“Canadian Confederation. Will the People Be Consulted?” The New York Herald (21 November 1864)

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Date: 1864-11-21
By: The New York Herald
Citation: “Canadian Confederation. Will the People be Consulted?”, The New York Herald (21 November 1864).
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Opinions of the Press on the Crisis.

The Popular […] a “Dreadful American […],”

&c., &c., &c.,

[From the Toronto Leader, Nov. 18.]

The scheme of Confederation, drawn up by the […] Conference, is scarcely yet fairly under disclosure. It has only been before the public a few days, and the […] of the […] has only just ceased to be a subject of dispute. […] Mr. Brown states at […], his merits of any scheme of […] must depend entirely […] the details. There are many in favor of among British America who are opposed to a confederation, and not their faith in a legislative union. But the practical question is not which is the preferable form of union, but which is practicable. Discussions on this point is selected, [………] of Lower Canada […] impossible. The form of union is no longer unquestioned; this point is settled by the unanimous decision of the delegates—if they could […] anything—from all the provinces. But abundant scope for discussion and criticism is afforded by the programme of the Conference, which has been published in these […]. […] is revives legislative and then it will be submitted to a searching […] as a whole and to all its details. Unless we greatly mistake the deception of public opinion there is a predominant feeling to favor of some kind go union of all the provinces. Bout the question is so new that it has not yet had tune to take a very […] hold of the public mind; and a powerful opposition to the scheme, of which there is no prospect, would probably divide the population pretty [………] and [……]. There has from the […] been much dissatisfaction with the condition formed [……]; and, as the […] election that have taken place show, it does not abate with time.

Pending the discussion of the details of the project of confederation, public attention has been directed to a single point in connection with it. If the local Legislatures pass the measure but the majorities respective from their numbers, it is […] officially announced, the people of the carious provinces, for whom this […] is being […], will not be allowed in […] to […] matter. Their form of government will be changed for them, the number of government will be increased, and they are expected to look on the unconcern and accept the fate prepared for them. Against this proposition there is, in this community, and almost unanimous product. The arbitrary project of revolutionizing a country meets countenance nowhere except int the […] of one or two ministerial journals. The general feeling on the subject may be gathered from a number of extracts which we publish today from journals of all shades of political opinion. They might have been extended contain did our space admit it; but those we give are sufficient to show how completely public opinion has set in against the arbitrary proposal to deprive the people of the right of saying what kind go political connections they are to form, and what manner of institutions they are to live under.

In all the Provinces there is something that, for all effective purposes, is equivalent to a coalition; but in Canada only have the two extremes united on the Cabinet. The Maritime provinces are giving us the example of a coalition more entitled to respect, as its motives are wholly above suspicion. There the leaders of the opposition generously […] to resist the government to […] confederation into […]. [……] the convenience of individual public map and or parties produced a coalition, and in order to excuse it to the country, consideration was made this programme of the combinations. This was the […] time such a union was heard of as a measure of legislation. The public was thoroughly taken by surprise. In the maritime provinces, the question of union, at least among themselves, had been mooted long before, but had never come conspicuously before the electors as one on which the parties appealing to them would take a definite position. At the last general elections, no question of union, in any of the provinces, assumed that prominence which would enable us to say that there was any popular decision upon it. Several conservative candidates, in Upper Canada, in their election addresses, declared for a union of the province; but they were not joined in this declaration by the other party, and were defeated at the polls. We do not think this ought to be held as any expression of popular opinion on the subject; for the question assumed no great prominence, and was overshadowed by others of far inferior consequence. At any rate, there will be no warrant for the preposed revolution until the constituencies are heard upon it.

The delegates who assumed to themselves the power of framing a new constitution for British America had, as the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia observed, no authority to conclude anything. Of the five provinces four of the Legislatures had never even been informed that any such thing as a union of all the provinces would be proposed; and the Canadian Legislature passed no resolution on the subject. When the delegates met nobody but themselves had the least idea of the form of government that would be proposed. It was their work entirely. The people of the various provinces had never indicated in any way what sort of government they would like to have to rule over them. People read from day to day, through the leakings of the mysterious conclave, how it was proposed to constitute the upper chamber or to construct some other part of the governmental machine. […] It admissible, on any ground, to carry to its final consummation a scheme of government thus conceived and thus planned, without seeking for it the approbation of the people for whom it is formed?

