Despatch from Right Hon. Edward Cardwell to Viscount Monck (3 December 1864)

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Date: 1864-12-03
By: Edward Cardwell
Citation: Despatch from Right Hon. Edward Cardwell to Viscount Monck (3 December 1864) in United Kingdom, Correspondence Respecting the Proposed Union of the British North American Provinces (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1865).
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(No. 93)

Downing Street, December 3, 1864.


HER Majesty’s Government have received with the most cordial satisfaction your Lordship’s Despatch of the 7th ultimo, transmitting for their consideration the Resolutions[3] adopted by the Representatives of the several Provinces of British North America, who were assembled at Quebec.

With the sanction of the Crown—and upon the invitation of the Governor General-men of every Province, chosen by the respective Lieutenant-Governors without distinction of party, assembled to consider questions of the utmost interest to every subject of the Queen, of whatever race or faith, resident in those Provinces; and have arrived at a conclusion destined to exercise a most important influence upon the future welfare of the whole community.

Animated by the warmest sentiments of loyalty and devotion to their Sovereign,—earnestly desirous to secure for their posterity throughout all future time the advantages which they enjoy as subjects of the British Crown,—steadfastly attached to the institutions under which they live,—they have conducted their deliberations with patient sagacity, and have arrived at unanimous conclusions on questions involving many difficulties, and calculated under less favourable auspices to have given rise to many differences of opinion.

Such an event is in the highest degree honourable to those who have taken part in these deliberations. It must inspire confidence in the men by whose judgement and temper this result has been attained:—and will ever remain on record as an evidence of the salutary influence exercised by the institutions under which these qualities have been so signally developed.

Her Majesty’s Government have given to your Despatch and to the Resolutions of the Conference their most deliberate consideration. They have regarded them as a whole, and as having been designed by those who have framed them to establish as complete and perfect an union of the whole into one Government, as the circumstances of the case and a due consideration of existing interests would admit. They accept them, therefore, as being, in the deliberate judgement of those best qualified to decide upon the subject, the best framework of a measure to be passed by the Imperial Parliament for attaining that most desirable result.

The point of principal importance to the practical well-working of the scheme, is the accurate determination of the limits between the authority of the Central and that of the Local Legislatures in their relation to each other. It has not been possible to exclude from the resolutions some provisions which appear to be less consistent than might, perhaps, have been desired with the simplicity and unity of the system. But upon the whole it appears to her Majesty’s Government that precautions have been taken, which are obviously intended to secure to the Central Government the means of effective action throughout the several Provinces; and to guard against those evils which must inevitably arise, if any doubt were permitted to exist as to the respective limits of Central and Local authority. They are glad to observe that, although large powers of legislation are intended to be vested in local bodies, yet the principle of Central control has been steadily kept in view. The importance of this principle cannot be overrated. Its maintenance is essential to the practical efficiency of the system,— and to its harmonious operation, both in the general administration, and in the Governments of the several Provinces. A very important part of this subject is the expense which may attend the working of the Central and the Local Governments. Her Majesty’s Government cannot but express the earnest hope that the arrangements which may be adopted in this respect may not be of such a nature as to increase-at least in any considerable degree—the whole expenditure, or to make any material addition to the taxation, and thereby retard the internal industry, or tend to impose new burdens on the commerce of the country.

Her Majesty’s Government are anxious to lose no time in conveying to you their general approval of the proceedings of the Conference. There are, however, two provisions of great importance which seem to require revision. The first of these is the provision contained in the 44th Resolution with respect to the exercise of the Prerogative of pardon. It appears to her Majesty’s Government that this duty belongs to the representative of the Sovereign,—and could not with propriety be devolved upon the Lieutenant-Governors, who will, under the present scheme, be appointed not directly by the Crown, but by the Central Government of the United Provinces.

The second point which her Majesty’s Government desire should be reconsidered is the Constitution of the Legislative Council. They appreciate the considerations which have influenced the Conference in determining the mode in which this body, so important to the constitution of the Legislature, should be composed. But it appears to them to require further consideration whether if the Members be appointed for life, and their number be fixed, there will be any sufficient means of restoring harmony between the Legislative Council and the Popular Assembly, if it shall ever unfortunately happen that a decided difference of opinion shall arise between them.

These two points, relating to the Prerogative of the Crown and to the Constitution of the Upper Chamber, have appeared to require distinct and separate notice. Questions of minor consequence and matters of detailed arrangement may properly be reserved for a future time, when the Provisions of the Bill, intended to be submitted to the Imperial Parliament, shall come under consideration. Her Majesty’s Government anticipate no serious difficulty in this part of the case,—since the Resolutions will generally be found sufficiently explicit to guide those who will be intrusted with the preparation of the Bill. It appears to them, therefore, that you should now take immediate measures in concert with the Lieutenant-Governors of the several Provinces, for submitting to their respective Legislatures this project of the Conference;—and if, as I hope, you are able to report that these Legislatures sanction and adopt the scheme, her Majesty’s Government will render you all the assistance in their power for carrying it into effect. It will probably be found to be the most convenient course, that in concert with the Lieutenant-Governors, you should select a deputation of the persons best qualified, to proceed to this country;—that they may be present during the preparation of the Bill, and give to her Majesty’s Government the benefit of their counsel upon any question which may arise during the passage of the measure through the two Houses of Parliament,

I have, &c.,

Viscount Monck.
&c. &c. &c.

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