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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter XVIII. Lower Canada from 1791 to 1812


THE elections held for the first Assembly of the new Province of Lower Canada by no means swamped the British element, many of whose representatives were returned by French and Catholic constituencies. Nor did the new constitution put an end to the old issues, as the use of the French law and language were the first subjects of debate. Lord Dorchester, having obtained leave of absence, sailed for England, appointing General Alured Clarke as his deputy. Clarke fixed the time of meeting for the new Assembly in December, 1792. The Legislative Council and the Assembly met on December 17th, in separate halls within the Palace of the Bishops of Quebec, a building which, ever since the Conquest, had been devoted to secular uses. The first debate in the Assembly was on the choice of a President. 'Messrs. Grant and McGill, two traders of British origin, were put forward by their party, but M. J. A. Panet, a distinguished lawyer, well versed in both English and French, was elected by a majority of ten. An injudicious and premature effort was made by the British party under Mr. Grant, seconded, strange to say, by the President, M. Panet, to have the minutes of the Assembly drawn up in English only. It was rejected, and a resolution was passed that the minutes should be recorded in both French and English, but that the laws passed should be expressed in English or French, according as they referred to British or French legislation. A bill was then passed providing for a most important need, the establishment of parish schools. A warm discussion took place with regard to the illegal appropriation by the executive of the Jesuit estates. These, it was urged with much justice, had been granted not for the personal benefit of the Jesuits, but for the purpose of education. The principal result of this, the first session of the Assembly of Lower Canada, was the maintenance of the French language. In this year (1792) a monthly mail was established for the first tune between New York and Quebec.

In 1793, Lord Dorchester returned to Quebec for a third term of office. He brought instructions very conciliatory to the Lower Canadian French, that the seminaries of Montreal and Quebec should be permanent^ maintained, and lest the religious orders should create a revolutionary propaganda in Canada, he induced the assembly to pass a resolution authorizing the executive to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act. This, which was in fact simply an Alien Act, was renewed every year until 1812. M. Panet was re-elected President by a unanimous vote. The overthrow of the French State Church, and the expatriation of ts clergy by the revolutionary government of Irrance, had meantime thrown all the influence of the French Canadian priesthood on the side of the British. M. Plessis, parish priest of Quebec, in his funeral oration over the late Bishop of Quebec, used the strongest language in favour of loyalty to Britain. "Beneficent nation!" he exclaims, apostrophising the English people, "which daily gives us, men of Canada, fresh proof of its liberality. No, no! your people are not enemies of our people; nor are ye despoilers of our property, which rather do your laws protect; nor are ye foes to our religion, to which ye pay all due respect. The maxim of M. Briand (the late bishop) was that even sincere Catholics are, and must be, all obedient subjects of their legitimate sovereign." The preacher gave thanks to Providence that Canada had been snatched, as it were, a brand from the burning, from dependence on an impious nation which had overturned His altars.

In 1793, Dr. Jacob Mountain was appointed by the English Ministry to be the first Church of England bishop in Canada. He was sent out at the instance of a powerful corporation, the society for the propagation of the Gospel, and took the title upon himself of bishop of Quebec, which properly belonged to the Catholic bishop. Although the assumption of this designation was both in the letter and the spirit an infraction of the Treaty of 1763 and the Act of 1774, the Catholic bishop met the Anglican on his landing with a fraternal embrace. Dr. Mountain was appointed by Royal Letters Patent, and had, therefore, a quasi right to the title of " My Lord," by courtesy ; to which modern Church of England bishops, not appointed by the Crown, have not the shadow of a claim. Dr. Mountain was a cautious, amiable man, of no very brilliant abilities. In 1804, a very commonplace-looking-building was erected as an Anglican Cathedral, on ground memorable as having been the site of the old church of the Recollet Fathers. In the summer of 1796, Lord Dorchester returned to England, being succeeded as Governor, by General Prescott.

