In addition to these internal variances, the provinces had a standing dispute on a question of revenue. Of the duties levied on goods which passed up the St. Lawrence river, only one-fifth was paid to Upper Canada. As the commerce of the province increased, the unfairness of this distribution was more loudly complained of. The men of the East were slow to perceive the justice of the complaint, and maintained their hold upon the revenue despite the exasperation of their brethren in the West.
But although these now obscure strifes have been regarded as composing the history of Canada, they were happily not its life. The increase of its people and of their intelligence and comfort; the growth of order and of industry; the unrecorded spread of cultivation along the banks of the great river and far up its tributary valleys – these silent operations of natural causes were the life of the provinces. Their shores were sought by crowds of emigrants. New settlements were being continually formed. 1821 A.D. Steamships began to ply on the river and on the great lakes, and the improved facilities of communication quickened the industrial development of the country. The navigation of the river was grievously impeded by rapids and waterfalls – the portages of the olden time, at which the red man was accustomed to draw his canoe from the water and carry it toilsomely through the forest till he had rounded the obstacle. Canals were now formed at such points, and ships were enabled to continue their voyages without interruption. The revenue steadily increased, and every class was fairly prosperous. Banks had been established in all leading towns. Agriculture was still exceedingly rude. All agricultural implements were in insufficient supply; the poor farmers could not obtain so much as the ploughs they needed, and they were fain to draw out the wealth of the fertile soil with no better means than manual labour afforded.
But these evils were in due course of years surmounted, and in the year 1831, when an estimate of the possessions of the Canadians was made, the result disclosed an amount of successful industry for which the world had not given them credit. During the seventy years which had elapsed since England conquered the valley of the St. Lawrence, the population had increased from sixty thousand to nearly nine hundred thousand. With the addition of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the smaller colonies, the American subjects of England numbered now a million and a quarter. The lands which their toil had redeemed from wilderness were now valued at seventeen million sterling. Their cattle and horses were worth seven million; their dwellings and public buildings had cost them fifteen million; they had two million invested in the machinery by which the timber of their boundless forests was prepared for market; in their great cod and seal fisheries they had a fixed capital of a million and a half. Eight hundred ships annually visited their ports from Great Britain; in all the branches of their maritime industry two thousand five hundred arrivals were registered.
Quebec and Montreal had grown up into considerable towns, each with a population of nearly forty thousand, the vast majority of whom were French. In the bay where Wolfe’s boats stole unobserved and in silence to the shore, there lay now a fleet of merchant-vessels ministering to a large and growing commerce. The lower town which the English guns had destroyed was a bustling, thriving sea-port. Far above, where Montcalm and Wolfe fought, was now a well-built city, bright with towers and spires; with its impregnable Citadel; with its Parliament House, said to be more imposing than that in which the Commons of Great Britain then assembled; with its Palace for the Governor-General, and its aspect and tone of metropolitan dignity; with college and schools; with newspapers and banks, and libraries and charitable societies; with ship-building, manufacturing, and all the busy marketing which beseems one of the great haunts of commerce. Those seventy years of English rule had raised Quebec from the rank of little more than a village to that of an important city; and had seen the valley of the St. Lawrence pass out of the condition of wilderness and become the home of a numerous and prospering population.
The progress of years did not allay, but, on the contrary, steadily enhanced the fever of political discontent which now pervaded the colonies. The measure of representation which they enjoyed had seemed, when the Act of Pitt conferred it upon them, fairly satisfactory; but after the close of the great European war political opinion ripened fast, and the freedom which had seemed ample in 1791 was intolerably insufficient forty years later. The colonists perceived that they were living under a despotism. Their Executive and one of their legislative chambers were appointed by the Crown, without regard to the popular wish. Only the Lower Chamber was chosen by the people, and its action was constantly frustrated by the Governor, the aristocratic advisers by whom his policy was guided, and his ally the Council. On their southern border lay the territories of a great nation, whose people enjoyed complete political freedom and appointed all their rulers. The United States had so prospered that their population was now tenfold that of Canada; and their more rapid growth was traced, in the general belief, to the larger freedom of their institutions. In England the engrossing occupation of the people had been, for many years, the extending of their liberties, the rescue of political power from the hands by which it had been irregularly appropriated. The Englishmen of Canada could not remain unmoved by the things which had come to pass among the Englishmen of America and of England.
