“British American Confederation”, The Charleston Mercury (21 September 1864)

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Date: 1865-09-21
By: The Charleston Mercury [From the New York Tribune]
Citation: “British American Confederation”, The Charleston Mercury (21 September 1864).
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[From the New York Tribune.]

The first conference of delegates from the eastern provinces of British America—Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward’s Island—met on the 1st of September at Charlottetown Prince Edward’s Island. Originally, this meeting had been convoked for the purpose of deliberating on the expediency of uniting, under one Government, and one Legislature, the local Maritime provinces—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward’s Island. But the project recently agreed upon by the political parties in Canada, to establish a general British American Confederation, led to the presence of delegates from Canada, and to a discussion of the question whether the Maritime provinces had better go on with their original plan, or drop it and adopt the Canadian scheme.

After careful consideration of the whole question, the Conference is said to have unanimously come to the conclusion that the advantages of confederation to all the provinces would be very great, provided the terms of alliance could be made satisfactory. The delegates from the Maritime provinces were to resume the consideration of the details of the scheme at Halifax, on the 14th instant, after which a duly authorized Conference of the several provincial governments is to be held at Quebec, to mature, if possible, a formal proposition for submission to their respective Parliaments. If the Conference to be held at Quebec should be able to come to some understanding about a plan to be submitted to the Legislatures of the Provinces, we may expect that it will obtain the sanction of the Legislatures, and of a large majority of the people in each of the Provinces. This result seems, at least, to be foreshadowed by the general favour which the scheme of confederation has received from the press of British America.

Serious opposition will probably be encountered only in Lower Canada. There a large majority of the population is French by origin, by language, and by sentiment. They are jealously intent upon the preservation of their nationality. The originators of the Confederation scheme hoped to reconcile them to the project, notwithstanding the other provinces would be an overwhelming English speaking majority, by the extension to the Federal principle. The Lower Canadians are to have their own Provincial Legislature, which would naturally be entirely under French control, and to the Central Government as little jurisdiction is to be transferred as is compatible with the idea of a Confederation. This proposition is accepted by a considerable portion of the French Canadians, but on this explicit condition, that no extensive powers shall be given to the Central Government. To use a term more common with us, the French Canadians, if the proposed Confederation should be successfully established, will be ultra States Rights men.

The English minority of Lower Canada, of whom the Montreal Gazette is the chief organ, naturally inclines towards a concentration of power in the hands of the Central Government, as it would secure them a greater influence, But the advocacy of this view has greatly excited the ire of the French Canadians. One of their organs, La Minerve, says threateningly of this proposition: “Well, let them do it. The French Canadians would unite as a single man, and before ten years were passed there would not be two representatives from Lower Canada in the Parliament, belonging to an original different from ours. Does our contemporary ignore the fact that this very hour the greater part of the English members from Lower Canada owe their seats to the votes of the French Canadians?” Still La Minerve is one of the French papers not altogether opposed to confederation, if under it provincial self-government is to be secured to Lower Canada.

Quite different are the views of a young school of French enthusiasts, who are represented by a newly established French paper, l’Union Nationale. They reject the scheme of a Confederation altogether, and advocate a dissolution of the union that now connects them with Upper Canada. They dream of the organization of a French American nationality. When separated from Upper Canada, they expect to override the English speaking residents of Lower Canada, to diffuse over all French ideas, and gradually build up a separate and independent French State. Thus far this party is in a minority in Lower Canada; if they should increase in strength, they must inevitably form a very disturbing element in the new Confederation.

The further development of this scheme of a British-American Confederation deserves close attention, as it bids fair to act a very conspicuous part in the history of the American Continent.

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