory, outstanding in a race of orators, his fascinating manners, gave him an easy mastery over his people. Prudence did not hamper his flights; compromise was a word not found in his vocabulary. Few men have been better equipped for the agitator's task.

His father, Joseph Papineau, though of humble birth, had risen high in the life of the province. He had won distinction in his profession as a notary, as a speaker in the Assembly, and as a soldier in the defense of Quebec against the American invaders of 1775. In 1804 he had purchased the seigneury of La Petite Nation, far up the Ottawa. Louis Joseph Papineau followed in his father's footsteps. Born in 1786, he served loyally and bravely in the War of 1812. In the same year he entered the Assembly and made his place at a single stroke. Barely three years after his election, he was chosen Speaker, and with a brief break he held that post for over twenty years.

Papineau did not soon or lightly begin his crusade against the Government. For the first five years of his Speakership, he confined himself to the routine duties of his office. As late as 1820 he pronounced a glowing eulogy on the Constitution which Great Britain had granted the province. In that year he tested the extent of the privileges so granted by joining in the attempt of the Assembly to assert its full control of the purse; but it was not until the project of uniting the two Canadas had made clear beyond dispute the hostility of the governing powers that he began his unrelenting warfare against them.

There was much to be said for a reunion of the two Canadas. The St. Lawrence bound them together, though Acts of Parliament had severed them. Upper Canada, as an inland province, restricted in its trade with its neighbor to the south, was dependent upon Lower Canada for access to the outer world. Its share of the duties collected at the Lower Canada ports until 1817 had been only one-eighth, afterwards increased to one-fifth. This inequality proved a constant source of friction. The crying necessity of cooperation for the improvement of the St. Lawrence waterway gave further ground for the contention that only by a reunion of the two provinces could efficiency be secured. In Upper Canada the Reformers were in favor of this plan, but the Compact, fearful of any disturbance of their vested interests, tended to oppose it. In Lower Canada the chief support came from the English element. The governing clique, as the older established body, had no doubt that they could bring the western section under their sway in case of union. But the main reason for their advocacy was the desire to swamp the French Canadians by an English majority. Sewell, the chief supporter of the project, frankly took this ground. The Governor, Lord Dalhousie, and the Colonial Office adopted his view; and in 1822 an attempt was made to rush a Union Bill through the British Parliament without any notice to those most concerned. It was blocked for the moment by the opposition of a Whig group led by Burdett and Mackintosh; and then Papineau and Neilson sailed to London and succeeded in inducing the Ministry to stay its hand. The danger was averted; but Papineau had become convinced that if his people were to retain the rights given them by their "Sacred Charter" they would have to fight for them. If they were to save their power, they must increase it.

How could this be done? Baldwin's bold and revolutionary policy of making the Executive responsible to the Assembly did not seem within the range of practical politics. It meant in practice the abandonment of British control, and this the Colonial Office was not willing to grant. Antoine Panet and other Assembly leaders had suggested in 1815 that it would be well, "if it were possible, to grant a number of places as Councillors or other posts of honour and of profit to those who have most influence over the majority in the Assembly, to hold so long as they maintained this influence," and James Stuart urged the same tentative suggestion a year later. But even before this the Colonial Office had made clear its position. "His Majesty's Government," declared the Colonial Secretary, Lord Bathurst, in 1814, "never can admit so novel & inconvenient a Principle as that of allowing the Governor of a Colony to be divested of his responsibility [to the Colonial Office] for the acts done during his administration or permit him to shield himself under the advice of any Persons, however respectable, either from their character or their Office."

Two other courses had the sanction of precedent, one of English, the other of American example. The English House of Commons had secured its dominant place in the government of the country by its control of the purse. Why should not the Assembly do likewise? One obvious difficulty lay in the fact that the Assembly was not the sole authority in raising revenue. The British Parliament had retained the power to levy certain duties as part of its system of commercial control, and other casual and territorial dues lay in the right of the Crown. From 1820, therefore, the Assembly's main aim was twofold—to obtain control of these remaining sources of revenue, and by means of this power to bludgeon the Legislative Council and the Governor into compliance with its wishes. The Colonial Office made concessions, offering to resign all its taxing powers in return for a permanent civil list, that is, an assurance that the salaries of the chief officials would not be questioned annually. The offer was reasonable in itself but, as it would have hampered the full use of the revenue bludgeon, it was scornfully declined.

