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Baldwin, LaFontaine, Hincks
Chapter III - The Union of the Canadas


THE collapse of the rebellion of 1837 opens a new era, not merely in the history of Canada itself, but in the history of colonial government. The revolt, unsuccessful though it was, had brought into clear light the fact that the previous system of colonial management could not permanently endure, that its continuance must inevitably mean discontent and discord which could only terminate in forcible separation. The lesson that the mother country had failed to learn from the loss of its Atlantic colonies in 1770 had now been repeated. This time, fortunately for the mother country and the colonies, there were statesmen ready to give heed to the lessons of the past. The years of reconstruction that ensued may be considered to constitute the truly critical period of our colonial history. The position was indeed a difficult one. England found itself in possession of a colony still bleeding from the strife of civil war, and torn with racial and religious antagonism. The majority of its inhabitants cherished, indeed, a conscientious loyalty to the British connection, but smarted from a sense of unredressed wrongs and long-continued misgovernment, while those who had been forced into submission at the point of the bayonet, harboured an embittered hatred against their conquerors. That a means was found, to establish, in such a situation, a form of government fitted to restore peace, prosperity and loyalty, ranks among the finest triumphs of British administrative skill; and it stands as the great political achievement of the colonial statesmen whose work forms the subject of the present volume, that they both planned the adoption and sustained the execution of the sole policy that could preserve to an illustrious future the colonial system of Great Britain. Responsible government was the chief, indeed the only, demand of Robert Baldwin and his associates; it had been a leading demand of the Radicals in Upper Canada who had been drawn into revolt, and it had been one of the demands of the French-Canadian party of discontent. The history of British administration, like the structure of British government, is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions. Nor is there any inconsistency more striking than this: that the imperial government, after strenuously denying the possibility of colonial self-government and suppressing the rebellion of its subjects who had taken up arms largely to obtain it, proceeded to grant to the conquered colony the privilege which peaceful agitation had constantly failed to obtain.

The British government, stirred from the lethargy and ignorance which had so long characterized its colonial administration, was now anxious to redeem the past. "The Downing Street conscience." as a Canadian historian1 has called it, was quickened into a belated activity. With a view to ascertaining the grievances of the Canadians and enabling the government of Lord Melbourne to adopt remedial measures, a special high commissioner and governor-general was sent out to British North America in the person of Lord Durham. John George Lamb-ton, created Baron Durham in 1828, and Earl of Durham in 1832, is one of the notable characters of Canadian history, and one whose name will ever be associated with the grant of responsible government to Canada. The scion of a Whig family whose members had represented the city of Durham in the House of Commons continuously from 1727 until 1797, Durham came honestly by Liberal principles, which his ardent temperament and domineering intellect carried to the verge of radicalism. He had already enjoyed a career of distinction, had served in the army, sat in the House of Commons and had held the post of Lord Privy Seal in the ministry of Earl Grey (1830). Over Lord Grey, whose eldest daughter he had married, Durham possessed an unusual ascendency, "une funeste influence" the aged Talleyrand had called it. Prominent as one of the leading supporters of the British Reform Bill and identified in ideas, if not in practice, with the Liberal creed of equal rights, Lord Durham appeared preeminently suited to typify to the people of Canada the earnest desire of the mother country to redress their wrongs. From the moment of his arrival at Quebec (May 29th, 1838), he threw himself with characteristic energy into the task before him. The powers conferred upon him as high commissioner. Lord Durham interpreted with the utmost latitude. He regarded himself in the right of a benevolent dictator, and supported the extraordinary powers which he thus assumed with an ostentatious magnificence, lie reconstructed Sir John Colborne's council in Lower Canada, issued an amnesty to the generality of political prisoners !>till in confinement and to the participants in the late rebellion, and, oil his own authority, banished to Bermuda certain leaders in the insurrection. he set up at the same time special commissions to enquire into education, immigration, municipal government and Crown lands; pan! a brief visit to Upper Canada, where he was received with enthusiasm,2 and in his short stay of five months gathered together the voluminous materials which formed the basis of the celebrated report. Meanwhile, however, the governor-general's enemies in England were working busily against him. The illegal powers which he had seen fit to assume were made the basis of an unsparing attack. Durham's actions were denounced in the House of Lords and but feebly defended by the government. The ordinance by which he had granted political amnesty was disallowed by the Crown. On the news of this, Durham, conscious of the real utility of his work in Canada, and stung to the quick at the pettifogging legality of the government, issued (October 9th, 1.838) an ill-considered proclamation, in which he rccited the aims of his mission and declared that "if the peace of Lower Canada is to be again menaced, it is necessary that its government should be able to reckon on a more cordial and vigorous support at home than has been accorded to me." This was too much. The high commissioner had become, in the words of the London Times, a "High Seditioner," and the government reluctantly ordered Lord Durham's recall. For this, however, the governor-general had not waited. He had already reembarked for England. and completed during the voyage the preparation of his report.

