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A short history of the events which preceded and prepared the way for the Confederation of the North American British Provinces may be useful in leading the mind away from unprofitable researches, and bringing prominently to view the steps that have marked the growth ..of a policy, which has raised the Colonial possessions of England to a condition of almost complete independence of the parent state. “Until the commencement of the difficulties with America,” says Thomas Erskine May, in commenting on the Colonial Administration of the Mother Country, “there had not even been a separate department for the government of the Colonies; but the Board of Trade exercised a supervision little more than nominal over colonial affairs. In 1768, however, a third Secretary of State was appointed, to whose care the Colonies were entrusted. “In 1782, after the loss of the American Provinces, the office was discontinued by Lord Rockingham, but was revived in 1794, and became an active and important department of State. Its influence was felt throughout the British Colonies. However popular the form of their institutions, they were steadily governed by British Ministers in Downing Street. “In Crown Colonies—acquired by conquest or cession—the domiinion of the Crown was absolute, and the authority of the Colonial Office was exercised directly by instructions to the Governors. Some of them, however, like Jamaica and Nova Scotia, had received the free institutions of England, and were practically self-governed. In 1785 representative institutions were given to New Brunswick, and so late as 1832 to Newfoundland. But the Mother Country, in granting these constitutions, exercised, in a marked form, the powers of a dominant

state. B

“Canada, the most important of this class, was conquered from the French, in 1759, by General Wolfe, and ceded to England, by the Treaty of Paris (10th February, 1763). (1) In 1774 (14 Geo. III, c. 83) the administration of its affairs was entrusted to a council appointed by the Crown; but in 1791 (31 Geo. III, c. 31) it was divided into two provinces, to each of which representative institutions were granted. It was no easy problem to provide for the government of such a colony.” (2).

Mr. Justin McCarthy, in chap. 3 of his recent and interesting “HISTORY OF OUR Own TIMEs,” describes, as follows, the condition of the country at that time.

“The condition of Canada was very peculiar. Lower Canada was inhabited for the most part by men of French descent, who still kept up in the midst of an active and moving civilization most of the principles and usages which belonged to France before the Revolution of 1789. Since the cession the growth of the population of the other province had been surprisingly rapid, and had been almost exclusively the growth of immigration from Great Britain, and one or two of the colonizing states of the European continent, and from the American Republic itself. “It would have been difficult, therefore, for the Home Government, however wise and far-seeing their policy, to make the wheels of any system run smoothly at once, in such a colony as Canada. But their policy certainly does not seem to have been either wise or far-seeing. The plan of government adopted looks as if it were especially devised to bring out into sharp relief, all the antagonisms that were natural to the existing state of things. By an Act, called the Constitution of 1791, Canada was divided into two provinces, the Upper and the Lower. Each province had a separate system of government, consisting of a Governor; an Executive Council appointed by the Crown, supposed in some way to resemble the Privy Council of this country; a Legislative Council, the members of which were appointed by the Crown for life; and a Representative Assembly, the members of which were elected. for four years. “When the two provinces were divided in 1791, the intention was, that they should remain distinct in fact as well as in name. It was hoped that Lower Canada would remain altogether French, and that Upper Canada would be exclusively English. Then it was thought that they might be governed on their separate systems as securely and with as little trouble as we now govern the Mauritius on one system and Malta on another. “Those who formed such an idea do not seem to have taken any counsel with geography. The one fact, that Upper Canada can hardly be said to have any means of communication with Europe and the whole Eastern world, except through Lower” Canada, or else through the United States, ought to have settled the question at Once. “It was in Lower Canada that the greatest difficulties arose. A constant antagonism grew up between the majority of the Legistive Council, who were nominees of the Crown, and the majority of the Representative Assembly, who were elected by the population of the province. The Home Government encouraged and indeed kept up that most odious and dangerous of all instruments for the supposed management of

(1) l Chalmer's Treaties 467.
(2) 2 May's Cons. Hist. of Eng. 525–527.

