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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXIV. -The Rebellion—Lower Canada—To 1838


Sir James Kempt, Governor-General—1828. Lord Aylmer, Governor-General—1830. Lord Gosford, Governor-General—1835. The Commission on Grievances fails to conciliate disaffection- -Sir John Colborne assumes chief military command—1837. Collision at Montreal, November 6th—Colonel Wetherall routs rebels at St. Charles, November 25tli—Lord Durham, Governor-General and High Commissioner—] 838. His magnanimous character—He exiles leaders and pardons other rebels - His policy condemned as ultra vires—His chagrin and resignation—His masterly Report. '

In Lower Canada, in the meanwhile, the liberal concessions of the Home Government were met by increased and unreasonable demands. The object sought was not, as in Upper Canada, the establishment of- responsible government, but to effect the supremacy of the French race and its absolute control over the executive.

The conciliatory policy of Sir James Kempt, who succeeded Lord Dalhousie in 1828, equally with that of Lord Aylmer, who became Governor in 1830, failed to satisfy the aggressive demands of the Assembly. During the summer of 1831, an immigration of fifty thousand souls, chiefly Irish, arrived at Quebec, and passed up the valley of the St. Lawrence, "like a disorganized army," said a contemporary journal, "leaving the inhabitants to provide for the sick and wounded and to bury the dead." The dreadful ravages of the cholera, which spread from Grosse Isle over the whole country, carried death and dismay to almost all the frontier towns and villages. Three years later, a still more fatal visitation of the cholera occurred.

Lord Gosford was appointed to succeed Lord Aylmer in the ungrateful office of Governor, and with him were asso-1835 Charles Grey and Sir George Gipps as a commission of inquiry to investigate the alleged grievances of the Assembly. These liberal measures failed to conciliate the French majority. Papineau, the idol of the ignorant habitants, intoxicated with power, boldly avowed his republican principles. The French were known to be secretly drilling, and loyal volunteer associations were formed among the British population for the defence of the Government.

1837 Wearied by the rejection of its policy of conciliation, the Home Government now adopted one of a more vigorous character. For five years the Assembly had voted no civil list. The British officials and judges were reduced to extreme distress. The Governor-General was empowered to take £142,000 out of the treasury to pay these arrears. The demand for an elective Council was refused. The indignation of the French population was intense. Turbulent assemblies met with arms in their hands. Lord Gosford issued a proclamation forbidding .these seditious gatherings. The accession, after an interval of a century and a quarter, of a female sovereign awoke no feelings of loyalty in the rebel faction, and they plotted as vigorously against the throne and crown of Queen Victoria as they had against the citizen King, William IV.

Never was a people less fitted for the exercise of political power than the French habitants. Nine-tenths of them were unable to read, and none of them had any spark of that love of constitutional liberty in which the English nation had so long been trained. Apparently the liberal party in Lower Canada, they yet advocated reactionary measures, and strove to revive the old French policy of resistance to popular education, immigration, or any innovation of English customs, laws, language, or institutions.

To meet the coming storm, Sir John Colborne, a prompt and energetic officer, was appointed to the military command of the provinces. The few troops in Upper and Lower Canada, only some three thousand in all, were chiefly concentrated at Montreal, the focus of disaffection. But Papineau, the leader of the rebellion, was an empty gas-conader, void of statesmanship or military ability. Dr. Wolfred Nelson, the second in command, was of English descent, born in Montreal, and speaking French 'like a native. As the summer waned the symptoms of revolt increased. The French tri-colour and eagle appeared, and turbulent mobs of "Patriots" or of "Sons of Liberty" sang revolutionary songs. At length an armed collision with the loyalists in the streets of Montreal (November 6th, 1837), in which shots were fired, windows broken, and the office of the Vindicator, a radical paper, wrecked,- although no one was killed, brought matters to a crisis.