Among all the state papers on British colonial administration, the report of Lord Durham, both in point of form and of substance, stands easily first. It is needless here to discuss how much of its preparation was owed to the ability of the governor-general's secretaries; it is certain that, apart of it at any rate was the personal work of Lord Durham himself. In its bearing upon the topic which is the main subject of the present volume, it stands as a Magna Charta of colonial liberty. The report contains a masterly analysis of the origin and progress of those grievances which had driven the provinces to revolt, together with a survey of the existing situation w ith recommendations for its amelioration. The distracted condition of the Canadian provinces was attributed by Lord Durham to two causes. The first of these was the intense racial animosity existing between the English and the French, an animosity still further inflamed by the arrogant pretensions of the English minority in Lower Canada, which the report pitilessly exposed. The second cause of disturbance was found in the absence of that system of responsible government which could alone confer upon the people of Canada the political liberty to which they were entitled. As a remedy Durham proposed the reunion of the two Canadas into a single province, with a legislature representative of both the races. Such a union he anticipated would necessarily mean, sooner or later, the dominance of British interests and British nationality.

"I have little doubt," wrote Lord Durham, "that the French when once placed, by the legitimate course of events and the working of natural causes, in a minority, would abandon their vain hope of nationality .... I certainly shall not like to subject the French-Canadians to the rule of the identical English minority with whom they have so long been contending; but from a majority emanating from so much more extended a source, I do not think that they would have any oppression or injustice to fear." Had Lord Durham's report rested for its reputation upon his view of the probable future of French Canada it would never have achieved its historic distinction. Indeed Durham's political foresight failed him in that he did not see, as LaFontaine, Morin and the leaders of the moderate party presently demonstrated, that the system of government which he went on to recommend for the united provinces would prove the very means of sustaining the nationality and influence of the French-Canadians. It is in its recommendation of a change in the system of government that the chief merit of the report is to be found. "Without a change in our system of government the discontent which now prevails will spread and advance .... It is difficult to understand how any English statesman could have imagined that representative and irresponsible government could be successfully combined .... It needs no change in the principles of government, no invention of a new constitutional theory, to supply the remedy which would, m my opinion, completely remove the existing political disorders. It needs but to follow out consistently the principles of the British constitution, and introduce into the government of these great colonies those wise provisions by which alone the working of the representative system can in any country be rendered harmonious and efficient .... The responsibility to the united legislature of all officers of the government, except the governor and bis secretary, should be secured by every means known to the British constitution."

The administration of Lord Durham and the policy which he was about to recommend to the imperial government, commanded among the Reformers of Upper Canada a cordial support. Ilincks established at Toronto, July 3rd, 1838, a weekly paper called the Examiner, (there was as yet no daily published in the little town) which bore as its motto the words, " Responsible Government." On the first page of it Hincks printed each week for some months "three extracts which were intended to explain the principles it was intended to advocate."1 The first of these was the well-worn saying of Lieutenant-governor Simcoe, that the constitution of the colony was nothing less than "the very image and transcript of that of Great Britain." In a leading article of the first number of the Examiner, Hincks wrote in support of Lord Durham: "We trust bis advice will be followed by all parties n this province, and we would urge those Reformers, who, guiltless of any violation of the laws, have been wantonly oppressed and insulted for the last six months, to forget their injuries, and repose confidence in the illustrious individual to whom the government of these provinces has been entrusted."

