“From Canada. The Proposed Confederation of British North America…” New York Times (10 October 1864)

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Date: 1864-10-10
By: New York Times
Citation: “From Canada. The Proposed Confederation of British North America, its Advantages and Difficulties”, New York Times (10 October 1864).
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The Proposed Confederation of British North America, its Advantages and Difficulties – The Assembling of a Conference at Quebec – Proposed Guaranteed Independence of the Confederacy, &c., &c.

Correspondence of the New-York Times.

MONTREAL, Monday, Oct. 3, 1864.

It is singular that, at the very time when your plotters are endeavoring to compass a separation of States, which have hitherto been bound together, our leading men should be trying to bring about confederation of provinces hitherto disjointed. It is still more remarkable that while, with you, the masses are thought to be for union, the leaders alone for disunion, with us the leaders, who advocate federation, are certainly in advance of, if not opposed to, the wished of the people. The hope of all who desire to see the nations of the Continent prosperous and progressive, must naturally be, that your intriguers may signally fall, and that our ministers may as signally succeed.

It is impossible to close one’s eyes to the fact, that difficulties of the gravest kind exist in the way of a union of British American Provinces. Nobody, I imagine, is willing to deny this, but great though the difficulties may be, the confederative scheme offers at least a temporary escape from existing evils, which have been growing from year to year, and have, at length, become a Gordian knot – to be cut but not unraveled. None know better than the intelligent readers of the Times that Canada, geographically divided into two by the Ottawa River, contains two quite diverse populations. In Lower Canada are nearly a million of the descendants of Frenchmen, clinging with the utmost tenacity to the language of their forefathers, to the Roman Catholic religion, and their old system of law. They have, among them, a scattered British element, speaking English and professing Protestant creeds. In Upper Canada are a million of Protestant British, and a minority of Roman Catholic Irish. Now, as Upper Canada has increased in population and wealth faster than the Lower Province, and has for some years had considerably the advantage in these respects, her representatives in Parliament which allots to each part of the Province an equal number of members in each House. This Lower Canada has always refused. Hence constant strife; ever-recurring bickerings in Parliament; the bitterest of feelings at each election; and all the elements of a civil war like that which devastates your unfortunate country. If the population were homogeneous, representation, based, to some extent, upon population, would certainly have been introduced into the Constitution before now. As it is not, the proposed change has never received the vote of more than one Lower Canadian Representative.

Confederation with the Maritime Provinces is the plan devised by the leaders of all parties in Canada to obviate the dead lock which has occurred here. In the Lower Provinces, governmental difficulties equally great, predisposed the people for a similar change. Thus, in Prince Edward Island the Roman Catholics and the Protestants are almost evenly divided, and they have a land-tenure question which must be settled by more powerful hands and larger purses than there are in the island. In New-Brunswick and Nova Scotia they want to get a railroad built to connect their lines with Canada, so as to bring traffic to their local railways and ease their burden of taxation for the maintenance of these railroad parties in these provinces are a dead lock too. So, since the leaders of all parties in all the provinces want a confederation, I suppose that, at the conference to be held in Quebec on the 10th inst., the delegates from all the provinces will seriously endeavor to frame a constitution to suit Canada, New-Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and [sic] Newfoundland as well.

There is another impelling power, which must not be left out of view. Great Britain seems anxious that an immense body of militia should be trained in all the Provinces. Of course this suits imperial policy, and it appears that the imperial authorities hope a confederation would make greater exertions to this end than the Provinces have done while separated. Hence, the confederation scheme will receive the active support, and secret influence too, of the Colonia Minister and all the local Governors.

