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General Brock
Chapter X - Politics in Quebec


IN September, 1808, Brock was superseded in his command at Montreal by Major-General Drummond, and returned to Quebec. He did not like being separated from the 49th, but, as he remarks, "soldiers must accustom themselves to frequent movements, and as they have no choice it often happens they are placed in situations little agreeing with their inclinations." His appointment as brigadier was confirmed, but he writes, "if the 49th are ordered away my rank will not be an inducement to keep me in the Canadas." As to the embargo, he says, "it has proved a famous harvest to merchants. It was evidently adopted with the idea of pleasing France, but no half measures can satisfy Napoleon, and this colony has been raised by it to a degree of importance that ensures its future prosperity." Sir James Craig, in his speech at the opening of parliament, referred to the embargo as having had the effect of calling forth the energies of the population of Canada, adding that it had made the country acquainted with its resources.

It was in April, 1809, that the new House met, and the speaker was again M. Panet, who, although defeated for Quebec, had been elected member for Huntingdon. Much to everybody's surprise, the governor ratified the appointment. There were fourteen members of British origin in the assembly, while thirty-six were French Canadians, and again the question of judges and Jews having seats in the assembly was discussed with much warmth. In the midst of the debate, when a resolution had been passed excluding Jews, and a bill for the disqualification of judges had been read a first time, the governor suddenly appeared upon the scene, and stated his intention of proroguing and dissolving the House. He reproved the members for having wasted their time in frivolous debates, and while reproving them he took occasion to thank the legislative council for their zeal and unanimity. The session had lasted just thirty-six days.

The governor afterwards visited several of the principal places in the province, where he was received with effusion by the anti-Canadian party. The Quebec Mercury, alluding to the conduct of the assembly in persisting in its action against the judges, said: "The conduct of a conquered people, lifted by their victors from the depths of misery to the height of prosperity, and to whom has been extended every species of indulgence, is not such as might have been expected at their hands." Le Canadien naturally justified the opinion of the majority of the House, and quoted Blackstone, Locke, and other British authorities as to the rights of parliament. The editor of the Journal wrote: "The king's representative has power by law to dissolve the House when he thinks fit to do so, but he has no right whatever to make abusive remarks such as his harangue contained upon the action of the legislature—a body which is absolutely independent of his authority." So the little rift grew wider every day. The governor fondly hoped that the new elections would give a different complexion to the House, but in this he was disappointed. It was even more strongly opposed to his party than the former one, and included among the new members M. Louis-Joseph Papineau, then a student of twenty, who, in after years, was destined to take a very prominent part in the long struggle between the assembly and the legislative council.

In the meantime, before the new House met, the British ministry had sent instructions to Sir James Craig as to the ineligibility of judges to sit in parliament, and directed him to sanction the bill excluding them.

The year 1809 saw Napoleon's waning star once more in the ascendant. Austria had risen against him, only to be defeated, and on May 10th the victor had entered Vienna in triumph. Then followed the battle of Wagram on July 6th, which was a crushing blow to the Austrian army under the command of the Archduke Charles. An armistice was signed on the 12th, and on October 24th, by a treaty of peace, Austria ceded all her sea-coast to France. The news of Napoleon's successes aroused England to fresh exertions. Canning, the war minister, increased the army to five hundred thousand men. The regulars were fed by volunteers from the militia. The militia was kept up by voluntary recruiting and by ballot. Sir Arthur Wellesley, who had returned to England after Cintra, was again sent out after the death of Moore at Corunna, at the head of a much better army than he had had the year before, to match his strength against Generals Soult and Massena. There was a scarcity, though, of transport, supplies, and specie. England was drained of gold to supply the needs of her army in the Peninsula, and to assist the Spanish patriots in their struggle against France.

