Letter from Hon. Francis Hincks to the Editor of the Daily News (10 August 1849)

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Date: 1849-08-10
By: Francis Hincks, The Globe
Citation: Letter from Hon. Francis Hincks to the Editor of the Daily News (10 August 1849) in “Letter from the Hon. Francis Hincks on Canadian Affairs,” The Globe (6 September 1849).
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To the Editor of the Daily News.

SIR,—Though very reluctant to intrude myself on the attention of the English public, I feel that in justice to the country of my adoption I ought at least to make an effort to remove the false impressions which the publication of Canadian news in the leading London journals can scarcely have faded to produce on the public mind. I shall do so, with your permission, under my own signature, and shall trust that my position as the representative of an important British constituency in Upper Canada, and as a member of an administration enjoying the confidence of a large majority of the people, both of Lower and Upper Canada, will obtain for my statements a little more credit that that accorded to anonymous correspondents of republican journals, whose conductors are, in too many instances, animated by hostile feelings to the Government of Great Britain, and by a desire to obtain possession of the Canadas per fas ant nefas. I must confess that I have observed with deep regret that at a time when prominent politicians and leading journals in the United States are with unparalleled audacity broaching the nefarious scheme of annexing Canada and Cuba to the already overgrown territories of the Western Republic, the English press seems unable to obtain access to more reliable information to communicate to its readers with regard to the state of affairs in Canada, than what is furnished by foreigners and their anonymous correspondents in Montreal. I submit to the candour of those who have read the items of Canadian news communicated to the English public through the London press for several weeks back, whether the above remarks can be considered too strong. Without further preface, I shall state what I know to be the political feeling in Canada, at the present time.

As in other counties enjoying constitutional government, the population is divided into leading parties which I shall designate as liberals and conservatives. It would occupy more space than I could reasonably expect you to grant me to enter inter any detailed statement of the political views of these parties, and o shall therefore content myself with stating that the liberals have been the advocates of local self-government through the instrumentality of a provincial administration holding office as in England, on the tenure of parliamentary confidence, the governor-general exercising all the prerogatives of the crown within the province. They have likewise maintained that the people of all religious denominations should be on a footing of perfect equality, and that the university endowed from the public domain should be entirely non-sectarian in its character. The liberal party numbers in its ranks the great bulk of the French Canadian population, and as I believe, a very considerable majority of the British population of Upper Canada. As my object is to state facts fairly for the information of the British public, I would observe here that the conservative maintain strenuously that they have a majority of the Upper Canadians on their side. They admit that they were beaten at the last elections, but they think that a dissolution would bring them an increase of strength. This, of course, is a matter of speculation. The protectionists in this country affirm the same thing, and I imagine that the party in the minority is usually well inclined to try its chance at a general election. For my present object it is a matter of secondary importance whether the conservative party could really obtain a majority on a dissolution. All that I seek to establish is, that there is no reason whatever to apprehend that any wide spread feeling of disloyalty prevails in Canada.

The great liberal party of Canada, comprising an overwhelming majority of the people of Lower Canada and, even by the admission of the conservatives themselves, a very numerous portion of the people of Upper Canada, having the support in the representative branch of the legislature of a majority from both sections of the province, is strong in favour of the present Canadian government and opposed to the agitators of the league. Without entering into the question as to whether public meetings or numerously signed addresses afford the best test as to the state of opinion, I shall simply affirm that so far as can be judged by the conduct of the leading men in the different localities, parties remain very much as they were at the time of the last general election. The question then is—Have the conservatives become disloyal? If so, for what reason?