The other aim of the Patriotes, as the Opposition styled themselves, was to conquer the Legislative Council by making it elective. Papineau, in spite of his early prejudices, was drawn more and more into sympathy with the form of democracy worked out in the United States. In fact, he not only looked to it as a model but, as the thirties wore on, he came to hope that moral, if not physical, support might be found there for his campaign against the English Government. After 1830 the demand for an elective Legislative Council became more and more insistent.

The struggle soon reached a deadlock. Governor followed Governor: Lord Dalhousie, Sir James Kempt, Lord Aylmer, all in turn failed to allay the storm. The Assembly raised its claims each session and fulminated against all the opposing powers in windy resolutions. Papineau, embittered by continued opposition, carried away by his own eloquence, and steadied by no responsibility of office, became more implacable in his demands. Many of his moderate supporters—Neilson, Andrew Stuart, Quesnel, Cuvillier—fell away, only to be overwhelmed in the first election at a wave of the great tribune's hand. Business was blocked, supplies were not voted, and civil servants made shift without salary as best they could.

The British Government awoke, or half awoke, to the seriousness of the situation. In 1835 a Royal Commission of three, with the new Governor General, Lord Gosford, as chairman, was appointed to make inquiries and to recommend a policy. Gosford, a genial Irishman, showed himself most conciliatory in both private intercourse and public discourse. Unfortunately the rash act of the new Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, Sir Francis Bond Head, in publishing the instructions of the Colonial Office, showed that the policy of Downing Street was the futile one of conciliation without concession. The Assembly once more refused to grant supplies without redress of grievances. The Commissioners made their report opposing any substantial change. In March, 1837, Lord John Russell, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Melbourne Ministry, opposed only by a handful of Radical and Irish members, carried through the British Parliament a series of resolutions authorizing the Governor to take from the Treasury without the consent of the Assembly the funds needed for civil administration, offering control of all revenues in return for a permanent civil list, and rejecting absolutely the demands alike for a responsible Executive and for an elective Council.

British statesmanship was bankrupt. Its final answer to the demands for redress was to stand pat. Papineau, without seeing what the end would be, held to his course. Younger men, carried away by the passions he had aroused, pushed on still more recklessly. If reform could not be obtained within the British Empire, it must be sought by setting up an independent republic on the St. Lawrence or by annexation to the United States.

In Upper Canada, at the same time, matters had come to the verge of rebellion. Sir John Colborne had, just before retiring as Lieutenant Governor in 1836, added fuel to the flames by creating and endowing some forty-four rectories, thus strengthening the grip of the Anglican Church on the province. His successor, Sir Francis Bond Head, was a man of such rash and unbalanced judgment as to lend support to the tradition that he was appointed by mistake for his cousin, Edmund Head, who was made Governor of United Canada twenty years later. He appointed to his Executive Council three Reformers, Baldwin, Rolph, and Dunn, only to make clear by his refusal to consult them his inability to understand their demand for responsible government. All the members of the Executive Council thereupon resigned, and the Assembly refused supplies. Head dissolved the House and appealed to the people.

The weight of executive patronage, the insistence of the Governor that British connection was at stake, the alarms caused by some injudicious statements of Mackenzie and his Radical ally in England, Joseph Hume, and the defection of the Methodists, whose leader, Egerton Ryerson, had quarreled with Mackenzie, resulted in the overwhelming defeat of the Reformers. The sting of defeat, the failure of the Family Compact to carry out their eleventh hour promises of reform, and the passing of Lord John Russell's reactionary resolutions convinced a section of the Reform party, in Upper Canada as well as in Lower Canada, that an appeal to force was the only way out.