In this year, one Black, having decoyed an American citizen named McLane to Canada, in the hope of spreading republican principles, betrayed him to the executive, in order to receive the "blood money" offered in such cases. McLane was brought to summary trial and swift execution, all the barbarous customs which, in that day, degraded the white race to a level with the Indians, being fully observed. The body was lowered from the gibbet and cut open, the entrails were torn out, the heart burned, the severed head held up by the hangman, with the formula, "Behold the head of a traitor!" It is satisfactory to know that the execrable wretch who planned this judicial murder was shunned by every one, and died in the most squalid poverty.

In 1797, Governor Prescott got into some difficulty with the board for supervising Crown Lards, the president of which, Judge Osgoode, was (untruly) said to be a natural son of George III., and at all events had considerable influence in England. The board were accused of appropriating to themselves large tracts of land, to the great hindrance of the legitimate settlement of the country. In consequence of these disputes, Prescott, who had not been popular with any class, was re-called, and Sir Robert Shore Mimes sent as his successor. The new Governor thanked the Assembly for the money which the French Canadians had subscribed to aid m carrying on the war against the revolutionary government of France.

A proposal brought forward at this time by Bishop Mountain was adopted. It was to the effect that school-masters should be employed in the towns and larger villages, to teach the English language free of charge, and wilting and arithmetic at a small fee. The Assembly passed a bill for the establishment of free public schools, to be maintained from the funds which had belonged to the Jesuits ; but the Catholic priesthood were opposed to the measure, and it ended in grammar schools being founded in Montreal ami Quebec only. In 1803, Chief Justice Osgoode ruled that slavery was contrary to the laws and constitution of Canada, and all slaves then in the country, in number three hundred, were emancipated. A refusal to raise the salary of the French translator of the Assembly gave rise to some irritation, as the ever-watchful jealousy of race caused it to be regarded as a premeditated insult; nor were matters soothed when Sir Robert Milnes, in a somewhat arbitrary manner, closed the dispute by proroguing the Assembly. But the bitterness thus evoked found expression next session, when the Assembly ordered the arrest of the publisher of the Montreal Gazette, in which paper an article had appeared censuring the action of the majority in the Assembly a session before. The publisher of the Quebec Mercury also had to apologise at the bar of the House. The popular party in the Assembly did not see that by thus assailing the liberty of the press, they were striking at their own best means of defence. In 1806, Sir K. Milnes returned to England, little regretted by any class in Canada. A step in advance was taken by the French Canadian party in November of this year by the establishment of Le Canadien, a paper edited with great ability, but, under an elaborate profession of loyalty to the British crown, bitterly hostile to the advancement of the British race and language in Canada. By this time a growing alienation prevailed between the United States and England. The republicans of America, not unnaturally, felt a sympathy for France, their ally in the war of Independence, now hemmed in by the European despotisms with which the Tory Government of England had thrown in\ts lot. The right of search, too, claimed by England, which at that time was mistress of the seas, was exercised on American vessels, with scant courtesy or regard for the feelings of the new nation, which the English had not yet forgiven for conquering in the late war. A new war was evidently at' hand, the Americans, with characteristic shrewdness, calculating on being able to strike at England under the sword of Napoleon. In Canada preparations for defence were hurried on. Mr. Dunn, who was acting as deputy Governor, held a grand review, and called out for service a fifth part of the militia. In 1807, Sir James Craig arrived as Governor for Canada. He was a distinguished military officer, but had narrow views, and stern and unpleasing manners. The clique of office holders who formed his court worked on his suspicious nature, to induce a belief in the existence of supposed disloyal conspiracies among the French Canadians. He was induced to make the Canadien newspaper more powerful for mischief than it could otherwise have been by persecuting the shareholders, several of whom, including the loyal and influential M. Panet, were put out the list of militia officers. Of course this gave much offence, and at the session of 1808, M. Bedard sounded the first note of the struggle for Responsible Government in an elegant and temperate speech, which however drew on him severe official censure as The Apostle of Revolution and Sedition. Craig met the Assembly's determined attitude of opposition by first scolding, then dissolving it. But the people of Lower Canada replied to the Governor's insults by returning a House of a yet more popular character than in the last session.

