“The Constitutional Movement: Further Opinions from the English Press” The Globe (6 August 1864)

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Date: 1864-08-06
By: The Globe
Citation: “The Constitutional Movement: Further Opinions from the English Press”, The Globe [Toronto] (6 August 1864).
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The Constitutional Movement




(From the London Times, July 21.)

There is no page in the annals of this empire which records a transaction less credible to the foresight and good sense of our Ministers and our Parliament than that which gives the narrative of the union of the two Provinces of Canada. In 1840 the French Province far exceeded the English in population, but the English Province was increasing at a rate much more rapid than that of the French. What ought to have been done under such circumstances in arranging the number of representatives which each Province was to send to the Colonial Parliament? The answer was not difficult, for the very question had been foreseen and solved by the sagacious founders of the American Constitution. They had to establish equality among a number of States increasing with very different degrees of rapidity; and this they did by appointing one member of Congress to every mass of seventy-five thousand people. It is to the credit of the late Mr. Ellice that he foresaw this difficulty, and as early as 1822 introduces a Bill into Parliament by which the two Provinces were to be united, and their share in the representation was to be determined by a reference to population. The Bill, however, of 1842 adopted a different principle. Probably it was wished to make the English minority independent of the French majority, and therefore it was declared that the two Provinces should for all time to come return an equal number of members. The clever contrivers of this scheme entirely overreached themselves. They did not perceive that the more rapid increase of the English race was every day reducing the inequality, and that a law made for the purpose of raising the English minority to a par with the French majority might end, as it actually has done, in leaving the English majority only equal to the French minority. For a considerable number of years the English have been the majority, yet obliged to treat the French as in all respects perfectly their equals; and there has arisen, in consequence, what no one can be surprised at, a claim on the part of Upper Canada to be represented in the Assembly by population, and not by geographical limits.

It is this question, involving, as it goes, so largely the prejudice of race and of religion, which has made Parliamentary Government for Canada almost an impossibility, and threatened on many occasions to reduce matters to a deadlock, and offered to the Home Government nothing but a choice between active intervention on their part, or the utter disruption of a Constitution whose provisions it seemed quite impossible to enforce or amend. It seemed very unlikely that the French would give up the benefits of the stipulation, to the burdensome part of which they had already submitted, or voluntarily release the English from those provisions, placing a minority on a par with a majority, which had obviously been introduced with an eye to the benefit of those very English themselves. On the other hand it seemed very unlikely that the English would suffer themselves to be held in check by a French minority. To these theoretical objections were added practical ones of equal or even greater cogency. The system worked very ill even while it worked at all. The French Canadians acted together through fear of the English settlers. The English, after the manner of their country, soon resolved themselves into majority and minority. The consequence was that the government of the colony fell into the hands of the French Canadians and of a minority of English; so that the great majority of English found themselves condemned to a perpetual minority, and became sour and discontented accordingly. At last things seemed to have reached a point from which neither party could recede, and which must, as it should seem, bring on a total dissolution of the present form of Government. The present Canadian Parliament has displaced from office the Dorion-Macdonald Ministry, and a few weeks ago they gave an equally intelligible notice to quit to their successors. To dissolve Parliament would be to agitate the colony by another election without any reasonable chance of giving either party a majority, and with the certainty of embittering political feelings, already too much excited. In this emergency the Governor-General took a very wise course. Lord Monck pointed out to both parties how little they had to gain by a dissolution, and appealed to their patriotism to waive personal differences and to unite in one great effort to save the colony from the revolutionary period which was impending. As far as measures go, this could only be done by finding some common ground of action and uniting the forces of both parties and by requiring them both to serve in one common Cabinet. This also has at length been accomplished, and a Ministry has been formed, comprehending in itself elements hitherto the most discordant and heterogeneous which Canadian political life has presented. The bond of union is still more curious than the constitution of the Ministry. Upper Canada could not be inducted to give up its representation by population; Lower Canada could not give up the equality which she enjoys under the present constitutional but both parties have found a point of union in the resolution to create a new constitution, and, being unable to agree within their own limits, they have [Illegible] for the elements of agreement by [Illegible] receding those limits altogether. The present Government is formed on the usual refuge for discordant nationalities—the idea of a federal system. It is proposed to unite all the North American colonies into a single federation, bearing, we presume, a very close resemblance to what was within the last few years the federal organization of the United States.