Our own belief is that confederation is sufficiently popular to render its formal acceptance by the public possible. But the chance may be destroyed. Those advocates of the scheme who are threatening to ignore the people are doing their best to endanger its success. They have only to continue us they have begun to succeed in placing in the greatest possible jeopardy before the House meets. Public opinion favours a union of the provinces, but it does not sanction the proposal of carrying it without permitting the people an opportunity of saying whether they desire it or not.

[From the Hamilton Times.]

The reason for submitting it (the question of confederation, to the people is that the present Parliament was not elected to deal with so large a matter, and its members will probably r[…] that it would be safer for them to obtain fresh instructions from their […] they blot Canada out of separate existence and merge her in the proposed confederation. Nor do we conceive that any […] will result from these […] great though they be, to the popular desire. Granting the absurdity, and even the wickedness of their hankering after so trifling a matter as a voice in the establishment of the form of government under which they and their children must live, we would still urge that they will not prove unreasonable in their action. All they ask is to have an opportunity or saying whether the change would, in their opinion, be beneficial to them. If it is—and we are quite confident they will think so—they will readily accept it. If not, they will either improve or reject it altogether. As they are the portion chiefly interested, we can hardly any that, in either case, they would be acting impertinently.

[From the Hamilton Spectator]

The surest way to raise a feeling of hostility against the convention is to give the impression that is being forced upon the people without their consent and it is near that an election of a new Parliament, with the knowledge before the electors that that Parliament was destined to deal with the subject of the union of the provinces, would at once do away with this feeling, and would unite all parties, we believe, more cordially in the work of carrying out the proposed new constitution.

The objection that a general election would cause delay in the proposed union is not a good one. It is well for us to remember that the whole subject has come upon, as very suddenly, and that but little time has been afforded for the formation of that sober second thought which is a matter of so grave importance it is desirable should be brought to bear upon it. A year or two in the lifetime of a nation is a very small matter: it is no consideration when weighed in the balance against the dangers of party legislation in a matter of so great importance as the […] of a constitution for a country with so many diverse interests as has British America. The fact that an appeal to the people would give ample time for the full consideration of the subject in all its details is one of the strongest arguments that can be urged in its favor.

We urge these views in no spirit of factious hostility in the intentions or policy of the government. We have the greatest confidence in the constitutional knowledge, the sterling integrity and the throughout patriotism of the leaders of the government. And we but record the views of the great mass of the people when we claim that an opportunity should be given to them to choose representatives, with special reference to this most important object, before it is finally consummated. They may rely upon it that a contrary course will but create a spirit of discontent, and create an opposition to the whole scheme of confederation which to day does not exist.

[From the Hastings Chronicle.]

According to the Globe, it is a “[…] American heresey” to […] that the people should be first […] before such things should be accomplished. We may well ask ourselves “whither we are drifting,” when such doctrines as these may be openly proclaimed by journals which give […] and direction to public opinion. Surely if Parliament is omnipotent and may act contrary to the wishes of the people, and if it be a dreadful hersey to say that they should not do so, what rights, in the name of the constitution, do the people possess? We always supposed that the Parliament was omnipotent because it represented the popular will of the nation. If Parliament has the constitutional power to act contrary to that will or to set aside the constitution under which it was created without going back to the […] of all power—viz: the people—for their concurrence, then why is it that so many appeals are made from the decision of the people’s representatives to the people themselves? If it be a heresy to suppose that the people have any voice in framing the laws and constitution which govern them, why is it that a new Parliament has to be elected every four years? Why not elect the Parliament for life, or, indeed, why go to the expense of having a Parliament at all, when an irresponsible Governor in Council could manage the whole business to a more efficient and economical manner? Surely our able and respected contemporaries are forgetting the first principles or responsible government, or they would not deny the right of the people to […] upon the new constitution before it becomes the law of the land. It is not so much that we think the present Parliament will not act honestly and wisely in the matter—not that we have any objections to the new constitution or any want of confidence to its framers, but simply because we consider that such obvious rights as these cannot be ignored with impunity.

[From the Quebec Daily News.]