The Canadien justly animadverted on Governor Craig's conduct. "He had power by law to dissolve the Assembly when it seemed good to him. He had no constitutional right to address abusive remarks on the conduct of the Assembly m the discharge of its legislative duties, a matter over which the law gave him no control whatever." The agitation in the colony increased. At the next session of the Assembly, Bedard and Papineau, the chiefs of the constitutional party, proposed a committee of seven members to investigate the Parliamentary precedents with regard to the Governor's late censures of the Assembly. It was also m contemplation to anticipate the recent action of the Dominion Government of Canada by sending an accredited agent to represent their Province in London. But these and other measures were interrupted by Craig, with a repetition of his former insuit, proroguing the Assembly. In order to frighten the electors, this was followed up by another step, -l what Craig's admirers in the Executive Council called "vigorous policy." A body of soldiers, accompanied by a magistrate, entered the office of Le Canadien, seized the printing press and type, and arrested the printer. After being subjected to a long inquisition, conducted with closed doors, before the Executive Council, the printer was sent to prison. The articles in the numbers of Le Canadien which were made the pretext for this foolish violation of the laws, appear harmless enough, absurdly destitute ol anything like ability, their only evil tendency being to stimulate race prejudice, while the prosecution of the paper was certain to irritate much more than hundreds of Le Canadien editorials. One of them bore the mysteriously "disloyal" title of "Take hold of Your Nose by the lip." The Dogberry in office detected treason in this—an intention of violent seizure and disloyal tweaking of the official proboscis. Craig did not stop at this. Supported by the Executive Council, associated with whom it is unpleasant to see the name of Dr. Mountain, the Anglican bishop, he issued warrants for the arrest of Bedard, Taschereau, and Blanchet. Others were arrested afterwards. The severity with the political prisoners was such as to cause the death of one of them. M. Corbeil, of Isle Jesus. In vain they demanded to know of what they were accused, in vain they demanded the British subject's privilege of being brought to trial. Meantime the Catholic bishop and his priests did all they could to allay discontent and promote attachment to British rule. This w as difficult under the circumstances, and at the next election the popular delegates were once more returned in force to the Assembly. The English ministers had been influenced by despatches which Craig and his followers wrote to them, accusing the French Canadians of every kind of disloyalty, and it is plain that severe measures of repression would have been adopted, and the liberty granted by the constitution of 1791 still further trenched on, had it not been for the impending war with the United States. Lord Liverpool wrote to Craig unmistakable directions to adopt a conciliatory policy before it was too late. In consequence of this, the Assembly, when it met the Governor, was astonished to hear an address in which, after eulogizing the loyalty of Lower Canada, he expressed his hope that the utmost harmony might prevail between himself and all branches of the Legislature. Bedard was soon after this released from prison, but not till the session had closed, Craig fearing that the Assembly might claim the credit of having forced his hand. Soon after this Craig's health gave way, and the "Reign of Terror," as the French Canadians magniloquently termed his petty tyranny, ended with his departure for England, where he soon afterwards died.

The first steamboat was launched on the St. Lawrence in November, 1809. She was named the Accommodation, and was built by Mr. John Molson of Montreal. The newspapers of the time contain glowing accounts of this wondrous ship which "could sail against any wind or tide." She was crowded with admiring visitors and passengers. The fare from Quebec to Montreal was ten dollars, which included meals on board the boat.

Sir George Prevost, a distinguished officer, succeeded Craig. He was a man of mild and conciliatory disposition. His first act was to add seven additional members to the Executive Cabinet, which had hitherto been taken altogether from the Legislative Council, and to appoint to a judgeship in Bedard, the object of his predecessor's persecutions; to another popular leader, M. Bourdages, he gave a colonelcy of militia. Thus the French Canadians were conciliated, and their loyalty secured in the presence of a pressing danger.


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