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Louis-Joseph Papineau
Chapter IX - The Ninety-Two Resolutions


WHEN about to rush into the throes of revolution, men feel it needful to pause and reflect before venturing into the hazards of the fateful struggle. In 1774 the representatives of the English colonies assembled in Philadelphia declared their independence. This defiance hurled at England was couched in forcible language, setting forth the grievances which Virginia and her neighbours complained of, and formulating the principles which, from the standpoint of the malcontents, underlie the liberties inherent to humanity. These grievances numbered twenty-seven. The men of 1789 in France, in order to show their fealty to tradition, put forth their famous declaration of the rights of man, which has since furnished the theme of many an eloquent piece of declamation. Papineau and his friends formulated their grievances in the shape of ninety-two resolutions, the drafting of which is attributed to Morin, the ablest political writer of the day. The inspiration is, of course, from Papineau, and there are to be found throughout the lengthy indictment violent outbursts but little in harmony with the indolent character of the gentle Morin, which doubtless are retouchings from the hand of Papineau. One recognizes here and there the lion's claws.

The statesman requires as a quality of temperament a degree of patience and good humour, which Papineau lacked at this period of his career. "We must take all things seriously and nothing tragically," said Thiers to Jules Favre, when the latter spoke despondently during the negotiations with Bismarck for the treaty of 1871. Papineau's state of exasperation in and about 1834 caused him to take everything au tragique: the sayings and doings of the governor, the uncompromising attitude of the legislative council, etc. When Lord Aylmer says a word of remonstrance to the assembly for persistently refusing the supplies, the censure forthwith becomes a national insult. Papineau's young friends, LaFontaine and Morin, and his lieutenant, O'Callaghan (of The Vindicator), elected in the wholly French county of Richelieu by will of the chief, were not shocked by the violence of his language, while moderate men, such as Neilson, Cuvillier, Quesnel and Debartzch, withdrew from his camp. Meantime, the press devoted to the cause of the Patriotes poured hot shot into the ranks of the common enemy. The attacks are no longer confined to the provincial authorities, but include also the British government. The intemperance and license of language verges on sedition. Such is the exasperation of the Patriotes, and so distorted is their mental vision by passion that they fancy they see conspirators everywhere, and when gathered in conclave in their committee-room they hear footsteps in the wall and dread of treason haunts them on every hand.

There occurred in 1831 certain untoward events which brought to a climax the bitterness of the strife between the parties to the struggle. It is easy to fancy, in view of the exasperation of mind which prevailed, the acrimony with which the electoral contests must have been fought out in the towns where the English and the Canadians looked upon each other as deadly enemies. They were carried on amid scenes of wrangling and fighting; sticks and stones and blows took the place of argument and discussion. During the election which took place in Montreal in May, 1831, violence so ruled that it became necessary to call out the soldiers of the garrison to put an end to a serious riot. They were ordered to fire on the rioters, and three citizens were shot. Colonel Mackintosh, the commander of the troops, was branded as a murderer by the press, and Papineau called upon Lord Aylmer to come from Quebec to Montreal and deal with this deplorable affair. Lord Aylmer disregarded the summons, and his adversaries strove to make him responsible for the loss of life.

As though this unfortunate affair had not already sufficiently exasperated national animosity in the province, the Asiatic cholera, imported into the country by immigrants, scattered death, mourning and consternation in Montreal and Quebec, and the enemies of the governor and his entourage did not hesitate to denounce them before the public as the first cause of the ravages of the dread scourge. It was, they declared, their culpable negligence or their guilty subserviency to the merchants of Montreal who opposed the preventive measure of a quarantine, that left the country unprotected against the entrance of the disease.

In 1834, on the second appearance of the cholera, and following the precedent of 1832, the national party again sought to hold Lord Aylmer responsible for the ravages of the scourge. "It was he," they declared, "who refused to shut it out by closing the gate of the St. Lawrence; he it was who enticed the sick immigrants into the country, in order to decimate the ranks of the French Canadians." The more moderate simply charged him with having, as before, refused, in deference to the merchants, whose interests would have been affected by the quarantine regulations, to stop the infected vessels below Quebec.

At a meeting of the constitutional committee held at Montreal on November 3rd, 1834, at which were present Papineau, LaFontaine, D. B. Viger, Joseph Cardinal and A. N. Morin, it was resolved to appoint a committee "to enquire into the ravages caused last summer by that cruel disease the Asiatic cholera; into the causes of its introduction, and the participation therein, whether by act or omission, 88 culpable and voluntary, of the present Governor-General and the Provincial Executive." As a matter of course, this forms one of the grievances set forth in the ninety-two resolutions. It is difficult to believe that sensible men could commit themselves to so glaring an exaggeration. But we must remember that in times of excitement the mind often becomes disturbed and loses its sense of proportion. A thing, which in ordinary times passes unnoticed, then assumes gigantic importance. In such an atmosphere of excitement the ninety-two resolutions were conceived, calculated as they were to produce an effect contrary to what must have been the expectations of their framers.

