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Louis-Joseph Papineau
Chapter VIII - Lord Aylmer in the Path of Dalhousie

WE have now reached the year 1830. Papineau had been in parliament for eighteen years, and from the hour of his distinguished ddbut in the legislative assembly, he had not ceased to prosecute the claim of his countrymen to enjoy the liberties and privileges to which they were entitled as British subjects. At the close of the eighteen years of pleading and claiming, he had won nothing but promises never fulfilled, and that with endless bickerings and personal insults. Is it to be wondered at, that under the constant renewal of his hopeless struggle, his temper should have become embittered, and that he should have lost confidence in the spirit of justice of the colonial office where he had so often applied for redress; and when Lord Goderich, a minister of broad views and rational grasp of the situation, offered him concessions, is it to be wondered at that he refused to believe in the sincerity of his advances; or is it surprising that he should fail to believe in the apparent good-will manifested by Lord Aylmer on his arrival ? During the session of 1830, after perusing the list of grievances complained of by the Canadians, the governor expressed his astonishment at their number and their importance, and then, with a degree of frankness hardly to have been expected from a diplomatist, but quite natural from a soldier, begged of the House to say whether the list was quite complete, and urged them to make diligent search for any further wrongs that might exist. "For," he said, "we must put an end to them once for all, and leave no cause of complaint unremoved."

This conciliatory spirit manifested, at least in appearance, by the governor on his arrival, was not exhibited in the relations between the legislative council and the assembly. With an intensity greater than ever these two bodies, between whom it was so desirable that harmonious relations should prevail, looked upon and treated each other as enemies, and each watched for opportunities to counteract the plans of the other. Their mutual hostility was bringing affairs to a crisis. In this session of 1831, the assembly having sent to the Upper House a bill excluding judges from the executive and legislative council, the latter threw out the measure, as it had thrown out the supply bill the year before.

In the midst of these dissensions the important despatch from Lord Goderich, offering to Papineau and his friends a most acceptable compromise in relation to the financial question, was received in Quebec. The minister for the colonies declared that the English government was prepared to give to the assembly the absolute control of the expenditure, save as to the casual and the Domaine revenue, in exchange for a provision of a civil list of £19,000, during the lifetime of the king. In the second session of 1831, Papineau, with the help of Bourdages, who was also an advocate of extreme action, succeeded in defeating the motion for the adoption of the measure proposed by Lord Goderich. This was an error much to be regretted on the part of Papineau. Garneau, the historian, who was himself a participant in the events of the period, and who will hardly be charged with partiality for the assembly, condemns the conduct of Papineau and his friends. "Never," he says, "did the House commit so serious a blunder. But it was already evident that some fatal influence was hurrying it beyond the bounds of prudence."

The irritation which raged in parliament and in the executive council at length communicated itself to Lord Aylmer, who in 1832 was at open war with "The assembly, after it had obtained entire control over the public revenues," said Durham, "still found itself deprived of all voice in the choice or even designation of the persons in whose administration of affairs it could feel confidence. All the administrative power of government remained entirely free from its influence; and though Mr. Papineau appears from his own conduct to have deprived himself of that influence in the government which he might have acquired, I must attribute the refusal of a civil list to the determination of the assembly not to give up its only means of subjecting the functionaries of government to any responsibility."

the assembly and no longer made a secret of his antipathy. His entourage fanned the flame of his displeasure, and did not fail to remind him exultingly that on his first arriving they had told him how intractable the French Canadians were. Thenceforth we have but the record of a succession of unfortunate and unpardonable blunders. Aimless discussions take place from day to day, and instead of seeking to come to an understanding, each party spends its energies in an effort to inflict annoyance on the other.

In refusing to accept the concession of Lord Goderich, Papineau and his friends had departed from the rule of action of the English system, which is averse to the absolute, and proceeds only by compromise and mutual concessions. Every concession, however small it may be, must be accepted and in its turn made the basis of further demands. But the long and fruitless struggle seemed to have exhausted the patience of the most hopeful, when we find such men as LaFontaine, Morin and Bleury, who subsequently proved themselves, under all circumstances, moderate in their views and opposed to every form of violence, joining the ranks of the followers of Papineau. The fault committed by the English government was that it waited until 1834 to offer what the Canadians had been claiming since 1810. It is wise to make concessions to the people, but they should be granted in due season, and in such a manner that what is granted freely an elective council and willingly may not appear to be given under compulsion. Had Louis XVI. and his advisers but met halfway the men of 1789, who demanded constitutional changes which had become necessary, perhaps they might have escaped the men of 1791 and 1793. Lord Goderich made his generous proposal at the moment when Papineau, in the height of the struggle between the assembly and the council, was making desperate efforts to secure another reform, to his mind the one, indispensable reform, and calculated to bring with it all the others: the reform of the legislative council "An elective council" was the new battle-cry of 1834, and invectives were showered on the partisans of the vieillards malfaisants (malevolent old men) as the creatures of the government were denominated.

Addressing the electors of Montreal on November 1st, 1834, Papineau, in a three hours' speech, attacked the legislative council, and summed up his grievances against his irreconcilable enemy as follows: "I solemnly declare that no harmony whatever can exist in this country, or between the several branches of the legislature, until the elective principle shall have been applied to every part of the administration; it must above all be applied to the legislative council, where a pack of old men paralyse by their ceaseless opposition all the efforts of the representatives of the people. This opinion is not mine alone, it is shared by the leading statesmen of England. The people will therefore support those who call for a reform of the council, and they are sure to succeed. O'Connell, the great friend of the human race, has promised us that we shall secure this reform if we only persist in our demands.

