Newfoundland, House of Assembly, Debate on Confederation (27 February 1865)

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Date: 1865-02-27
By: Newfoundland House of Assembly, The Newfoundlander
Citation: “House of Assembly”, The Newfoundlander (6 April 1865).
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The Newfoundlander

St. John’s, Thursday, April 6, 1865.


MONDAY, Feb. 27



On motion of the hon Attorney General, pursuant to order of the day, the house resolved itself into committee of the whole on the further consideration of the confederation of the British North America Colonies, Mr. Knight in the chair.

The hon Receiver General was desirous, previous to stating his own views on this all important subject of confederation, to hear what hon members opposed to the measure had to say against it. He must say, however, that he had heard nothing to induce him to change the opinion he had at first formed, that with a modified tariff which we are promised, Newfoundland has everything to gain by the proposed union with the other British North American Provinces, which had been said respecting this inducement on the part of the Canadians to this movement for federation. In is opinion it mattered not to us what the causes might have been, if the effect would be to our advantage. Some hon members blamed the government for sending Delegates to Quebec conference. It was hard to please some parties, and it would be folly to try to do so. The government did what they considered right, and cared very little what those who were always ready to find fault might say to the proceedings; especially when the fault finders betrayed such limited acquaintance with constitutional usages. The Delegates also came in for a share of the censure bestowed on these proceedings. It was said they had no right to sign the Report—that they had partaken of the “champagne” previous to committing the colony, and they had committed a “sucidil [sic] act,’ in regard to this colony, so far as it was in their power to do so.

Why, the Delegates had not committed the colony to any thing; in his opinion, they were entitled to the thanks of the country for the ability and judgment with which they discharged the very grave and onerous duty entrusted to them reflecting equal honor upon themselves and on the country in which they occupied important positions, and which was the land of their birth. And he did not hesitate to say that the (hon R. Gen.) knew any thing of figures, all things considered, the monetary arrangements are decidedly in our favour. The Report of the conference had elicited the approval of the Imperial government, and of the public men and press of the United Kingdom. The conference consisted of leading statemen of the British North American colonies—men of different shades of political opinion; and the subject being one of parmount [sic] importance, minor considerations were not allowed to intervene, the present and future interests of British America being evidently the object aimed at; and to his (hon R. Gen’s) mind, they had arrived at conclusions which ought to satisfy moderate men of all parties. He was deeply impressed with the importance of this question, and fully agreed in that respect with his hon friends who had preceded him in addressing the House.

It would affect, the country, for weal or for woe, for ages to come. It had engaged the attention of statement and philanthropists, of all shades of political opinion, of old and young, of all classes and sections of the community, and although only recently the subject of formal consideration, had occupied the attention of thoughtful men for many years past. But still the subject was far from being exhausted. The letters of Dr. Connolly, of Halifax, and of others whose opinions would carry weight, had been read in the House—newspapers writers without number had been quoted both for and against confederation, and doubles [sic], until this important question is disposed of, it will continue to exite [sic] very general discussion, and to give rise to much difference of opinion. He (hon R Gen) would read the opinion of Judge Wilmot, of New Brunswick, in a letter to a political friend written eighteen years ago, when a leading member of the Assembly of that Province, in reply to a request that he would permit himself to be put in nomination for the speakership of the House.

Fredericton, 3rd Dec., 1840,


* * * * * * *

“As I believe “there is a Providence that shapes our ends, roign [sic] hew them as we will,” so I begin to think that if the Chair were at my command, I should hesitate before I took my seat.

Laying aside all considerations of Professional engagements during the Session, from which I should be debarred by the Speakership, I see much to be done as o-member [sic].

“I see so many momentous questions involving the present and future prosperity of its Province and the North American Colonies, generally, wherein I should lite to take an active part, that I am deeply impressed with the idea, that the Chair is not the place for me.

“There are a few great questions upon which I am desirous of bestowing all my little talents and influence.

“First.— The Confederation of all the North American Colonies.