Couched in the pompous, grandiloquent language of the period, they embody, together with the enumeration of the grievances so often complained of, a number of things entirely out of place, if the Patriotes were anxious to secure the reform of the abuses complained of. Nothing was gained by saying to the king, to whom the resolutions are addressed: "We are in no wise disposed to admit the excellence of the present constitution of Canada, although the present colonial secretary unseasonably and erroneously asserts that the said constitution has conferred on the two Canadas the institutions of Great Britain." Were such criticisms calculated to win over the minds of those from whom the reforms were to come? Hardly less of a blunder was the declaration of democratic principles forming the basis of the thirty-seventh resolution. Any one who reads that declaration of radical principles will see what a deplorable effect it must have produced in London: "Your Majesty cannot fail to observe that the political world in Europe is at this moment agitated by two great parties, who in different countries appear under the several names of Serviles, Royalists, Tories, and Conservatives, on the one side, and of Liberals, Constitutionalists, Republicans, Whigs, Reformers, Radicals, and similar appellations on the other; that the former party is, on the American Continent, without any weight or influence except what it derives from its European supporters, and from a trifling number of persons who become their dependents for the sake of personal gain, and of others who from age or habit cling to opinions which are not partaken by any numerous class, while the second party overspreads all America. We are, then, certain that we shall not be misunderstood with regard to the independence which it is our wish to see given to the Legislative Council, when we say that Your Majesty's Secretary of State is mistaken if he believes that the exclusion of a few salaried Officers would suffice to make that body harmonize with the wants, wishes and opinions of the People, as long as the Colonial Governors retain the power of preserving in it a majority of Members rendered servile by their antipathy to every liberal idea."

Now what possible accession of strength could this democratic profession of faith afford to the just claims of the French Canadians? To our mind it is a strangely discordant episode, and more injurious than helpful to the cause. But let us not forget that great popular movements are always a fruitful field for declamation. Full of the subject, thinking of nothing but their own cause, Papineau and his adherents sought the means of attaining liberty; their aspirations towards an ideal of justice, seldom realized, took complete control of their minds, and impelled them to give full vent to their sentiments at every possible opportunity. Nor must we overlook the fact that the great current of the romantic school, with all its exuberance of language and its grandiloquence, which pervaded France in 1830, was then overrunning the world with its, high-sounding periods. But how flat this vehement contrast of American democracy with European monarchism must have fallen upon English ears!

The next resolution is couched in a strain still more objectionable, with its preface that no threat is intended, and then proceeding in a comminatory tone throughout: "With regard to the following expressions in one of the Despatches before mentioned from the Colonial Secretary: 'Should events 'unhappily force upon Parliament the exercise of 'its supreme authority to compose the internal dissensions of the Colonies, it would be my object 'and my duty as a Servant of the Crown, to submit 'to Parliament such modifications of the Charter of 'the Canadas as should tend, not to the introduction 'of Institutions inconsistent with Monarchical Gov-'ernment, but to maintaining and strengthening 'the connection with the Mother Country, by a 'close adherence to the spirit of the British Constitution, and by preserving in their proper place, 'and within due limits, the mutual rights and ' privileges of all classes of His Majesty's Subjects' —if they are to be understood as containing a threat to introduce into the constitution any other modifications than such as are asked for by the majority of the people of the Province, whose sentiments cannot be legitimately expressed by any other authority than its representatives—this House would esteem itself wanting in candour to Your Majesty, if it hesitated to call Your Majesty's attention to the fact, that in less than twenty years the population of the United States of America will be greater than that of Great Britain, and that of British America will be greater than that of the former English Colonies, when the latter deemed that the time was come to decide that the inappreciable advantage of being self-governed, ought to engage them to repudiate a system of Colonial government which was, generally speaking, much better than that of British America now is. Your Majesty will doubtless do Your Majesty's faithful Subjects sufficient justice not to construe into a threat this prediction founded on the past, of a fact which from its nature cannot be prevented. We are, on the contrary, convinced that the just appreciation of this fact by Your Majesty will prevent those misfortunes which none could deplore more deeply than we should do, and which would be equally fatal to Your Majesty's Government, and to the People of these Provinces. And it is perhaps here that we ought to represent with the same frankness, that the fidelity of the People and the protection of the Government are correlative obligations, of which the one cannot long subsist without the other; and that, nevertheless, by reason of the defects which exist in the Laws and Constitution of this Province, and of the manner in which those Laws and that Constitution have been administered, Your Majesty's faithful Canadian subjects are not sufficiently protected in their lives, their property and their honour."

