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Louis-Joseph Papineau
Chapter X  - La Convention


THE vehement protest known as the "Ninety-Two Resolutions," which voiced the complaints and indignation of half a million of people, was apparently to fall flat and bring no result. Did Lord Stanley, the colonial minister, intend to treat the Canadian people with silent contempt? Papineau soon gave him to understand that he was not the man to accept scornful silence in place of a serious answer. No sooner was the House called together than the storm raging within his breast burst forth with fury. The sittings of February 23rd and 24th, 1835, when Papineau and his lieutenants gave vent to their pent-up wrath, were days to be remembered in the annals of parliament. They resembled the revolutionary scenes of the Convention of 1792; the importance of the interests at stake, the violence of language, and the theatrical attitude, recall, on a reduced scale of course, the memorable debates wherein the lives of the speakers were at stake. This tragic side is lacking in the case of the assembly, but in the perspective of the future, we have a glimpse of the executions of 1838.

In the foreground of this struggle, playing the two-fold and contradictory part of speaker of the House and party leader, is Pcpineau. His duty as speaker is to soothe the angry passions which, as generalissimo of the Patriotes, he himself has aroused, and this duty he carefully refrains from doing. With his fierce voice, his real or simulated bursts of anger, the prestige of his eloquence, his manly head well set upon his stalwart frame, is not he another Danton, but a Danton without his cruelty? Words can give no idea of the violence of his outbursts of passion, and of the agitation produced in the House, when, addressing Lord Aylmer personally, he held him responsible for the death of the three Canadians shot down by the soldiers during the Montreal election in 1831. "Craig," he exclaimed, "merely cast the people into prison, but Aylmer slaughters them." One remarkable feature amongst many others of the session of 1835 is the attacks upon the governor. In our day the governor reigns but does not govern, and in all his acts he is shielded by his ministers. It is understood by all that his person is to remain outside, and that he is to be excluded from all discussion. In striking contrast with this modern usage was the practice in Papineau's day. The governor was then the chief object of attack, and we find the tribune furiously assailing " Mathew, Lord Aylmer," and calling upon the English government to impeach him.

Morin opened fire. This worthy citizen, who, from and after 1840, seems to have been a model of moderation, serenity, and reserve, has always seemed to us to have been out of place in the character of an agitator. The future cabinet minister (of the MacNab-Morin government) and judge of the court of appeal was not, however, averse to the use of strong language if he be the author of certain articles in La Minerve of that day, articles which were absolutely seditious. We must not judge Papineau's lieutenants by their subsequent demeanour and conduct; for it is manifest that prior to 1838 they thought and acted wholly under the spell of their leader who had imparted to them something of his own fierce spirit. While not up to the standard of Papineau's discourses for vivacity or sentiment, the address in which Morin presented his motion to take into consideration the state of the province contains passages of such animation and vigour as to surprise us coming from him,—for example his opening words: "I rise to move that the House do now go into committee of the whole to consider the state of the province, a step which I hold to be necessary in order that we may ascertain whether we are to be governed in accordance with the laws and the rights of British subjects, and whether we are to enjoy in very truth the advantages of constitutional liberty, or to grow beneath the yoke of the tyranny which now oppresses us, and which is spreading its infection amongst us under the most odious form."

Conrad Augustus Gugy, a noted personage of the period, undertook to defend the government A shrewd advocate and a well seasoned debater, he was now the only man fit to break a lance with Papineau, for Neilson, the Stuarts, Cuvillier, and Quesnel had lost their seats in parliament as the penalty for opposing the ninety-two resolutions. He was not master of the higher order of eloquence, but how skilfully he wields the blade of irony and sarcasm. His mode of fighting was precisely that best calculated to exasperate Papineau, and cause him to lose all self-control.