1820 A.D. When the Canadians of the Upper Province were awakening to a perception of the evils under which they suffered, there arrived among them an adventurous young Scotchman destined to leave deep traces on their political history. His name was William Lyon Mackenzie. He had already played many parts in various Scotch and English towns, with but indifferent success. In Canada he resumed his quest of a livelihood; but finding nothing at first to meet his requirements, he devoted himself to political reform, and set up a newspaper. His love of reform and his hatred of abuses were genuine and deep; his mind was acute and energetic; but his temperament was too impulsive to permit sufficient consideration of the course which he intended to pursue. The very first number of his paper awakened the sensibilities of all who profited by corruption. He continued his unwelcome diligence in the investigation and exposure of abuses, and in rousing the public mind to demand an enlargement of political privilege.
There were many grounds of difference between the party of Reform and the governing power. Justice, it was said, was impurely administered; the Governor persisted in refusing to yield to the Assembly control over certain important branches of the public revenue, and continued to administer these at his own pleasure. The Governors fell into the hands of the small influential party known as the Family Compact, which filled all public offices with its own adherents. The grievances of which the Assembly complained were debated in a spirit of intense bitterness. On one occasion the Assembly censured the Governor, and was in turn rebuked for its want of courtesy. Mackenzie was five times expelled from the House, and was as often elected. On one occasion the Assembly refused to grant supplies to the Governor, and the Governor avenged himself by rejecting the Bill which members had passed for payment of their own salaries. But gradually, with growing enlightenment, all these trivial discontents consolidated into one loud and urgent demand for responsible government. It was perceived that with a Ministry responsible to the Assembly an adequate measure of constitutional liberty would be secured.
The politics of the Lower Province were more complex. There was a British Reform party, having aims identical with those of their brethren in the west: the overthrow of the despotic Family Compact, full control of revenue by the Assembly, better administration of justice, improved management of Crown lands – all summed up in the demand for responsible government. There was also a French party, greatly more numerous than the other, and seeming to concur with it in many of its opinions. But the real aims of the Frenchmen were wholly at variance with those of the British. They desired to increase the power of the Assembly, because they themselves composed seven-eighths of that body. It was still their hope to establish a French nation on the banks of the St. Lawrence; to preserve old French law and custom; to shut out British immigrants, and possess the soil for their own people.
The British Government was bewildered by the complicated strife in which it was constantly importuned to interfere. There were petitions full of grievances; on one occasion there were ninety-two resolutions, which were laid before King and Parliament by the French party, and copiously answered by the British; there were constant and querulous statements of wrongs presented to the Governor. Out of doors a bitter and uncompromising strife raged. The British were denounced as tyrants, usurpers, foreigners. The French were scorned as a subjugated race, and reprobated as ungrateful rebels who had been treated too leniently. The British Government manifested an anxious desire to understand and to heal those pernicious strifes. It decreed Committees of Inquiry; it sent Commissions to investigate on the spot; it appointed conciliatory Governors; it made numerous small concessions, in the vain hope of appeasing the entangled and inexplicable discontents of its distant subjects.
The disaffected Frenchmen were ruled, during their unhappy progress towards rebellion, by Louis Joseph Papineau, a man whose years should have brought him wisdom, for he was now in middle-life; ambitious, restless, eloquent, with power to lead his ignorant countrymen at his pleasure, and without prudence to direct his authority to good ends.