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a colony—a “British party” devoted to the so-called interests of the Mother Country,
and obedient to the word of command from their masters and patrons at home. The
majority in the Legislative Council constantly thwarted the resolutions of the vast
majority of the popular Assembly. Disputes arose as to the voting of supplies. The
Government retained in their service officials whom the Representative Assembly had
condemned, and insisted on the right to pay them their salaries out of certain funds
of the colony. The Representative Assembly took to stopping the supplies, and the
Government claimed the right to counteract this measure by appropriating to the
purpose such public moneys as happened to be within their reach at the time.
“At last the Representative Assembly refused to vote any further supplies
or to carry on any further business. They formulated their grievances against the
Home Government. Their complaints were of arbitrary conduct on the part of the
Governors; intolerable composition of the Legislative Council, which they insisted
ought to be elective; illegal appropriation of the public money; and violent pro-
rogation of the Provincial Parliament.
“The Governor issued warrants for the apprehension of many members of the
popular Assembly on the charge of high treason. Some of these at once left the
country; others against whom warrants were issued were arrested, and a sudden
resistance was made by their friends and supporters. Then, in the manner familiar
to all who have read anything of the history of revolutionary movements, the
resistance to a capture of prisoners, suddenly transformed itself into open rebellion.”

“When the discontents of Lower Canada, says May, exploded in insurrection, the constitution of that Province was immediately suspended by the British Parliament, and a provisional government established with large legislative and executive powers (1 and 2 Vict. c. 9, and 2 and 3 Vict. c. 53). This necessary act of authority was followed, in 1840, by the re-union of the Provinces of Upper and Lowel Canada into a single colony under a Governor General (3 and 4 Vict. c. 35).

“The constitution, granted on this re-union of the two Provinces, was popular, but not democratic. It was a legislative union composed of a Legislative Council nominated by the Crown and of a Representative Assembly to which freeholders or roturiers, to the amount of £500, were eligible as members. The franchise comprised 40s. freeholders, £5 house owners, and £10 occupiers: although afterwards placed upon a more popular basis by Provincial Acts (16 Vict. Can. c. 153, and 22 Vict. Can. c. 82). Cons. History of England, Vol. 2, pp. 531–535.”

“In discussing the policy adopted at that time by the Home Government, Mr. Fox laid down a principle, which was destined, after half a century, to become the rule of colonial administration. “I am convinced, said he, that the only means of retaining distant colonies with advantage, is to enable them to govern themselves.’”

Other eminent statesmen advocated the same policy.


“The doctrine (1) that the parent state has supreme power over the colonies is not only borne out by authority and by precedent, but will appear, when examined, to be in entire accordance with justice and with policy. During the feeble infancy of colonies, independence would be pernicious, or rather fatal to them. Undoubtedly, as they grow stronger and stronger, it will be wise in the Home Government to be more and more indulgent. No sensible parent deals with a son of twenty in the same way as with a son of ten. Nor will any government not infatuated treat such a province as Canada or Victoria in the way in which it might be proper to treat a little band of emigrants who have just begun to build their huts on a barbarous shore, and to whom the protection of the flag of a great nation is indispensably necessary. Nevertheless, there cannot really be more than one supreme power in a society. If, therefore, a time comes at which the Mother Country finds it expedient altogether to abdicate her paramount authority over a colony, one of two courses ought to be taken. There ought to be complete incorporation, if such incorporation be possible. If not, there ought to be a complete separation. Very few propositions in politics can be so perfectly demonstrated as this—that parliamentary government cannot be carried on by two really equal and independent Parliaments in one Empire.”

“Thus, remarks May, by rapid strides have the most considerable dependencies of the British Crown advanced, through successive stages of political liberty, until an ancient Monarchy has become the parent of Democratic Republics in all parts of the globe.