The first thing which strikes us in considering this strange turn in Canadian politics is the appearance of a Government which is formed on principles to which no colony has any power to give effect. Whether there shall be a federation of the American colonies must depend, if we are dealing with law and not with revolution, upon the will of the Imperial Parliament; and it is a new thing to create Ministries in dependencies of the British Crown, in order to give effect to changes that violate the constitution of the whole empire. Passing over this first and most striking singularity we are next struck with the very great difficulties of the project. The debts of these Provinces, including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, vary in every imaginable ratio, and it is very difficult to conceive how the credit of Canada is to be maintained and the payment of her debts secured if she gives up her Customs revenue to the central Government, after the pattern of America, or how the central Government is to subsist except upon the revenue from Customs. These difficulties, and many others, are great, but they may not be usuperable, and have doubtless been considered by the Governor General and his Ministers before they undertook, and he permitted them to undertake, a Government based on the reversal of the present Imperial policy with regard to Canada, and the substitution for it of a policy of a totally different nature. As to the object sought to be obtained by the Tache and Brown Ministry, we confess we have no difficulty whatever; the time has, in our opinion, long since arrived when it has become necessary for the American colonies to do that which is the essence of federation—to provide against a great and pressing common danger. It is time that they should cease to rely on a vain hope and that, with the present tremendous machinery of war, so favourable to numbers and so equalizing, as regards discipline and valour, they should look to themselves, and no to us, for protection from any attack by the American Union. We shall not be scrupulous to enquire whether the federation which they propose to establish is or is not strictly in accordance with the relations between the mother country and her dependencies. We shall be quite content if it be found to yield them that protection which we confess ourselves unable to give, and to untie the Gordian knot of Canadian Union, which, without some spontaneous action of the colonies, we admit ourselves unable either to cut or to unloose.


(From the London Index, July 21.)

Representative Government has not worked very successfully in Canada, though better there than in the majority of our colonies, inasmuch as Canada is an older, better peopled, and more civilised country than the rest of our self-governing dependencies. She has been free from the calamity of gold fields and the curse of transportation; she has neither attracted the rowdyism of the world, nor had the ruffianism of England violently thrust upon her. Her Parliament has always been respectable; her statesmen have displayed a more than creditable capacity. In every respect her legislature and administration appear to shine in comparison with those of the Northern States or of her sister colonies. But she has been perplexed by one source of trouble which might well have given rise to very serious dangers—which had no small share in bringing about that disc intent to which the intrusion of Yankee sympathisers gave the aspect of rebellion—and which has ever since perplexed her rulers and vexed the souls of her statesmen. The Canadian legislature is divided into two parties, coincident with a division of the people not so much into two parties as into two nations. Upper and Lower Canada differ in every [Illegible] upon which States have been wont to fight and politicians are accustomed to quarrel—in blood, in language, in religion, in social institutions. Upper Canada is peopled by Englishmen and Scotchmen, Lower Canada by Frenchmen. The former are Protestants, the latter Catholics; and, as the natural consequences of the juxtaposition, the Protestants are not only Protestants, but Orangemen. Lower Canada, a country settled by Frenchmen in the days of the old regime, has maintained to this day many of the peculiarities of a semi-feudal society—is strongly conservative, aristocratic, and addicted to large properties and primogeniture; Upper Canada is a country of small farms owned by the farmers, in which equality of fortunes has produced social equality and democratic tendencies in politics. And matters have been so arranged that the power of these two parties [Illegible] the legislature has been almost equally balanced. The introduction of the English doctrine of self-government—i.e, government by party—into the colony, required that the Ministry should be chosen from among the majority of the Chamber, and, accordingly, the French and English parties have alternately seized the reins of office, as one or the other was placed by accident in a position of momentary advantage. “A working majority of two” satisfied the demands of Canadian policy; and as the votes of two or three evenly divided districts varied, so did one party or the other obtain a precarious lease of power. The inconvenience of this state of things was too great not to force upon the statesmen of both sides the consideration of a remedy; and on the last change of positions in the Legislature a [Illegible] was arrived at which brought the leaders of both extremes into office, with a programme calculated, if successful, to do much more than merely terminate the difficulties actually experienced. The present Colonial Ministry proposes nothing less than the formation of a Confederacy into which, primarily, Upper and Lower Canada are to enter as two separate members, and which is ultimately to embrace the whole of British North America.

