Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, [Montreal Gazette version], 8th Parl, 3rd Sess, (9 February 1865)

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Date: 1865-02-09
By: Province of Canada (Parliament), Montreal Gazette
Citation: Montreal Gazette (10 February 1865).
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Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West, Minister of Agriculture and Statistics] resumed the adjourned debate on Confederation. He said that after the four speeches already delivered from that quarter of the House, it might be supposed little of any importance remained to be said; still the subject was so vast, the prospect included so many objects, and these objects were in themselves of so great interest that there might be some points of view not yet touched, which even in a preliminary discussion ought to be brought under the notice of the members of this House and the people of this country, and such as his contribution might be, he felt he ought not to withhold it since he knew, speaking without undue pretension, that there were many not only in this Province, but in the other Provinces also, who would like to know what his own views were in reference to the present subject.

He proposed first to give a slight sketch of the history of the question—then to consider the motives which ought to prompt us to a speedy union of the Provinces—than to speak of the difficulties the subject had encountered before it had reached its present important stage; next to say something of the mutual advantages from a social rather than from a political point of view, of which the various communities to be united, might be to each other; and lastly, to say a few words on the federal principle in general. The member for Hochelaga [Antoine-Aimé Dorion], the other evening, thought he had done a very clever thing when he disinterred an old newspaper article of his [Mr. McGee’s] entitled a ‘new nationality’, and endeavoured to fix on him the authorship of that particular phrase, destined he [Mr. McGee] hoped to become as famous a prophetic phrase as that used in the last speech from the throne.

He had almost forgotten it, but when brought forward again by the member for Hochelaga [Antoine-Aimé Dorion], he confessed some pride in thinking that ten years ago he had maintained, in theory, principles and doctrines which he was not with others of far more influence, endeavouring to have carried out in fact.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West, Minister of Agriculture and Statistics]—The idea itself was a good one, and he had no reason to feel ashamed of it. It had occurred to many men in times past, and he believed it had even passed through the mind and received some hospitable entertainment from the member for Hochelaga [Antoine-Aimé Dorion] at a period before he [Mr. McGee] spoke of it in the article referred to. If anything was reprehensible in it, the blame rested earlier on the member for Hochelaga [Antoine-Aimé Dorion] than on himself; but really this attempt to fix the parentage of this child of many fathers, was altogether premature, almost as absurd as the attempt at this stage to give a national name to the new organization. One inventive genius had proposed Suponia, and another Hochelaga. He would put it to any gentleman of good common sense what he would think if he woke up some fine morning and found himself a Suponian or an Hochelagan.

Some Hon. MembersLaughter.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West, Minister of Agriculture and Statistics]—He thought the history of the parentage, as well as the records of the baptism might be left until the Confederacy itself was established. But if we had reached that stage of research, which as yet lay far beyond us, there were some names which ought not to be forgotten in connection with this subject.

In 1800, Uniacke, a leading politician of Nova Scotia, submitted a scheme of Colonial union to the Imperial authorities. In 1815, Chief Justice Sewell submitted a scheme. In 1822 Chief Justice Robinson, at the request of the Colonial Office, prepared a scheme of Colonial union. In its present state the scheme had its origin in the celebrated despatch of 1858. The recommendation of that despatch, however, lay dormant until relieved by the Committee of the President of the Council last session, which led to the Coalition, which led to the Quebec Conference, which led to the plan of the Constitution now on our table, which would lead, he firmly believed, to union of the whole of these Provinces.

While mentioning the distinguished politicians who had urged the scheme, we ought not to forget those zealous and laborious contributors of the public press, who, though not at the time in politics, had kept alive the public interest in question. Of these he would mention two—Hon. Mr. Hamilton, the present Gold Commissioner of Nova Scotia, who, in a pamphlet written in 1855, had handled the subject with great skill, and Mr. Morris, now the member for North Lanark, who, nearly ten years ago, published an able treatise on the subject, and who, he might also remark, had been a main agent in bringing the state of things which produced the Government which was now carrying out his own ideas in pressing this scheme.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West, Minister of Agriculture and Statistics]—But whatever the private writer in his closet might have conceived—whatever even the individual statesman might have designed—so long as the public mind was uninterested in the adoption of a change so momentous, the individual laboured in vain. But events stronger than individuals had come in at last, like the fire behind the invisible writing, to bring out the truth, and show the wisdom of these recommendations.

