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Lord Sydenham
Chapter XIII - The Union Problem


AFTER the departure of Sir George Arthur, Lord Sydenham remained diligently consulting with the most representative citizens of Lower Canada, and especially with the chief-justice, James Stuart. Chief-Justice Stuart was a man of exceptional ability, learning, and professional experience, and was probably more than any other person in the country respected and trusted by both French and English elements. Recognizing at once the value of such a man as an adviser, especially on the subject of the union, the governor frequently consulted with him, and attached the greatest weight to his counsel. Investigation had convinced him that the more stable elements in Lower Canada, French as well as English, were now desirous of a speedy termination of the unsatisfactory condition of the existing Canadian government. The alienated French-Canadians naturally made use of the suspension of constitutional government as a basis for continued agitation. Public opinion throughout the province was very much divided; some demanded a return to the former constitution, others would deprive the French-Canadians of all share in the government, breaking up the province into sections, giving political rights to some and denying them to others. Even some of the extremists, however, believed that union was the only practicable measure. On all grounds the speedy adoption of the union measure seemed essential to the peace and prosperity of the country; as regards details, there were some who desired that the imperial government should take the whole matter into its own hands without consulting local opinion or local interests, but the majority of the best opinion of both races favoured union upon principles of fairness alike to the two provinces and to the two races.

The governor-general called the Special Council together on November 11th, 1839, and submitted to them the proposals for reunion. In order that it might not be supposed that he had used his personal influence to select members of council specially favourable to the union, he did not exercise the right of making changes in the council, but simply accepted the body as appointed by Sir John Colborne. In July, 1839, Colborne had appointed ten additional members to the Special Council. These he carefully selected from the most influential persons of each district, in order to render it as representative and respectable a body as possible for the passing of urgently necessary laws.

To this body then the governor-general submitted the union proposal. Their opinion in favour of the measure was almost unanimous, and was conveyed to the governor in the form of an address and six resolutions. The latter embodied the requirements that the union should include provision for a permanent civil list, that that portion of the debt of the Upper Province incurred in improving the navigation of the St. Lawrence, the common highway between the two provinces, should be a charge upon the joint revenue, and that the new legislature should be one " in which the people of these two provinces may be adequately represented, and their constitutional rights exercised and maintained." The resolutions were opposed by only three members out of fourteen, the three being Messrs. Cuthbert, Neilson, and Quesnel. Mr. Neilson, who was the editor and proprietor of the Quebec Gazette•, maintained, as we shall sec, an opposition to the union measure which deepened with every defeat which he sustained, and which culminated in his attacks on the union in the first legislature of the united province.

The press of Upper Canada naturally followed the proceedings of the Special Council with much interest, knowing that its verdict would be used to influence the vote in the Upper Canadian legislature. The Conservative press regarded the resolutions adopted as much too favourable to the French-Canadians. As the Kingston Chronicle, one of the most representative of these papers, put it, there was to be no distinction between French rebels and loyal subjects, and disaffected districts were to be treated on the same terms as others. Rebels, Durhamites, Radicals, and Loyalists are to find equal favour in the eyes of the governor-general. This may appear very generous on the part of the governor but it may prove quite fatal to British interests. It closed with the hope that the legislature of the Upper Province may raise its voice against such dangerous proceedings. The Sherbrooke Gazette, as representative of the English element in the townships, did not share in the optimistic opinions of the Montreal Gazette or Herald, who thought that the union would be the means of putting an end to the separate national aspirations of the French-Canadians, and would result in the fusion of the two races. It feared that there might be a sufficient number in Upper Canada in favour of responsible government to unite with the great majority of Lower Canada, and thus control the united legislature and lead round to the same conditions as in 1837. Neilson s paper, the Quebec Gazette, taking the same stand as its proprietor in the council, opposed the union from the opposite point of view, because, as he claimed, it was likely to overthrow the power of the French-Canadians in the united assembly.

Having secured a favourable verdict from the only legislative body in Lower Canada, the governor set out for the Upper Province, leaving Sir R. D. Jackson, commander of the forces, as administrator in Lower Canada during his absence. The chief-justice he desired to follow him in order to assist in the revision of the union measure, should it be accepted by the legislature of Upper Canada.