It has been our duty, on more than one occasion, to point out the peculiar disadvantages and dangers incident to a federal as compared with a consolidated Government. And we presume, after the very thorough discussion which the subject has of late years received, that no statesman would again be likely to commit the error of the Mexicans, and voluntarily to substitute a federation for a single State. Even, however, if Canada alone were concerned, it might be a question whether the substitution of federalism for union would not be, on the whole, an advantageous exchange. The danger which is insured by forcing into close contact, and therefore into constant collision, parties like those in Canada, separated not only by religious as well as political antipathies, but also by a line of territorial demarcation, appears to exceed any advantage which a consolidation of the two Provinces can afford; and it is probable that the French and English communities will be on much better terms, and, in fact, for all purposes of common action and mutual support, much more closely linked together, when they are released from the bond of an article of union which made an incongruous whole by the juxtaposition of elements which were resolved not to combine. And for the whole of British America there can be no doubt that the scheme of a confederation is one which offers advantages of the highest value from every point at view. For the minor colonies the question is not between consolidation and federalism, but between federalism and isolation. It is not possible that the local affairs of the colonies should be satisfactorily managed by a common Parliament. The attempt would not be tolerated. The tendency of our colonies has always been to separate distant settlements combined in one nominal province rather than to unite distinct provinces together. But it may be quite possible to unite them by a federal bond of a tolerably strict character, while leaving to each province the direction of its own local businesses and the administration of its own finances. It will be observed that this federation will commence its career under peculiar conditions. In the first place, the colonies have been used to a common control in one important branch of political affairs. Their foreign relations have always been, and will continue to be, directed by Great Britain; and no internal squabbles on this subject can arise in the Federal Parliament. In the next place, the colonies have all very similar interests. They are all producers of raw material, not manufacturers; and therefore there is no reason why any local jealousies should arise out of the adjustment of the tariff. They have derived from the mother country a common system of law and judicature; and there need be no difficulty in giving to the federal Parliament and to the Federal Courts a much wider range of authority than is enjoyed by those of the United States. In fact, it would seem perfectly possible to make the federal authority paramount, and restrict the local authorities to merely municipal business. And this will be the easier, that the devisers of the scheme are said to intend an important departure from any system of federal institutions hitherto existing. They propose that the federal delegation of each province shall constitute its local legislature; that the same persons shall control the municipal business of the colony and represent it in the Parliament of the confederate colonies.


(From the Manchester Guardian, July 21.)

