“The Constitutional Movement,” The Globe (13 August 1864)

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Date: 1864-08-13
By: The Globe
Citation: “The Constitutional Movement”, The Globe [Toronto] (13 August 1864).
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The Constitutional Movement

(From the Illustrated London News, July 30.)

United Canada has entered upon another phase of her brief but agitated history. The constitution elaborated for the Canadas by the British Legislature in 1840, and of which the distinguishing feature was the Legislative Union between the two heterogeneous provinces, is now, after an actual trial of twenty-three years, condemned by both the French and the British parties, and a coalition cabinet has been formed, on the principle of the repeal of the Legislative Union, and a resort to the plan of independent provincial legislatures, crowned by a federal congress.

An outline of the history of this short-lived constitution may be interesting to our readers. The constitution of French Canada as octroye by the Act of 1791 having been suspended in 1888, in consequence of the rebellion in the previous year, the Imperial Government feared to run the risk of restoring the regime of 1791 to a people who were looked upon as hopelessly alienated from the British connection. