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Louis-Joseph Papineau
Chapter V - The Union Scheme of 1822


WITH the advent of Lord Dalhousie we enter upon the acute stage of Canadian politics. A man of distinction and taste and high intellectual culture, Lord Dalhousie was the founder of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec. He it was also who caused to be erected in memory of Wolfe and Montcalm the well-known monument seemingly symbolical on his part of that spirit of conciliation, which was by no means apparent in his conduct towards the majority of the people of the province.

He lacked force of character and fell under the influence of the coterie who reigned at Chateau St. Louis and who, under cover of the governor, had ruled and exploited our province for forty years. Ryland, secretary to Craig, was the prototype of those gloomy, cold-blooded fanatics, who, under the pretext of safeguarding the interests of England, strove in every way to destroy the rights of the French Canadians. History will refuse to admit even the plea of sincerity in their behalf. Their contempt for our people who were so often made the victims of their overweening self-conceit, was probably not as genuine as it seemed to be. What the coterie craved above all things was to retain power in their own hands with a view to the profits, honours and emoluments to be derived therefrom, and of which they availed themselves to the utmost limits of abuse.

With the first session of parliament called by the new governor (1820) the conflict between the council and the assembly burst forth more furiously than .ever. Papineau having insisted on the budget being voted item by item, in order to ensure complete control of the public monies by the representatives of the people, the council rejected the bill, affirming its assumed right to participate in voting the supplies, and its resolve to reject the civil list divided into chapters. This amounted to a reprimand administered to the House, at which the latter took umbrage and made answer that the council could not dictate to it as to the manner of voting the supplies, which was its own exclusive privilege. Unfortunately, Lord Dalhousie took sides with the council instead of suggesting a compromise in order to put an end to the dead-lock from which there seemed to be no escape.

Did Dalhousie witness the conflict with a certain degree of satisfaction? A despatch from Lord Bathurst would seem to indicate that such was the case. The instructions of that minister to the new governor assume, when carefully examined, the features of a hideous machination devised to provoke an upheaval in the two chambers, which might be used as a proof that all government was impossible in the province. In order to overcome the deadlock thus brought about, the union of Upper and Lower Canada would then be insisted on as the supreme and last means of restoring order. . . . Machiavelli himself could not have shown keener craft.

The struggle between the council and the assembly was not the only cause of irritation. All the abuses which absolutism fosters swarmed in the most aggravating form. Favouritism of a bare-faced character prevailed. Here was to be found a friend of the government who was at one and the same time a legislative councillor and a judge; a parliamentary official sitting on a magisterial bench; a lieutenant-governor, while living out of the country, in receipt of a salary without discharging the duties of his office; elsewhere, a judge, who was paid by the state, compelling litigants to pay him fees. Some of these abuses, which were made known to the governor, were of a character so outrageous that Dalhousie, in spite of his partiality, promised to provide a remedy.

While Papineau and his friends were clamouring for a reform of these evils, they learned with dismay and indignation that steps were being taken in London to strike a fatal blow at the life and liberties of their race. A bill had been introduced in the House of Commons, making a single province of Upper and Lower Canada, abolishing the use of the French language, and giving an enormous preponderance to the representation of the English-speaking element in our parliament. The bill would have gone through all its several stages at Westminster but for the intervention of Mackintosh, Labouchere and Hume, who indignantly protested against the measure, and put its authors to shame by demonstrating the utter injustice of so gross an attempt on the liberties of British subjects, of men, they might have added, who on two occasions had saved Canada for England. The majority sided with our defenders, and called upon the government to defer the recording of our death sentence until the following session.

Prompt action now became a matter of urgent necessity in order to avert the danger which was upon the province. Forthwith, at Quebec, Montreal and Three Rivers, at Papineau's suggestion, committees were organized to secure the signing of a petition in opposition to the proposed union; within a few weeks the number of signatures had reached sixty thousand. Meantime the question as to the proper person to lay the monster petition at the foot of the throne was no sooner asked than one and the same answer fell from every lip: "Papineau!" He resisted the general wish for some time, but his great devotion to the public interests made him feel that he could not shirk the duty so clearly incumbent on him, in view of his position as leader of the Liberal party in the province.