* * * * * * *

“These and other question of less moment are fraught with incalculable advantages, if rightly disposed of. To bring about the two first, would be wotth [sic] the expenditure of what little of life I have remaining, and the lives of a score of better men.—What shall I do? I want to be free to act, and to act with all my energies on this question, and I fear the Chair would be a dead weight upon me—and if so, I want no dead weight. We must give up our lives for the conflict. It will be principle against prejudice, purity against corruption, greatness against littleness, light against darkness, British glory against Bluenose tinsel, the Sun against a rush light—and yet true as are these antithetic descriptions, there will be found those who will make a desperate defence for the corruption, the littleness, the darkness, &c., and who will tell us, the country will be ruined by the accomplishment of these measures !

Believe me, &c., &c.,


No person can question the sincerity or the unselfish character of the learned Judge, who, as a whole-souled patriot and philanthropist, is not to be surpassed in the British Provinces or any other country. There were those—and some of them in this house —who would fain regard our neighbours as so many sharpers anxious to profit at our expense. We were told that the financial condition of Canada was so depressed they looked to a connection with us to place them on a sound basis; that they wished to replenish their exhausted treasury by absorbing a portion of ou. public revenue of £100,000 a year. What a fallacy Had it been shown yet, that, after meeting the expenditure they engaged to defray on our account, there would be any surplus from our revenue to go into the general treasury? So far as he (hon, R. Gen) knew, we had no reason to distrust the public men of the other Provinces. No doubt they all viewed the proposed confederation mainly as they judged it would pro mote the prosperity of their respective provinces. But that it would benefit all, and that a great future lay before confederated British North America, no person who took an enlarged and dispassionate view of the question would deny. On this subject, he would read an extract from a speech delivered in Montreal by a Minister of the church to which he thon R. Gen) belonged. No doubt the Rev. gentleman spoke from careful observation, having been for years in the provinces, and having witnessed their rapid advancement:

“If we turn to the territorial grandeur of our field, and institute a comparison with those countries, which for the last 800 years have well nigh made history for the world, it presents an aspec [sic] of which I confessed I was ignorant, till recent investigation brought out the fact, Bat lately we had in our midst a number of representative men from the sister Provinces, who have been deliberating on the formation of a great National Confederacy, and who can duly estimate the massiveness of the scheme. Just pass for a moment in review the tertitory [sic] God hath given this country. Turning to the eastern sea-board, we find England’s oldest colony in the west, the Island of Newfoundland. Now we are accustomed to regard this colony as rather insignificant, but it is worthy of note that it surpasses in its extent the combined kingdoms of Denmark and Hanover. Its climate is rigorous, but its soil is productive. The unrivalled fisheries along 1200 miles of coast, make it an El Dorado of wealth. For the last 300 years, the diplomacies of Western Europe have been exerted for a share in its inexhaustible wealth. Passing to the continent, we have the Peninsula of Nova Scotia, remarkable for its superb bays, harbours, its coil fields and minerals. Enjoying a salubrious climate, it is rich in instances of lake longevity. Though occupying a small space in public view, yet it is equal to the Alpine coun ry which has long been the find of the noble and the home of the free. This Peninsula and Cape Breton combined, is equal in extent to the republic of Switzerland. Adjoining to this is New Brunswick, which spreads over a territory equal to the kingdoms of Holland and Belgium, grand in its forests, and fertile in its lands, wish a growing population of hardy settlers the gern [sic] of a future full of promise.

