Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history

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Western Canada was still almost wholly unpeopled. There were a few soldiers at Niagara, and some inconsiderable French settlements near Detroit. Kingston had been abandoned; the settlers at Toronto had been chased away during the troubles which preceded the conquest, and the traces which they left had been long covered by the luxuriant growth of the fertile wilderness. The vast expanse of rich land which lies along the upper waters of the St. Lawrence and the northern shores of Lake Ontario still waited the coming of the husbandman.

Here was the home chosen for the men who had incurred the hatred of their neighbours by seeking to perpetuate English rule over the American colonies. The English Government honestly desired to requite those unfortunate supporters. It desired also to plant them far away from the colonists who were of French origin and sentiment. For England mistrusted now her own children who lived within range of American influences, and it was her aim to preserve unimpaired the submissive loyalty of her French subjects. Therefore she chose that while the Frenchmen prospered and increased in the lower valley of the St. Lawrence, those Englishmen who were fleeing from triumphant republicanism, but who had probably not altogether escaped its taint, should open their new career on the shores of Lake Ontario. They came in such numbers, that within a year there were ten thousand settlers in the new colony. They came so miserably poor, that for a time England required to feed and clothe them. But they bore stout hearts, and hands not unaccustomed to wield the axe and guide the plough. The country was one vast forest, and the labour of clearing was great. Every man received, free of charge, a grant of two hundred acres; and for each child of those who had borne arms a like endowment was reserved. The settlers worked with good-will. In a short time each man’s lands were ready for the plough, and the landscape was lighted up with corn-fields and the dwellings of man.

During the course of peaceful years which she now enjoyed Canada increased steadily. Emigrants were drawn from England by the inducement of free lands in the western province; in the east there were constant additions both to the French and to the English section of the population. Shortly after the close of the American War it was found that in the whole colony there were not fewer than one hundred and fifty thousand souls. Canada had doubled her population in the twenty years which had elapsed since she became an English possession.

Her government was still administered according to the pleasure of the English Crown, without any concession being made to the wishes of the people. But events now occurred in Europe which quickened, for a space, the democratic tendency, and disposed governments to listen to the wishes of their subjects. The French Revolution had vindicated the right of a nation to guide its own destiny. The influences of that great change were keenly felt in Canada.

The English colonists, who had long been dissatisfied with the system under which they lived, earnestly desired a representative government. Many of the Frenchmen, who had hitherto been indifferent to the privilege, partook of the same desire, in sympathy with the revolution which their countrymen had effected. The English Government, wiser now than when it undertook to deal with the discontents of the American colonies, listened with favour to the prayer of the Canadians. 1791 A.D. A Bill was introduced by Mr. Pitt to confer upon the colonists the long-withheld privilege of self-government. It was not the desire of England that the Canadians should grow strong in the enjoyment of a union which might result in their independence. It seemed prudent that the Frenchmen, who cared little for liberty, should form a separate colony with power to bridle the more democratic Englishmen. Therefore Canada was divided into two provinces, which were named Upper and Lower Canada, the boundary line being for the greater part of the distance the Ottawa river. Each of the colonies received from the King a Governor, an Executive Council to act as his advisers, a Legislative Council, and a Legislative Assembly elected once in four years by a somewhat restricted suffrage. The Roman Catholic clergy were already endowed, and a similar provision was now made for Protestants. One-seventh of all Crown lands which were being settled was reserved for the teachers of Protestantism – a reservation which proved in the coming years a source of infinite vexation and strife. The criminal law of England was set up in both provinces; but in all civil laws and usages Upper Canada became wholly English; Lower Canada remained wholly French. The English settlers opposed with all their might this ill-advised separation. They foresaw the enfeebling divisions which it must produce: living as they did far in the interior, they felt that they were wronged when the river, by which alone their products could reach the sea, was placed under control of neighbours who must be rivals and might be enemies. But their opposition was unheeded. The Bill became law, and continued during fifty unquiet years to foster strife between the provinces and hinder their growth.