There was little chance for Canada's needs to be attended to in this great crisis. Sir James Craig in February asked the home government for a reinforcement of twelve thousand troops, with the necessary camp equipage, two thousand to be stationed in the citadel at Quebec, two thousand in Upper Canada, and eight thousand for an active field force. This was his estimate of what he considered necessary for the proper defence of the country. His request arrived at a time when the cabinet was rent asunder by dissensions. The Duke of Portland, the nominal leader, was powerless. Castlereagh and Canning were at war. Both hated Perceval. Castlereagh was bent on sending troops to the Scheldt to take Flushing and Antwerp, where Napoleon was building a fleet. Canning wanted troops only for the Peninsula. The former had his way, and the ill-fated Walcheren expedition was undertaken. Forty thousand troops were sent against Antwerp, with thirty-three sail of the line, besides frigates. Flushing was besieged, but Antwerp, being reinforced and strengthened, was impregnable. Disputes arose between Lord Chatham, who was the commander-in-chief, and Admiral Sir Richard Strachan. By September the siege was given up, and fifteen thousand men were sent to the island of Walcheren. A plague of fever attacked them there, and the whole expedition turned out a failure. The result was the breaking up of the Portland ministry, and the retirement of Castlereagh under a cloud. No wonder was it under these circumstances that Sir James Craig's request was ignored, and no troops were available for Canada. Sir Arthur Wellesley alone was holding up abroad the honour and fame of England. He drove Marshal Soult out of Portugal, marched up the valley of the Tagus, caused Joseph Bonaparte to fly a second time from Madrid, and, on July 28th, 1809, fought and won the desperate battle of Talavera. For these services the brilliant soldier was rewarded by the title of Viscount Wellington of Talavera.

Public opinion in England was so occupied with affairs in the Peninsula and political dissensions at home that it did not concern itself with distant Canada, or even with the standing quarrel with the United States. The new president, James Madison, while removing the embargo, still held to non-intercourse with France and England, their colonies or dependencies. The Non-Intercourse Bill, brought in by the committee on foreign relations and passed by congress, excluded all public and private vessels of France and England from American waters, and forbade, under severe penalties, the importation of British or French goods. It was at this time that one John Henry, was sent by Ryland, on behalf of the governor-general of Canada, into the New England States to report on the state of public opinion there with regard to internal politics and the probability of war. It was supposed then that the Federalists of Massachusetts, rather than submit to the difficulties they were subjected to, would bring about a separation from the union. Henry's letters, unimportant in themselves, afterwards came into the possession of the government of the United States, and were made use of to foment the war feeling of 1812.

Early in 1809 Canning had sent instructions to the British minister in Washington, Mr. Erskine, to offer to withdraw the orders-in-council on certain conditions. The minister exceeded his instructions, and announced in April that the orders of 1807 would be withdrawn, in respect to the United States, on June 10th. There was universal joy and satisfaction throughout that country at the resumption of trade. A thousand ships harried out of the harbours laden with merchandise for British ports. The French minister at Washington remonstrated at the hasty belief in promises, and it was soon found that the announcement was premature. The conditions attached to the withdrawal had not been insisted upon by the English envoy, and on the very day, June 10th, that the revocation of the order was arranged for, it was learned in America that on April 26th another order-in-council had been passed by England establishing a strict blockade of the ports of Holland, France, and Italy.1 British merchants, frightened at the prospect of free entrance of American ships to the Baltic, had crowded the board of trade protesting that if American vessels with cheaper sugar, cotton, and coffee were allowed into Amsterdam and Antwerp, British trade was at an end. Their warehouses were stuffed full, and they could not stand American competition and the resulting fall in prices. Relations with the United States were more strained than ever. Smuggling during these years of restriction seems to have flourished everywhere, and the island of Heligoland was the chief dépot for English traders in the Baltic.

Much as they hated the English orders-in-council, Americans, on the other hand, were awaking to the knowledge that Napoleon's friendship was a hollow mockery. He was no longer the champion of republics, for he was an emperor surrounded by an aristocracy on whom he had conferred hereditary titles. He had seized American ships on the high seas on the pretext that they had British merchandise on board. By his Bayonne decree, he had sequestered all American vessels arriving in France, or in any port within the military contest, subsequent to the embargo, as British property or under British protection. When Louis of Holland refused to seize American ships at Amsterdam, Napoleon came to the conclusion that the former must abdicate and Holland be annexed to France. It was calculated that by the seizures in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Spain, France, Denmark, Hamburg, Italy and' Naples, more than ten millions of dollars had been added to the revenues of France. Twenty years afterwards the United States received five million dollars as indemnity.