Meantime the imperial government had decided to act upon the advice presented m Lord Durham's report and to effect a union of the Canadas. A bill to that effect was brought into parliament, but on reconsideration was withdrawn, in order that still further information might be obtained about the state of opinion in the colony, and in order that, as far as might be, the terms of the union should be proposed by the colonists themselves. To effect this purpose a new governor-general was dispatched to the Canadian provinces, in the person of Mr. Charles Poulett Thomson. Thomson came of a mercantile family, had been In the Russian trade at St. Petersburg. had sat in the Commons, had served as vice-president of the Board of Trade in the ministry of Lord Grey, and had no little reputation as a Liberal economist and tariff expert. His business career enabled him at his coming to make a pleasing show of democratic equality with the colonial community. "Bred a British merchant myself," he told the Committee of Trade at Quebec, "the good opinion of those who follow the same honourable career is to me naturally and justly dear." The "British merchant" was, however, very shortly removed to a higher plane by his elevation to the peerage as Baron Sydenham and Toronto. At Quebec the governor-general took over the administration of Lower Canada from the hands of Sir John Colborne. Thence he went to Montreal, where he arrived on October 22nd, 1839, and proceeded to lay the imperial plan of union before the special council, a body of nominated members appointed by Colborne, the representative institutions of the colony being still in suspense. This plan, as conceived in outline by the imperial government, involved the establishment of a legislature in which the two provinces should be equally represented, the creation of a permanent civil list, and the assumption by the united provinces of the debt already incurred in public works in Upper Canada.

Sydenham had come to Canada in the now familiar role of pacificator general, and in especial as the apostle of union. Being endowed, moreover, in a high degree with that firm belief in his ow n abilities and in the efficacy of his own programme, which was the especial prerogative of so many colonial governors, he was fatuous enough to suppose that the plan of union was highly acceptable to the people of Canada. To Lord John Russell, now colonial secretary, he wrote in the following terms: "The large majority of those whose opinions I have had the opportunity of learning, both of British and French origin, and of those, too, whose character and station entitle them to the greatest authority, advocate warmly the establishment of the union." It was indeed easy enough for His Excellency to obtain a vote of approval from the special council convoked at Montreal, (November 13th, 1839). But as a matter of fact the mass of the people of French Canada were bitterly opposed both to the union in general; and to the special terms on which <t was offered. Nor was theie a more outspoken opponent of the union than LaFontaine, now recognized as the leader of French-Canadian opinion. Under his auspices a public meeting was held at Montreal, at which he delivered a powerful address of protest against the proposed amalgamation of the two Canadas. Lord Sydenham, aware of the influence of LaFontaine and anxious to conciliate all parties, offered to him the post of solicitor-general of Lower Canada. This position, in view of the existing suspension of constitutional government, LaFontaine did not see fit to accept.

Before, however, these advances were made to LaFontaine, Sydenham had already visited Upper Canada (November 21st, 1839 and February 18th, 1840), in the interests of the project of Canadian union. Here his task was decidedly easier. The He-formers who were led, as will presently be seen, to identify the Union Bill with the adoption of responsible government, were strongly in its favour. The part} of the Family Compact were indeed opposed to the scheme, fearing that it might put an end to the system of privileged control which they had so long enjoyed. Chief-justice Robinson, then, as ever, the protagonist of the party, hastened to draw up a pamphlet of protest, which voiced the sentiments of his immediate adherents but had little effect upon the public at large. The Tories found themselves, moreover, in a perplexing position. Attachment to the imperial tie, obedience to the imperial wish,-this, if anything, had been their claim to a virtue. To oppose now the project offered them by the mother country, seemed to do violence to their loyal past. A formidable secession took place from their ranks, and very few of their number in the legislature were prepared to offer to the union an uncompromising opposition. It was owing to this that the assembly elected in 1836 as the Tory parliament of Sir Francis Head, was now prepared to vote resolutions in favour of the union. The utmost that the extreme Tories would do was to endeavour to make the terms of union as onerous as possible to the French-Canadians. For this purpose they attempted to pass in the assembly a resolution2 demanding a representation for Upper Canada, not merely equal but superior to that of the Lower Province. In view of the fact that the populations of the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada stood at this time respectively at four hundred and seventy thousand and six hundred and thirty thousand, the proposal for a representation inversely proportionate to population only evinced the obstinate determination of the Upper Canadian Tories to extinguish the influence of French Canada. The result of their attempts was merely to hasten on that alliance between the Reformers of the two provinces which offered presently the key to the situation. Francis Hincks had, during a visit paid to Montreal and Quebec in 1835, made the acquaintance of LaFontaine, Morin and other leaders of the moderate party in French Canada. He now, in common with Robert Baldwin, entered into a correspondence with them in which the principles of responsible government and the part it might play in the interests of both races in Canada, were fully discussed.