Canada was now, for a space of two and a half years, to be involved in war, and subjected to the miseries of invasion. It was a war with which she had no proper concern. The measures adopted by England and France in order to accomplish the ruin of each other fell injuriously upon American commerce, and the American people were reasonably displeased that their occupations and those of the world should be interrupted by the strifes of two unwisely guided nations. Certain high-handed proceedings of British ships1818
  See page 145.

so aggravated this irritation, that America declared war against Great Britain. She had no quarrel with the Canadians, but she could not elsewhere express the hostile impulses by which she was now animated. An invasion of Canada was instantly resolved upon, and an easy victory was expected. The country was almost undefended, for England at that time was putting forth her utmost strength in the effort to overthrow Napoleon, and she required, for the bloody battle-fields of Spain, every soldier of whom she could possess herself. In all Canada there were only four thousand regular troops and two thousand militiamen. Many weeks must elapse before help could come from England. Canada had grown steadily during forty years of peace, and had now a population of three hundred thousand. But the progress of the United States had been greatly more rapid, and Canada had now to encounter a hostile nation of eight million. The expectation that the Americans would subdue and possess the valley of the St. Lawrence seemed easy of fulfilment.

Many Americans clung to the belief that the Canadians were dissatisfied with their government, and would be found ready to avail themselves of an opportunity to adopt republican institutions. But no trace of any such disposition manifested itself. The colonists were tenaciously loyal, and were no more moved by the blandishments than they were by the arms of their republican invaders.

July, 1812 A.D. Soon after the declaration of war, an American army of two thousand five hundred men set out to conquer Western Canada. The commander of this force was General Hull, who announced to the Canadians that he had come to bring them “peace, liberty, and security,” and was able to overbear with ease any resistance which it was in their power to offer. But victory did not attach herself to the standards of General Hull. The English commander, General Brock, was able to hold the Americans in check, and to furnish General Hull with reasons for withdrawing his troops from Canada and taking up position at Detroit. Thither he was quickly followed by the daring Englishman, leading a force of seven hundred soldiers and militia and six hundred Indians. He was proceeding to attack General Hull, but that irresolute warrior averted the danger by an ignominious capitulation.

October. A little later a second invasion was attempted, the aim of which was to possess Queenstown. It was equally unsuccessful, and reached a similar termination – the surrender of the invading force. Still further, an attempt to seize Montreal resulted in failure. Thus closed the first campaign of this lamentable war. Everywhere the American invaders had been foiled by greatly inferior forces of militia, supported by a handful of regular troops. The war had been always distasteful to a large portion of the American people. On the day when the tidings of its declaration were received in Boston, flags were hung out half-mast high in token of general mourning. The New England States refused to contribute troops to fight in a cause which they condemned. The shameful defeats which had been sustained in Canada encouraged the friends of peace, and the policy of invasion was loudly denounced as unwise and unjust. But the disposition to fight still inspired the larger number, and although there was no longer any hope of assistance from disaffected Canadians, a fresh campaign was planned and new miseries prepared for the unoffending colonists.

During the next campaign the Americans gained some important advantages. Both combatants had exerted themselves to build and equip fleets on Lake Erie – the command of the lake being of high importance for the defence or the attack of Western Canada. Sept. 1813 A.D. The hostile fleets met and fought near the western shores of the lake. The battle was fiercely contested, and ended in the complete defeat of the British and the capture of their entire fleet – one-third of the crews of which were killed or wounded. Soon after this decisive victory a small force of British and Indians was encountered and nearly annihilated, and the conquest of Western Canada seemed complete. An attempt to seize Montreal was, however, baffled by a small body of Canadians. Nothing further of importance was effected on either side. But during these many months of alternating victory and defeat the combatants had learned to hate each other with the wild, unreasoning hatred which war often inspires. The Americans, in utter wantonness, burned down a large Canadian village: the Canadians avenged themselves by giving to the flames the town of Buffalo and several American villages. When the campaign closed much loss and suffering had been inflicted upon peaceful inhabitants on both sides of the border; America held some positions in the extreme west, but no real progress had been made towards the conquest of Canada.