A crisis which cannot be said to have been unexpected has at length occurred in the politics of our leading North American dependency. The two Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, which were united under one Government, after the Papineau insurrection, have discovered at last that the connection will not work, and have resolved to join in suing for a divorce. The history of the question presents a singular example of difficulties foreseen and acknowledged, but left in the main to solve themselves. At home we are well accustomed to this deliberate improvidence, and hitherto it has not led to any serious inconvenience. Foreign critics, exploring the mechanism of the English constitution, point out various contingencies in which a dead-lock appears to be inevitable, and predict the time when the whole edifice must fall to pieces. The result might very probably ensue, if the people who work the mechanism were Germans or Frenchmen. But they happen to be Englishmen; and the anticipated collision is either averted altogether or is rendering comparatively innocuous. No one can say exactly how this is done, but the requisite change is effected almost insensibly, and thus the constitution is said to grow, developing itself, in fact, on some principle of natural selection, like that in which an origin has been sought for the varieties of plants and animals. No other country seems able to profit by our example, and we need not be surprised at this, when we consider the difficulty we encounter in conferring the like advantages upon our own colonies. We are now making the experiment on a considerable scale in several quarters, and the result so far is not entirely encouraging. But nowhere have we carried hopefulness to such a height as in the Canadas; nowhere else have we shown so much faith in the self adjusting principle which keeps our own institutions in gear. Yet nowhere were the difficulties so great, if, as was long the ruling desire of our statesmen, the two Provinces were to be united under one administration. Lower Canada, won by conquest, has always been essentially French in its population, laws, manners and customs, and French, too, not according to modern ideas and the Code Napoleon, but after the old feudal pattern in fashion before the revolution. Besides this, the dominant religion was the Roman Catholic. In Upper Canada everything was reversed. Peopled chiefly by emigrants from England, that Province was governed by English laws, was Protestant in its faith, and however Conservative [Illegible] special occasions, was by its mode of settlement naturally prepared for democracy. Add to these differences the continued emigration, which has gradually made the Upper Canadians more numerous than the Lower, and we only begin to understand what powerful obstacles would impede the harmonious union of the two states.

Nevertheless, the task of joining them was for a long time prosecuted by our leading politicians, who thought this course most likely to secure the submission of the newly acquired province. Pitt was one of the first to perceive the advantages of the contrary system, and under his rule the division was introduced which continued till 1841. In advocating the new policy, he remarked, in words that now seem almost prophetic, “if the province not divided, there would be only one House of Assembly, and, there being two parties, if those parties should be equal or nearly equal in the Assembly, it would be the source of perpetual faction.” The administration of the provinces remained distinct, until the rebellion of 1837 had brought into clear light the extreme disaffection of the people, and made it necessary, if the colonies were to be retained at all, to try some new experiment. The British Government of the day resolved to grant them the full enjoyment of representative government, but to make that government the same for both. There was to be only one Canadian Parliament, instead of two Houses of Assembly. Remarkable protests were recorded against the measure, and we may again admit that the views expressed by the dissentients have been amply justified in the event. It would be useless now to revive the controversy, by quoting the arguments used on the opposite side. It certainly seems strange that the actual working of the measure was not more generally foreseen, when an exactly equal number of representatives was assigned to each province, without heed to their relative claims. The Lower Canadians were then the most numerous, but their recent disloyalty caused them to be regarded with some distrust, and so prevented them from obtaining their due proportion of members. On the other hand, it was already plain that the population of the Upper Province was rapidly obtaining the superiority and would, therefore, if the rule of apportionment prevailed, obtain the desired majority at no very distinct day. The arbitrary course which was adopted has ended in pleasing neither party, and has placed the two provinces in a position of antagonism which for some time past has almost paralysed the Government. No Ministry has been able to command a working majority, and the predicted dead-lock has finally arrived. The Lower Province possessing the greatest territory, proposes to have the representation proportioned to the area; while the Upper, having the largest population, desires to make this the standard.

