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Lord Sydenham
Chapter VIII - A Tangled Problem


AFTER the recall of Lieutenant-Governor Sir F. B. Head, who, with the narrowest and most irreproachable logic, followed the theory of the Family Compact as to the relation of the colonial to the imperial government, Sir George Arthur was appointed lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada. As a man of practical wisdom and business training he was much superior to Lieutenant-Governor Head, and under more fortunate circumstances would doubtless have proved a fairly efficient, though somewhat timid, governor. But, as he was himself anxious to prove on the arrival of the new governor-general, he had followed faithfully in the steps of his predecessor, understanding that to be the wish of the colonial office. He considered it his chief duty to maintain peace in the colony, and re-establish the situation which existed before the crisis. Everything tended therefore to render him a typical victim of the atmosphere furnished for him by the Compact party. In all his public utterances he breathed only the sentiments expressed in the two replies to Lord Durham's Report above referred to.

Sir George Arthur had already written to the home government, in May, 1839, one of those naive and almost pathetic despatches which he penned during that year. In this he points out the very awkward position in which the Durham Report has placed him. He claims to have received from Lord Glenelg, before leaving England, a personal assurance that the line adopted by Sir F. B. Head had been satisfactory to the home government, and an intimation that he should follow the same policy. This he admits that he carefully did, allying himself with the Compact party, the friends of Head, and following their lead. Great excitement had prevailed throughout the province. Several individuals, he admits, were arrested upon very slight evidence and treated as traitors. He himself had been as lenient as possible, but then it was necessary to be severe on the rebels, otherwise he would have incurred " the dangerous resentment of the Loyalists." Howe's paper, the Nora Sco-tian, remarked upon the highly indecent and bloodthirsty spirit displayed in the editorials of the Tory papers in their demands for the blood of every merely suspected rebel. But, the lieutenant-governor continues, Lord Durham's Report had harshly criticized the party of loyalty, and found justification for. many of the grievances complained of by the Reformers, or Republicans. He, 011 the contrary, had taken every opportunity in public and in private to praise the party of loyalty, and to severely lecture the other party for the evils which they had so unwarrantably brought upon the country, until he had reason to believe that the latter were, for the most part, in a properly contrite spirit. It must be obvious, therefore, what a revulsion of feeling had been caused by those parts of the Durham Report to which he has referred. He will not deny that there may be considerable truth in them, but't was a great mistake to permit those portions of the Report to be published.

Sir John Colborne, the able commander of the forces in Canada, who had preceded Head as lieutenant-governor in Upper Canada and also Lord Durham as governor-in-chief in Lower Canada, had again succeeded to Lord Durham's powers on his dramatic departure from the country. Colborne was a man of strong individuality and thorough independence of character. Essentially of the old school in colonial politics, and trained for military rather than for civil government, he had nevertheless acquired much valuable experience in Canada, and his counsel was highly valued by both Lord Sydenham and Sir Charles Bagot.

After the suppression of the first outbreak of rebellion in Lower Canada the English element with one voice maintained that it must never again be in the power of the French-Canadians to obstruct the normal progress of Canada, or to cherish the vain ambition that they might separate the province of Lower Canada from British connection and set up an independent French nationality. To secure this purpose without an indefinite suspension of representative government, the reunion of the Canadas was proposed, on such a basis as would place the French-Canadians in a minority in the legislature. To promote the advocacy of this policy m Lower Canada, and to secure the consent and co-operation of the people of Upper Canada for its accomplishment, were the chief purposes of the Constitutional Associations of Quebec and Montreal, with branches in other centres. This movement was promoted by the leading citizens and commercial men of these cities, prominent among whom were Hon. George Moffat, Hon. Peter McGill, William Badgeley, Andrew Stuart, and J. Forsythe. They had very fully presented their arguments before Lord Durham and his chief secretary Charles Buller, arguing in favour of the reunion of the Canadas and against the expediency of attempting to secure a union of all the British North American provinces. Special difficulties in the way of the latter were likely, they foresaw, to postpone any union for some time, while the Canadian crisis demanded prompt action. The Hon. George Moffat was delegated to promote the cause in Upper Canada. They sent a delegation to Britain also to urge the measure on the home government, and to present petitions to the queen and both Houses of Parliament in favour of it. The home government was doubtless fully as much influenced by the representations of the leading business men of the Canadas, backed by their London correspondents, as by the recommendations of the Durham Report.