In order to take things in their proper order, let us point out that Morin's motion was moved on the first day of the session, before the consideration of the governor's speech which, according to constitutional usage, is the first matter to be dealt with by parliament. This departure from established usage elicited the following remarks from Gugy: "It seems to me we are going very fast. We have only just heard His Excellency's speech, and we are already calling for a committee on the state of the province! The governor tells us that he has received despatches, and we do not know whether he has not received orders to remedy the grievances of which the majority complained last year, and yet we are already calling for a committee. This is going faster still than I expected. I have not opposed the appointment of this committee because I had not the faintest hope of succeeding. But, according to my view, it would have been natural 102 to hope for a removal of the grievances and to wait for it"

Gugy then enters into the pith of the subject, and deals with the grievances of the Canadians. In a bantering tone and in the presence of the popular tribune, who was so deeply sensible of the greatness of his own mission, and who had complained that the abuses set forth in the ninety-two resolutions were still in a most active existence, Gugy undertakes to belittle the cause of the Patriotes: "After all is said and done," he declared, "the whole thing is a mere hunt for offices, which positions are claimed without any attempt to inquire whether there are to be found a sufficient number of educated Canadians to fill them." Papineau and his friends, with their threats against England and against the governors, are in Gugy's eyes simply revolutionists and followers of Robespierre and Danton. He compares the House to the French Convention and charges it with driving the country into civil war, a prediction too soon to be realized, but which at the time raised a laugh at the expense of the speaker.

Papineau in his reply began by pleasantly chaffing the " military " member. Gugy was a major in the militia, and we shall find him in 1837 serving with the English soldiers, and notably with Colborne at St. Eustache, where he was one of the first to enter the church after the defeat of Chenier's party. "Mr. Gugy," says Papineau, "has talked to us again about an outbreak and civil war—a ridiculous bugbear which is regularly revived every time the House protests against these abuses, as it was under Craig, under Dalhousie, and still more persistently under the present governor; the honourable gentleman, no doubt, having studied military tactics as a lieutenant in the militia—I do not say as a major, for he has been a major only for the purposes of the parade ground and the ballroom—is quite competent, perhaps, to judge of the results of a civil war and of the forces of the country, but he need not fancy that he can frighten us by hinting to us that he will fight in the ranks of the enemy. All his threats are futile, and his fears but the creatures of imagination. Our constitution has been meted out to us by a champion of aristocratic privileges, an enemy of liberal institutions, by Mr. Pitt, whose political system has revolutionized Europe, and who has delayed reform in England, and who has shown himself not a whit more favourable to liberty for Canada than for England itself; and when we ask for an amendment of this imperfect and faulty Constitutional Act, from the very authority which enacted it, the English parliament, we do not expect that our claim shall be considered revolutionary, or calculated to create a rebellion in the land. But the men who make these charges call themselves Reformers 1 This it was that made Mr. Hume say recently in his address to his constituents: The name of Reformer has become a term of reproach since the Tories, the most tenacious upholders of abuses, have usurped it. Now in this country our so-called Reformers talk of Revolution when we ask for reforms."

After he had thus disposed of Gugy's charges, Papineau dealt with the subject of the motion in relation to the consideration of the state of the province: "The objections raised by the honourable gentleman [Mr. Gugy], to this motion," he said, "are based on no other arguments but these: you are going too fast; the thing is new and unusual, He is quite satisfied with things as they are, and is perfectly calm and undisturbed amidst the complaints and sufferings of a whole people. In these unhappy times, under the rule of an administration daily guilty of fresh errors and fresh blunders, it is absurd to set up the pretext of mere forms and usages in order to prevent us from considering the state of the province. But is it necessary that M. Morin's petition should be dealt with by the House and adopted by vote ? This must be the wish of all who desire that wheresoever the power of England rules, there also English liberty may prevail. Under the rule of a soldier [Aylmer] who is governing us with ignorance, passion, and partiality for the military to the extent of shielding them when they have slaughtered our fellow-citizens, it is necessary that we should once more address the English parliament. This petition sets forth the grievances which have cropped up since last year under this military governor. The honourable member for Sherbrooke [Mr. Gugy] says that the governor has received despatches, and that probably these despatches shall fill our hearts with joy and happiness. But happiness cannot come to us through those who have inflicted on us so many evils. The greatest happiness of all would be the removal from amongst us of the men who have been the scourge of this colony. The institutions we have complained of, the injuries, the injustice, the flagrant abuses are still the same, nay, they have increased and multiplied in an appalling manner! Shall we hesitate to declare that we are ruled by a corrupt faction?"