The industry and impetuosity with which Poulett Thomson followed up every matter m which he was deeply interested proved a novel and almost alarming experience for the Canadian officials, who were quite unaccustomed to a governor-general who so completely exercised his powers to regulate details, and who threw himself so enthusiastically into his work. His anxiety to reach Toronto at the earliest moment so as to have as much' time as possible to get into touch with men and conditions there before the opening of the assembly, determined him to leave Montreal at an unusually early hour on the morning of November 18th. Driving over to Lachine, he expected to find a special steamer provided by the commissariat department to take him up the lake. We can imagine his chagrin at finding only the regular passenger steamer there, the captain of which declined to undertake any special trip before the regular hour for receiving mails and passengers. In consequence, Commissary-General Routh at Quebec received a very sharp letter from Mr. Murdoch, the civil secretary, demanding an explanation of the lack of a special conveyance and requesting that in future, when the governor-general had occasion to travel, a special officer of the commissariat department should be in attendance to provide the means of transport.

The first part of his trip the governor thus describes: "The journey was bad enough; a portage to La Chine; then the steamboat to the Cascades, twenty-four miles further; then road again (if road it can be called) for sixteen miles; then steam to Prescott, forty miles; then road, twelve miles; then, by change of steamers, into Lake Ontario to Kingston......Such as I have described it is the boasted navigation of the St. Lawrence. reaching Kingston on the twentieth at 1 p.m., he was received with all military honours, as befitting at once the governor-general and the chief centre of the troops in Upper Canada. He was also presented with two addresses, the product of several public meetings during the previous week, one from the magistrates, clergy, and inhabitants of the town; and the other from the merchant forwarders and traders, as having a special bond of sympathy with the governor. His Excellency made, as usual, brief but appropriate and felicitous replies, and within three hours was afloat again on the government steamer Traveller, on his way to Toronto, where he arrived the following forenoon, November 21st. The next day at noon he was received in state in the executive council chamber by the members of the council and the heads of the Church, the bench, the educational institutions, and the government departments. There he took the oaths of office, and in turn administered them to the members of the executive council. Finally, he received from Sir George Arthur the public seal of the province, as taking over the provincial government. 1 hen came an address from the mayor and corporation.

The Patriot thus gives its first impressions of the new governor as he appeared at these functions. "His Excellency, the governor-general, is a younger looking person than we expected to see: he is apparently about thirty-five years of age. and his appearance strikingly intelligent and agreeable. His Excellency wore a civil uniform of blue, superbly embroidered with massive gold lace. He received with marked urbanity the gentlemen introduced to him. We are sorry to notice that His Excellency appeared to labour under severe indisposition."

In the address from the mayor and council, the governor is given to understand that the policy of the imperial government had raised doubts and uncertainty in the minds of loyal and well-affected inhabitants, and as he is understood to be looking for expressions of public opinion on the question of the legislative union of the provinces, they would respectfully express their conviction that any legislative union not based upon the ascendency of the loyal part of the inhabitants, or which would give to the French-Canadians, diplomatically referred to as "that portion of the population who, from education, habits and prejudices, arc aliens to our nation and our institutions,' the same rights and privileges with the loyal British population who have risked their lives and properties for their sovereign and constitution, would be fatal to the connection of the Canadian provinces with the Mother Country. If, therefore, His Excellency chooses "to preserve inviolate and unchanged" the constitution under which they live, he may confidently rely upon "the highest municipal body in the province" for support. His Excellency in reply quietly assured them that he was charmed with their sentiments of loyalty, but gently indicated that Her Majesty's government was really loyal also, and that while the connection between the colonies and the Mother Country was undoubtedly to be maintained, "to be of permanent advantage, it must be founded upon principles of equal justice to all Her Majesty's subjects.'

Not content with these numerous and trying ceremonies as a day's work, His Excellency the same day set on foot a number of special inquiries in order that he might be furnished with information as to the condition of the province. Its financial embarrassment being one of the most critical problems and an all-important feature in the question of union, he directed the receiver-general, Hon. J. H. Dunn, to prepare a return of the revenue and expenditure of the province for the past five years.