In the gulf of St. Lawrence lies a rich and beautiful Island, of which we scarcely here, but as an insignificant appendage so the lower colonies, yet this Prince Edward Island is as large as that famous Italian State, which has so long disturbed the diplomacies of Europe—the grand duchy of Parma. Genial in climate and prolitic in soil, it is destined to sustain an influential population. Scarcely a century has elapsed since the gallant Wolfe, that noblest of all heroes who ever trod the American continent, fell wounded on the plains of Abraham, fighting for British supremacy. As his eyes were closing in death, his ear caught the bastle [sic] cry “they flee.” “Who flee,” asked the dying herd, “the French flee.” .”Ah then,” said he, .”I die happy. .” And well he might, for then it was that this north star land was given to freedom’, to British domination, to a free press, free speech, free institutions. It would, of course, be superfluous to enlarge on this land in which we dwell, and yet few of us realize its resources and grand proportions. Canada East is as large as the Empire of France—its water powers will make it the Lancashire of the continent, its wealth of minerals and its soil properly developed by the appliances of a scientific agriculture, lift it to an untold distinction. Canada West comprehends an area, large as the extent of the Kingdoms of Prussia, while the Saguenay and St. Lawrence send more water to the Atlantic than the united rivers of the British isles. And now we come to that immense territory which has justly been designated on account of area and climate, the Russia of America. From the head waters of Lake Superior it stretches some 3000 miles to the snow-clad peaks of the Rocky Mountains, and from the forty fifth paralled to the North Pole with its noble Sascatchewan, Red and McKenzie Rivers, its mighty inland seas of Winnepeg [sic] and Great Bear lake-the ſuture of this great land ii bewildering even to imagination itself. West of the Rocky Mountains we come to the British Columbia and Vancouver’s Isle—the youngest born of England’s Colonies. The former is greater in capacity than Spain, Portugal and Italy combined. Watered by the magnificent Fraser, salubrious in cli mate, possessing fields of auriferous dust beyond the wildest dreams of avarice, it promises at no distant day to rise to wealth and splendour ; while Vancouver’s Isle is as large as Ireland. In the estimation of political economists it is destined to become the Great Britain of the broad Pacific. And now, say what an imperial grandeur pertains to this field? Why it comprehends two-thirds of the entire continent, and is as vast as the continent of Europe. While the ensign of liberty floats over it all.

“Passing from the territorial magnitude of this field, we look at that which is invested with a profounder interest—the plenary manhood to which God has entrusted this great country: God has given this land, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to whom ? To the descendants of the old sea-kings-who, coming to the British Isles; gave courage and fibre to the Celtic race—to the descendants of those who sung the songs of Chaucer and conned the lines of Ossian and Spencer’s Fairy Queen—to the descendants, of those who wrung from an unwilling King, at Runnymede the glorious magna charta of their rights—the descendants of those who brow beat the Plantagenets, and dethroned the Stuarts because they entrenched upon their liberties—the descendants of those grand Cromwellian ironsides, who thundered through the British Isles, and carried the triumphal banners of victory to the base of the Pyrenees—to the descendants of those who have built up an imperishable literature that com mands the homage of the world, a literature that boasts of a Shakspeare [sic] and a Bacon, before whom the Greek tragedies and Platonic philosophies fade intº insignificance—to the descendants of those who have redeemed commerce from piracy and throned it high in honour, as the arbiter of national destiny, and the giver of national law.

In a word, to the defendants of those who have lifted Britain the barbarous, intº Britain the civil zed and renowned—who have solved the problem that has puzzled despots, by showing how the highest constitutional safety is compatible with the greatest personal liberty. This is the manhood to whom God hath given this glorious inheritance, And, Mr. Chairman, we may well stop and ask where in the wide sweep of history was a race placed on a theatre so pregnant with promise for the future. In this land consecrated to justice and liberty we have no musty feudal institutions arresting the triumphal march of enterprise, no shadowing religious establishment, no cold shade of an aristocracy monopolising the offices of government and honour. No man claiming precedence and deference; simply because he stands high on a pile of ancestral bones; there is no bar sinister against any man; give us a man with brain, power and energy, principle and honour, and for him there is hung open the gateway leading to the highest civil and professional eminence which society can give.

