Letter from Dr. Charles Tupper to Lieutenant Governor Sir Richard MacDonnell (10 May 1865)

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Date: 1865-05-10
By: Charles Tupper
Citation: Letter from Dr. Charles Tupper to Lieutenant Governor Sir Richard MacDonnell (10 May 1865) in Joseph Pope, Memoirs of the Right Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald, Vol. I (Ottawa: J. Durie & Son, 1894) at 358.
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“Provincial Secretary’s Office, Halifax, May 10, 1865.


“I beg to submit the following observations in reply to your letter of May 2nd, in order to place on record the reasons which induce my colleagues and myself to think a delegation to the Imperial Government inadvisable at the present moment, which subject had already received the careful consideration of the Cabinet.

“It is quite obvious, from the confidential despatch from the Right Honourable the Secretary of State to yourself, that the action of this Government upon the Confederation question has been entirely misunderstood by Mr. Cardwell, but I hope that a frank explanation of the facts will suffice to remove any misapprehension that may have still existed after the perusal of your confidential despatch of , which explains our views and policy so fully.

“When in Canada last autumn, I assured Lord Monck that there was every reason to expect that the scheme of Union arranged at Quebec would be accepted by the Legislature of this province. The grounds upon which I gave that assurance were that for many years the Union of British America had been regarded with great favour in this province, that it had received a very general support from the press and had obtained the public advocacy of the leading public men of both parties, but especially because the leaders of the Opposition to the Government in both the Assembly and Legislative Council who were on the Delegation cordially supported the plan of the Union agreed upon.

“On our return, an opposition to the proposed Union was organized in this city by a number of the mercantile men of both parties, associated with active opponents of the Government.

“The Government, although supported on general questions by a large majority in the Legislature, were in a most disadvantageous position to meet this unlocked for opposition. During the previous session, they had imperilled their popularity by a patriotic effort to improve the common school education of the country by introducing the obnoxious system of compulsory assessment. Under the operation of that law, the whole country had been recently excited, and an immense amount of hostility towards the Government induced, destroying the confidence of many members supporting the Government, in the security of their positions in case of an appeal to the people.

“Notwithstanding the zealous efforts of Messrs. Archibald and McCully, the opponents of Confederation rallied round their standard the great body of the party opposed to the Government, largely reinforced by those whom opposition to assessment for schools had rendered disaffected, and by numbers whose fears had been excited by the statement that Union with Canada would involve a large increase of taxation. On the other hand, the Government, having obtained the aid of leading members of the Opposition upon the delegation, could not rely upon the party support which would, under other circumstances, have been available. I am sure that I need not say to you who have witnessed our efforts, that all that the members of your Government, ably aided by Messrs. Archibald and McCully, could do, to stem the current setting thus strongly against Confederation, was done. In the press and on the platform, in various sections of the country, the most determined exertions were used to disabuse the public mind of the prejudices raised against the proposed Union. Just at this crisis, when the demand was loud that nothing should be done without a previous appeal to the people at the polls, the Legislature of New Brunswick was dissolved in order to afford the electors of that province an opportunity of expressing their opinion on this question.

“When our Legislature met it was at once ascertained that it was impossible to obtain a decision in favour of the scheme on account of the feeling of alarm which had been excited throughout the country. It would have been obviously fatal to the cause of Confederation in New Brunswick to allow a hostile vote to be recorded here pending their elections, and all we could do under those circumstances was to postpone the discussion of the question. When the election in that province resulted in an overwhelming defeat of the scheme, but fourteen out of forty-one members having been returned in favour of it, the difficulty of obtaining any expression of approval here was increased, as members who might have been disposed to sacrifice their own position to achieve an important object would not be willing to do so without any practical result to be attained. It was considered by the Government and the delegates belonging to the Opposition to be of the highest importance to prevent the Legislature being committed to an expression of feeling against Confederation, and, after the most anxious deliberation, it was decided that that object could be best effected by the passage of a resolution authorizing negotiations to be re-opened for a Legislative Union of the Maritime Provinces.

“There were many reasons which suggested this course of action as desirable. While the opponents of Confederation professed great favour for the lesser union, the Government and friends of the Quebec scheme here had ever regarded the legislative union of the Maritime Provinces as not only calculated to promote the larger union, but in the highest degree desirable in case of federation. Two of the principal objections urged against the proposed Confederation, the want of unity of action among the Maritime Provinces, and the insignificant position of the local Governments and Legislatures under Confederation, would both be effectually removed by the legislative union of these three provinces. In the present condition of New Brunswick, some such step appeared to be the best calculated to remove the obstacle to Confederation which had arisen there.

“If, on the other hand, as was not unlikely, the proposal to carry out the scheme for a union of the three provinces was not entertained by New Brunswick, it would remove the consideration of that question out of the way of the discussion of the greater union, and thus favour the adoption of the latter.

“I confess I was quite unprepared to find this project regarded in any quarter as hostile to the Confederation of the whole, as the members of the Canadian Government had individually and collectively assured the delegates from the Maritime Provinces that the proposed Confederation of British North America did not in the least degree conflict with the legislative union of the Maritime Provinces, and many of the most prominent of the Canadian Ministry did not hesitate to avow their opinion that such a union of the Maritime Provinces was, in view of Confederation, highly desirable. You are well aware that, in moving the resolution in favour of the legislative union of the Maritime Provinces, I advocated the Confederation of the whole so zealously, and treated the lesser union as so entirely subsidiary and calculated to promote it, as to excite no small amount of opposition on the part of the opponents of Confederation. Looking with a single eye to the accomplishment at the earliest possible moment of the union of British North America, I cannot now see how any more judicious course could have been pursued than that which we adopted. It certainly would not have promoted the object in view had we recorded a hostile vote to Confederation in our Assembly either before or after the New Brunswick election ; and there can be no doubt that an appeal to the people here on this question, under existing circumstances, would have resulted, as it has in that province, in placing the opponents of Confederation in power, and affording them the means of obstructing that great measure, which they do not now possess.

“In our present condition, with the representatives of the people to a large extent uncommitted on the question, and the people relieved from the apprehension that their constitution was to be suddenly taken away without an opportunity of expressing their opinions, I am sanguine that the proposed Confederation will ere long be approved by the great body of the people, and receive the sanction of a large majority of their representatives, and I can assure you that I and my colleagues are prepared to make any personal or party sacrifice that may at any time be found necessary to attain that object. At this moment, however, I doubt whether volunteering a delegation to England would not be calculated to influence the public mind unfavourably, incited, as the people would undoubtedly be, to regard it as intended to promote some coercive measures on the part of the Imperial authorities. There can be no doubt that much advantage would result from free communication between this Government and the Colonial Office on this and other subjects of deep importance, but it would, I fear, be just now prejudicial to the cause of Confederation here.

“With the most anxious desire to accomplish the object upon which your Ministry and the Imperial authorities are so entirely agreed,

“I remain, my dear Sir Richard,

“Yours faithfully,

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