1837 A.D. This mischievous person occupied himself in persuading the peasants of the Montreal district to throw off the British yoke and establish themselves as an independent nation. His efforts were not wholly without success. The peasantry began to arm and to drill. The symbols of French dominion, the tri-coloured flag and the eagle, were constantly displayed; the revolutionary songs of France were sung by turbulent mobs in the streets of Montreal. These evidences of inflamed feeling pointed decisively to violence. The Roman Catholic clergy took part with the Government, and sought to hold the excited people to their duty by threatening disturbers of the peace with the extreme penalties of ecclesiastical law. Many persons were restrained by the terrors thus announced, and the dimensions of the rebellious movement were lessened. But no considerations, sacred or secular, sufficed to restrain Papineau and his deluded followers from a series of violent proceedings, which have been dignified by the name of rebellion, but which were really nothing more than serious riots. Bands of armed peasantry ranged the country around Montreal; the well-affected inhabitants sought shelter in the city, and their homesteads were ravaged by the invaders. At several points a few hundred men drew together to withstand the Government forces and were defeated. One such body, unable to abide the conflict which they had provoked, threw down their arms and implored pardon. During a period of five or six weeks these disorders continued, but the firm action of the Governor restored tranquillity. Papineau, the unworthy instigator of the disturbances, fled so soon as fighting began, and sought inglorious security beyond the frontier. A little later, some bodies of American marauders appeared in the Montreal district, hoping to renew the disturbance; but they too were quickly dispersed. The Governor acted with much leniency towards those rebels who became his prisoners. With few exceptions they were set at liberty; and even those who were detained for a time were discharged on giving security for future good behaviour. Of the foreigners who were captured in arms, several were put to death, and many suffered lengthened captivity.
The disorders of the Lower Province had scarcely been quelled, when Mackenzie, followed by the more extreme and injudicious advocates of reform, precipitated in Upper Canada a movement equally insignificant and unsuccessful. These persons went to war avowedly to secure complete responsibility of government to the people. This was undeniably the prevailing desire of the province; but it was found that while many desired this excellent reform, few were prepared to incur for its sake the evils which rebellion must necessarily bring. Fifteen hundred men enrolled themselves under the banner of Mackenzie. An attack upon Toronto was devised, and was defeated with ease. Dec. 1837 A.D. Mackenzie fled to the United States, where he was able to organize some bands of lawless men for a marauding expedition into Canada. They, too, were routed, and order was easily restored.
These wretched disturbances served a purpose which peaceful agitation had thus far failed to accomplish – they compelled the earnest attention of the British Parliament to the wishes of the colonists. On the eve of the rebellion, Government had explicitly refused to grant the boon of ministerial responsibility, and carried an Act by which powers were given to the Governor to make certain payments which the Assembly had for some years refused to make. The British Government of the day was a Liberal Government. Lord John Russell was one of its members, a man who for many years had devoted himself to the cause of reform at home. It was Lord John Russell who now led the House of Commons in its denial to the colonies of that popular control over government which was deemed essential for England. No perception of the glaring inconsistency disturbed the minds of the most genuine reformers, for an erring theory of the true position and rights of colonists still prevailed. Even the Liberal party had not yet learned to recognize an Englishman who had taken up his abode in the valley of the St. Lawrence as the equal in political right of the Englishman who remained at home. A colony was still an association of persons who had established themselves on some distant portion of national territory, and whose affairs were to be administered with reference chiefly to the interests of the mother country. Colonists were not allowed to trade freely where they chose. They must purchase from England all the goods which they might require; all their surplus productions must be sent home for sale. Their attempts to manufacture were sternly repressed. It was expected of them that they should cultivate that portion of the national soil which had been assigned to them, reserving for the mother country the profitable supply of all their wants, the profitable disposal of all their productions. The ships of strangers were rigorously excluded; no foreign keel had ploughed the waters of the St. Lawrence since French ships bore home to Europe the men whom Wolfe defeated.