The policy of the reunion of the Canadas was favourably regarded by the general body of the people of Upper Canada, chiefly, however, on economic grounds, as promising for their commerce a free intercourse with the world. In February, 1838, the assembly had passed a series of resolutions attributing the chief cause of the evils under which the Canadas were suffering to the unwise division of the colony into two provinces, and had framed an address praying for their reunion. The council did not approve cf the resolutions, for the reunion was not at all popular with the official element in Upper Canada, who, while recognizing that it presented some advantages for the province as a whole, also recognized that it was likely to disturb their official positions and their hold upon the administration of the government. A united province would doubtless furnish a wider field for political ambition, but who could tell whether that larger life might not be for others. Then, if the capital should be located elsewhere, even should they still be fortunate enough to follow it, what would become of their local investments and their numerous subsidiary methods of augmenting their incomes ? These were serious questions which tended to make cowards of the bravest officials, hence they decided to enjoy the benefits they had rather than seek for others that they knew not of. They therefore discouraged the union project, and so, in consequence, did Sir George Arthur. But the latter, recognizing from the drift of discussion in England that the home government was likely to favour union, began to hedge by declaring that whatever decision was ultimately adopted by the home government must be loyally accepted by the colonies.

The assembly, being largely under the influence of the prevailing element in the council, endeavoured to meet its wishes. On the 27th of March they presented a new set of resolutions, the preamble to which was as follows: "That in reference to the resolutions of this House upon the subject of a legislative union of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, this House is distinctly opposed to that measure, unless the conditions as embodied in the following resolutions be fully carried out in any Act to be passed by the imperial legislature for that purpose." The resolutions which followed stipulated that the seat of government should be in Upper Canada; that the eastern or Gaspd portion of Lower Canada be joined to New Brunswick; that the qualification for members of the assembly and council be fixed in the Act of Union; that it should not make void any of the appointments of the present legislative council, while future appointments should safeguard the commercial, agricultural, and other interests of the province; that the number of members m the assembly should consist of fifty from Lower Canada, and from Upper Canada of its existing quota; that the elective franchise in counties be confined to those who hold their lands in free and common socage, from and after a given date not later than 1845, the imperial parliament to facilitate the change of tenures in Lower Canada so as to permit of the free exercise of the franchise; that there be a readjustment of the electoral divisions of Lower Canada; that the English language be employed in the legislature, courts, etc.; that courts of appeal and impeachment be established; that the surplus revenue of the post-office, and all other branches of revenue be placed under the control of the legislature; that the debt of both provinces be chargeable upon the joint revenue; that the legislature have control over customs duties, subject to the restrictions of the 42nd section of the Constitutional Act of 1701; and that, with the above exceptions, the Constitutional Act remain inviolate. But even this carefully guarded form of union did not prove wholly acceptable to the majority of the council. It was rejected by a vote of ten to eight, the council reaffirming its position as elaborately laid down in the report on the state of the province and the address to the Queen of February 13th and 28th, 1838, in which they maintained that the system under which the colonies were being administered was the only admissible one. If, as they said, the home government had only been firmer in maintaining this instead of weakly granting concessions to the agitators in Upper and Lower Canada, there would be no trouble in the colony at present. r' o revert to the former system was the only reasonable policy.