In this emergency a coalition has suddenly been struck between the extreme opponents, and a new Ministry has been formed on the avowed basis of undoing the work of 1841, and restoring to each province its independent Legislature. But if this were all, the change would be attended with very manifest inconveniences. Upper Canada would not willingly resign to Lower the control of the St. Lawrence; the joint Government is considerably in debt, and there might be some difficulty in giving to each portion its fair share of the burden; and lastly, as the Canadians prefer indirect to direct taxation, simple separation would greatly increase the cost of raising the revenue. It avoids these evils, the projectors of the new scheme propose to maintain the provinces in a federal union, with one Governor General and one Parliament, the latter being formed by the junction of the local legislatures. For some purpose not very clearly explained it is further suggested that the two provinces still be divided into this, with Quebec, Ottawa, and finally that the other North American Colonies shall be invited to join the new federation. No one can deny that the policy thus sketched is bold and comprehensive it its scope, and we are told that the Ministry which has espoused it, though forced by a coalition between men of diametrically opposite principles, is likely to hold together and to command the support of the Legislature carrying out the scheme. If no hitch occurs, England may expect within a twelvemonth [Illegible] assent to this re-organization of her North American possessions. We may anticipate that whatever is thought in this country of the policy of the proposals, provided they [Illegible] before it as the deliberate judgement of the colonists, no difficulty will be raised to their adoption. We should certainly be surprised to see the Canadians taking any steps which would lay them more open than they are already to attack from their aggressive neighbours on the south, and at first sight this effect would seem likely to follow the re-division of the Province. But the maintenance of a federal union might preserve the requisite concert and strength. Could the scheme of a general federation be successfully carried out, the power of the colonies for self-defence would greatly be greatly increased, and the advantage would be shared by the whole empire. We may hope, therefore, that the [Illegible] will ultimately triumph over the host of difficulties which the local jealousies of the different colonies must raise against it. The Canadian Federation will then undoubtedly play a great part in maintaining the balance of power in the Western hemisphere, and a new guarantee will be given for the general peace of the world.

This appears to us the best; as it is certainly the most original, feature of the scheme. It is calculated to remedy some of the worst faults both of theoretical federalism and of the actual colonial system. One of the great weaknesses of the former arises out of the jealousy between the local and general government; this can hardly have much influence where those who control the former form an important portion of the Legislature which directs the latter. There will be little jealousy between a single colony and the federal power; there can be no jealousy between the colonies collectively and the federal power, exercised as it will be by those who constitute the legislatures of the colonies. It may be observed that the colonies will escape one of the misfortunes of the States which belongs rather to republicanism than to federalism. The colonial confederation will be a constitutional government, not a republic; its head will be a viceroy reigning and not governing; and its administration will be subject to the control of the federal parliament. There will not, therefore, be any possibility of the antagonism between the Executive and the Legislature which has more than once disturbed the political balance of the United States.

Again, it is one of the worst misfortuned of the colonies, especially of the minor colonies, that men of education and character are not ambitious of a seat in the legislature of a petty colony, and thus its government falls into the hands of persons wholly unqualified and unworthy. Now a place in the Parliament of the Colonial Confederation will be a worthy object of ambition to men of the highest standing, and thus the colonies will obtain the services of these men, not only for federal, but for municipal business. And the ministers of the viceroy, selected as they may be from among the elite of a great population, as numerous as that of the Union in the days of Washington, will undoubtedly be men for the most part qualified to treat on equal terms with the advisors of the British Crown. We may add that the collective wealth and strength of the confederation will be able to support a burden which hitherto has seemed too much for the separate colonies, and maintain a military organization capable of defending the country against any force that can be brought against it by Land, leaving to the mother country little more than the burden of its defence by sea.

In every respect, therefore, this federative scheme is likely to be of advantage to the colonies themselves. How will it affect the mother-country and their neighbours?

No doubt the confederation would be a powerful State—so powerful that it would be a dependency only during its own pleasure. But this is the case with all our colonies of pure European population. There is not one of them that England would retain by force. Nor do we think that the confederate colonies would be less loyal than the separate colonies are now. No doubt they would feel less dependent upon our support; no doubt, if any collision occurred, the idea of breaking away from their allegiance would seem more feasible than at present. But collision between the Crown and the colonies is almost impossible. It could hardly take place on anything more important than the imposition of the royal veto on some colonial measure antagonistic to the general policy of the Empire; and it is not likely that even if this measure were one on which the colonists were strongly bent, they would for such a difference of opinion sacrifice the immense advantages which they derive from the protection of the first maritime power in the world. On the other hand, the influence of the confederation would serve to restrain the fractiousness of those colonies with which it is least unlikely that we should have a dispute. Newfoundland or New Brunswick might be disaffected; but the loyalty of the confederation would be an effective check on its discontent, and the good sense of all the colonies would be our assurance against the momentary folly or perversity of any.

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