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Louis-Joseph Papineau
Chapter XI - Lord Gosford: Nearing the Denouncement

CONSIDERING the fact that the quarrel between Lord Aylmer and Papineau was steadily assuming a more aggravated character, the colonial office put an end to his administration in the fall of 1835, and sent out in his place Lord Gosford, in the two-fold capacity of governor and royal commissioner, appointed with two colleagues, Sir Charles Grey and Sir George Gipps, to inquire into the condition of the province, with a view to finding a solution of the serious problem which had then absorbed public attention for thirty years.

By character and temperament, Lord Gosford was a man of moderation. Hence, no sooner had he reached Quebec than he sought to win the confidence of the Canadians. He presided unceasingly at all their entertainments, attended the distribution of premiums at the Quebec Seminary, and gave a ball on the feast of Sainte Catharine. He went so far in his efforts to please the people in every possible way, that the official class and the legislative council party showed signs of taking umbrage. Doctor Henry, surgeon to a regiment then in garrison at Quebec, expressed the views of his associates on Lord Gosford's way of acting, in a letter addressed to the governor through the press, and couched in the following words: " My Lord, I have observed the kindness of your nature shown in many ways, I have witnessed your urbanity and affability to all, and you will, I hope, pardon me for adding that I have also been cognisant of your extensive private charities. You have undertaken the task of reconciling conflicting interests, passions and prejudices, and you have thrown into the endeavour all the cordiality of a generous Irishman. Would to God that your praiseworthy attempts to calm the waters of political strife may not all be thrown away! Yet I am deeply pained, fearing, as I do fear, that you are in fact and truth deceiving yourself in the honesty and generosity of your heart. My Lord, I fear that you are expending political courtesies and private convivialities with a lavish hand, and 4 coining your cheek to smiles,' in vain. There is one fatal and insuperable obstacle in your way. There is one man, Papineau, whom you cannot convert, because he is absolutely unconvertible.....By a wrong-headed and melancholy alchemy, he will transmute every public concession into a demand for more, in a ratio equal to its extent; whilst his disordered moral palate, beneath the blandest smile and tfye softest language, will turn your Burgundy into vinegar."

Papineau, it is true, occasionally accepted Lord Gosford's invitations, and the latter subsequently (1847) asserted that if he had known the popular tribune better, he might have come to terms with him. But an unfortunate incident put an end to the seeming harmony which now began to dawn; we say seeming, for it may be that Papineau went to government house simply to ascertain, in his intercourse with Lord Gosford, what were the real views of the colonial office. The idea of seeking in annexation the freedom which Downing street persistently refused to grant us, had then a strong hold on his mind. Nevertheless, is it not to be presumed that, in view of the vast responsibility he was assuming, he may have felt some hesitation about going to extremes, and may thus have been led to lend an ear to the governor's proposals? On the other hand, it might be argued that his position was strengthened by this apparent attempt at conciliation, for he was thenceforth in a position to declare that he had not crossed the Rubicon until every road by which he might return was closed behind him.

Lord Gosford summoned parliament in October, 1835, and in a speech characterized by great moderation, made a touching appeal to the spirit of conciliation of both parties, representing "the Canadians and the English as sprung from the two leading nations of the world." Many of the members were inclined to "listen with favour to the kindly representations of the governor, when suddenly the publication in Toronto of the secret instructions given to Gosford renewed the ill-feeling. These instructions seemed to the more ardent spirits of the national party to be a complete repudiation of the advances made by the governor, which had given grounds to hope for a removal of the grievances. Now the secret instructions from Downing street to Lord Gosford were to the effect that no concessions whatever were to be made to the Canadians, except on one point, a possible repeal of the Land Act, an iniquitous measure passed by the English parliament, which had enabled certain speculators to grasp a million acres of our best lands.

After this incident, the last ray of hope for a reconciliation, which the moderate conduct of Gosford had led a few to expect, vanished, and it looked as though some evil genius had cast into the already superheated atmosphere, fresh elements of conflict and agitation. What answer had the mother country made to the ninety-two resolutions ? Nothing had come from London but vague and evasive promises, which led O'Connell to exclaim in parliament: "If this is what you mean by justice, Canada will soon have no reason to be jealous of Ireland. The admission made by the honourable minister for the colonies is a proof of the abuses committed by those who are governing Canada. For, with a population three-fourths French Canadian, only one-fourth of the public offices is awarded to that element. The composition of the legislative council is also defective, since some of its members are either ministers of the Crown, or judges, or public officials of some kind, which gives a two-fold advantage to the government."