Mr. Erskine, after his indiscreet proclamation, had been recalled from Washington, and Mr. Fran^ cis Jackson had been sent there instead, but was but coolly received in Washington. In England this year, chaos reigned in politics. Mr. Perceval had succeeded the Duke of Portland, while Canning's place at the foreign office had been taken by the Marquis of Wellesley, who was scarcely on speaking terms with the first minister. Lords Liverpool, Bathurst, and Eldon were the other prominent members of the cabinet, and the young Viscount Palmerston became secretary of war. News from the Peninsula was not encouraging. Napoleon's armies were subduing Spain, while Wellington had retreated into Portugal. With defeat abroad and ruin at home, the prospects of England were extremely dark.

To return to Canada and General Brock—the letters of 1808-9 that have been preserved show his intense longing for service in Europe. His younger brother, Savery, had been with Moore in Spain, and his letters from there were eagerly looked forward to by his brother Isaac, who could scarcely bear in patience the inactive life he was forced to lead. He was ill and out of sorts. He writes of bad weather and heavy gales, that the frigate Iphigenie could scarcely have cleared the land, and that there were apprehensions for her safety. Her commander, Captain Lambert, had been in Quebec, and Brock writes: "I found him an exceedingly good fellow, and I have reason to think he is well satisfied with the attention he received from me." This was the Captain Lambert who was mortally wounded in December, 1812, while in command of the Java when it was captured by the American frigate Constitution.

Colonel Baron de Rottenburg, of the 60th, was now expected in Canada as a brigadier, and Brock thought his appointment would mean a change for him, as one or the other would have to go to the Upper Province, and de Rottenburg, being the senior, would have the choice. There seemed but little chance for Brock, much as he wished it, to return to Europe, while affairs with the United States were so unsettled. In his letter to his brother, he says: "I rejoice Savery has begun to exert himself to get me appointed to a more active situation. I must see service, or I may as well, or indeed much better, quit the army at once, for not one advantage can I reasonably look for hereafter if I remain buried in this inactive remote corner. Should Sir James Saumarez return from the Baltic crowned with success, he could, I should think, say a good word for me to some purpose." Sir Thomas Saumarez, a brother of Sir James (Admiral Lord de Saumarez), had, in 1787, married Harriet, daughter of William Brock of Guernsey. One of Brock's confreres is mentioned in this letter as having just recovered from a severe illness. This was Colonel Vincent of the 49th, a soldier who was destined to take a very active part in the coming war. Vincent entered the army in 1781, served like Brock in the West Indies, and was also with him in the expedition to Copenhagen under Sir Hyde Parker.

In December, 1809, Brock writes to his brother William of the imminence of the war with the United States, and says: "Whatever steps England may adopt, I think she cannot in prudence avoid sending a strong military force to these provinces, as they are now become of infinite importance to her. You cannot conceive the quantities of timber and spars of all kinds which are lying on the beach ready for shipment to England in the spring. Four hundred vessels would not be sufficient to take all away. Whence will England be supplied with these essential articles but from the Canadas?"

Brock had now been seven years in Canada, and had had an opportunity of witnessing the wonderful progress the country had made during those years. Formerly lumber for the use of the province had come chiefly from Vermont, but from 1806 the lumber trade in Canada had immensely increased, and attention was being given to its development. The condition of the Baltic had stopped supplies being sent from there, and had given an impetus to the trade in Canada. No one realized then the dimensions to which it was to grow. Shipbuilding, too, had increased. Hitherto the fur trade with the Indians had been the principal source of wealth in Canada, but now its illimitable forests were to be utilized. One evidence of its prosperity was the increased importation of British manufactures. Comforts and luxuries were finding their way into the homes of the settlers. Roads were being built in all directions, and Sir James Craig made use of military labour in their construction. By the building of these roads provisions in the towns became more plentiful and cheaper.

As to the French question in Canada, which was just then troubling the minds of the governor and his council, Brock believed that Napoleon coveted the ancient possessions of France, and that he could, with a small French force of four or five thousand men, with plenty of muskets, conquer the province. He thought the French Canadians would join them almost to a man, and he believed that if Englishmen were placed in the same situation they would show even more impatience to escape from French rule. He wrote in December: "The idea prevails that Napoleon must succeed, and ultimately get possession of these provinces. The bold and violent are becoming more audacious. The timid think it prudent to withdraw from the society of the English. Little intercourse exists between the two races. The governor, next month, will have a difficult card to play with the assembly, which is really getting too daring and arrogant."

