Despatch from Anthony Musgrave to Right Hon. Edward Cardwell (19 April 1865)

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Date: 1865-04-19
By: Anthony Musgrave
Citation: Despatch from Anthony Musgrave to Right Hon. Edward Cardwell (19 April 1865) in UK, Parliament, Correspondence respecting the Proposed Union of the British North American Provinces (London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1867).
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No. 5.

Copy of a DESPATCH from Governor MUSGRAVE to the Right Hon. EDWARD CARDWELL., M.P.

(No. 10.)

Government House, Newfoundland, April 19, 1865.
(Received May 9, 1865.)
(Answered No. 20, May 11, 1865, page 155.)


My Despatch dated the 13th of April, No. 35,* enclosing copies off the speech with which I closed the Legislative Session, and of the Resolution passed by the Assembly on the subject of the proposed Confederation of the North American Provinces, was written some days before I had the honour to receive yesterday your Despatch No. 15, + of the 17th March, in which you express regret at the likelihood of delay in adoption of the project, and state that you would be very glad to hear that I were able to announce a favourable decision on the part of the Local Legislature. I had in that Despatch already acquainted you that any attempt to force the acceptance of the project would only have ensured defeat ; and it is believed on what I regard as good reasons, that after an adverse decision by the existing House of Assembly, an appeal to the constituencies would be made under disadvantageous conditions. It only remains for me to add a few further observations in explanation, which I hope will be satisfactory.

2. Although propositions for a general Confederation of all the continental Provinces, and also for the union of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island as a minor arrangement, have from time to time been the subjects of discussion in those communities. Newfoundland was not included in any of such schemes until late in the last summer, and the matter had really received little if any consideration. A very large proportion of the population are still so ignorant of the subject, or its bearings upon their interests, that they could easily be misled by the misrepresentations of the designing among the needy […] politicians so numerous in these Colonies, who, if the opportunity were afforded to them, would be ready to use it for grasping at power by persuading the masses that an attempt is being made to deprive them of their liberties. And it would not be difficult by […] to produce a state of public feeling which would not only postpone indefinitely any Federal arrangement, but very seriously embarrass the judicious conduct of local affairs for some time to come.

3. It has been felt that it was necessary to proceed tentatively, to lead to, rather than compel the concurrence of the community in that which is proposed ; and for this purpose it has been regarded especially important to avoid dealing with the matter as a measure of the local government or “party” question. To have done so would have enabled the organization of an opposition definitely upon this ground, who, with a plausibility sufficient for the delusion of a large number of the more ignorant of the electors, would, in the event of what might be considered a hostile dissolution of the Assembly by the Government, most probably have been able, as has happened in New Brunswick, to influence the elections to an extent decidedly adverse to the reception of the proposals of the Quebec Conference, and greatly obstructing the salutary administration of the business of the Colony in any respect. I cannot escape from the impression that imprudent haste has caused the present state of affairs in New Brunswick, which certainly have produced injurious effects in the contiguous Provinces, and I learn, on authority which I may trust, that the Legislature of Nova Scotia is already engaged in the consideration, not of the proposals of the Quebec Conference, but of the previous scheme for the Union of the Lower Maritime Colonies.

4. For the reasons which I have mentioned it has been regarded as peculiarly expedient to evade any necessity for a dissolution of the Assembly. Much care was taken to prevent such a course being forced upon the Government, and with so much success that, as I mentored in any Despatch No. 27,* of 23rd February, no overt attempt has been made to procure a declaration hostile to the proposed Union.

5. But even if greater doubt had been felt as tot he impropriety of a dissolution, there are serious practical obstacles to the adoption of such a course. It would be quite as easy now to dissolve the Assembly as it was two months ago, but not less difficult than then to appoint a time for the new elections which would not cause much dissatisfaction and lead to unfavourable results. The greater portion of the electors are seafaring men, who, at this time of the year, are absent from their places of residence while engages in the prosecution of the seal fishery, and who almost immediately on relinquishing that occupation go to sea again during the summer season to fish for cod. Except under very unusual circumstances, it is scarcely possible fairly to hold a general election at any other time than in the autumn, for, during the winter, communication with many portions of the Government is absolutely impracticable.

6. I can assure you that all these considerations have been very carefully weighed, both by myself and my advisors, and I trust you will find that your confidence has not been misplaced in relying, as you have been pleased to say, on the judgment which I may form upon the spot with the aid of local information.

I have, &c.

(Signed) A. MUSGRAVE.

The Right Hon. Edward Cardwell, M.P.,
&c. &c. &c.

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