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Lord Dorchester
Chapter XIII - A New Situation


DORCHESTER sailed for England on August 18th, 1791, leaving Sir Alured Clarke, the new lieutenant-governor, in charge. Clarke had gained some reputation in the West Indies, and sustained it by his conduct in Canada. It was his privilege to inaugurate the first step in constitutional government, though perhaps of a more apparent than actual kind, the Act passing into effect with much ceremony and festivity on December 26th. The council remained much as before:—Chief-Justice Smith (Speaker), St. Ours, Finlay, Baby, Dunn, DeLongueuil, Panet, Mabane, DeLevy, Harrison, Collins, Lanaudi&re, Pownall, de Boucherville, John Fraser and Sir John Johnson, the first eight composing the executive. The House of Assembly did not meet till the following December, 1792, when fifty members took their seats, two from each' district, or county. The names which Clarke applied to these newly created countries are not felicitous. Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Bedford and Surrey had not been wholly inappropriate to the broad fields of the once Church and king-loving Anglo-Virginian squires, and, indeed, in due course acquired something of the very atmosphere suggested by these time-honoured names. But their sudden application to this northern land of French Catholic peasants is something of a shock even to the reader a century afterwards, though curiously characteristic of that inartistic side of the British character which covered the backwoods and prairies of the United States with embryonic classic cities. How these amazing designations fared at the hands of the habitants we may not know—still worse even than William Henry (vice Sorel) no doubt.

As Dorchester was absent and my space is dwindling, I must not linger over Clarke's two years of office; nor dwell further upon the still seething dangers of the West, with open war raging between the Americans and Indians, and disasters to the former, which increased his correspondence and kept him anxious and busy. Nor is it possible /"to draw any picture of this first mixed assembly of thirty-four French and sixteen British representatives of the people, with the lingual and other little difficulties, the one to be perennial, the others merely those of inexperience. It should be noted as a social incident that Prince Edward, our late Queen's father, arrived with his regiment, the 7th Fusileers, at Quebec just before Dorchester left, and as a political one that Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, landed in November, 1791, on his way to his official duties. His first despatches, a business at which he was notoriously prolific, do not suggest much political acumen, for he had formed the opinion that Hamilton was anxious for war with England, and he did not himself think much of Washington's character. But Simcoe was both an admirable man and a good administrator, as readers of these volumes know.

War had been declared by France against Great Britain and Holland some six months prior to Dorchester's return to Canada. When he landed at Quebec, after just two years of absence, on September 23rd, 1793, it was not before his presence was required. A new situation had to be faced, for no one could guess what the attitude of the French-Canadians would be when Great Britain and their own mother country were engaged in deadly strife. That the quarrel was with the government of the\ Revolution and not with that of the old regime might or might not mitigate the situation. Racial sentiment would be equally powerful in both cases, but the Church and upper classes would have been more dangerous in the former, the peasantry in the latter, as was soon apparent.

Quebec greeted its old and much loved governor' with a general illumination. Bishop Jacob Mountain, too, arrived soon after Dorchester to be the first prelate of the Canadas, for hitherto they had been in ecclesiastical dependence on the but little older see of Nova Scotia. Dr. Mountain had been a fellow of Caius College, Cambridge, tutor and private secretary to Pitt, rector of a Norwich parish, and was now to imprint his name worthily and indelibly on Canadian records. There were now about a dozen Anglican clergymen altogether in the two Canadas, but in Quebec neither church nor rectory, service being still held in the chapel of the Recollets.

The crisis of the Revolution and the fall of the French monarchy had occurred during Dorchester's absence. The American republic was quivering with excitement, further stimulated by French agents, and the ripples of the tumult were being felt in the heart of the French-Canadian parishes. The old adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery accounted, no doubt, for part of this exuberance.

The wave of Gallican sentiment that swept over the Southern and Middle States is perhaps the most extraordinary and, in some ways, unaccountable movement in the history of the country. Carolina, Virginia and Maryland planters whose only acquaintance with privilege and tyranny was such as they had themselves exercised over their own negroes—who were not, by the way, included in this saturnalia of freedom and license—danced wildly about crowned with caps of liberty like emancipated slaves, and exchanged the modest courtesies of American democratic life for the fantastic crudities of French sans-culottes.

