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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXIX.—Rebellion Losses Agitation—To 1849


Lord Elgin, Governor-General—Irish famine and vast emigration to Canada—1847. Lower Canadian Rebellion Losses Bill introduced—Lord Elgin gives his assent to the Bill—The Parliament Buildings are Burned, July 26th—1849. Rioting suppressed by the military—The seat of Government transferred to Toronto and Quebec alternately—The Bill sustained by the Imperial Parliament.

In the year 1847, Lord Elgin was appointed Governor-General of Canada. He was a son-in-law of the Earl of Durham, and shared his liberal sentiments regarding colonial administration. His sound judgment, conciliatory manners, and commanding ability, enabled him to overcome formidable opposition, and to become one of the most honoured representatives of Her Majesty that ever administered the affairs of the province.

The Rebellion Losses Bill, and the secularization of the clergy reserves, the latter of which especially was strongly advocated by the Reform party, were now prominent topics of public discussion.*

The general elections of 1848 resulted in a large Reform majority. On the opening of Parliament, February 25th, the Draper ministry resigned, and Messrs. Baldwin and influence of the wise and liberal legislation of successive parliaments, the public school system of Upper Canada has become one of the noblest of our institutions, the admiration of travellers from older lands, and one of the surest guarantees of our future national prosperity.

Lord Elgin, Governor-General—Irish famine and vast emigration to Canada—1847. Lower Canadian Rebellion Losses Bill introduced—Lord Elgin gives his assent to the Bill—The Parliament Buildings are Burned, July 26th—1849. Rioting suppressed by the military—The seat of Government transferred to Toronto and Quebec alternately—The Bill sustained by the Imperial Parliament.

In the year 1847, Lord Elgin was appointed Governor-General of Canada. He was a son-in-law of the Earl of Durham, and shared his liberal sentiments regarding colonial administration. His sound judgment, conciliatory manners, and commanding ability, enabled him to overcome formidable opposition, and to become one of the most honoured representatives of Her Majesty that ever administered the affairs of the province.

The Rebellion Losses Bill, and the secularization of the clergy reserves, the latter of which especially was strongly advocated by the Reform party, were now prominent topics of public discussion.

The general elections of 1848 resulted in a large Reform majority. On the opening of Parliament, February 25th, the Draper ministry resigned, and Messrs. Baldwin and Lafontaine were entrusted with the task of forming a Liberal cabinet. The new ministry was composed of four French and four British members—Messrs. Lafontaine, Caron, Viger, and Tache; and Messrs. Baldwt , Wincks, Cameron, and Blake. This was a full and final constitutional recognition of the principle of responsible government.

One of the earliest acts of the Bald win-Lafontaine administration, on the meeting of Parliament, January 18th, 1849, was the introduction of the "Rebellion Losses Bill. It authorized the raising of £100,000 by debentures for indemnifying those persons in Lower Canada whose property had been destroyed by the rebels in the unhappy events of 1837, and for whom no provision had been made in the bill of 1846, introduced by the Draper ministry.

The measure was vehemently denounced by the Opposition, being actually a premium on rebellion, as parties who had been implicated in the revolt might, under its provisions, receive compensation for losses sustained. "No pay to rebels" was the popular cry. The excitement became intense. A British North American League was formed for the express purpose of breaking up the Union. To escape from French domination, as it was called, a confederation with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick was proposed, failing which, the leaders of the League avowed their purpose of throwing themselves into the arms of the United States—rash words, which became the occasion of the taunt of disloyalty from their opponents.

The ministry, however, sustained by a strong majority, determined to face the storm, and the bill passed both Houses. It was thought that Lord Elgin, intimidated by the violent opposition manifested, would not venture to give his assent to the bill, but would either veto it or reserve it for the consideration of the Home Government. This latter course would probably have been the better, as allowing time for the popular excitement to become allayed. But however violent the minority opposed to the bill, however high and influential their position, the ministry by which it was proposed commanded the majority of both branches of the Legislature and the confidence of the country. It was the crisis of responsible government, and Lord Elgin, in spite of the menaced odium of the Opposition party, determined to act as a constitutional Governor.

On the 26th of July, he proceeded in state to the Parliament House, on the site where now stands St. Anne's Market, Montreal, and gave assent to the obnoxious bill. On leaving the building he was received with groans and hootings by a well-dressed mob about the doors, and his carriage, as he drove off, was assailed with stones and rotten eggs.

The city was thrown into a ferment. A tumultuous crowd assembled on the broad parade of the Champ de Mars to denounce the procedure of the Governor. Violent speeches were made. The cry was raised, " To the Parliament House! " It was now night, and the Assembly was in session. A number of visitors, including ladies, occupied the galleries. The rioters rushed into the Assembly chambers ; the ladies and members fl£d into the lobby. A ruffian seated himself in the Speaker's chair, and shouted, "The French Parliament is dissolved!" Chandeliers were shattered, the members' seats and desks broken and piled in the middle of the floor, and the Speaker's mace Carried off. A fire, kindled by the incendiary mob, raged furiously. The members strove in vain to save the public records. Before morning the Parliament House, with its splendid library, containing many thousands of valuable books and public records, was a mass of smouldering ruins. The money loss was more than the entire amount voted by the obnoxious / bill; but who shall estimate the reproach brought upon the faJir fame of the country by this lawless act

The Legislative Assembly took refuge in the old Government House, and, by a large majority, passed resolutions approving of the action of the Governor; which, however, were strongly resisted by the Opposition. A turbulent meeting in the Champ de Mars passed resolutions for an address to the Queen, praying her to disallow the obnoxious bill, and to recall the unpopular Governor-General. Four days later, Lord Elgin was again greeted with showers of stones in the"streets; nor did the rioting cease till a volley of musketry intimidated the mob and unfortunately killed one man.

Parliament sat no more in Montreal. This outbreak drove it from the city, and it has never since returned. It was resolved to transfer the seat of government to Toronto for the next two years, and afterwards to Quebec and Toronto alternately every four years.

In consequence of the public censure of his acts, Lord Elgin tendered his resignation to the Imperial .authorities; but the Queen and the Home Government expressed their approval of his course, and requested his continuance in office. The Rebellion Losses Bill was sustained by both Houses of the Imperial Parliament; and Lord Elgin, assured of the personal favour of his sovereign and advanced a step in the peerage, continued to administer the government, and in time won the esteem of even his most bitter opponents.


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