In the midst of passionate excitement on the part of some and anxiety and fear on that of others, the governor called parliament together for the autumn session of 1836. The speech from the throne manifested his uneasiness and alarm. The governor strove to remove the deplorable impression created by the extracts from the secret instructions which, he declared, "when the full text is examined, do not bear out the interpretation put upon them." He then stated that his sole object in calling parliament together was to ask them to vote the supplies. Once more, therefore, the eternal question of the supplies, which for twenty years had been the apple of discord for parliament, had come to the front. At the previous session, Papineau had consented to vote the monies required for the public service, but for six months only. But now, as the grievances still existed, with aggravated circumstances, he intimated to the government that this time the House would decline to take any initiative whatsoever, and would remain absolutely inactive, so long as their representations remained unheeded. In modern parlance, the House was "on strike." In replying to the speech from the throne, the assembly said: "We have not deemed it necessary to enter into detail upon the consideration of the various subjects adverted to by Your Excellency until such time as, according to promise, you shall have more fully communicated to the House the reasons which have caused the convocation of parliament." This occurred on September 24th, and inasmuch as, up to October 4th following, Papineau and his friends persisted in their determination, the governor dismissed them. "There being no longer," he said, "any prospect of a good result from the message I communicated a few days ago, I hasten to put an end to this session."

Thenceforward nothing could avert the cataclysm which approached with giant strides, and the agitation became more intense from day to day. The clergy, who as early as 1834 had broken off from Papineau, in view of his revolutionary tendencies and the exaggerated ideas set forth in the ninety-two resolutions, now vainly strove to restrain the popular madness. Some of Papineau's lieutenants, going beyond his instructions, openly preached rebellion, resistance to England, and annexation to the United States, "which will deliver," they insinuated, "the people of the country from the seigniorial tenure and the obligation to pay tithes to the clergy." These appeals to popular passion, coupled with the highly provocative attitude of Papineau, created alarm in the minds of a host of French citizens, who forthwith took sides with the governor. Some signs of revolt even in the ranks of the popular party in the House, who the previous year were unanimous in supporting Papineau, now became apparent. This defection had taken hold of nearly all the representatives from the district of Quebec. Elz&ir Bddard was one of the first to flinch from unyielding opposition to the government, and yet it was he who had moved the ninety-two resolutions the year before. It was hinted at the time that Papineau had selected him to perform that honourable task in order to retain him within the camp, and that even in 1834 there was doubt as to the soundness of his principles. Was he about to follow Neilson, Cuvillier, Debartzch, and Quesnel, everyone then asked? And when Gosford appointed him in succession to Judge Kerr, Papineau's scathing invectives pursued him beneath the ermine on the bench.

Etienne Parent, who was one of the most popular journalists of the period, a man of well-balanced mind, of whom the Canadian people may well be proud, also withdrew from the ranks of the men of violence, and advocated moderation, while still calling for redress of the grievances. This second defection, a justifiable one to our mind, left Papineau completely under the influence of certain extremists who were inclined to resort to the most violent measures.

The year 1837 opened under the most gloomy auspices, and amid the effervescence of political passions created and fostered by the agitator, came the astounding intelligence that Lord John Russell, far from granting the demands of the Canadians, had just submitted to the House of Commons resolutions empowering the governor to expend the monies of the province without the authorization of the House. This blow struck at the constitution, and this unexpected answer to the ninety-two resolutions and the many petitions asking for a wider application of the parliamentary regime, created widespread dissatisfaction throughout the country; far from being extended, the privileges of the House were now to be further restricted. In justification of this measure, Lord Russell pointed out that ever since 1832, the House had persistently refused to vote the necessary supplies. It was expedient, no doubt, to put an end to this anomalous state of things, but was it reasonable to make the legislative assembly alone responsible for this calamity, which was brought about by Papineau and his friends on the one hand, and on the other by the legislative council and the colonial office? Considering the condition of the public mind at the time, was not this stroke of authority a great blunder; did it not go to justify Papineau's contention that there was no justice to be expected from the English parliament?

Papineau did not fail to avail himself of the errors committed by his adversaries, and to use their blunders for the advancement of his cause, which was a desperate one indeed; for the support of the other provinces, all of them with cognate grievances against the colonial office, had failed him shortly before this, all along the line. For several 118 years, with great energy and ability, Papineau had laboured to combine the malcontents of Upper Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia under his own guidance, in order that they might make common cause with Lower Canada. At one time the opposition in those provinces had become quite strong, but in the end the government had in all of them recovered its ascendency, so that Papineau and his party were left to struggle alone in Lower Canada.

The more desperate the situation, however, the more daring did Papineau and his lieutenants become in their wild exaltation, and now we find them opening a campaign for the purpose of denouncing the Russell resolutions. Papineau always repudiated the charge of having entertained the idea of taking up arms. But the language then used by him at the various meetings he attended, breathed nothing but sedition and was fraught with appeals to violence sufficient to justify his arrest for high treason. Thus he advocates smuggling, urges his friends to apply to the American congress for redress of the grievances they complain of, and eulogizes the men who effected the American revolution of 1774. At St. Ours, on May 7th, 1837, he had carried a resolution declaring: "That we cannot but consider a government which has recourse to injustice, to force, and to a violation of the social contract, anything else than an oppressive government, a government by force, for which the measure of our submission should henceforth be simply the measure of our numerical strength, in combination with the sympathy we may find elsewhere." Did Papineau not raise the flag of revolt at St. Laurent on May 14th, 1837, when he said: " The Russell resolutions are a foul stain; the people should not and will not submit to them; the people must transmit their just rights to their posterity, even though it cost them their property and their lives to do so"?