It appears to your correspondent that, the various above-mentioned causes of dissention, will not be removed by any possible plan of Government. I hardly think Upper Canada will consent to any form of Union which is not legislative. In other words, Upper Canada, instinctively desires to promote the ascendancy of British Ideas, will insists on a central government with most extensive powers. On the other hand, Lower Canada, anxiously conservative of its peculiar institutions, will probably refuse to join any union that is not essentially federal in its character that is to say, it will insist upon limiting the powers of the central government, and extending those of the local Parliaments. The course of the Maritime Provinces it is not so easy to foresee. Already agitation has commenced on just these points, which you are aware are not now raised for the first time, but were familiar to the framers of your own Constitution. The Young Canada party of the Lower Province have raised their voices loudly, saying, “Lower Canada for the French Canadians,” and advocating total separation from the British speaking people of the west. At this, the British of Lower Canada have taken fright, and through the Witness are asking what guarantee they are to have against French domination and Roman Catholic oppression. For similar reasons the Irish of Upper Canada oppose the States right doctrine too. SO there are lively times ahead.

That events of this nature are not uninteresting to intelligent observers is self evident. Lord Lyons, the British Ambassador to Washington, is a Quebec, watching the development of our affairs. Mr. MacKay, whom you know as the New-York correspondent of the London Times, and Mr. Day, of the London Herald, have been there and here, inquiring of our public men their views. It I to be expected that we shall have long letters from these writers, in which, no doubt; the imperial question of raising an army here will be brought forward, in connection with the provincial one of confederation for the purposed of civil Government.

It is to be hoped, however, that the American public will not be misled by anything these British and Succession writers may say about our new plans, into the idea that the Canadians intend by Confederation can be further from our ideas than to raise a force for offence against you, our neighbors, whom we desire to see prosperous and reunited. No doubt we have natural aspirations, and do not wish for annexation to the great, though temporarily distracted Republic. No doubt these Provinces contain the elements for the formation of a considerable nation. Everywhere, in Upper Canada, are seen signs of the prosperity which must attend the industry of a hardy people applied to a fertile soil. The wheat and other cereals shown at the Provincial Exhibition this year were magnificent, while the display of luscious fruits there proved our climate to be far less Arctic than foreigners imagine. A walk through this city, which now boasts a population of 120,000 souls, or a glance at the harbor of Quebec will show how active our commerce is. The Maritime Provinces furnished coal mines, ships and fisheries. A glance at the statistics of to-day and a comparison of them with those of ten years since, reveal how progressive all these colonies have been, and incites us to look hopefully toward a brilliant future. But all this does not blind our thinking men to the fact that we still have less than three million souls in Canada; that all the Provinces together have only thee million and a half, and that although our frontier stretches for many a hundred miles along your own, yet that fifty miles in the interior the backwoodsmen are everywhere still battling with the primeval forest. We know that, as regards you, we are helplessly weak; that in a month your veteran troops could overrun the whole Province; that we have but one railroad as yet, which you could cut in a dozen places without any trouble. So, whatever British journalists may say and however they may lecture us, we mean to endeavor to live at peace with you, and the only effect of their writings is to make us reflect whether the advantages of our connection with Great Britain outweigh its disadvantages.

As soon as a Confederation is accomplished, we shall begin to talk more of this matter, and unless the tone of British orators and journals, which now indicates that England does not care to maintain her connection with Canada, materially changes, we shall allow the tie to be severed, and endeavor to take up the position which Belgium and Switzerland occupy in Europe. Their independence is guaranteed by more powerful States. Why should not ours be guaranteed in like manner, say by the United States, England and France? The guarantee might be for a limited period, say twenty years. It would advantage us, inasmuch as we should be relied from the necessity of maintaining a large army, while we want every man we have here to develop our resources.

It would remove form you what even the British Parliament admit to be a standing annoyance; viz, the tenure by a European power of a position advantageous for offensive purpose. And, ere twenty years were over, public opinion would no doubt have settled. We should know when whether Upper Canada and perhaps the other provinces, had better join the commercial if not the political Union of their Southern neighbors, or whether Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire had not better join our confederacy. We should see the ultimate issue of your civil war and be able to profit by its lessons. We should number eight millions of people and be able if we then desired our absolute independence, to maintain it.

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