The insurgents rendezvoused at St. Charles and St. Denis, on the Richelieu, where there was considerable disaffection among the population. On the 23rd of November, Colonel Gore, with three hundred men and only one cannon, attacked Dr. Nelson, and a large body of rebels, at the latter place. Papineau, on the first appearance of danger, deserted his dupes and fled over the border into the United States. Nelson, strongly posted in a large stone brewery, maintained a vigorous defence. Gore's command, worn out with a long march through November rain and mire, out-numbered and without artillery for battering the stone walls, was compelled, after six hours' fighting, to retreat.

Two days later, Colonel Wetherall, with four or five hundred troops, attacked a thousand rebels under "General" Brown, at St. Charles. After a brief resistance the rebels fled, leaving a number of slain. Nelson now fled from St. Denis, but after ten days' skulking in the snowy woods was caught, and, with many other rebel prisoners, lodged in Montreal jail.

Martial law was now proclaimed. In the middle of December, Sir John Colborne, with two thousand troops, left Montreal to attack a thousand insurgents intrenched at St. Eustache, on the Ottawa. The main body fled, but four hundred threw themselves into the church and adjacent buildings. The shot and shells of the cannon soon fired the roof and battered the walls. Many were killed or wounded, and many more made prisoners

Lord Gosford was now recalled, though without any censure of his policy. The Home Government suspended the constitution of the country, and appointed the Earl of Durham Governor-General and High Commissioner for the settlement of public affairs in the two Cana-das. He was a nobleman of great political experience, and had been educated in a liberal school. His personal character was attractive, and his private hospitality princely. He was to the last degree unmercenary, refusing any recompense for his distinguished services. He was refined and courteous in manner, but tenacious of his convictions of duty, and firm in carrying them into execution. On his arrival in the country, May 27th, he announced himself as the friend-and arbitrator of the people, without distinction of party, race or creed. And amply he fulfilled his pledge in the spirit of the purest and most disinterested statesmanship. He appointed a commission of inquiry into the state of the country, and redressed many grievances in the public administration. An amnesty was granted to the great mass of the rebel prisoners, which was appropriately proclaimed on the day appointed for the coronation of the maiden Queen—June 14th. Humanely unwilling to appeal to the arbitrament of a court-martial, the Governor banished Wolfred Nelson and eight other leading insurgents to Bermuda —a light penalty for their crime—and forbade Papineau and other fugitive rebels to return to the country, under pain of death.

The Imperial Parliament, however, annulled the ordinance as ultra vires, but indemnified the Governor and Council for their well meant but unconstitutional act. The proud and sensitive earl resigned his commission, and returned to

England a broken-hearted and dying man. His report on the state of Canada is a monument of elaborate and impartial research, and prepared the way for the union of the provinces, and the subsequent prosperity of the country.

The departure of the Earl of Durham was the signal for fresh outbreaks. The Habeas Corpus Act was again suspended, and troops were distributed through the disaffected regions to protect the loyal inhabitants. On Sunday, November 5th, an attack was made on the Indian village of Caughnawaga for the purpose of seizing the arms and stores deposited there. The Christian Indians, rushing out of the church in which they were assembled, raised the war-whoop, and captured sixty-four of the attacking party.

Robert Nelson, a brother of the exiled revolutionary leader, crossed the frontier with a large body of rebel refugees and American sympathizers, and proclaimed a Canadian republic. On the 9th of November, two hundred militia at Odelltown, posted in the Methodist church, kept at bay a thousand of the insurgents, and drove them over the border, with the loss of several killed and wounded. The revolt was promptly crushed^ but with extreme severity.

The rash and infatuated outbreak of the deluded habitants was the cause of much bloodshed and misery, and was utterly unjustifiable by their circumstances. They enjoyed a larger degree of liberty than did their race in any other country in the world, and every possible concession of the Imperial Government to their requests was met only by more unreasonable demands. The duped and ignorant people were lured on to destruction by restless and designing demagogues, who in the hour of danger abandoned them to their fate, seeking selfish safety in flight.


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