While these preliminaries were preparing, his traveller's instinct induced him to make an excursion to Niagara. He thus refers to his trip. "started again on Saturday for the Falls. It is only thirty-six miles across the lake to Queenston, and then seven to the Falls. So, by starting early in a government steamer, which I kept, I did the thing in a day, and returned here to sleep. Then again at Niagara, Queenston, and Drummondville, I had to face addresses and the military; still I got three or four hours for the Falls, and certainly they beggar all power of description.1' On Monday he held a public levee at Government House at one o'clock, and this apparently was attended by all sorts and conditions of men. At the close of this function the merchants of the city presented an address in which they appealed to him to employ his distinguished abilities and intimate knowledge of commerce to devise measures for restoring prosperity and once more directing immigration and capital to the Canadian provinces. The governor promised his best assistance in return for their co-operation in readjusting the constitution. The same day he received a second address from the general inhabitants of the city. The remaining few days before the opening of the legislature he spent in endeavouring to learn the attitude and relative strength of the various elements within the province, in order that he might judge of the most effective presentation to make of the union proposal, in his message to the legislature. What he discovered was not very encouraging, as the following extract from a private letter will indicate.

"I have now the Upper Province to deal with, which will, I fear, be a more difficult matter. But I do not despair; and certainly, so far as all the real interests of the country are concerned, the union is far more necessary to Upper Canada than to the other. If it were possible, the best thing for Lower Canada would be a despotism for ten years more; for, in truth, the people are not yet fit for the higher class of self government—scarcely indeed, at present, for any description of it; and by carrying oneself the measures which a House of Assembly will probably never carry, one might gradually fit them for both, and, at all events, leave them an amount of good institutions which the united legislature, when it came, could not destroy. But n Upper Canada the case, as it appears to me, is widely different. The state of things here is far worse than I had expected. The country is split into factions animated with the most deadly hatred to each other. The people have got into the habit of talking so much of separation, that they begin to believe in it. The constitutional party is as bad or worse than the other, in spite of all their professions of loyalty. The finances are more deranged than we believed even in England. The deficit £75,000 a year, more than equal to the income. All public works suspended. Emigration going on fast from the province. Every man's property worth only half what it was. When I look to the state of government, and to the departmental administration of the province, instead of being surprised at the condition in which I find it, I am only astonished it has been endured so long. I know that, much as I dislike 5ankee institutions and rule, I. would not have fought against them, which thousands of these poor fellows, whom the Compact call ' rebels,' did, if it were only to keep up such a government as they got. The excitement upon 4 responsible government' is great. Not that I believe the people understand what they are clamouring for by that word; but that they feel the extreme uneasiness of their situation, owing to financial embarrassments, and hate the dominant party in the government with intense hatred. I do not wonder at the cry for responsible government, when I see how things have been managed.

"Then the assembly is such a House ! Split into half a dozen different parties. The government having none,—and no one man to depend on! Think of a House in which half the members hold places, yet in which the government does not command a single vote; in which the placemen generally vote against the executive; and where there is no one to defend the government when attacked, or to state the opinion or views of the governor! How, with a popular assembly, government is to be conducted under such circumstances, is a riddle to me. I am now more than ever satisfied that the union affords the only chance of putting an end to the factions that distract the country; the only means of recruiting its finances by persuading Great Britain to help the Upper Canada exchequer; the only means by which the present abominable system of government can be broken up, and a strong and powerful administration, both departmental and executive, be formed. And unless the people will assent to the general outline of it, and parliament will then carry the details, upon which they would never agree, with a high hand, the province is lost. From all that I can hear or see, I would not give a year's purchase for our hold of it, if some great stroke is not given which shall turn men's thoughts from the channel in which they now run, and give a fresh impetus to public works, immigration, and the practical improvement of the country's resources.

"It is indeed a pity to see this province in such a state. It is the finest country I ever knew, even what I have seen of it in a circle of thirty or forty miles from here; and by the accounts I receive the upper part is even superior. Lower Canada is not to be named in comparison. The climate, the soil, the water-power, and facilities of transport, finer than anything in North America.