He congratulated the Canadian House of Assembly and the and Legislatures of all the Provinces on the extraordinary activity which the public mind had displayed in the discussion of the subject throughout the Provinces since it was fairly launched. He had observed one thing with great satisfaction, that the various speakers and writers on the subject, even in the smallest colonies, seemed as if they were speaking and writing in the presence of the population of all the colonies, and to feel that their words would be heard and weighed afar off.

Passing to the second point, the principle motives to the union of these colonies, Mr. McGee said he would not follow the footsteps of either the Finance Minister [Alexander Galt] or the President of the Council [George Brown] in relation to commercial and other powerful reasons which might be argued in favour of it. He would address himself to the motives which addressed themselves to the feeling and conscience and public mind of the people of all these Provinces.

In the first place he re-echoed the sentiment of all the fine speeches hitherto delivered, that we could not stand still, we were in a state of transition at this moment. Something must be done, and that something must not be a mere temporary expedient. We were in a position in which we were compelled by events and by warning voices from within and from without, to feel that there must be change and that to be permanent it must be a great change.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West, Minister of Agriculture and Statistics]—We had had especially three warnings, and the first had been from England herself, a friendly warning offered to us rather by her actions, according to her custom, than by verbiage that the relation of the colonies had entered on a new period. The first note of warning was when she ceded responsible Government. The second when she repealed the navigation laws. Another when she adopted free trade. Another when differential duties were abolished. These were warnings that the old relations which had existed since the foundation of colonies in America has ceased. During the last three or four years she had repeatedly given us a warning on the subject of our defences, and we had been told, in most explicit language, that we were no longer to consider ourselves in the position, in relation to defence, which we formerly occupied towards the metropolitan power.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee [Montreal West, Minister of Agriculture and Statistics]—Next had come what he would call the American warning, which in no spirit of assumption or arrogance, he might say was but the realization of what he said in the session of 1861, when he told this House the first shot fired at Fort Sumter had a message for us. Every shot fired since had repeated that message. He read a number of figures to show the amazing and unprecedented growth of the military power of our next neighbours during the last three or four years. The figures he gave, showing the immense military and naval strength of the United States, were frightful, he said, from the carnage, the quantity of human blood split, and the destruction of property they represented. He adverted also, as a warning to us, to the change in the spirit and mind which had been brought about by war having been made familiar to them. The war had created a new people, with new instincts and new passions, and if we were true to Canada, true to these Provinces, we could not overlook the greatest revolution which had occurred in our times.

When we heard the three cries of “More taxes!” “More money!” “More blood!” we lived in a dangerous neighbourhood. He might be told by some humanitarians that these people would get tired of war, and would be glad to give it up. All human experience as he had read it, was against that doctrine. Men got tired of peace, but they did not get tired of war; and we could not forget that one of the original portions—and a very prominent portion—of the political programme of the United States, from the earliest days of the revolution, was the conquest of Canada. They pretended now to underrate us, but he was satisfied it was a mere pretence.

The third warning is a warning voice from within—a warning from our own sense of the condition of this Province. Constitutional Government was fast becoming a farce in this country. People began to say it was a pity Constitutional Government was ever conceded to us. If we did not securely prepare ourselves after having had our three warnings, woe to us when the hour of our destiny struck us. There were some objections to the details of the plan submitted, but he did not believe there was one person in the house who would get up and deny that some sort of union was desirable. Some gentlemen contended that we ought to have overcome the difficulty by means of a Zollverein. This might have done in times of peace; but we were not in such times now. At present it would be mere waste of paper. He would be glad if any gentleman could offer good reasons for it, though he did not believe such existed.