Toward the end of 1837 armed rebellion broke out in both the Canadas. In both it was merely a flash in the pan. In Lower Canada there had been latterly much use of the phrases of revolution and some drilling, but rebellion was neither definitely planned nor carefully organized. The more extreme leaders of the Patriotes simply drifted into it, and the actual outbreak was a haphazard affair. Alarmed by the sudden and seemingly concerted departure of Papineau and some of his lieutenants, Nelson, Brown, and O'Callaghan, from Montreal, the Government gave orders for their arrest. The petty skirmish that followed on November 16, 1837, was the signal for the rallying of armed habitants around impromptu leaders at various points. The rising was local and spasmodic. The vast body of the habitants stood aloof. The Catholic Church, which earlier had sympathized with Papineau, had parted from him when he developed radical and republican views. Now the strong exhortations of the clergy to the faithful counted for much in keeping peace, and in one view justified the policy of the British Government in seeking to purchase their favor. The Quebec and Three Rivers districts remained quiet. In the Richelieu and Montreal districts, where disaffection was strongest, the habitants lacked leadership, discipline, and touch with other groups, and were armed only with old flintlocks, scythes, or clubs. Here and there a brave and skillful leader, such as Dr. Jean Olivier Chenier, was thrown up by the evidence opened a way out of the difficult situation. A year later Peel and Webster, representing the two countries, exchanged formal explanations, and the incident was closed.

In Upper Canada many a rebel sympathizer lay for months in jail, but only two leaders, Lount and Matthews, both brave men, paid the penalty of death for their failure. In Lower Canada the new Governor General, Lord Durham, proved more clement, merely banishing to Bermuda eight of the captured leaders. When, a year later, after Durham's return to England, a second brief rising broke out under Robert Nelson, it was stamped out in a week, twelve of the ringleaders were executed, and others were deported to Botany Bay.

The rebellion, it seemed, had failed and failed miserably. Most of the leaders of the extreme factions in both provinces had been discredited, and the moderate men had been driven into the government camp. Yet in one sense the rising proved successful. It was not the first nor the last time that wild and misguided force brought reform where sane and moderate tactics met only contempt. If men were willing to die to redress their wrongs, the most easy-going official could no longer deny that there was a case for inquiry and possibly for reform. Lord Melbourne's Government had acted at once in sending out to Canada, as Governor General and High Commissioner with sweeping powers, one of the ablest men in English public life. Lord Durham was an aristocratic Radical, intensely devoted to political equality and equally convinced of his own personal superiority. Yet he had vision, firmness, independence, and his very rudeness kept him free from the social influences which had ensnared many another Governor. Attended by a gorgeous retinue and by some able working secretaries, including Charles Buller, Carlyle's pupil, he made a rapid survey of Upper and Lower Canada. Suddenly, after five crowded months, his mission ended. He had left at home active enemies and lukewarm friends. Lord Brougham, one of his foes, called in question the legality of his edict banishing the rebel leaders to Bermuda. The Ministers did not back him, as they should have done; and Durham indignantly resigned and hurried back to England.

Three months later, however, his "Report" appeared and his mission stood vindicated. There are few British state papers of more fame or more worth than Durham's "Report". It was not, however, the beginning and the end of wisdom in colonial policy, as has often been declared. Much that Durham advocated was not new, and much has been condemned by time. His main suggestions were four: to unite the Canadas, to swamp the French Canadians by such union, to grant a measure of responsible government, and to set up municipal government. His attitude towards the French Canadians was prejudiced and shortsighted. He was not the first to recommend responsible government, nor did his approval make it a reality. Yet with all qualifications his "Report" showed a confidence in the liberating and solving power of self-government which was the all-essential thing for the English Government to see; and his reasoned and powerful advocacy gave an impetus and a rallying point to the movement which were to prove of the greatest value in the future growth not only of Canada but of the whole British Empire.


(1)The natural increase of the French-Canadian race under British rule is one of the most extraordinary phenomena in social history. The following figures illustrate the rate of that increase: the number was 16,417 in 1706; 69,810 in 1765; 479,288 in 1825; 697,084 in 1844. The population of Canada East or Lower Canada in 1844 was made up as follows: French Canadians, 524,244; English Canadians. 85,660; English, 11,895; Irish, 43,982; Scotch, 13,393; Americans, 11,946; born in other countries, 1329; place of birth not specified, 4635.

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