The notorious and impossible Genet had landed at Charleston, a few weeks before Dorchester left England, as minister of the French republic, and executed a triumphant overland progress to Philadelphia. The exuberant and exotic mummery which lined the country roads and dragged the chariot of this ridiculous Jack-in-office through the towns, brings a blush to the cheek of the modern American as he reads of it. Never, probably, did a sane and sensible people give way to such an exhibition of far-fetched and misplaced banality. Jefferson pulled the strings of his puppet till the latter's caperings broke them and left that vain and crafty demagogue cursing his own lack of discrimination. The leaders of the Federalists and all sensible men looked on aghast. Washington and Hamilton did more than look on," for Genet fitted out privateers in American ports and seized British shipping actually in American estuaries. Every one knows how the story ended, and' how after insulting everybody all round, Washington and even Jefferson included, this unique specimen of a diplomat was sent about his business. Fearing to go home he became naturalized as an American, and died in the country forty years later.

With all his feckless effrontery, Genet had been dangerously active, during the few months he was at large, in his endeavours to drag America into a war with England. His agents were in every direction and were busy intriguing among the Canadians. The French Revolution was even a better card for such men to play than the two clauses of the Quebec Act utilized for the same purpose in 1775. Moreover, on this occasion it was Frenchmen appealing to Frenchmen, for many of these emissaries were Canadians who had deemed it prudent to leave the country after the 1775-6 troubles, and had gathered much worldly wisdom in the wider atmosphere of the American republic. A French Utopia, where everything was to be had for the asking and vexatious laws and burdens swept away, presented, moreover, at the hands of a French fleet or army, was a much more alluring programme than the more doubtful promises of the Bastonnais in 1775. France no longer represented the very mixed blessings that its re-adoption implied in the days of the monarchy. Seigniors, tithes, taxes, corvees and soldiering had no place in the new order, so they were told with more grain of truth than the Bastonnais Utopia had contained. One need not say what the priests thought of all this, nor yet the seigniors for whom a red republican army, even a French one, had small attraction. Some of the notary and doctor class, themselves derived from the peasantry and from whom alone in French Canada political adventurers could spring, seem, however, to have regarded the new gospel with less repugnance. Besides all this, one of the two great parties in America, that of Jefferson and Madison, crafty and ill-balanced leaders who had never themselves smelt powder, and the former of whom was sometimes even credited with a lack of normal physical courage, was breathing fire and slaughter against England and all belonging to her in senseless and suicidal fashion. The South, as the more ignorant section, formed the main strength of their party, while the provinces bordering on Canada supported Washington, Hamilton and Jay in their efforts to maintain neutrality and their predilections for Anglo-Saxon ideals with a qualified friendliness for Great Britain.

Such was the highly charged atmosphere in% which Dorchester once again found himself, and now, as ever, with but a handful of troops and an unreliable militia. One knows nothing definite of how he had passed his time in England, nor does it signify. He kept in touch with his deputy at ' Quebec and the British government, but otherwise, no doubt, was taking that well-earned rest which his advancing years and his labours past and to come made requisite; for he was now nearly seventy," and had lived a strenuous life. He had by this time too, a large family, and so far as we know was a domestic man with no taste for staking his patrimony at Brookes's, nor for the deep potations of Fox and Pitt. Nor, again, had his health in Canada been always of the best.

Prince Edward, afterwards Duke of Kent, was still at Quebec, and remained there in command of the 7th Regiment until the January following Dorchester's arrival. He had made himself extremely popular with all classes, and only left for active service in the West Indies. Kent House, above the Montmorency Falls, still serves to remind us of a prince who is chiefly interesting, perhaps, as Queen Victoria's father, though he has some special claim; to notice from the fact that he held commands in British North America for seven years, the last four of them being spent at Halifax. Dorchester had on this occasion to reply to the many addresses of regret at the prince's departure which reached Quebec. The latter had left in a hurry to reach the scene of action, and while travelling on the ice over Lake Champlain the sleighs containing all his personal effects disappeared down an air-hole and were seen no more. At Boston we are told he had to ship in a small vessel of six guns, which ran the gauntlet of the French cruisers and only escaped by its fast sailing powers, though it received their fire.