It was in January, 1810, that the new House met, and the governor opened it with a long address, referring, to European affairs, to the capture of Martinique, in which Sir George Prevost had taken part, and to the threatened war with the United States. He also announced that he was ready by His Majesty's pleasure to give his assent to the bill as to the ineligibility of judges having seats in the assembly. At that time Judge de Bonne was the member for the Upper Town of Quebec. The assembly brought in the bill, but it was amended by the Upper House by a clause that it should only come into effect at the end of the session. The assembly Was defiant, and passed a resolution that de Bonne, being a judge, should not vote. This was carried. The governor, accustomed to camps and ready obedience to his orders, could not brook the insubordination of his members, and with soldier-like promptness came down and prorogued the House, and told the members he meant to appeal to the people and have a new election. In dismissing them Sir James Craig lamented the measure that excluded men from the House who were so eminently fitted for it as were the judges. The governor was well received at his entrance and departure from the council chamber, and addresses of approval were sent him from many places. It was thought that the assembly was trying to assume too much power.

If Sir James Craig had done no more than this, the flame that he had kindled among the French Canadians might soon have been extinguished. He, however, proceeded to stronger measures. Because Le Canadien continued to publish what he considered inflammatory articles, criticizing his conduct and that of the executive, he sent, on March 17th, a party of troops with a magistrate and two constables to its office, seized the press, and committed the printers to gaol. The city was then put under military patrol, as if a rising were contemplated. After an examination of the papers found on the premises, Messrs. Bédard, Blanchet, and Taschereau were arrested on a warrant under the act for the better preservation of His Majesty's government. There were three other arrests made in the Montreal district—Laforce, Pierre Papineau (of Chambly), and Corbeil. Then the governor issued a long proclamation, which ended with a caution not to listen to the artful suggestions of designing and wicked men, who, by the spreading of false reports and by seditious and traitorous writing, ascribed to His Majesty's government evil and malicious purposes. There was a pathetic touch given to this proclamation by its closing words: "Is it for myself, then, I should oppress you ? For what should I oppress you? Is it from ambition? What can you give me? Alas! my good friends, with a life ebbing not slowly to its close, under the pressure of disease acquired in the service of my country, I look only to pass what it may please God to suffer to remain of it, in the comfort of retirement among my friends. I remain amongst you only in obedience to the command of my king."

Blanchet and Taschereau were discharged from prison in July, as they pleaded ill-health. The printer was also discharged, and the men from Montreal, but Bédard, an influential and eloquent member of the assembly, declined to be liberated without having been brought to trial. He said that he had done nothing wrong, that he did not care how long he was kept in prison, and applied for a writ of habeas corpus. This was all very embarrassing to the government, who would have much preferred to release him. Many petitions were sent in on his behalf, and the governor at last sent for Bédard's brother, a priest, saying that he would consent to his being set free if he would not resume his attempts to disturb public tranquillity. Bédard sent his thanks, and said that if any man could convince him that he had been at fault it was the governor, but as that conviction must arise in his own mind he must be content to submit to his fate. So he remained in gaol.

Sir James Craig now determined to send an agent to London to propose certain changes in the constitution by which the power of the Crown would be increased. He also wished to obtain the approval of the home government as to the suppression of Le Canadien, and the arrest of the members of its staff. Mr. Ryland was selected as the messenger. He arrived in London in August, 1810.

In the previous May the governor, in his despatch to the home government, said that the French and the English did not hold any intercourse; that among the Canadian community the name of Britain was held in contempt; that the Canadians were sunk in gross ignorance; that they were drunken, saucy to their betters, and cowards in battle; and as for their religion, the Catholic clergy ought to be put under the Anglican hierarchy; their peculiar faith made them enemies of Britain and friendly to France—yes, even to Bonaparte himself, since the Concordat. Sir James then praised his legislative council, whom he described as composed of the most respectable personages in the colony, while, on the contrary, the assembly was made up of very ignorant individuals, incapable of discussing rationally a subject of any import. He also informed the government that the anti-British party was becoming more audacious in consequence of Napoleon's successes in Europe, and that its members were doing all they could to bring about the loss of Canada to Great Britain.


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