"Whether in their present state of violent excitement I shall be able to persuade the people to come to reasonable terms, I cannot venture to say; but I am sure it is the last and only chance. After having brought-and-to think that the French-Canadians ought to have their full share of the representation, I shall not despair of anything. But what I hear, and have as yet seen, of the House of Assembly, is not encouraging. If they are not willing, however, I shall appeal to the people without hesitation; for the state of things admits of no delay, and no half measures."

According to programme, the legislature was opened on December 3rd with a very direct and businesslike Speech from the Throne, which, in laying out the programme of matters to be considered by the legislature naturally placed in the forefront the question of the union, to be submitted for their consideration at an early date. Accordingly on the seventh the subject was brought before them in a message in which the governor referred to the steps already taken in the imperial parliament. He touched on the unsatisfactory condition of the government in Lower Canada, and referred to the deranged condition of the finances of Upper Canada. Public, improvements were suspended, private enterprise checked, the tide of immigration diverted, and the general system of government distasteful to many. While the imperial parliament have decided upon a reunion of the Canadian provinces, they desire to have the concurrence and advice of the people of Canada on a subject of so much importance to themselves. He indicates the impossibility of improving the finances of the Upper Province without a union and settlement with Lower Canada, which controls the customs duties on Upper Canadian trade. The co-operation of Lower Canada is also necessary to carry out the proposals under way for improving the means of communication.

The terms upon which the governor-general desired the consent of the legislature of Upper Canada were, first, an equal representation of each province in the united legislature; second, the granting of a sufficient civil list; third, that so much of the existing debt of Upper Canada as has been contracted for public works of common interest should be charged upon the joint revenue of the united provinces.

In making these proposals the message also indicated the grounds on which they were to be justified. In giving an equal representation to each province Lower Canada might seem to be placed in an unfavourable position, but, considering the future of both provinces and the expansion of Upper Canada through immigration, extending trade, and industrial enterprise, an equal proportion seemed justifiable. However, it is plain that if this had been the sole reason, the reply of the French-Canadians would have been valid; namely, that there was no occasion to give to Upper Canada an enlarged representation before the coming population had arrived. The real reason was known to every one, and might as well have been frankly stated. It was that the government had to decide between a predominantly British or a predominantly French future for Canada, and they, somewhat naturally no doubt, decided in favour of the former. The French were as naturally disappointed, and vented much of their displeasure upon the governor as the instrument of their defeat, ignoring all that he did to insure them the fairest possible treatment within that single condition. Indeed his efforts in favour of the French-Canadians caused him to incur the suspicion and resentment of a considerable section of the English element, who thought him much too sympathetic with the French-Canadians.

The justification for the second of the terms, the granting of a sufficient civil list, was the necessity for protecting the independence of the judges and insuring the carrying on of the essential services of the executive government. This meant, of course, the holding of sufficient power in the hands of the central government to insure a stable form of administration as regards the essentials of the constitution.

With reference to charging the debt of the Upper Province upon the joint revenue, the justification lay in the fact that the Lower Province benefited by the improvements in transportation, for which the debt had been incurred. Undoubtedly the enterprising portion of Lower Canada, and therefore especially the English element in it, profited greatly by the rapid expansion of the wealth and population of the western portions of the country, due to the improved means of communication. As an argument for union, however, it overlooked the fact that improving the navigation in the upper St. Lawrence and encouraging immigration and settlement were the very reverse of commendable in the eyes of the French-Canadian Nationalists, who fully realized that success in these lines meant the ultimate extinction of their ascendency and of their hopes.

The terms of the union, one might suppose, would have commended themselves to the English element of Upper Canada. 1t may be recalled that during the previous session the union proposal had been accepted by the assembly, though under restrictions which could not be admitted, as being too unfair to the French-Canadians, but they were rejected by the council. The new terms proposed by the governor-general, and which were much more favourable to the Lower Province, were ultimately accepted by a large majority in the assembly, with a slight variation in the proposal with reference to the civil list, and the dropping of any limitation as to the debt of the Upper Province to be assumed by the united government. The four resolutions embodying the terms of the union had been introduced by Solicitor-General Draper who had favoured the union during the previous session, but only on the terms then laid down, and which even now he much preferred, though not openly, owing to his relations to the government.