The first news Dorchester had to send home was the failure of the peace conference between the American commissioners and the Indians, including both those of the West and the Six Nations, who demanded that their territory as far as the Ohio should remain inviolate. On November 11th, he opened the second parliament of Lower Canada, with Panet as speaker of the assembly. He urged the necessity of passing laws for the administration of justice, and he laid stress on the inadequate means of defence against foreign enemies. The finances too came up, and may serve to show the extraordinary disproportion between revenue and expenditure, so great, indeed, as to throw four-fifths of the cost of government (which was about twenty-five thousand pounds a year, while the revenue was only five thousand pounds) on the Crown. This condition of things contributed to stultify the power of the popular assembly. The veto of the uppeiN chamber and the Crown could be exercised without any fear whatever of consequences. The one/ effective weapon of a parliament, namely, the withholding of supplies, was unavailable when the supplies were mainly furnished by the British government, while in regard to the legislative council, though its members held their seats for life, that very fact inclined them against popular departures and to sympathy with the governor. French influence, though not yet aggressively developed, was naturally in the ascendant from its great numerical preponderance. Both languagesx were used in debate, and the services of an interpreter were regularly employed. In this first session Panet was made judge and de Lotbiniere was chosen speaker. In November Dorchester issued a proclamation in English and French requiring magistrates, captains of militia, and all good subjects to seek and secure persons holding seditious discourses, spreading false news, or publishing libellous papers. He turned his attention also towards improving the defences of Quebec, and passing a militia bill through the assembly.

Indeed, the military problem was upon him again in all its seeming hopelessness, and the dangers from within and without as imminent as ever. He issued orders for the embodiment of two thousand militia; but though the British, who were now more numerous than formerly, came forward "with alacrity," the habitants objected strongly to the service. French and American intriguers had played upon this string among others, and had succeeded in convincing the peasantry that to be balloted as a militiaman implied military service for life. "Nothing," writes Carleton, "is too absurd fr them to believe." The first day they were called out to furnish their proportion of the two thousand to be enrolled for service they broke into a mob, and refused to be balloted for. Two were sent to prison for riot and the country parishes threatened to rescue them.

The British proportion of militia was only seventy out of two thousand, and this, said Carleton, did not escape their observation.

Monk, whose voluminous correspondence with Nepean has been preserved, speaks of the alarm created among the merchants by Dorchester's speech in March. He, too, tells of the general spread of French principles, and speaks of the whole country as so infested with them that it was found on calling out the militia that there was scarcely a hope of assistance from the new subjects. Threats, he writes, were used by the disaffected against the few who were found loyal. " It is astonishing to find the same savagery exhibited here as in France in so short a period for corruption. Blood alliances do not check the menaces upon the non-complying peasants. These include the burning of houses, death, embowelling, decapitation and carrying heads on poles, as the depositions show, besides throwing off all regard for religion." The intrigues were traced to Genet and the now numerous French consuls. Correspondence had been carried on between Canadians in the United States and the disaffected in Canada, and French emissaries ha< been sent in to prepare the people to follow the example of France. Monk thought that nothingN less than five thousand troops in Canada till the-war was ended would secure the country. An address entitled, Les Franpais libres a leurs freres les Canadiensy was read at a church door, and circulated as a pamphlet. In this the people were urged to follow the example of France and the United States, and to upset a throne so long the seat of hypocrisy and imposture, despotism, greed, and cruelty. Their assembly is a mockery, and secret machinations are employed everywhere to upset its efforts at better laws. Canadians, arm yourselves, callyour friends, the Indians, to your assistance, count on the sympathy of your neighbours and of the French." Everything in short was to be abolished, and the habitants would find themselves in the delightful position of an independent nation in league with France and the United States, and would immediately rise to the blessings of that liberal education and establish those institutions for science and the higher arts for which they had been pining, and the free prosecution of that ocean commerce to which their genius and inclinations were so inclined. Even the habitant, accustomed as he must now have been to broadsides of unintelligible bombast, must have rubbed his eyes at the burning ambitions with which he was here credited. The prospect, however, of getting everything for nothing was plain enough amid the cloud of verbiage, and to an illiterate peasantry this fact has seldom failed to appear.


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