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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXXV.—The Confederation Movement—To 1865


A Coalition Ministry formed to bring about the Confederation of the Provinces—Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences discuss the subject—1864. The Canadian Parliament adopts the Confederation Scheme—Anti-Confederation Movement in the Maritime Provinces—Close of the American War—Slavery Abolished—1865.

During the recess the ministry had still further lost ground, and early in 1864, finding themselves without a working majority, resigned.

Mr. Blair, the Provincial Secretary of the late administration, was requested to construct a new cabinet, but failed in the attempt. Sir E. P. Tach6, a leading Lower Canadian Conservative, now essayed the difficult task, with better success. The new ministry had a very slight majority, and within three months was defeated by a vote of sixty to fifty-eight.

Political affairs were now at a dead-lock. Parties were so equally balanced that neither could carry on the government of the country against the opposition of the other. Every constitutional method of solving the difficulty had been exhausted. Dissolution of Parliament and change of ministry brought no relief. The application of the double-majority principle was found impracticable, and representation by population under existing conditions was unattainable. The solution of the difficulty was found in the adoption of the "joint-authority" scheme, so long resisted, ridiculed and voted down.

The Conservative leaders made overtures to the Opposition for the formation of a coalition ministry, for the purpose of carrying out the project of the confederation of the British North American provinces, with a federal government of the whole, and local legislatures for the several provinces. Mr. Brown therefore entered the cabinet as President of the Council, and associated with him, as representatives of the Reform party, Mr. William Macdougall and Mr. Oliver Mowat. This coalition was very generally received with extreme satisfaction, as a deliverance from the bitter strife of parties which had so long distracted the country.

Contemporary events now demonstrated the necessity for a strong government. In the month of September, a gang of Southern refugees seized two American steamers on Lake Erie, with the design of releasing the Confederate prisoners on Johnson's Island, and of destroying the shipping on the lake. The attempt was ineffectual; but a more successful hostile • effort was made on the Lower Canadian frontier about a month later. A body of twenty-three refugees attacked the banks of St. Alban's, in Vermont, and hastily retreated across the border with $233,000, having added the crime of murder to that of robbery. Fourteen of the raiders were arrested, but were subsequently discharged by Judge Counsel, of Montreal. The illegal surrender to them of $90,000 of the stolen money—which the Canadian Government had subsequently to repay—and the growing sympathy for the South of a portion of the Canadian press and people, embittered the relations between the two countries, and contributed largely to the abrogation of the reciprocity treaty, which soon took place. To prevent a repetition of these raids, the Canadian Government distributed a patrol force of thirty volunteer companies along the more exposed points of the frontier. An "Alien Act" was also passed, enabling the executive summarily to arrest suspicious characters.

Meanwhile the subject of colonial confederation was attracting increased attention in the British North American provinces. The Governments of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had already been discussing the project of a legislative union of the maritime provinces, and a conference of delegates for the promotion of the scheme, under the sanction of the Colonial Office, was arranged fo be held at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, during this summer (1864).

With the purpose of urging the more comprehensive scheme of the confederation of all the provinces, the Canadian Government expressed a wish to be represented at that conference, and was cordially invited to send delegates. The larger scheme seems to have completely swallowed up the narrower one, and a conference of delegates from all the British North American colonies was appointed to be held at Quebec.

On the 10th of October, the conference began its sessions in the ancient capital. Thirty-three delegates were present, representing the leading members of the political parties of all the provinces. The deliberations continued for seventeen days. Many conflicting interests had to be harmonized, and many local difficulties removed. At length a general plan was agreed upon, and resolutions adopted as the basis of an Act of Confederation. These resolutions were to be submitted to the different legislatures for adoption, without alteration of form.

The general outline of the scheme soon became divulged. It was for the most part received with very great favour. It was regarded as the germ of a new and vigorous national life. The bonds of a common allegiance to the sovereign, and of common sympathies and interests, were recognized. The constraints of local impediments to free intercolonial trade were felt to be increasingly irksome. The differences of productions and industries of the several provinces made their union seem all the more necessary for the greater prosperity of all. The wheat fields and lumber interests of Canada needed, and were needed by, the fisheries and mines and shipping of the maritime provinces. The magnificent waterways of the west furnished unrivalled facilities for commercial relations with the east; but the lack of a winter seaport made the Intercolonial Railway, and the harbours of St. John and Halifax, necessary to the development of Canadian trade.

A federal central government also promised to lift politics from the level of a jealous conflict between parties into that of a patriotic ambition for the prosperity of the whole country and for the development of a vigorous national life; and the local legislatures offered a guarantee of the self-control of the domestic affairs of each province. The long-continued demand of Upper Canada for representation by population would be granted in the constitution of the central parliament, and the jealousy of the French population of Lower Canada for their religion, language and laws, would be appeased by their numerical representation in their local legislature.

Nevertheless, considerable opposition was at first manifested towards the scheme, especially in the maritime provinces. The preponderant influence of the more populous provinces was feared, and several of the numerous details of the Quebec scheme, which was presented for acceptance without modification, were regarded with strong objection. Thus an anti-confederation agitation arose, and was long and vehemently maintained.

On the 3rd of February, the Canadian Parliament met at i Quebec. The resolutions on confederation, which had been adopted by the Quebec conference of the previous year, were submitted. After protracted debate—the report of which fills a volume of over a thousand pages—the resolutions were adopted; and a strong deputation proceeded to England to confer with the Imperial authorities for the carrying out of the project of confederation.

In New Brunswick in the meantime a general election had taken place, and an assembly highly averse to confederation had been returned. Not a single man who had been a delegate at the Quebec conference was elected. In Nova Scotia the anti-confederation agitation was strongly pressed by Joseph Howe, the leader of the Opposition. The friends of the movement in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island were disheartened, and it seemed as though the federation scheme would be wrecked almost before it was fairly launched.

The scheme was received with great favour by the Imperial authorities, and despatches from the Colonial Office strongly urged its adoption. These despatches were not without their influence on public opinion in New Brunswick, and as the advantages of the proposed- union became, through fuller discussion, more apparent, the tide of feeling began to turn in its favour.

The long and terrible civil war in the United States was now drawing to a close. The immense military strength of the North at length fairly crushed out the Southern revolt. General Lee, with his war-worn army, surrendered (April 9th); Jefferson Davis, the ill-starred President of the Confederacy, was captured ; and slavery was dead. But this hour of the nation's triumph was dashed with horror and grief by the cowardly and cruel murder of its civic head — the simple, honest, magnanimous Abraham Lincoln. The heart of Canada was deeply stirred. Crowded meetings for the expression of the national sympathy were held, and the utmost detestation of the crime was avowed. Much of the growing estrangement of recent years between the two nations was overcome by this exhibition of popular sympathy and good-will.

On the 8th of August, the Parliament met in Quebec for the purpose of receiving the report of the deputation sent to Great Britain to promote the scheme of confederation. The session was short, and little opposition was offered to the ministerial measures deemed necessary for the consummation of the grand design which was to become the epoch of a new and ampler national career.

Towards the close of the year the seat of government was removed from Quebec to Ottawa, where the new parliament buildings, then approaching completion, were to became the home of a legislature still more august than that for which they were originally designed.


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