1814 A.D. During the third campaign the Americans persisted in their ill-judged efforts to subdue Canada. Much desultory and indecisive fighting occurred. The British Government, during the pause in European strife which occurred while Napoleon occupied the island of Elba, was able to send several regiments to Canada. The militia on both sides had gained the experience of veterans. Larger forces were now afoot, and were handled with increased skill. The fighting was growing ever more obstinate, as the mutual hatred of those engaged in it became more intense. The most protracted and bloody of all the battles of the war occurred near the close. A British officer, having sixteen hundred men under his command, took up position on a little eminence at Lundy’s Lane, hard by the Falls of Niagara. Here, about five o’clock of a July afternoon, this force was attacked by five thousand Americans. The assailants charged fiercely their outnumbered enemies, but were met by a destructive fire from a few well-placed and well-served pieces of artillery. Night fell, and the moon shone over the field where men of the same race strove to slaughter one another in a worthless quarrel. After some hours of battle a short pause occurred, during which the groans of the many wounded men who lay in agony on the slope where the British fought, mingled with the dull roar of the neighbouring cataract. The battle was resumed: the assailants pushed forward their artillery till the muzzles of the guns almost met; furious charges were met and repelled by the bayonets of the unyielding British. Not till midnight did the Americans desist from the attack and draw back their baffled forces. The killed and wounded of the Americans in this pitiless slaughter were nearly a thousand men; the British suffered a loss almost as heavy.

Many other engagements occurred, worthless in respect of result, having no claim on the notice of men, excepting for the vain heroism and the wasted lives of those who took part in them. Dec. 1814 A.D. At length Britain and America accomplished a settlement of their quarrel, and Canada had rest from war.


During the ten or twelve years which succeeded the war with America, Canada increased more rapidly than at any previous period. The English Government offered free conveyance and a liberal grant of land to any person of good character who consented to accept a home in the Upper Province. Emigration from Great Britain was very inconsiderable during the Napoleon wars; but when peace was restored, and employment became scarce and inadequately paid, men sought refuge beyond the Atlantic from the misery which had fallen so heavily on their native land. In 1815 only two thousand persons emigrated; next year the number was twelve thousand; three years later it had risen to thirty-five thousand. Many of these found their way to Canada. Ten years from the close of the war the population of the Lower Province numbered four hundred and twenty thousand; that of the Upper Province was one hundred and twenty thousand. In fourteen years the population had almost doubled.

Immediately after the war the British people turned their minds to the defects of their Government, and the agitation began which gained its difficult and long-delayed triumph in the Reform Bill of 1832. The influences of the same reforming spirit extended themselves to Canada. The measure of political authority enjoyed by the colonists was still extremely limited, and contrasted unfavourably with that of their American neighbours. It is true they had the appointment of the Lower Chamber; but the Executive was not responsible to the legislative bodies, and was therefore practically despotic. The Governor was the representative of the Sovereign; the Upper Chamber drew its origin from the same source. The Governor answered to no one for the course which he chose to follow; the members of the Legislative Council ordinarily supported him without reserve, because they expected favours from him. They desired the increase of his power, because thus he would be able more bountifully to reward his friends. The sympathies of the Assembly were with constitutional freedom, purity, and economy of administration. At a very early period it was found that the men who were chosen by the people were at variance on every question of importance with the men who were nominated by the King.

In truth, the kind of government assigned to the Canadian people was in most respects unsuitable for them. The French colonists did not desire the popular institutions which they received: they preferred a mild despotism. The English colonists desired more complete liberty, and were continually displeased by the arbitrary acts of the Executive. A still more fatal error was the separation of the provinces, and the provision thus made for perpetuating the French language and laws, the gradual extinction of which was urgently desirable. The time had now arrived when these errors were to bear their proper fruit in jealousy and strife and mutual frustration.