Several attempts were made by the minority elements, chiefly the Compact party, to either block the union altogether, or to alter the terms, chiefly in the direction of making the conditions more onerous for the French-Canadians. The amendment against the union, as such, was defeated by forty-four to eleven, which showed quite approximately the strength of the Compact element. One wing of the Radicals favoured an amendment to the effect that the union question should be referred to the people of the province for a direct verdict, but this was defeated by the same majority, forty-four to eleven. It was significant that the fourth resolution dealing with the debt of the Upper Province was carried without a division. After the resolutions were passed, on the question of an address to the governor-general the more Conservative element endeavoured to attach certain further conditions to the terms of union, such as, that the seat of government must be in Upper Canada, that English should be the official language in the united legislature, that there should be a real estate qualification for members of the legislature, and that, except for the fact of the reunion, the principles of the constitution of 1701 should be preserved inviolate. These, however, were defeated by a majority of twenty-nine to twenty-one.

The leaders of the minority opposed to the union were Attorney-General Hagerman, J. S. Cartwright, and Henry Sherwood. The fact that the solicitor-general and the attorney-general were on opposite sides in so important an issue will indicate how far the practice of the Canadian government was from that of Britain. In his speech against the union Mr. Hagerman frankly stated that, though a member of the government, he still felt at liberty to oppose the measure presented by the governor-general. He admits that under the new interpretation as to tenure of office the governor might have dismissed him, but the fact that he did not under the circumstances was, he considered, much to his credit. We shall have the governor's comment upon this a little later. Hagerman attacked the union resolutions on different grounds. He took a very characteristic attitude towards the French-Canadians; he considered that they had no claim upon the people of Upper Canada to assist thern in regaining their rights under the constitution. Ignoring the whole policy of the British government in the past treatment of the French-Canadians, he maintained that they were the most thankless people on earth, considering all the favours that had been heaped upon them. The union of the provinces would not cure such people, whom he absolutely distrusted; they should be put back under the Quebec Act, not, as we find, to enjoy the complete restoration of French institutions granted under that Act, but to be deprived of their constitutional rights, and to be governed entirely by a nominated council. He criticized the financial proposals, but himself suggested a much more complex and unworkable substitute, which in the end was 208 to enlarge the income of the Upper Province at the expense of the Lower. As to equalizing the representation of the two provinces, the governor's proposal had the appearance of injustice to Lower Canada, and could only make the French-Canadians more irreconcilable to British institutions. He could not, therefore, agree with his friend Mr. Cartwright that if Upper Canada were given sixty-five members and Lower Canada fifty the union might be rendered a safe measure; his own alternative is the Quebec Act machinery without the Quebec Act contents.

Altogether the result of the assembly's action, when compared with the attitude of the previous session, was a distinct triumph for the policy of the governor-general. But the change of attitude was still more marked in the case of the legislative council, where, in place of the uncompromising rejection of the more favourable proposal of the previous session, the union was accepted by a respectable majority on the terms proposed by the governor. The resolutions were introduced in the council by the Hon. W. B. Sullivan in a very interesting speech, considering that he was one of those who had voted against the union during the previous session. He took the curious ground that the separation of the provinces had been necessary in order to give the English element a footing in the Canadas, but now the reunion was necessary in order to prevent the French from blocking their further progress. He referred to the previous proposals for union, which had been successfully objected to by both nationalities, each one fearing that it might be swamped by the other. Some other solution of the difficulty then seemed possible; now all others had been exhausted, and the French had proved themselves unworthy of the liberties which had been granted them, hence their consent to the union was not necessary. As a speech intended to gain over the majority in an Upper Canadian council it was well planned, but it was equally effective, if that had been necessary, in alienating the sympathies of the French-Canadians.

In winning over the majority of the council the personal influence of the governor was most obviously effective, the remaining minority consisting almost entirely of the most irreconcilable clement among the placemen of the Compact party. As the Commercial Herald, the Compact organ of Toronto, remarked, "We are sorry to perceive that the viceregal sun, as the Montreal Courier expresses it, is thawing the ice of opposition in certain quarters where more firmness was expected." The effectiveness of the personal influence of the new governor was freely commented upon in papers of all shades. Even in the debates in the assembly and council it was noticed that a great change had come over several of the members who had previously passed very sharp criticisms upon the colonial policy of the Whig ministry.