I am quite ready to admit that the bill for indemnifying the sufferers from the rebellion losses has been generally denounced by the conservatives; and that a large portion of that party has [illegible] the disallowance of the bill. But I would ask whether it is at all probable that disappointment at the refusal on the part of the imperial government and parliament to accede to their demands would induce a feeling of disloyalty among a class which has always professed to be pre-eminently loyal?—Can any one doubt that Sir Allan M’Nab was received in England not only as a decidedly loyal man, but as representing the views of a loyal class of the population? I boldly affirm that no man would be more ready than Sir Allan to avow his determination to stand by British Connexion to the last. But let me ask, has any one man, possessed of political influence in Canada, declared himself friendly to annexation? I certainly would answer this question in the negative. I am aware that a society has been lately organized, called “The League,” but there has been as yet no general meeting, and no policy has been decided on. By the next mail we shall, in all probability, have an account of the first meeting of this body, and shall then learn its objects. The Montreal branch has appointed delegate to the convention, among whom are the Hon. George Moffatt, of the firm of Gillespie, Moffatt & Co., and Mr. Gugy, as advocate in Montreal, and M. P. for the very small village of Sherbrooke, having a population of a few hundreds. The number of votes given for these gentlemen proved that, even in Montreal, where the greatest excitement has prevailed, the society is anything but formidable.—Mr. Moffatt is said to have had less than 250 votes, a number utterly contemptible when compared to the numbers polled at the last election for the Attorney-General and Mr. Holmes. But it is alleged that a considerable number of the leaguers are non-electors. Of course, I can say nothing on that point, and, indeed, it is of little importance. But I am assured that the candidates to represent the League, who were considered to be annexationists, were rejected, and that Mr. Gugy in particular, was violently opposed by the annexation party, and elected against their wish. I cannot believe that Mr. Moffatt will openly countenance any proposition involving separation from the parent state. The Times has published an extract from an address from a Mr. Thomas Wilson, who is a candidate to represent the Quebec branch of the League at the convention of delegates. This gentleman has been a frequent contributor to Canadian newspapers, and seems to be desirous of taking a part in the public affairs of the country; but I am not aware that he has ever been invited by any section of the population to become a candidate for a seat in parliament. What, however, are the views of Mr. Thomas Wilson, one of the most discontented men in Canada, and one of the most vehement opponents of the government? I shall let him speak for himself:

“Various courses have been suggested for adoption, by which [illegible]. First, a separation or Eastern from Western Canada, with an alternative union of the British American provinces with large political changes in the constitution of the Government: third, that we should endeavour to attain our independence; and lastly, that we should ask a separation from Great Britain, with the view to becoming part of the United States. Without examining these several schemes, and exhibiting the adverse and favourable changes that each might produce, I am prepared, under present circumstances, to declare myself in favour of the second, viz., a legislative union of the British American Provinces, with large organic changes in the constitution of the government. The changes I hold to be necessary for the public are, that the people should directly or indirectly name, and the Sovereign approve, the representative of the Crown who is to administer the government of the colony; that the Legislative Council should be elective; and that the legislature in its proceedings should be independent of Imperial control, except on questions affecting our political connexion with Great Britain. These are my views in the present crisis, and I am prepared faithfully to advocate them. Under the attitude assumed towards us by England, such changes we now have fell right to demand. They are defensive on the first law of nature—self-protection—anything short will not meet our present exigencies; but, these granted and carried out, the integrity of the empire may be preserved, and we shall have nothing more to ask.”

It would be quite foreign to my purpose to enter into an examination of the respective merits or demerits of the four schemes which probably have already been propounded at the meeting of the League. Two of them are obviously quite consistent with the maintenance of British connexion, and one of these is especially favoured by Mr. T. Wilson. The proper place obviously for discussing such a subject would be in the chamber of the Canadian Assembly; and I am quite willing to assume that the main object of the present organization is that a baffled and defeated party, without a policy and without leaders, should determine upon some definite course of action, prior to the next session of parliament. As part of his scheme of a great federation of the North American provinces, Mr. Wilson suggests that the Governor General should be nominated by the people with the approbation of the crown, and that the legislative council should be elective. These propositions come from an active, I will not say a leading member of the great conservative party, which is fraternised with by the Morning Herald, Standard and Dublin Evening Mail. I can well recollect the time when much more moderate propositions obtained for their advocates the epithet of rebel. It will certainly strike your readers as rather singular that the gentleman who declares it to be his intention to be the “faithful advocate” of the very democratic principles which he has propounded, and who would have the provincial legislature “independent of imperial control,” was one of the first to invoke imperial interference on a late occasion, and to demand the recall of the Governor General who with the present franchise, or even with universal suffrage, would receive a greater majority of votes for the high office which he now holds than any other man in her Majesty’s dominions. My object, however, is not to expose the inconsistencies of the tories. Mr. Wilson’s address, and the information that can be obtained by any one who chooses to read the Canadian papers for himself, afford sufficient proof that the members of the league are far from unanimous in favour of separation, indeed the strong probability is that a very small and uninfluential fraction of the opposition will go to such a length. It is true that the Times gives a quotation from a small paper published in the little village of Sherbrooke, “as indicating public sentiment,” to the effect that the league at Melbourne, a place of even less importance than Sherbrooke, was in favour of separation, “provided such result could be effected peaceably and with honour to all parties interested.” I shall trespass on your space with an extract or two from late Canadian papers as really “indicating public sentiment.”