The people of Lower Canada remained almost devoid of education, and they bestowed no care upon the cure of that evil. It was quite usual to have members of the Legislature who were unable to write. 1828 A.D. Once the people were so sorely displeased with the conduct of the Governor that they determined to lay their grievances before the King. Eighty-seven thousand citizens concurred in a statement of wrongs; but of these only nine thousand possessed the accomplishment of being able to write their own names – the remainder did not rise above the ignominy of expressing their approval by a mark. In the Upper Province the education of the people received some attention. 1816 A.D. The foundations were laid of the present common-school system of Canada, although as yet an annual grant of ?600 formed the inadequate provision which the Legislature was able to supply.

The mutual antipathies of the French and the English colonists colour all the history of the Lower Province at this period. The French increased more rapidly than the English. The Council was mainly British; the Assembly was almost entirely French. The French, emboldened by their growing numbers, began to dream of forming themselves into a separate nation. The British did not conceal that they regarded the French as a conquered people; and they deemed it a wrong that they, the conquerors, should have no larger influence on the legislation of the colony. Obscure strifes raged perpetually among the several branches of the Legislature. Every shilling of Government expenditure was eagerly scrutinized by the Assembly. The House wrangled over the amounts and also over the forms and methods of expenditure. Occasionally it disallowed certain charges, which the Governor calmly continued to pay on his own responsibility. A Receiver-General defaulted, and much fiery debate was expended in fixing the blame of this occurrence on the Governor. 1822 A.D. The English minority sought the extinction of French law and language, and supported a scheme of union which would have secured that result. The French, alarmed and indignant, loudly expressed in public meeting and by huge petitions their opposition to the proposal. Influential persons continually obtained large gifts of land on unfair terms, and kept their possessions lying waste, waiting speculatively for an advance in price, to the inconvenience of honest settlers. Not contented with the rich crop of grievances which sprang luxuriantly around them, the House revived the troubles of past years, and vainly impeached certain judges who were supposed to have been the authors of forgotten oppressions. Even the House was at war with the Governor: not infrequently that high-handed official freed himself from the irksome restraint by sending the members to their homes, and conducting the government of the colony without their help.

Upper Canada had its own special troubles. A military spirit had gone abroad among the people. When the lavish expenditure of the war ceased, and the colonists were constrained to return in poverty to their prosaic, everyday occupations, restlessness and discontent spread over the land. 1817 A.D. When the legislative bodies met, the Assembly, instead of applying itself to its proper business, proceeded angrily to inquire into the condition of the province. The Governor would permit no such investigation, and abruptly dismissed the House. It was complained that a small group of influential persons – named with abhorrence the Family Compact – monopolized all positions of trust and power, and ruled the province despotically. The Government connived at the shutting up of large masses of land, of which speculators had been allowed improperly to possess themselves. Emigration from the United States into Canada was forbidden, to the injury of the colony, lest the political opinions of the colonists should be tainted by association with republicans. But the ecclesiastical grievance of Upper Canada surpassed all others in its power to implant mutual hatred in the minds of the people. An Act passed many years ago (1791) had set apart one-seventh of all lands granted by Government, “for the support of a Protestant clergy.” The Church of England set up the monstrous claim that there were no Protestant clergymen but hers. The Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Baptists claimed an equal right to the appellation and to a share in the inheritance. The Roman Catholics proposed that the “Clergy Reserves,” now extending to three million acres, should be sold, and the proceeds applied in the interests of religion and education. No question could have been imagined more amply fitted to break up the colony into discordant factions. In actual fact the question of the Clergy Reserves was for upwards of half a century a perennial source of bitter sectarian strife.

1817 A.D. While the Canadians were thus dissatisfied with the political arrangements under which they lived, there arrived among them one Robert Gourlay, an energetic, restless, erratic Scotchman, inspired by an intense hatred to despotism, and a passionate intolerance of abuses. Mr. Gourlay began at once to investigate the causes which retarded the progress of the colony. He found many evils which were distinctly traceable to the corruption of the governing power, and these he mercilessly exposed. The Government replied by a prosecution for libel, and succeeded after a time in shutting up their assailant in prison, and ultimately sending him from the country. These arbitrary proceedings greatly incensed the people, and deepened the prevailing discord.

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