Then he continues in the same key: "We are fighting the old enemies of the country, the governor, the two councils, the judges and the bulk of the officials, whom your representatives have long denounced as forming a corrupt faction hostile to the rights of the people, and bound by self-interest alone to maintain a vicious system of government. .... This faction is still quite as eager to do harm, but it no longer has the same power to do it; it is still the savage beast ready to bite and to tear its prey, but it can now only roar and howl, for you have drawn its fangs; times have changed for these people. In 1810, a bad governor cast your representatives into prison; since then your representatives have driven away the bad governors. Some years ago, in order to be able to govern, and in order to shield from the effect of the charges laid by the assembly, the low courtiers, his accomplices, the tyrant Craig was compelled to show himself far more wicked than he was in reality. He did not, however, succeed in frightening any one; the people laughed at him and at the royal proclamations, and even at the inopportune mandements and sermons, extorted by surprise and in order to strike terror into the people. To-day, in order to govern and in order to shelter the low courtiers, his accomplices, from the punishment justly inflicted on them by the assembly, the governor is compelled to show himself shedding tears in order to excite pity and to try to appear far better than he is in reality. He has become humble and caressing in order to deceive. ... But the evil work has not been accomplished, and his artifices are worn out. . . . He can no longer purchase traitors, patriots are no longer to be deceived. And inasmuch as, in an honest population, the number of cowards up for sale and ready to be auctioned to the highest bidder, cannot be large, they are not to be feared."

Recollections of the history of the United States were constantly in the minds of Papineau and the Patriotes. They found in the example of the men of the revolution of 1774 motives to induce them to follow up their own struggle, and reasons to hope for its happy issue. Indeed their whole course of action is moulded on that of the companions of Washington. Do not the resolutions of the meetings at St. Charles recall to the reader's mind the Declaration of Independence? The Americans had resolved that they would purchase no more English merchandise, and following the lead of their prototypes, the Patriotes of '37 swear to replace the cotton goods and cloths of Manchester with the products of home industry. The short session of 1837 (August 18th to 26th) afforded the peculiar spectacle of nearly all the members of the House clad in Canadian frieze.1 Our Patriotes, in fact, went a step beyond the policy of American examples, for they urged their supporters to take to smuggling as a highly meritorious calling. The rebels of 1774 had their "Sons of Liberty," and in Montreal, in November, 1837, our "PiIs de la LiberU" exchanged blows and even shots with members of the rival Doric Club, the sworn enemies of Papineau. La Minerve and The Vindicatory the only journals advocating the cause of the Patriotes, became more violent with every issue, the former going so far as to say on one occasion: "Our only hope is to elect our governor ourselves, or, in other words, to cease to belong to the British empire." Meetings also were held in Lower Canada, and notably at Quebec and Yamaska, at which Papineau and his lieutenants were denounced. La Minerve meantime thunders with incredible rage and fury against Les Chouayens and the bureaucrats opposed to Papineau; against M. Etienne Parent, whom it denounced as a traitor because he counselled moderation, and against the ecclesiastical authorities for preaching prudence and forbearance, and warning the people against the spirit of revolution.

The government and the authorities might well feel alarmed when they were confronted with this other part of Papineau's speech at St. Laurent: "A member of the British parliament, a man of vast movement which daily assumed more formidable proportions in his diocese. A first warning addressed to his clergy in the month of July, urging them to keep the people within the path of duty, was followed in October by a pastoral letter exhorting them to mistrust the men who were hurrying them into rebellion. It was the meeting at St. Charles, the last of the series and the most important of them all, that brought about the intervention of the church authorities. In view of the declaration formulated at that meeting, and the men who took part in it, it stands as the most serious of all the demonstrations made in the summer and autumn of 1837; it was, so to speak, the forerunner of the explosion which followed a month later. Papineau was once more the central figure, surrounded by Nelson, Viger, Lacoste, Cote, Brown and Girod, Canadians and outsiders being represented in the number.

Unusual preparations had been made to render the proceedings impressive. The ceremony of planting the tree of liberty was carried out amid the acclamations of a host of Patriotes from the six neighbouring counties, whose eyes were greeted everywhere by the highly significant mottoes:

"Papineau and the Elective System!" "Independence!" "Our Upper Canadian friends," etc. The men of action, such as Nelson and Brown, on this occasion took the lead more markedly than ever before, over those who wanted to use only constitutional means in striving for redress of their grievances. This was so evident that Papineau became alarmed. His speech reflected something of the perturbation of his mind, and was considered too moderate. While he deprecated any recourse to arms, and advised his hearers simply to refrain from purchasing English goods, in order to starve out the government, Nelson exclaimed, it is said: "Let us have no petty expedients, the time has come to melt our spoons into bullets!" A month later we find Nelson and Brown at St. Charles and St. Denis amid the crash of musketry and the whistling of bullets, to which these generals had then appealed, to their own destruction and that of so many deluded Patriotes.

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