Throughout the session of 1835, a very short one, the debates were all characterized by this excited strain. The year before, on the adoption of the ninety-two resolutions, Lord Aylmer had taken upon himself, in dismissing the House, to assert that these obnoxious resolutions were so far removed from the normal moderation and urbanity of the French Canadians, that persons unaware of the true state of things would find it difficult to believe that they were not the result of an extraordinary public fermentation, notwithstanding that the utmost tranquillity prevailed without. This characterization of the ninety-two resolutions, Papineau caused at the present session to be erased from the journals of the assembly, and declared discourteous and unconstitutional, in spite of the protestations of some of" the Patriotes, who were astounded by Papineau's way of acting. The fact was that he loved to act with authority where he felt himself to be the stronger, even at the expense of offending some of his weak-kneed followers.

Let us now see how Papineau answered Lord Aylmer's reprimand. His reply is quite the most virulent speech he uttered during the session: "Mr. Morin has told us that he would not submit to the committee any other matters but this petition. Many other questions might be dealt with, but I venture to refer specially to one matter of great importance, which also requires the attention of this committee, namely, the uncalled for and insulting speech delivered by Mathew, Lord Aylmer, at the close of the last session. Nothing could be more debasing and indiscreet than this discourse. A man with a certain dignity to maintain should not debase and degrade himself to the extent of taking pleasure in offering insult. His speech to the members of this House was addressed to the people. The insult is offered to them as well as to us, their representatives. It is futile to object that the speech was directed against the former House, for we are bound to avenge an insult cast at the whole nation.

"As to the grievances set out in this petition [a new statement of grievances addressed to the king], I shall confine myself to the declaration that the country is suffering under the worst possible evils, and that grief and affliction prevail throughout the land. Complaints and discontent are widespread. Men ask what is the meaning of a representative government, when its officials think they have the right to do and dare everything. Convinced of the existence of this state of things, and well aware of the sentiments of our people, I will strive my utmost against a government whom it would be a crime not to denounce, sustained as it is by one branch of the legislature, which has the bare-faced effrontery to call itself the protector of the minority. The English minority are untrue to their citizenship when they segregate themselves from their fellow-subjects in order to secure privileges for themselves only; and thenceforth they are no longer entitled to the protection of the laws, unless the people of this country are so far demoralized as to lie down submissively at the feet of the few, which I do not believe. But our opponents say to us: 'Let us be brothers!' I am perfectly willing for my part, but you want all the power, all the places, and all the pay, and still you complain more than we do. This is something we cannot put up with. We demand political institutions in keeping with the state of society in which we live, and which have rendered the former colonies of England far happier than we are. These reforms would completely change and alter for the better the very men who, as members of the council, feel that they have a mission to do evil. They crept in by the portal of flattery, and they maintain their position by the exercise of oppression. Hence, not a day should be lost in the effort to secure the good results we have in view. I recommend also that the speech at the close of the session be considered as embodying a censure of this House, of which an instance occurs in the speech of General Craig in 1810. Craig, I may remind the House, confined himself to inflicting only imprisonment on our people, whereas the present man shoots them down. Speeches such as this have always been discussed, and that of the last session must not be passed over in silence."

It is needless to add that the obnoxious speech was struck off the journals of the House. Everything went through with a rush, in these memorable sittings of the year 1835. And whenever some weak-kneed member begged for time to look into the question submitted for consideration, he was rudely and promptly snubbed by the high-handed leader himself, or by Morin or LaFontaine. The latter often took part in the debates, speaking with a degree of vehemence, probably factitious, which he never manifested after the great crisis of the period. He was, as a rule, cold and extremely abrupt when he spoke. We never find him indulging in the simplest flight of the imagination, and he gave his hearers nothing but logic stripped of every ornament. There was nothing in his style or manner to suggest a recurrence to the type of the French Convention, and while some of his speeches in 1835 are of a violent character, it is because he *was under the spell of Papineau's eloquence, and simply the echo of his domineering leader.

It was during this session of 1835 that the great agitator broke away forever from the English government and parliament, for he had as little confidence now in the Whigs as in the Tories. "When reform ministries," he said, in addressing the House on February 24th, 1835, "who called themselves our friends, have been deaf to our complaints, can we hope that a Tory ministry [Peel's], the enemy of Reform, will give us a better hearing? We have nothing to expect from the Tories unless we can inspire them with fear or worry them by ceaseless importunity." The irreconcilable spirit manifested by Papineau in the foregoing declaration inevitably forced him into conflict with the new governor, Lord Gosford, who being entrusted with a mission of conciliation by the English government, and full of pacific intentions on his own behalf, came forward with the olive branch of peace in his hand.


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