A public dinner was lately given at Brantford, a most flourishing town in the centre of one of the riches and most populous sections of Upper Canada. This dinner was given on the occasion of one of my colleagues, the Hon. Malcolm Cameron, visiting that part of the country, accompanied by Mr. Cauchon, a gentleman of French origin, and representative of the country of Montmorenci, below Quebec. It was most numerously attended, and several members of the assembly from adjoining counties were present. On the subject of annexation Mr. Cameron said;

“He had in the early part of the day fully explained his views of annexation, and the argument and figures against it. But he omitted to say, what he really felt, that while deprecating annexation as a great and humiliating evil, he had no unkind or illiberal feeling to the Americans. Quite the contrary—he admitted their talents, and he desired to imitate their enterprise: and the home government would be anxious to maintain the most friendly relations, and grant to them every reciprocity in trade, commerce and navigation. And surely they could not be afraid to us; and he (Mr. Cameron) believed we had nothing to fear. We were in a position to be the most prosperous country on this continent, and why should we be willing to sink from a “country” into an insignificant state? Can it be that there is a Canadian, or Anglo-Canadian, or an American-Canadian of as mean a soul, with a spirit so dead to patriotism, that he would be willing to forego the honour of his country—the glory of being a Canadian—for the position of a mere stake, with the soubriquet of “Canucks,” as were hear of Pukes and Hoosiers, Wolverines and Corncrackers? No; he (Mr. Cameron) was a Canadian, proud of the name, and hoped to see his native land prospering side by side with the United States, and having nothing either to covet or envy.”

The same subject was referred to by Mr. Morrison, representative of a most influential constituency (the West Riding of the County of York), the old metropolitan county of Upper Canada. Mr. Morrison said:—

“One word about annexation. The Montreal press may publish their low and vile abuse of our noble Governor General, may disseminate their malignant representations, may run rampant in treason—the League will soon find that Upper Canada scouts annexation. (Cheers.) We know that our government is the government of the people, and the freest upon earth—we love our queen, and glory [illegible] (Cheers.) We understand our rights, we understand the Montreal slanderers; we have nothing to gain by throwing off our allegiance. But it appears tory loyalty will do it; because they choose to say they were called rebels, they must now be rebels indeed. (Cheers.) That man who is so lost to all British feeling as to put down the British ensign, and to run up the stripes and stars, is a rank rebel, and wherever he is met, let him be branded as such. (Cheers.)”

Such sentiments ought to be universally responded to by the press of this country; and I wish that currency were given to them, as “indicating public sentiment,” rather then to the remarks of the republican editors of the United States. I shall quote no further from the speeches or writing of liberals, but proceed to prove that the annexation scheme is not encouraged by influential conservatives. Prominent in influence and respectability among the conservative press of Upper Canada is the Church, the recognised official organ of the Bishop of Toronto and his clergy, and which is understood to speak the sentiments of the old family compact party. I should presume that the opinions of Sir Allan M’Nab, Mr. ex-Inspector-General Cayley, Mr. Sherwood, and Mr. Cameron, late Attorney and Solicitor-General for Upper Canada, would be fairly represented by the Church. Now what says this journal? The following is a late extract.

“The monstrous chimera of annexation, we trust, will be abandoned at once and for ever:—by western Canada it will not be entertained for a single instant. Having a pretty extensive acquaintance with public feeling, we can assure the Herald that so far as our position as a component part of the British empire is concerned,

———————————— we seek no change,

And least of all such change as he would give us.”