“The history of our country furnishes sublime evidence of the mental wealth and energies of our race. Scarcely a century has elapsed since coming to this western world with nothing but a burning brain and brawny muscle, they waved aloft the wonder working wand of labor over a region uninhabited and waste, and lo, the forest begin to recede, hills and valley. smile with golden harvests, villages spring up, towns multiply, and the cities appear. The furnace blazes and the ring of industry is heard. The marts of commerce, the halls of science and the temples of religion rear high their lofty fronts, while the new-born literature publishes the praise of an advancing civilization. And now, sir, if, from the consideration of the material resources and character of the race, we turn to the destiny which awaits the land in the future, it is a subject so grand that the most prophetic soul—the most imperial imagination bows in conscious inability before its magnitude. Why; it has been said that the Valley of the Mississippi alone could feed the world, and that the Valley of the St. Lawrence and great North-western Lakes could feed another. The chili is born that will see fifty million freemen in British America alone. It is estimated by those competent to judge that in this country there is capacity to sustain a population of some six hundred millions. Already our great inland seas float more commerce than is found on the Mediterranean ; and it this is the development of infancy, what is to be the plenitude of our manhood ? It was only lately that a well-versed English nobleman asserted, in a lecture on these colonies, that as such as commerce seeks out for itself the shortest route, so certain is it that one highway between Europe and the far East would yet be cast up through the Valley of the St. Lawrence and the great Lakes, and that our city will yet s and as the golden gateway to a wealth of Empire which the world has never yet behold.”

That, no doubt, was confederation in the abstract. That w is its poetry; and grand and beautiful it was. Bat its prose had been brough [sic] before the house in an equally inviting manner by the hon Attorney General and the hon member for Placentia, Mr. Shea, who so ably descanted on the political, social, ant commercial advantages of the proposed union; and to whose able and thorough exposition of the question, the opponents of confederation had certainly not effectively replied, These hon gentlemen had refuted objections, and sustained their positions by sound and convincing arguments, leaving their opponents nothing to say, except a repetition of their misrepresentations and unfounded assertions.

It was not his intention to occupy the time of the house by going into all the reasons why he was in favour of confederation. Two would suffice.—First, our present condition, an inability to improve it. What could we do to provide employment and the means of subsistence for our increasing population? What was the experience of the last fifty years? In 1826, with a population of 60,000, we exported 963,942 quintals of fish. In 1836, with a population of 70,000, our export was 860,254 quintals, while from 1860 to 1864, with a population of 130,000, our average export was 971,834 quintals. Our population has doubled, while our resources are failing; at least they are not keeping pace with our increasing population. What did hon members propose to do to meet this serious difficulty? Where are now the middlemen, the independent planters, the schooner owners of former days? What is the actual condition, what the circumstances of our fishermen and other operatives? Why, it cannot be denied that large numbers of them are reduced to pauperism—that they are without means and without energy, sunk to that state of wretchedness which a succession of bad fisheries could not fail to produce. But hon. members who oppose all change would ask whether Confederation could benefit us in that respect?—Would it bring one more fish to our shores? It would be as absurd to say that it would, as it was to put such a question. But all history and experience were in favour of our being benefited in other respects. If we could not catch more fish, confederation, we might safely anticipate, would benefit our fishermen by reducing the number of catchers, by throwing other occupations open to them.

The axiom that “union is strength,” is incontrovertible. Would Newfoundland prove any exception to it? In his (hon R Gen’s) opinion, the infusion of new vigour, and the establishment of institutions furnishing a large extent of employment would necessarily follow. At present we are isolated from the whole world, almost our only source employment being our fisheries, which are admitted by all to be inadequate to support our increasing population. Is not steam the greatest agent of civilization which the world has yet seen? Is it not everywhere the means of extending commerce and developing latent resources? We have no means of our own to meet our necessities in that respect. Will we refuse to avail ourselves of the aid which others are desirous of extending to us; while we cannot over-estimate the advantages which inter-communication by steam will afford us? It was needless for him, at that late hour, to go more fully into his views on the subject. But he could not close without referring to some of the objections so frequently reiterated on the other side.