Another motive was that the policy of our neighbours of the South has always been aggressive. He read the other day in the journals of the Lower Provinces, and which he was glad to see copied in this country, a letter on the subject of Confederation from His Grace the Archbishop of Halifax, who knew the United States as well as he knew these Provinces. There was no one less desirous of seeing clergymen meddling in ordinary politics than he (Mr. McGee) was; but when it was a question of peace or war; when it was a question of the preservation of our institutions, then who has a better right to speak than a Minister of the Gospel of Peace, provided he spoke in consonance with his position?

He then proceeded to read the letter addressed by the Archbishop to the Halifax Chronicle, expressing unhesitating approval of the scheme. He quoted this, because he thought some persons had not given it that due consideration which he (the Archbishop) had. The next motive for union was, that it would strengthen rather than weaken the Imperial connection. He knew that it had been alleged that the measures upon which we had now entered, was a measure of separation. To make the Province more valuable than it was—to make the trade of more importance to Great Britain—was this this way to weaken the Imperial connection? Was it by showing that we could do more for our own protection that we would make the connection less acceptable to the Empire? Britain did not consider the union inimical to her own interests. But he put it upon provincial grounds. We want time to grow; we are not able to go alone, and as we could not entertain the idea of annexation with the United States, it was the duty of every man to increase our strength. The connection was simplified by having one country only on this side to deal with that on the other. He had to say a few words on the difficulties encountered in dealing with the subject, because it might help the House to appreciate the importance of not doing anything to impede progress. In the first place, there was always that fatal want of concert. When a subject found favour with the Colonial office, it created suspicion in the Provinces. When it was brought into this House and those of the Lower Provinces by members of the Opposition, “Ministers of the day could not allow a measure of so much importance to be carried by a private member.”

Again, when the Ministry of the day, as in 1858, took it up, they were accused by the then Opposition of having acted without consulting Parliament. Then, when one Province moved it, it could never be sure of the co-operation of the other. It was only fair to say that the first real lift into the element of probability was the despatch of 1858, the next the constitutional committee moved for by the Honourable President of the Council [George Brown] last session.

He (Mr. McGee) believed this House had committed itself to the union of the Provinces last session, if it was practicable. Other members of the House took a different view, but this was his opinion. He then went on to allude to the visit of last summer to the Lower Provinces, speaking in high terms of the people there, and afterwards tracing up the progress of the negotiations. The resolutions had been objected to because they had been called a treaty, and we were not a treaty-making power; but, in the case of Nova Scotia, there was a distinct despatch inviting the colonies to meet together on the subject of union. Everything was done regularly and in form, and the Government now said accept it. You may reject it; you may, but alter it you cannot. Alter it and you are an anti-Unionist. Wrap up your words as you may, let one party to it alter a sentence, and it means that the whole thing falls to the ground. There was the project and there was only one alternative. You cannot take this as an ordinary Parliamentary measure. It will be the Imperial Parliament that will legislate upon it. They would give us our Magna Charta.

Some members opposed to the scheme wished to have it amended, but this Province could not accept amendments for the other Provinces. He admitted we ought to aim at perfection, and we aimed at the mark and came as near it as we could. The hon. member for Chateauguay [Luther Holton] would have had us hit the bull’s-eye, but they had got as much good and as little evil into the scheme as possible. He hoped it would not be considered improper for him to allude to a gentleman who was not now amongst them, but who contributed not a little to the measure. He alluded to the present Vice-Chancellor of Upper Canada, Hon. O. Mowat. There were few who took more interest in arranging the details of the measure than that gentleman.