It is to be observed that to the Reform party, the. essence of the union question lay in the adoption of responsible government. Without this their projected alliance with the French-Canadian leaders could have no significance save to establish a factious opposition of continued hopelessness/With responsible government a fair prospect was opened for reconciling the divergent interests of the Canadian races and carrying on a united government resting upon common consent. It is important to appreciate this point, since the conduct of Robert Baldwin in what followed has been freely censured. Baldwin had been appointed by Sydenham, in pursuance of his policy of conciliation, to be solicitor-general of Upper Canada (February, 1840) without, however, being offered a seat in the executive council. Baldwin accepted the office, and, after the proclamation of the union (February 5th, 1841), was made in addition an executive councillor. On the day of the opening of parliament (June 14th, 1841), however, Baldwin resigned his office, thus laying himself open to the charge at the hands of Lord Sydenham's biographer1 of being guilty of conduct "impossible to reconcile with the principles of political honour by which British statesmen are governed." To understand the motives by which Robert Baldwin was animated in his acceptance of the office which he subsequently so suddenly resigned, it s necessary to review the position in which the question of responsible government stood while the union was in course of making (1830-40).

Lord Sydenham himself in reality had no more idea of applying colonial self-government in the sense in which it is now known and In which it was understood by Robert Baldwin, than had Sir Francis Head. Indeed a system of administration which would have reduced his own part to a benevolent nullity was foreign to his temperament, and the thought of it occasioned liiin serious apprehension for the welfare of the colony. This has since been fully disclosed by his published correspondence. "I am not a bit afraid." he wrote (December 12th, 1839), "of the responsible government cry; I have already done much to put it down in its inadmissible noise, namely, the demand that the council shall be responsible to the assembly, and that the governor shall take their advice and be bound by it ... . Ami I have not met with any one who has not at once admitted the absurdity of claiming to put the council over the head of the governor .... I have told the people plainly, that, as I cannot get rid of my responsibility to the home government, I will place no responsibility on the council; that they are a council for the governor to consult, but 110 more." Sydenham might claim to have told the people plainly this old-time doctrine of gubernatorial autocracy, but the people had certainly not so understood his views. Indeed they had good reason for believing the contrary. The governor-general had received from Lord John Russell, under date of October 16th,- 1839, a despatch in which the position to be held by colonial executive officers was explained. "You will understand, and will cause it to be generally made known, that hereafter the tenure of colonial offices held during Her Majesty's pleasure, will not be regarded as equivalent to a tenure during good behaviour: but that not only such officers will be called upon to retire from the public service as often as any {sufficient motives of public policy may suggest the expediency of that measure, but that a change in the person of the governor will be considered as a sufficient reason for any alterations which his successor may deem it expedient to make in the list of public functionaries.

The publication of this despatch had been put by Lord Sydenham (who laid it before the legislature of Upper Canada), to a special purpose. It served as a notice to the office-holding Tories of the legislative council that they must either conform to the wishes of the imperial government in proposing the union or forfeit, the positions which they held. But the Reform party, not without justice, read in it a still further significance. Interpreted in the light of Lord Durham's recommendations, it distinctly implied that the executive council, of which in a later paragraph it made particular mention, should be expected by the governor to resign when no longer commanding the confidence of the country. This view had been, moreover, distinctly emphasized by the presentation (December 13th. 1839 ) of an address to the governor-general, in which it was requested that he would be pleased to inform the House whether any communications had been received from Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the colonies on the subject of responsible government. To this Lord Sydenham replied that "it was not in his power to communicate to the House of Assembly any despatches upon the subject referred to," but added, that "the governor-general has received Her Majesty's commands to administer the government of the provinces in accordance with the well understood wishes and interests of the people, and to pay to their feelings, as expressed through their representatives, the deference that is justly due to them." The matter had thus been left, purposely perhaps, in a half light. But In order that there might be no doubt as to the views of the Reform party whose wishes he represented, Baldwin, on accepting office, had addressed to Lord Sydenham and had caused to be published the following statement of his position: " I distinctly avow that in accepting office I consider myself to have given a public pledge that I have a reasonably well grounded confidence that the government of my country is to be carried on in accordance with the principles of responsible government which I have ever held." In this position, then, the matter rested until the resignation of Baldwin after the union, under circumstances described in the following chapter.