Such is the response of the Church to the annexation scheme of one of the violent Montreal papers. Strange that such an extract should not have met the keen eye of the caterer for the Times, calculated as it is to produce an effect on the minds of the British Conservatives. But the Church does not stand alone in condemning the schemes of the annexationists. The Toronto Patriot, another very influential conservative journal, denounces them as “sheer folly.” The Hamilton Spectator, reported to be the special organ of Sir Allan M’Nab, and his immediate friends, says:—

“We can tell the people of Montreal, who appear to head the movement, that the Upper Canadians will not follow wherever they choose to lead. They must bide their time, and await our co-operation, ere they presume to dictate. We are at least equally interested with themselves, and there are men in this section of the [illegible] certain hot-headed persons in the metropolis. As to the avowed annexation movement in Montreal, we look upon it as preposterous. The design of the newspaper which they purpose establishing, and the parties connected with it, may all be summed up in a word—humbug! Sidney Bellingham—the toady of Lord Sydenham, the bosom friend of the New York repealers—lead a great political movement. Bah! we have no patience with such nonsense. With respect to the Montreal Herald, which appears to be quite rabid in favour of annexation, it cannot be said to be an organ of the conservative party. At all events a vast majority of the party have become thoroughly disgusted with its trimming, and alternate support and opposition.”

The Montreal Transcript, also conservative, is equally decided. It says:

“But seriously, what are we to think of the cool impudence of the whole affair; of the prospectus and its authors? We have heard a good deal about “annexation” lately, and thought, and still think, we perfectly understand it. That it is the serious thought or wish of any considerable number of persons in the country we thoroughly deny. There is a wish for political tranquility—a wish for more peaceable times—a wish for ‘better times’—but no wish for annexation. In the cities, we confess, there are a few landowners who have persuaded themselves that a change might bring them some good; and a still smaller number of chickenhearted merchants and traders who fancy that by calling themselves Yankees, they would grow rich without any efforts of their own; but these men are not the people, nor a tithe of the people, and were the political board divided to-morrow, they would find themselves in a miserable minority. It is not then a little too much that on the strength of such a party Mr. Sydney Bellingham and his committee and convention should coolly vote us all Yankees, and openly avow their intention to obtain what they call “peaceable annexation?” But perhaps we are committing an error; perhaps after all it is better that Bellingham and his friends should lead off in this modest game of “annexation.” After they have moved in it, we do not think it likely any men of real substance (if any such men could be found on that side) will venture to meddle with it at all. But the people of Canada will never be dragooned into annexation, and they will reject with scorn any attempt made to weaken their allegiance by parties bribed and paid from the states. Whenever the question of annexation arises (if it ever does arise) it will be a purely Canadian one. We will allow no Yankee interference here, where our beat interests are concerned, and we should be fools if we did.—But the whole thing is premature, and so those who think to make capital out of it will soon find to their cost.”

I shall not trouble you with any further extracts as “indicating public sentiment in Canada,” but content myself with the statement of a simple fact. It will be admitted, I presume, on all hands, that in numbers, influence, and organization, no section of the Canadian tory party can compare with the Orangemen. Now, I have received information on which I can rely, that the grand master of the Orangemen in Canada has addressed a circular to his brethren, warning them against having any thing to do with the annexation movement, and informing them that all members of lodges joining in any disloyal manifestation, will be expelled from the society. Having, I hope, established to the satisfaction of every candid enquirer that the opinion of influential men of all parties in Canada is decidedly against the schemes of the few desperate men who alone advocate organic changes in Canada, I will conclude by expressing a hope that greater efforts will be used by the English press to make its readers acquainted with the true Canadian public sentiment as indicated, not by foreign newspapers and their correspondents, or by men like General Scott, who are aspirants for republican honours, but by representatives of the Canadian people in parliament and by the leading journals representing the various shades of opinion of all parties.

May I further express a hope that you and your readers will pardon me for intruding at so much length on your columns on a subject which unfortunately appears to possess but little interest for the generality of English readers?

I am, &c.,


Killyleagh, Co. Down, Aug. 10.

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