No less clear was the political inferiority of the colonist. A colony was still regarded as a subordinate and dependent portion of the empire, whose position rendered impossible its admission to equality of privilege. It could not be intrusted with the unqualified control of its own destinies; it must needs accept also the guidance of the Colonial Office. This was the tie which bound the colony to the mother country; but for this Canada would certainly yield to the influences of prosperous republicanism in its neighbourhood, and cast off the authority of the Crown. So reasoned the Whig statesmen of forty years ago; and their reasoning was replied to by widespread discontent, the depth of which was revealed by lurid and ominous flashes of rebellion. It became necessary to revise the traditional estimate of colonial right.
October, 1839 A.D. The progress of ministerial opinion made itself apparent in the despatches of Lord John Russell. His Lordship would not yet explicitly acknowledge the responsibility of the Executive to the representatives of the people. But he assured the colonists that Her Majesty would in future look to their “affectionate attachment” as the best security for permanent dominion, and that she would not maintain among them any policy which opinion condemned. The friends of responsible government perceived that their hour of triumph was near.
Many evils had flowed from the separation of the provinces effected by Pitt fifty years before. It still suited the interests of the unreforming party in the Upper Province and the French Canadians in the Lower to maintain the separation. But it was clear to all men who sought merely the public good that existing arrangements had become unendurable. The position of both colonies called urgently for measures of reconstruction. The constitution of Lower Canada had been suspended during the rebellion, and had not yet been restored. The finances of the Upper Province were in disorder; public works were discontinued; business was paralyzed; immigration had ceased. It was widely felt that industrial progress was fatally impeded by separation; that the only remedy for the evils under which Canada suffered was the legislative union of the two provinces.
The British Government was known to favour this measure; the Liberals in both provinces were eager in its support; the Conservatives of the Upper Province ceased from resistance under loyal impulses; the French Canadians had by their attitude during the late disturbances forfeited their claim to consideration. July, 1840 A.D. The Union Bill was passed by the Legislatures of both provinces and by the Imperial Parliament, and the enfeebling separation which the jealousies of an earlier time had imposed was finally cancelled.
Canada was henceforth to be ruled by a Governor, a Legislative Council, and a Legislative Assembly. The Governor and Council were appointed by the Crown; the Assembly was chosen by the people. The representation was shared equally by the provinces – ten members of Council, and forty-two members of Assembly being assigned to each. The Assembly had control of all branches of the public revenue. The Governor was advised by an Executive Council of eight members, who, if they were members of Assembly, required re-election when they accepted a place in the Council. When the Council no longer commanded a majority in the Assembly it ceased to hold office. The long-desired boon of responsible government was thus at length secured; the traditional inferiority of the colonist was cancelled; it was recognized that an Englishman who bore his part in building up new empires in distant places did not therefore forfeit the rights of a free-born English subject. To insure and hasten the use of this new method of colonial government, a command came to the Governor-General, in the Queen’s name, to the effect that he should rule in accordance with the feelings and opinions of the people, as these were expressed by the popular representatives. For a few years there was an imperfect application of a principle hitherto unknown in Canadian history; but gradually the people learned to enforce and the Government to recognize the newly conferred privilege. The great revolution which raised the Canadians to the rank of a fully self-governing people was complete.
The foundations were now laid upon which the colonists could peacefully build themselves up into a great industrial nation. But the antipathies of race which had hitherto vexed and frustrated them were not immediately allayed. The united British population of the two provinces now outnumbered the French, and was able to give law to the colony. The French element was surrounded by a British element of superior strength, of superior intelligence and energy, attracting continually reinforcements from the mother country. The hope of erecting a French power in the valley of the St. Lawrence was now extinct, and the Frenchmen had no longer any higher prospect than that of peaceful citizenship under the rule of men whom they regarded as foreigners. They remained apart, following their own customs, cherishing their own prejudices, refusing to intermingle with the British population among whom they lived.