He then went on to say a few words as to the social state of this question. What were the population of these Lower Provinces? First, in point of time, were the French inhabitants. All this country which it was now proposed to place under one rule, was once under one rule, and called New France. He proceeded to show how in the Acadian Provinces there were still French inhabitants to be untied afresh with the Lower Canadians; how the Irish of Newfoundland, the Highlanders of Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, and the United Empire—royalists of all would find men of the same stock with whom to sympathize in Canada. A fixed and settled population, attached to the soil and the flag, would readily united as one people, and if the Union took place the next generation would wonder how any in this House had been found to oppose it. Our people had but to know three fellow-colonists and their country and they were sure to like them.

He proceeded to speak at some length of the vast resources and the additional wealth and strength they were sure to bring us. The possession of St. John, New Brunswick, was said to be a necessity for the successful defence of Canada, and Newfoundland was necessary for the defence of the trade of, and the possessions on, the St. Lawrence. Lord Chatham had said he would as soon give up Plymouth as Newfoundland. With respect to opposition in New Brunswick he believed it was due almost entirely to the selfish, grasping aims of railway speculators and men engaged in the coasting trade, afraid of the diversion of some of their gains. They furnished the means for agitation and fanned the flame; and similar influences had been at work in Nova Scotia also; but this was no unusual thing. Never yet had a great scheme been broached for the benefit of a nation or mankind that men of selfish, narrow views did not creep out of holes to assault it by appeals to men’s mercenary motives.

Now, however, we had a favorable conjunction of circumstances; we had secured the united action of opposed political leaders in all the Provinces, which we were not likely to get again, and let them be assured of this, if we had not this union we must soon have union with the United States. It was a dream of the United States, it had always been, to have universal democracy on this continent. European society was the better for being formed into separate independent nations, and our forefathers had fought and bled and died and incurred great debts to prevent any universal dominions there were monarchy or democracy. We should in like manner resist similar attempts on this continent. A few more ruptured compacts, a few more taunts of bad faith, justified by our legislative action, and we shall be effectually separated from other colonies by barriers of irremediable distrust.

The hon. gentleman then spoke of the educational question, citing the toleration of old times when the Presbyterians in Montreal were allowed to worship in the “Récollets fathers,” and of the presenting of candles and wine in return, as an example for us. He had accepted the separate school Bill for Upper Canada as a finality and would not disturb it, only he must have for Roman Catholics all those privileges conceded to Protestants in Lower Canada. Speaking next to the federal principle, he held it to be a good one, though not generally lasting. The American constitution had not failed yet, but it showed defects which he hoped the Conference had remedied in this scheme.

He concluded with an eloquent peroration about the good to flow from Union, and by adding authority to freedom, by praying the Queen who had granted us Responsible Government at the beginning of her reign, now to consolidate here a great Northern nation, as at once a dependency and an ally. He concluded amid loud cheers, after a speech of over two and a half hours.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West] moved, in accordance with the understanding previously arrive at,

That the debate be adjourned till this day week, and be then the first order of the day at half-past seven.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] made a few remarks, declaring that if the five speeches made on the question by members of the Government contained all that could be said in favour of the scheme, he had no fear of letting them go to the country unanswered. He thought they had utterly failed to establish a sufficient reason for the revolution they proposed to bring about. He complained that various parts of the scheme remained unexplained, especially the constitutions of the proposed Local Governments. He thought that more distinct information should have been given on the important questions of education, intercolonial railroad, &c. From the statements of the President of the Council [George Brown] and the Minister of Agriculture [Thomas D’Arcy McGee], he inferred it was a part of the scheme that we should have entailed upon us untold expense for the defence of the country.

The despatches on the subject form the Home Government ought to be placed before the House and the country before final and irrevocable action was taken with regard to the scheme. Let those speeches go to the country, and if the country was not awakened by them to the dangers which threatened it from the adoption of this crude, immature, ill considered scheme which threatened to plunge the country into measureless debt and difficulties and confusions utterly unknown to the present constitutional system, imperfect as that system confessedly is, then he would not say he would despair of his country, but he anticipated for it a period of calamity and tribulations such as it had never known before.

The motion of the Attorney General [John A. Macdonald] was then agreed to, and the House adjourned at eleven o’clock.

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