A number of the official class, as an alternative to the union of the two provinces, were inclined to revert to the older view of imperial federation advocated before the American revolution, and at various intervals afterwards. This view was expressed in several pamphlets of the time, and was voiced by Attorney-General Hagerman in the House of Assembly during the debate on the resolutions. His plan was to erect the combined British North American provinces into a kingdom, such as Ireland, to be governed in a similar manner. In other words, the British North American provinces, instead of having any local legislatures to breed troubles, would send a certain number of members to the British House of Commons, while the administration of the colonies would be carried on through the medium of a viceroy and permanent officials, as in the case of Ireland. This he considered would obviate the more serious objections to the present system. By removing the provincial barriers to trade and intercourse it would permit of the general development of public works, promote immigration, and secure the only form of responsible government which was at all admissible.

It was quite obvious that the Canadian situation was /n a very tangled condition, and that, in addition to the multitude of minor diiferences between the members of the various groups, the chief divisions of the population were entirely at cross-purposes as regards the two great issues, the reunion and responsible government. The French-Canadians generally strongly favoured responsible government, but were equally strongly opposed to the union; the English element in Lower Canada were the most active advocates of union, but were strongly opposed to responsible government. The Compact party in Upper Canada were opposed to union, except as a last resort and under numerous safeguards, and they were uncompromisingly opposed to responsible government; while the reform element m Upper Canada were more favourable to union, as relieving the Upper Province from many financial and commercial disabilities, and were altogether in favour of responsible government. Obviously the home government in deciding its policy, and in selecting the governor-general to be sent out to bring it into operation, would have to reach their decisions mainly on the basis of their own best judgment.

At the time of Lord Sydenham's appointment; the general decision of the British ministry as to the future of the Canadas was expressed by Lord John Russell in his speech of June .3rd, 1839. Following the royal message of a month previous, he declared that "it is now my duty, as a minister of the Crown, to call upon parliament to lay the foundation for a permanent settlement of the affairs of Canada. After referring to the unfortunate termination of the mission of Lord Durham, and indicating that the time for any further reporting on the condition and government of the country had passed, lie said it was necessary to declare their permanent policy as to the future government of the country. The chief source of trouble in Canada had been the unwise policy of determining to preserve intact the French institutions, and on this ground separating the province into two parts, with the inevitable result that the French province of Lower Canada tended to frustrate the commercial development of the Upper Province by blocking communications with the sea. But further, as it was impossible to prevent the development of English communities in Lower Canada, there was ensured a conflict between the races. The chief features in the progress of the conflict were traced, and the conduct of both parties was shown to have been unjustifiable on constitutional grounds, but natural and inevitable on account of the original mistake of the British government. When, however, the home government showed an inclination to heed the complaints of the popular party in Lower Canada, they were met with greatly increased demands, "demands which in fact would, if granted, have established under the name of a British province, an independent French colony in Lower Canada." The demands of the assembly being refused, the supplies were withheld, but, so far as needed for the maintenance of the executive government, these were furnished by the British treasury. This further exasperated the French-Canadians, some of whom proceeded to such lengths that warrants were issued for their arrest on the charge of high treason. They left the country, and rebellion was precipitated, the constitution of Lower Canada suspended, and Lord Durham sent out.