At this date (1822) Papineau had attained the culminating point of his power; his influence, everywhere acknowledged by all classes, held undisputed sway. Not only did the people look up to him as their leader, but the clergy, with Bishop Plessis at their head, proclaimed him the man of the hour. M. Charles de St. Ours, a man of great weight, the heir of a distinguished family, whose ancestors had won-fame on many a battlefield, wrote to Papineau as follows:—"The Canadians must do their utmost to parry the blow with which the country is threatened, and it is to be hoped they may succeed in doing so, in spite of the intrigues of our enemies. I see with great satisfaction that all eyes are turned towards you, in the hope that you will present our petition in England. I know no one more worthy and more capable than yourself of undertaking that honourable mission." An eminent and influential ecclesiastic, a member of the faculty of the seminary of Quebec, Rev. Joseph Demers, also urged him strongly to proceed to England, saying :—"Let me beg and implore you not to abandon our poor country until we shall have conquered in the fearful struggle now upon us. I know it involves a great sacrifice on your part, but I know also that such sacrifices have long been nothing to you." Solicitations such as these poured in upon him from all parts of the country. There lived at that time, at St. Charles, on the Richelieu, a man of much wealth for that day, gifted with intellectual powers of a high order, and wielding great influence throughout the whole region between Sorel, Montreal and St. Hyacinthe: this was M. Debartzch, brother-in-law of M. de St. Ours, and the father of young girls then renowned for their great beauty and mental gifts, and who subsequently became Mesdames Kierskowski, Rottermund, Drummond and Monk. He writes to Papineau as follows:— "I ought not to ask you again, but when I reflect on your great ability and your genuine patriotism, I feel constrained to do so, in spite of myself. Do accept this honourable mission, which you alone can worthily fulfil."

Papineau found allies also amongst the English-speaking citizens, several of them persons of high standing, who took sides with our people, as for instance: James Cuthbert of Berthier, a member of the council and proprietor of an important seigniory,—Leslie, and John Neilson, proprietor of the Quebec Gazette. The latter was also selected as a delegate to London. The flagrant injustice of the oligarchy that ruled the province had long excited the indignation of Neilson, and on every possible occasion, both in parliament and at public meetings, he took sides with the French Canadians. His sound judgment and moderation of character enabled him to give wise counsel to the Patriotes and to moderate the passions of the more violent amongst them. The proposed union measure of 1822 he looked upon as a peril to the country, and 46 he laboured as earnestly as Papineau to avert it. "The country," he writes, December 12th, 1822, "will not submit to the injustice planned against us by a handful of intrigant who want to sacrifice to their own ambition the happiness of the Canadian people. These men whom chance has made so great in this country, and who would have remained in obscurity anywhere else, might well have remained content with the numberless preferments they now enjoy, without undertaking to rob the people of our province of their rights. Blinded by the most unfounded and unreasonable prejudices against our most cherished institutions, and nourishing as they do, in their hearts, and even openly manifesting, utter contempt for the peculiar usages and manners of the Canadian people, they certainly are guilty of an abuse of power calculated to endanger the peace and tranquillity of the country." It is manifest from this that the excesses and insolence of the bureaucracy had excited the indignation of Neilson quite as much as that of Papineau and his friends. But who were the handful of intrigant to whom Neilson alludes? They were the merchants of Montreal and Quebec and the bureaucracy, who had suggested to Ellice, a resident of London, very influential with the colonial minister, and proprietor of the seigniory of Beauharnois, the idea of uniting the two Canadian provinces, with the avowed object of annihilating the influence of the French.

Papineau and Neilson took ship at New York for Liverpool in the month of January, 1822. On February 25th following, taking up their quarters at 28 Norfolk Street, Strand, they sent notice of their arrival to the secretary for the colonies, Lord Bathurst, craving an audience in order to submit to him the protest of the French Canadian people against the union, and also the petition of six thousand freeholders of Upper Canada in opposition to that measure.

Papineau produced a most favourable impression in London. His high intellectual culture, his ease and grace of manner and his imposing mien, insured him a cordial welcome in the political world. "Can this be," men seemed to ask themselves, "one of those who have been described to us as steeped in ignorance and more like savages than civilized beings in their mode of living?"

A more extended knowledge of Canada would have made it manifest to the leading minds in London that there were then in Quebec, Montreal, and every other centre of any importance in the province, men of high breeding and refined manners, who would not have been out of place in the best salons of Paris or London. Great refinement of manner and old-time courtesy were the characteristics of the Canadians of old, and these qualities were to be found not only among the seigniors and persons of education, such as the officials and merchants and the clergy, but among the simple habitants who tilled the soil. This it was that made Andrew Stuart declare, "The Canadians are a race of gentlemen."