One would think from the offensive tone of this untimely and disagreeable reference to the American revolution, which is made with such apparent relish, that the House wanted to defy the English government. There is nothing more about imploring a redress of grievances, but a warning that unless justice be quickly done, comfort will be sought in Washington. Such was the singular blindness with which the serious part of the ninety-two resolutions was prefaced with threats, with the evocation of past events full of unpleasant memories for the British government, and with a reference to the progress of the Americans, which could not mean anything else in this instance but that the House would in the end seek their assistance. This was a poor way of conciliating those to whose sense of justice an appeal was made for a fair consideration of the claims of the Canadians, and was a foolish playing into the hands of the unionists, who unceasingly charged Papineau and his friends with disloyalty. These unfortunate episodes were the more to be regretted from the fact that the real grievances are afterwards set forth in the manifesto with a degree of force and clearness which demonstrates their seriousness.

Some of the resolutions are truly to the point, when, for example, attention is called to the fact that the executive government has, for a great number of years, contrary to the rights of the House and the constitution, set up claims to the control over and power of appropriating a great part of the revenue raised in this province; that it has sold the waste lands of the Crown to create for itself a revenue; that the result of the secret and unlawful distribution of a large portion of the revenue has been that the provincial government has considered itself bound to account for the public money to the commissioner of the treasury in England, and not to the House ; that the abuses aforesaid have taken from the House even the shadow of control over the expenditure of the province, and rendered it impossible to ascertain at any time the amount of revenue 94 collected, the disposable amount of the same, and the sums required for the public service.

The arraignment of the legislative council in the ninety-two resolutions is still more severe than that of the executive. We must remember here that if under Lord Dalhousie the battle cry was, "Give us control of the supplies," during Lord Aylmer's regime, the Patriotes wrote on their banner, "Reform of the Legislative Council." This body was the arch-enemy whose members were held up to public contempt as vieillards malfaisants. The past history of the legislative council is recalled in violent terms, and in its present situation it is depicted as a body composed of sinecurists, largely paid by emoluments from the Crown, whose devotees they were. It was thought by Papineau that an elective council would strike existing abuses at their root, that is, give the assembly control of the finances. Lord Aylmer is also bitterly attacked in the resolutions. Parliament is asked to impeach him " for having recomposed the legislative council so as to increase the dissensions which rend the colony; for having disposed of public money without the consent of the House," and on other grounds, ten in number. One would have expected to find the Canadians, instead of demanding a reform of the legislative council by making its members elective, pointing to a still surer means of obtaining justice. Why did not Papineau claim ministerial responsibility? There is no reference to it in the petition embodying the ninety-two resolutions. And yet, as far back as 1808, Pierre Bddard, as Papineau well knew, had moved in the House of Assembly a resolution to the effect that the House would gladly see its benches occupied by ministers holding office in virtue of the suffrages of the representatives of the people. Ministerial responsibility did not exist at Washington, and Papineau looked only in that direction for his ideal of government.

Following Papineau's manifesto—the ninety-two resolutions—the press of the day never wearied of publishing comparisons between the English system of government and the American. Whether from policy or from sincerity there was an attempt to convince Downing street that the Patriotes borrowed their political ideas from the United States. And, in fact, ever since that day, it has been the fashion, whenever things go wrong in Canada, to hold up annexation as the panacea for all the evils complained of. In 1848, our leading politicians advocated annexation as a means of bringing prosperity to Canada, and since confederation sporadic demonstrations of annexationist sentiment have broken out in several of our provinces, occasioned by depression of trade or vague dissatisfaction with the new system.

A study of Papineau's manifesto, and a general examination of the ideas current at that time have convinced us that the non-fulfilment in the past of the oft-repeated promises of reform made by the British authorities had long since destroyed in his mind all hope of ever obtaining justice at their hands. Distrust took possession of him once and for all. Moreover, a fresh influence had imperceptibly begun to exert its power over the tribune of the people with the effect of urging him to advance more resolutely on the new lines. The breach between Papineau and Neilson, so long his trusted mentor, had thrown the former into the hands of a group of young and ardent men, including O'Callaghan, who saw no salvation for Canada but in a union with the great republic. The endless delays of the colonial office, the tyranny of the governor, the contemptuous attitude assumed by the entourage of that official towards the Canadians, and the hostility of the legislative council had made Papineau an annexationist.


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