The original mistake, then, was that which led to the division of Quebec province. The primary remedy to be applied, therefore, seemed to be the reunion of the provinces. But, before considering that, he passed in review other proposals urged in some respectable quarters and which had been seriously considered. First there was the suggestion to govern Lower Canada indefinitely under a governor and special council. But this seemed so repugnant to the feelings of the American continent that it would be sure to perpetuate discontent among both races. Neither was it considered feasible to adopt the policy of uniting the district of Montreal to Upper Canada, leaving the rest of Lower Canada to be governed as before. That would only very partially relieve the commercial difficulties of Upper Canada, while it would leave the same troubles as before to be faced in the rest of Lower Canada, and after past experience that must be regarded as impossible. Still another proposal was that for the union of all the provinces of British North America, each with a separate assembly, and with one supreme legislature over all. Before Lord Durham went out to Canada he had consulted Sir James Kempt, who had pointed out that from the very irregular and defective means of communication between the Maritime Provinces and the Canadas it was not at all practicable. However, after considering all the proposals, Lord Durham went out very much impressed with the scheme for a general union of all the provinces; but after a full conference with persons representing all the colonies he had abandoned the project, and recommended the union of the Canadas alone. This then seemed to be at the time the only practicable solution. Lord John Russell did not, however, consider it wise to specify any given number of representatives for Upper or Lower Canada, nor was it a sound principle to say that population alone should determine representation. He considered that 1842 would be sufficiently early for the calling of the first united legislature. He then passed on to consider some of the detailed recommendations of Lord Durham's Report. He favoured his general policy with reference to the establishment of municipal government, did not believe in an elective council, but held that the parties appointed to the legislative council should previously have been members of the assembly, or held other important positions m the colony. He was willing that the Crown revenues should be placed entirely at the disposal of the assembly, subject to a permanent provision for the civil list. He then went into the question of responsible government at considerable length, indicating a large measure of concession. "It seems to me as much a rule of sense as of generosity, that there are some questions on which it would not be desirable that, on the opinion of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the opinion of the House of Assembly should be put aside," hence the opinions of the assembly should be treated with every respect. " But I am not prepared to lay down a principle, a new principle, for the future government of the colonies, that we ought to subject the executive there to the same restrictions as prevail in this country."

Referring to the numerous petitions and representations received from different bodies in Canada on the subject of the union, he mentioned the resolutions of the legislature of Upper Canada which had just been received that day, and in which they insisted upon conditions and terms which could not, in his opinion, be reasonably or fairly granted. lie also referred to the reports of the assembly and council of Upper Canada on Lord Durham's Report, and their claim that they should be heard before anything final was determined upon with reference to the future of the colony. In deference to these opinions he did not propose to settle the details immediately. If the resolutions he has to propose are accepted, he will introduce a bill, but it will not be proceeded with until the Canadians have had an opportunity to express their views upon the measure. He reeognized also that whatever policy was adopted with reference to Canada would naturally affect Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The resolutions which he presented were as follows: (1) "That it is the opinion of this House that it is expedient to form a legislative union of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, on the principles of a free and representative government, in such manner as may most conduce to the prosperity and contentment of the people of the united provinces." (2) "That it is expedient to continue till 1842 the powers vested in the governor and special council of Lower Canada by the Act of last session, with such alteration of these powers as may be deemed advisable."

In the debate which followed, Mr. Hume, the Radical M.l\ and correspondent of Mackenzie, objected very strongly to leaving matters in suspense till 1842. What the people of Canada wanted was a constitution under which they could govern themselves. Sir Robert Peel, on behalf of the Opposition, made a very non-committal statement, mildly criticizing the government for not being ready to go on with the details of their policy. Mr. Charles Buller was glad the government had adopted the principle of the union of the Canadas, but would have preferred to see them adopt the larger suggestion of Lord Durham's Report, a union of all the provinces. He also regretted that Lord John Russell should have expressed an opinion adverse to the introduction of responsible government into the colonies. Tie would not, however, oppose any bill for the union of the Canadas, since such a measure must bring with it in time the practice of responsible government.