During their residence in London the conspiracy against the French Canadians became manifest to Papineau and Neilson in all its hideous malice. The peril had not been exaggerated; on the contrary, they found that, at Ellice's suggestion, the ministry had resolved to push forward the Union Bill not by forced marches, but quietly throughout all its stages. A singular incident had revealed the plot. There was then in London a man named Parker, a personal enemy of Ellice, who had quarrelled with him about a matter of business. Parker, who was cognizant of Ellice's design, determined, for vengeance sake, to thwart it, and promptly revealed the plot to Sir James Mackintosh and Sir F. Burdett. The latter had no difficulty in demonstrating the infamous character of this attempt to alter the constitution of Canada, in order to punish the French Canadians for crimes imputed to them on charges which they had not been given an opportunity to disprove.

It was an easy task for our delegates to confound the calumniators of our people, and the ministry undertook to drop the bill, which was destined, in the minds and hopes of its promoters, to consolidate and perpetuate their own ascendency. A letter of Papineau's gives us a portion of the petition of the partisans of the union in Montreal and Quebec.

The following extracts therefrom will not be found inappropriate. We venture to say that the fair-minded reader will be struck with the degree of audacity and blind passion which must have dominated in the minds of men who sought to enslave a whole people on such futile grounds and reasoning.

"The fertile source of all the evil complained of," said the petitioners, "is to be found in the Constitution of the Assembly. Hence the ever recurring difficulties between the several Branches of the legislature. Hence it is that the Powers of the Executive Government for the improvement of the Colony have been paralyzed; hence the extension of British settlement has been impeded; the increase of the British population. . . prevented... all commercial enterprise crippled . . . and the Country remains with all the foreign characteristics which it possessed at the time of the conquest. It is in all particulars, French. The adoption or rejection of the Union will determine whether, under the disguise of a British dependency for some time longer, it is to be forever French. . . . The unreasonable extent of political rights conceded to this population . . . with a sense of their growing strength, has already had the effect of realizing in the imagination of many of them their fancied existence as a separate nation, under the name of La Nation Canadienne. ... A system of government which in its ulterior consequences must expose Great Britain to the mortification and disgrace of having 50 at immense expense, reared to the maturity of independence, a foreign, conquered colony, to become the ally of a foreign nation and the scourge of its native subjects, ought not to be persisted in.

"The inhabitants of Upper Canada would imperceptibly be induced to form connections with their American neighbours, and, being unnaturally disjoined from Lower Canada, would seek to diminish the inconveniences thence resulting by a more intimate intercourse with the adjoining States, leading inevitably to a union with that country. The injury produced by the French character which now belongs to the Country, and the predominance of French principles . . . without a union of the provinces, must be aggravated by the augmented influence of those causes arising even from a recent Act of liberality on the part of the mother country. According to the colonial system recently adopted, a direct intercourse between Lower Canada and France is now permitted. The immediate effects of this will be to give increased strength to those national feelings and prejudices which, during sixty years of interdicted communication with France, have remained unabated, and to render more inveterate the causes of disunion between His Majesty's Subjects in Lower Canada.

"Notwithstanding the unlimited generosity which had been displayed toward the conquered, by confirming to them their laws and their religion, by admitting them to a participation in the Government and in all the rights of British Subjects . . . no advance had been made in effecting a change in the principles, language, habits, and manners which characterize them as a foreign people. . . . The French Canadian population, for a short period of time after the adoption of the present constitution, partly from incapacity to exercise the political powers with which they had become invested, partly from some remaining deference for their English fellow-subjects, used their ascendency with moderation, but this disposition soon yielded to the inveterate anti-British prejudices, and the English, with the exception of a small number who have been elected rather for the sake of appearances than from any regard for their qualifications, have been excluded from the House of Assembly. For many years hardly one-fourth of the representatives were English. At the present time, out of fifty members, only ten are English.... As illustrative of the spirit by which this body has been actuated ... no person of British origin has ever been elected Speaker."

After quoting these extracts from the Unionist petition, Papineau exclaims:—"Are not these accents of rage and hatred? Are these the sentiments we might look for from brothers-in-arms with whom we have so recently striven (1812) to repulse a common enemy? Will the provincial government still refuse to sign the petition against the Union? Or will they, with their usual imbecility, when the whole country is crying out with indignation against this infamous act of violence, isolate themselves and sever their interests from those of the country which it is their duty to govern and not to outrage?"

Ellice and Papineau met by accident, at the residence of Burdett. The former availed himself of the opportunity to question his political adversary as to whether the ministry had promised him to abandon this measure. Papineau replied in the affirmative, whereupon, Ellice became furiously angry and declared that they had broken their pledge to him, and that if they persisted in refusing to fulfil their undertaking, he would publicly denounce them.

In spite of Ellice's protests, the Union Bill was well and duly shelved in 1823, and filed away in the records of Downing street, whence it was to be brought forth eighteen years later. Ellice and the Montreal and Quebec merchants were to carry their point in the end, and conquer soon after their defeat.


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