“England ventured to tax her colonies, and lost them; she endeavored to rule them from Downing Street, and provoked disaffection and revolt, at last she gave freedom, and found national sympathy and contentment.” (2)

The lessons of the past have taught British statesmen that, in the government of any people, political reform and changes must follow the growth of intelligence and sound ideas of political liberty. Lord Palmerston said, at a public dinner in London, in August, 1864:

“Nations on the continent which have forgotten or overlooked the duties of improvement and reform, have encountered the evil of violent tumult and revolution. I trust that in this country, there will always be found a desire carefully to study its institutions, and a resolution to destroy abuses wherever they exist, and to reform those institutions, wherever they can be usefully reformed. I trust that the people and government will always continue that determniation, with a fixed resolve to respect the great framework of our Constitution; because I am persuaded that, imperfect as all human institutions are, still, never did n an frame a Constitution which more happily combined respect for religion, regard for liberty, and respect and loyalty to the throne, together with the preservation of the rights of every individual who lives under the sceptre of the throne.

(1) Macaulay, Hist. Eng., chap. 23.
(2) 2 May, Cons. His, of England, 524–538.

“I am convinced that no people ever did combine these great and essential elements of prosperity and happiness so completely as the English people now do.”

Montesquieu, in the same line of thought, says:

“Carthage périt, parceque, lorsqu’il fallut retrancher les abus, elle ne put sousfrir la main de son Annibal même. Athènes tomba, parcequeses erreurs lui parurent si douces qu’elle ne voulut pas en guérir.

“Legouvernement d'Angleterre est plus sage, parcequ'il y a un corps qui l’examine continuellement, et qui s'examine continuellement lui-même; et telles sont ses erreurs qu’elles ne sont jamais longues, et que, par l'esprit d'attention qu’elles donment à la nation, elles sont souvent utiles.

“En un mot, un gouvernement libre, c'est-à-dire toujours agité, ne saurait se maintenir s'il n'est, parses propres lois, capable de correction.” (1)

The example of the prosperous union of the American States could not but suggest to the minds of the colonists of these Provinces, the feasibility of a Confederation of quite a similar pattern for Provinces divided from each other by a mere geographical line. About the year 1800 (2) the Hon. R. J. Uniacke, of Nova Scotia, recommended a colonial union to the Imperial authorities, and, in 1814, Chief Justice Sewell, of Quebec, addressed to the Duke of Kent, father of Her present Majesty, a letter commending such a plan. In 1822, Sir John Beverley Robinson, at the request of the Colonial Office, submitted a scheme of the same nature. In December, 1825, Robert Gourlay, writing from London, laid down the principles upon which Confederation was effected, in 1867. The most authoritative suggestion on the subject is to be found in the report of Lord Durham, who was sent to Canada, as High Commissioner, to ascertain the causes and extent of the complaints which had resulted in open rebellion, in 1837–38.

“Lord Durham's report, says Mr. McCarthy, was acknowledged by enemies as

well as by the most impartial critics to be a masterly document. As Mr. Mill has said, it laid the foundation of the political success and social prosperity, not only of Canada, but of all the other important colonies. After having explained in the most exhaustive manner the causes of discontent and backwardness in Canada,it went on to recommend that the government of the colony should be put as much as possible into the hands of the colonists themselves,that they themselves should execute,as well as make the laws; the limit of the Imperial Government’s interference, being, in such matters as affect the relations of the colony with the Mother Country; such as the constitution and form of government, the regulation of foreign relations and trade, and the disposal of the public lands. Lord Durham proposed to establish a thoroughly good system of municipal institutions; to secure the independence of the judges; to make all provincial officers, except the governor and his secretary, responsible to the colonial legislature; and to repeal all former legislation with respect to the reserves of land for the clergy. Finally, he proposed that the provinces of Canada should be re-united politi

cally and should become one legislature, containing the representatives of both races and of all districts. It is significant that the report also recommended that in any

(1) Esprit des Lois, p. 237.
(2) 2 Tuttle's History of the Dominion, p. 25.

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