It was urged that the proposed union would involve increased taxation. But what are we fast drifting to? Session after session, applications are made for increase of salaries, which cannot be acceded to without increased expenditure. Every district in this Island wants improvements—new roads, new bridges, and other matters are petitioned for, and they cannot be provided for out of a revenue of £1,000,000. If we complied with these applications; increased taxation was inevitable without Confederation. But would increase taxation produce increased revenue? It did not always do so. But it was well known that with a community in a prosperous and thriving condition, moderate taxation did produce a larger revenue, while a reasonable increase of taxation would both produce increased revenue and be but little felt. He (hon R Gen.) agreed with the hon member for Placentia, Mr Shea, that there was no amount of taxation we could lay on; provided additional means were afforded the people, that they would feel so much as what they are now enduring, in […]

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[…] the taxation of their vital energies, producing physical and mental prostration, and raising well founded apprehensions of the next generation being, to a fearful extent, a generation of idiots. But some hon members say the Canadian tariff, applied to our imports, would add £50,000 to the amount of Customs’ duties we now pay. This is a very unfair way of stating the question.

We have the assurance of the Governor General of Canada that the present Canadian Government are not in favour of continuing the existing tariff after Confederation is carried out; and with the interests of the maritime Colonies opposed to any increase of their present taxation, why should there by any apprehension of high Customs’ duties? But supposing the Canadian tariff were continued under confederation; he (hon R. Gen) agreed with the hon member of Carbonear, Mr Rorke, that many articles of Canadian manufacture, suitable for our wants, would be imported here, which would come in duty free, so that the aggregate of our Customs’ duties would not be more than at present, if so much. And it would be well that persons of means who might prefer the finer manufactures of Britain, should pay something extg [sic] in the share of duty, which would go towards relieving our operatives from taxation. Who would say that in that case confederation would not benefit our work in classes.

Besides, as a natural result, our present system of business would undergo a change, beneficial, be trusted, to all interested in it. Capital would be directed into new channels, introducing machinery into manufactures and giving regular employment to hundreds of operatives, extending agriculture, and largely increasing the comferts [sic] of the people. But hon members say we must defer to public opinion. Certainly, we ought and must do so. But public opinion should be instructed on this important question; and who he (hon R Gen.) would ask, are to be the instructors? Are they to be those who base the whole of their arguments against Confederation on the assumption that it will tend to sever us from the mother country? Had these hon members considered the important of the first resolution of the Quebec conference?

Are the instructors to be those who tell us that Canada, with a revenue of over ten millions of dollars, desires to get two hundred thousand dollars from us to bolster up her credit? That is about the sum which those who make such an outcry about the Canadian tariff anticipate we would pay over what would be returned to us; and the smallness of the sum compared with the revenue of Canada, as sufficient to show the absurdity of assuming that Canadian statesmen anything about it. But the whole of this apprehension about Canadian indebtedness and Canadian cupidity, arises form not considering how the debt of Canada has been incurred, and what the cause of her large expenditure of late years has been. If the liabilities of that province are large, so are her public works, which have opened up that country for settlement, and rendered its agriculture remunerative.

Are the instructors to be those who talk of the millions of wealth drawn annually from our waters, while they forget that the people of the other colonies have precisely the same fishing rights in those waters as we have? Or is public opinion to be enlightened by those who build all their hopes for the country upon a return of good times, regardless of the last that in proportion to the increase of our population, our resources are falling; and who, at the same time, tell us that this island was designed to be a fishing country? He (hon R. Gen) looked for other instructors then such as these to enlighten the public mind; and he believed that the prosperity of our people was to be promoted by providing other employments for them besides the fisheries, important as these fisheries are.

A great portion of what is consumed in the country must be manufactured by our own people before we can look for any permanent improvement in their circumstances. Agriculture must be fostered; and especially the rearing of sheep. We are not even now without instances where comfort prevails in this district, as well as in the outports north and south, the result of attention to agriculture: He (hon R. Gen) had carefully considered all that had been said in that house both for and against confederation, and had heard nothing to shake the opinion he had earl formed on the subject;—that, with a modified tariff, Newfoundland has all to gain by entering into the union; and with these views he gave his cordial assent to the Resolution before the chair, trusting that the constituencies would weigh the matter carefully and dispassionately.

On motion of the hon Attorney General, the committee then rose, and the chairman reported progress. —To sit again tomorrow; and the house adjourned until to-morrow at 3’oclock.

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