"Permit me now," he added, "to refute certain false charges made against us by the council, and to point out the lack of logic and independence which characterizes the conduct of that body. Thus they gave currency to the statement that the assembly was opposed to any immigration into this country. Nothing could be more contrary to the truth. We have done everything possible to encourage and promote it; in the first place by giving* to foreigners every facility for securing naturalization, then by taking steps to protect the immigrants against ill-treatment on the part of masters of vessels, and by providing them with assistance on their arrival in the country when they happen to be in distress. But what happened? Will it be credited, the legislative council threw out the measure making provision for the accomplishment of those objects, and the subsequent conduct of that body shows clearly the spirit by which its members were actuated. On the morrow of the day on which the bill was rejected, there came a ministerial despatch from England recommending the levy of a tax in order to provide means of assisting immigrants. We then had the strange spectacle of seeing the same council reconsider the bill they had thrown out two days before, and give it their sanction, as though to prove to the whole world their subserviency to the will of the English minister. We have seen them refuse to grant to persons charged with crime the British privilege of being defended by counsel; we saw them refusing to allow an action for felony to be entered against the receiver-general, who had appropriated to his own uses £100,000 of the monies of the province, and attempting to justify such refusal by the childish objection that he was a legislative councillor.

"Let us now speak of another abuse, which, however, does not seem to be one in the eyes of that body. We know that the sheriffs of Montreal and Quebec receive a fee of two and a half per cent, on the proceeds of the sales they make under the authority of the law. We may form some idea of the enormous profits they derive in this way when we consider that the seigniory of Terrebonne sold for £20,000 and that the fee of two and a half per cent, was paid on that sum. The assembly wanted to put a stop to this abuse, but the council opposed their views in this matter, because the sheriff of Montreal is a legislative councillor and because the son of the sheriff of Quebec is also a member of that body.

"A bill had been passed," added Papineau, " by the House of Assembly providing for the printing of the statutes, and it went to council for approval. The latter amended it and, inasmuch as it was a bill dealing with money, the assembly could not consent to any alterations being made therein by the council, any such procedure being contrary to the principles of the constitution. Nevertheless, rather than see the bill lost, the assembly adopted another measure embodying the amendment proposed by the council, and sent it to the latter body. What are we to think of the council when we find that they thereupon threw out the bill embodying their own,amendment! Such conduct as this has no parallel unless we take that of the tyrant Nero who had his laws inscribed in such small characters and hung up so high, that nobody could read them, and yet inflicted torture and death on the man who was found ignorant of the law or who disobeyed any of its enactments."

But, a truce to quotations; we might refer to many of the grievances chargeable to the council, which body one day incurred the censure of Lord Stanley; but the latter was not then minister of the colonies, a position in which he showed himself the cruel and pitiless enemy of the Canadians. Was not Papineau's proposal to make the council elective an error in tactics? Could the English government accede to his wishes? To make the council elective would have been to create alongside of the assembly another body in which the French element would predominate, thus giving to that race the ascendency and supremacy in the administrative system. There would thus have been once more a rupture in the equilibrium of the forces. In theory, Papineau seems to us unassailable, for the Canadians, being subjects of His Majesty by the same right as the others, it was utterly unjust to consider their origin a blemish. That they would have used the power concentrated in their hands in such a manner as to satisfy the aspirations of all classes of the population, there is no reason whatever to doubt; subsequent experience has demonstrated this clearly. But then, was Papineau justified, before the experiment, in expecting for a moment that the British statesmen of the colonial office, men subject like most men to prejudices of race and religion, would consent to place those of their own nationality at the mercy of a French majority—looked upon as hostile to the English element?

Many of our writers who have studied this period have considered its issues as though French interests alone had been at stake. Now, if it be admitted that the election of the members of the legislative council by the people would virtually annihilate the power of the English minority, it is unreasonable to suppose that this minority would readily permit itself to be thus stripped of political influence. Papineau should have felt that it was impossible to comply with the demands; and he probably did feel it. Why then did he persist with such violent obstinacy in urging them? His very natural exasperation had, in the end, rendered him intractable and he could no longer control himself when he saw his opponents ceaselessly plotting, as he writes to Neilson, "in order that the minority may rule the majority without being annoyed by the complaints of their victims. It is odious," he adds, "to see every office and position closed against our people when the laws do not exclude them; to see them contributing nine-tenths of the revenue and receiving but one-tenth, and to feel that the possession of influence in this country is a passport to persecution." Simply because the Canadians then claimed their share of patronage, certain persons have ventured to conclude that, after all, the chief cause of the agitation was a struggle for place and position, in which the Canadians were disappointed. To deal with the question in this way is to look at it through the wrong end of the glass, to debase it to the level of vulgar interest, when the disinterestedness of Papineau should place him high above such contemptible insinuation. Had he been willing to accept the offers of Lord Dalhousie, it is clearly manifest that his fortune was made.

The insinuation is not worthy of consideration. No doubt the question of patronage was a factor, and rightly a factor, in the claims of the Canadians, since they contributed nine-tenths of the revenue. That the holding of places was of importance, the adversaries of Papineau could not deny, as they themselves made such efforts to monopolize them. What it was worth their while to grasp and cling to with might and main, the others might surely be allowed to seek and to share in.

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