After considering more fully the communications from Sir George Arthur and the reports from the assembly and council of I pper Canada, which protested against the settlement of the future of the Canadas without giving to the people of the province an opportunity to be heard on the subject, Lord John Russell announced to the House of Commons that he would withdraw the resolutions witli reference to the union of the Canadas and submit a draft bill which would be subject to alteration and amendment at the suggestion of the legislatures of the provinces. He thus indicated his willingness to permit the Canadians, so far as they could agree among themselves, to have a voice in determining their future system of government. This bill, introduced on June 20th, 1839, was entitled, "A Bill for Re-uniting the Provinces of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, and for the Government of the United Provinces." The special features of the bill were, in addition to the union of the provinces, a provision for a system of municipal government by the subdivision of the united provinces into five districts, and the constitution of district councils. Each of these districts again was to be subdivided into nine electoral districts, returning two members each to the provincial parliament. The district of Gaspd and the Islands of Madeleine were to be transferred from the province of Lower Canada to that of New Brunswick. As most of the details of this measure were afterwards altered, under the advice of Lord Sydenham, its characteristic features will be sufficiently indicated in his criticism of the measure.

To bring this draft bill before the Canadian people, to recommend to them its general principles, and to secure the necessary local information for the perfection of its details, and, when sanctioned by the home government, to bring the united legislature into practical operation, and thus launch the new government of the Canadas upon a happier and more stable career, constituted the important though difficult task assigned to the Right Honourable Poulett Thomson when he was selected as Canadian governor.

Meantime, as the result of the publication throughout the country of Lord Durham's Report, there was growing up a new excitement in Upper Canada. Meetings were being held in every quarter for the discussion of the question of responsible government, which was furnishing a real issue for the formation of rival political parties. This naturally caused quite a readjustment of views. Many who had no sympathy with the policy of violence now found that they had in Lord Durham's Report a respectable rallying-point, where the views of Bidwell and Baldwin were separated from the methods of the ultra-Radicals. Sir George Arthur was very much alarmed at the progress of the responsible government idea. "The question of the union is now very little discussed in Upper Canada;" he reports, "not only Republicans and ultra-Reformers, but some excellent persons of Liberal principles are most clamorous for 'responsible government,' and, strange enough, this is demanded by persons who, in other respects, strongly condemn Lord Durham's Report, as well as the bill that has been sent out, as too democratic, and likely to lead to aspirations which they protest they do not desire, whilst they ask for a measure that must inevitably dissolve the union."

In the latter part of August, 1839, Sir George Arthur took a very public stand in opposition to responsible government. The occasion selected was the formal transmission to him of a set of resolutions adopted at a general meeting of the people of the district of Gore held at Hamilton on July 27th, 1839. Some eight resolutions were passed expressing attachment to the British Crown, but claiming that the report of the committee of the assembly in criticism of Lord Durham's Report did not represent the sentiments of the majority of the people of the province, and expressing entire approval of the Durham Report and its recommendations. They maintained that a speedy carrying out of its recommendations would have a most beneficial effect upon the province, and particularly "that a responsible government, as recommended in Lord Durham's Report, is the only means of restoring confidence, allaying discontent, or perpetuating the connection between Great Britain and this colony." They desire the dissolution of the present assembly, and pledge themselves to support only such candidates as favour Lord Durham's Report and the union of the Canadas. The meeting appointed a committee to draft an address to the queen based on these resolutions, and to invite cooperation from the other districts of the province. Copies of the resolutions were also to be sent to Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, the colonial secretary, and the Earl of Durham.

Sir George Arthur replied 011 August 24th. He acknowledged the respectable and representative character of the meeting. Having given the subject of responsible government "the most deliberate consideration," he asserts, both as his own view and, he believes, the view of the home government, that such a proposal would destroy' the union between the colony and the Mother Country, and render the former independent. There would be no harmony of policy as there ought to be between the colonial and the British governments. As for himself, he professes special interest in the colony and outlines some improvements which might be made, but repudiates the implication that any special set of persons have an undue influence over him. The resolutions and the reply were published in full in the official Gazette, a copy of which was forwarded to the colonial office. In acknowledging it, Lord John Russell commends the lieutenant-governor's good intentions, but cautions him not to do it again. As we shall see, Arthur's statements were shortly afterwards the occasion of no little embarrassment to himself, when he learned the sentiments of the new governor-general, and even of the colonial office.


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