Now it is evident that this constitutional axiom (the omnipotence of Parliament) is to some extent a constitutional fiction, for Parliament, is not omnipotent, even in its complex character of king, lords and commoners, to do anything. The present Parliament of Great Britain could not, because they dare not, alter the British constitution. The omnipotence in theory is restricted in practice. A revolution would follow the attempt, and possibly lead to the destruction, at least to the remoddeling, of the entire framework of the government. If we could suppose the English Parliament so made as to venture on the doctrine of “omnipotence,” and try to change one fundamental principle of the constitution, they would be promptly checkmated by the people, who would not tolerate the innovation. But this attribute of “omnipotence” would, in an abstract […], be of no utility, if not accompanied by infallibility; for a while a body may err, “[…]” is a questionable attrinbute. But, like other constitutional fictions, it has its use in legislation, since no appeal lies against the decision of Parliament to a higher court, though there does, under a representative government, to the people. We avoid the difficult and, we believe still unresolved problem, whether the rights of the people are concessions from the monarch or an invasion of his prerogative. It is enough for us that the people have rights, self existent, independent and inherent and that no Parliament, even omnipotent, could annihilate these rights and continue to be a Parliament, for that would be to destroy itself, which omnipotence […] It is plan, then, that the word “omnipotence” applied to a Parliament is a relative term: for where there is accountability there can be no omnipotence: where there is a restriction, omnipotence cannot exist. We have other convenient fictions, which we accept, not for their abstract truth, but for their use in that complicated system of government called a constitution. We have even fictions of prerogative, useful, perhaps indispensably go. By a fiction of the law the monarch is looked upon as the universal proprietor of the kindgdom: the sequence is that “he is in consequence doomed directly concerned in all offences.” […] prosecutions are carried on his name in the courts of law.” Another constitutional fiction is that “the King can do no wrong,” which is at variance with fact both in his personal and executive capacity, if history tell the truth. It simply [..] his person is inviolable, and above the reach of all courts of law. Nearly the entire prerogative is fiction, for while the monarch can be vicariously published through his ministers, while they are accountable to Parliament, and while the House of Commons is responsible to the people this gradating of accountability qualified the prerogative, and […] it to a useful purpose in government.

[From the Lennox and Addington Ledger.]

We decidedly favor confederation—impartially considered. We also believe the majority of people of Western Canada will favor the scheme. But the question has to be submitted to them first. It is very well for thirty-three eminent men to prescribe, but the people of Canada will expect to have something more directly to say about the prescription than they have yet done.

[From the Owen Sound Advertiser.]

The ship of the confederation is not yet in port. There are three ticklish places to be passed yet. These are—

1. The Parliaments of the different provinces to each of these legislatures there will no doubt be more or less of opposition. 2. The appeal to the country. We see that some of the leading men in our own Parliament will demand an appeal to the country before the scheme is finally […]. This will be a terrible ordeal for the scheme. It may be burnt to a cinder before it passes through this […]. 3. The Imperial Parliament. The whole affair must be submitted to her Majesty’s ministers to Britain. We hope to see the confederation articles, not perhaps exactl;y as the conference left them, but much improved, pass through these stages and finally became a fact. When all this is done there will be more reason for jollification than there can be for a while yet.

[From the Whitby Chronicle.]

We have not spoken with a single Reformer upon the question who has not declared himself in favor of letting the people have a voice in their own future. The Globe seems to shrink from the democracy of the thing, as being an experiment too dangerous to risk. It is a new thing to hear the leader of the most democratic party in Canada make use of such language. The arguments made are of by the Globe against taking the voice of the people upon the question of confederation, are not conclusive to our […]. It may be generally true “that Parliament, representing the will of the nation, is entitled to act for the nation,” but we doubt whether the present instance is not an exception to this general rule. When the present Parliament was elected, very few members dreamed of being called upon to decide upon a question of such momentous importance as the confederation of the British American Provinces. We trust, if ministers do not see the necessity of the step we advocate, that the representatives will compel them to do their duty by the people.

[From the London Free Press.]

It would be competent for the Legislature to pass a short bill during the coming session, which, embodying the transcript of the new constitution, would enact that a poll should be held on a certain day in each constituancy [sic]—the matter to be voted upon being aye or nay on the question of confederation. This would give to the people the opportunity of expression without doing any injustice to sitting members, or causing any party feeling in the country. A proceeding somewhat similar in its nature has just transpired at our […]. The government owes it to itself that some such plan be resorted to in order that the popular will may be ascertained. Sincere in their desire for the general advancement, it would be a great pity if,, by neglecting what may be considered a self-evident duty, they should lay themselves open to misconstruction.

[From the Central Canadian.]

If we read aright Mr. Brown’s speech we are not to have the question submitted to the people, and if the governments of the different Provinces are sufficiently strong in their respective Legislatures, the question will be settled by the present Parliaments irrespective of their constituencies. The correctness of this course is questionable, when we recollect that a confederation of the British North American Provinces was not before the people at the last elections and that they turned on other questions altogether. The sense of the people might be obtained (if an election is condemned) by a vote of the constituencies on the question in the same way as that of the taxpayers on the question of a loan in any municipality. A short law might be passed at a special session of Parliament authorizing and directing this mode of ascertaining the feelings of the people upon the subject.