The governor undoubtedly used his personal influence in the way of argument and persuasion to the utmost of his ability, and with very remarkable effect. Several of the Toronto papers most opposed to the union directly accused him of using coercion upon those in office. It is true, as we shall see, that he considered it one of the radical defects of the existing Canadian system that officers of the government should vote in opposition to government measures; but that he did not use his official power to force office-holders into line on the union question was shown from the fact that of the ten who supported Robinson's motion against the union, five were officials holding office at the pleasure of the Crown, and of the twenty-one who supported Cartwright's motion nine were in the same position.

Once the resolutions were passed in the assembly, many of the opponents of the union, including several of the newspapers, among them the Kingston Chronicle, accepted it as a settled policy, and frankly looked forward to great benefits to result from it. Nevertheless in other quarters opposition to the union proposals continued to find vigorous expression among the most opposite elements in both provinces. Among the Upper Canadian papers, the Toronto Commercial Herald and the Cobourg Star mingled with their criticisms of the measure personal attacks upon the governor-general. The Quebec Gazette, though strongly opposed to responsible government, was equally opposed to the union, regarding the proposal, however, as a sacrifice of the French element, not of the English, as was so steadily maintained in Upper Canada. Its opposition to the union was mainly based, m argument at least, on the difficulty of bringing it into operation as between two races "who have been kept distinct in everything in consequence of British legislation." There certainly was no doubt about the difficulty of working the union after so long a policy of separation, but neither the Quebec Gazette nor any other paper had an alternative policy that did not involve either the consigning of Canada to civil war, or the governing of it under an indefinite despotism, however benevolent, which must also inevitably end in strife. However, as presenting the difficulties of the existing situation, the articles in the Quebec Gazette and other papers opposed to the union were sufficiently instructive.

The Toronto Examiner, Mr. Hincks's paper, and the accepted leader of opinion for the more rational Reformers, strongly supported the union, and on one of the very grounds on which the Quebec Gazette so strongly opposed it; namely, that it must inevitably lead to responsible government, as *no secretary of state would have moral courage enough to refuse the just demands of the united people." As to the Tory element, the Examiner took rather a cynical view of the office-holders, claiming that they would support the governor in order to protect their places, while the element which was in some degree free from such official positions as depended directly upon the governor would oppose him to the bitter end. The Examiner was rather severe upon Mr. Draper for the uncertain position which lie occupied, alternately professing to represent the government as its organ in the introduction of the resolutions, and again, as a private individual, professing disappointment that it did not go far enough in safeguarding the interests of Upper Canada. As a matter of fact, the general body of the Reformers were the most faithful supporters of the governor's measure, and he did justice to their support in the following terms.

"It is impossible to describe to you the difficulties I have had to contend with to get this matter settled as it has been in the assembly. I owe my success altogether to the confidence which the Reform party have reposed in me personally, and to the generous manner in which they have acted by me. A dissolution would have been greatly to their advantage, because there is no doubt that they would have had a great majority in the next assembly; and it must have been most galling to them to see me, as well as themselves, opposed by a number of the placeholders without my turning them out. Rut they gave up all these considerations, and in this country, where the feeling of hatred to the Family Compact is intense, they are not light, and went gallantly through with me to the end. The journals of the proceedings in the assembly, which I send you, will show you the sort of opposition I have had. To the union itself there are not more than eight or ten out of the whole House who are opposed,—all the Family Compact; but these few contrived to propose all sorts of things, to which they knew, I could not assent, as conditions to its acceptance, in order to secure the votes of the placemen, and some few others, who were pledged last session to these foolish stipulations. But the Reformers and the moderate Conservatives, unconnected with either the Compact or with office, kept steady; and the result has been that on every occasion the opposition were beaten hollow, and all their proposals rejected by large majorities. I had dissolution pressed upon me very strongly, and there is no doubt that with it I could have got over all difficulty; but then I must have made up my mind to great delay, and I doubt whether the measure would have gone home in time for you to legislate. However, thank God, it is all right at last, though 9 assure you the anxiety and fatigue have been more than I like."


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