Meantime the union project was carried forward. The special council of Lower Canada, the assembly and the legislative council of Upper Canada, had all adopted resolutions accepting the basis of union proposed by Lord Sydenham on the part of the imperial government. The assembly of Upper Canada accompanied its resolutions with an address requesting that " the use of the English language in all judicial and legislative records be forthwith introduced, and that at the end of a space of a given number of years after the union, all debates in the legislature shall be in English." It was asked also, that the seat of government should be in Upper Canada.

The intelligence of the proceedings having been forwarded to England, the Act of Union was duly enacted by the imperial parliament. Its terms, in summary, were as follows.1 In the place of the two former colonies of Upper and Lower Canada, there was to be a single province of Canada. A legislature was instituted consisting of two Houses, the Upper House, or legislative council, consisting of not fewer than twenty persons appointed for life by the Crown, and the Lower House, or assembly, being elected by the people. Of the eighty-four members of the Lower House, forty-two were to be elected from each of the former divisions of the province. English was made the sole official language of legislative records. Out of the consolidated revenue of the province the sum of seventy-five thousand pounds was to be handed over yearly to the Crown for the payment of the civil list, namely, certain salaries, pensions and other fixed charges of the government. The executive authority was vested in a governor-general, to whom wras adjoined an executive council appointed by the Crown.* The extent of the responsibility of this council to the parliament is not defined in the Act. Inasmuch, however, as the entire system of responsible, or cabinet government, in Great Britain itself is only a matter of convention and not of positive law, a definite statement of responsibility was in the present case not to be expected. The debt previously contracted in the separate provinces now became a joint burden.

The union thus prepared went into operation (by virtue of a proclamation of the governor-general) on February 10th, 1841. On the thirteenth of the same month the writs were issued for the election of members of the legislature, returnable on April 8th. Robert Baldwin was elected m two constituencies, the south riding of York and the county of Hastings. Francis Hincks offered himself as a candidate to the electors of Oxford, a county which he had been invited to visit shortly before on the strength of his writings in the Examiner,2 and in which he secured his election. To the electors he published an address in which he took his stand on the principle of responsible government, a system, "winch by giving satisfaction to the colonists, would secure a permanent connection between the British empire and its numerous dependencies." The elections in Lower Canada were marked by scenes of unusual fraud and corruption. No pains were spared by the administration to carry the day in favour of union candidates. The governor-general, by virtue of a power conferred under the Act of Union, reconstructed the boundaries of the constituencies of Quebec and Montreal. Elsewhere intimidation and actual violence were used to stifle the hostile vote of the anti-union party.1 To this was due the defeat of the French-Canadian leader, LaFontaine, in the county of Terrebonne. The latter, in his electoral address, had again denounced the union in embittered terms. " It is," he said, " an act of injustice and of despotism, in that it is forced upon us without our consent; in that it robs Lower Canada of the legitimate number of its representatives; in that it deprives us of the use of our language in the proceedings of the legislature against the faith of treaties and the word of the governor-general; in that it forces us to pay, without our consent, a debt which we did not incur." But LaFontaine realized the futility of blind opposition to an accomplished fact. The attempt to repeal the union, he argued,' would merely lead to a continuation of despotic government by an appointed council. To him the key to the situation was to be found ai the principle of ministerial responsibility. "I do not hesitate to say," he said, " that I am in favour of this English principle of responsible government. I see in it the only guarantee that we can have for good, constitutional and effective government. . . . The Reformers in the two provinces form an immense majority. ... Our cause is common. It is in the interest of the Reformers of the two provinces to meet in the legislature in a spirit of peace, union, friendship and fraternity. Unity of action is necessary now more than ever."

In despite, however, of the defeat of LaFontaine and several other Reform candidates in Lower Canada, the result of the election of 1841 was not unfavourable to the cause of Reform. Of the eighty-four members of the Lower House only twenty-four were pledged supporters of the governor-general,1 while the Reform party, together with the French Nationalists, included well over forty members of the House.


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