We have received a copy of the Nor’ Wester, published at Fort Garry, Red River Settlement, and dated October 17. The Nor’Wester has an article on the confederation of the provinces, in which, after copying a paragraph respecting the proceedings of the Charlottetown Convention, it says:–

We, in Rupert’s Land, look forward to the issue with no little interest; for, though we send no delegate there, the present and future position of this vast section of the country will, we believe, enter into the discussions. The Canadian delegates will treat of the subject, but in a very secondary way. The wishes of their own constituents must be first and fully attended to, and hence the amount of consideration which the interests of Red River or Rupert’s Land will receive at their hands is likely to be very small. The future of this land will have a share in the discussions; but, under these circumstances, it may be just such a share as we would not covet. It is to be regretted that this should be the case. Red River ought to have had its representative or representatives at the Conventions. As it is, we are […] at a most critical juncture, when our fellow colonists on this continent are putting their heads together to devise the best means for strengthening themselves and […] their position and prospects.

The Debt of the Confederation.

[From the Toronto Leader, Nov 19]

The debt of the confederation, to start with—supposing the International Railroad to be built—will be little over $100,000,000, distributed as follows:–

Debt of Canada…………………………………..$[?5/6?],[?6?]00,000
Debt of Nova Scotia…………………………… [?8?],000,000
Debt of New Brunswick……………………… 7,000,000
Accorded to P.E.I. and Newfoundland to
adjust difference of debt……………………..[?5?],400,000
Paid to Newfoundland for its lands and mines 3,000,000

Total $[?8?]5,900,000

Linking the cost of the Intercolonial Railroad at £3,000,000 sterling, or $15,000,000, the total debt of the United Provinces, to star[t] with would be $100,000,000. M. [?Brown?] greatly overestimates the debt when he places it at $[?][?][?5?],000,000.

But this does not provide for the enlargement of the canals or the opening up of the northwest. There improvement are to be left till a more convenient season. There ought to have been something more definite, on this subject, in the agreement come to by the delegates. As the expense of building the Intercolonial railroad is to fall upon the confederation, Canada will pay a very much larger proportion of the cost than she would have paid if the previous agreement between the Provinces, as to the proportions they should respectively bear, had been carried out. This is a reason why there should be no mistake of contingency about the enlargement of our canals. No other improvement would be of so much importance to Upper Canada, especially if it were connected with the opening up of the great Northwest.

The Defences

[From the Montreal Telegraph.]

In answer to the statements made here and in Great Britain as to the indefensible position of Canada, we are enabled to state that the Imperial officers deputed to examine our own and the American frontier, and to report on a system of defence, have not only reported that Canada can be effectively defended by a moderate force against aggression, but have also devised a scheme of defence which has been approved by the military authorities at home, and is about to be carried out as far as permanent works are required. This scheme, we understand, is based upon the theory that […] campaign in Canada can be continued during the winter, and includes the construction of entrenched camps and other works at vital points sufficient to arrest the progress of an invader, and compel him to resort to tedious siege operations, by regular approaches.

Vancouver and British Columbia.

On the 19th of September, Governor Kennedy opened the fourth session of the Vancouver Legislature. The Governor asks for its views respecting the proposed union with British Columbia. The Victoria press oppose this unless Vancouver with the smallest population has an equal number of representatives. The Legislature has, however, adopted resolutions favorable to the union. Among other matters to come before the Legislature are the question of education, the relations between white men and the Indian tribes, and postal communication. British Columbia paper report an abundant supply of [?gold?]. The supply of goods was so great that traders are glad to sell at any price. Dr. [?], of the […] telegraph, had arrived at the mouth of the Quesnell. He came down from Fort George in a canoe with an Indian.

The St. Alban’s Raid.


[From the Kingston (Canada) News.]

It is probable, we learn, that a government measure will be introduced into Parliament immediately on its assembling in January next, for the purpose of preventing, by more stringent enactments, any repetition of the St. Alban’s raid. There need be no doubt but that the government entertains the general view of the public, that we must do everything to avoid any violation of the comity of nations, and that if Confederate refugees will not respect our hospitality and the asylum afforded them, we must do something which will cause them to yield a respect which they are bound in honor to observe. If there should be no necessity in the meantime to issue an order-in-council the proceding by bill will have the merit that the measure will be submitted indirectly to the people.

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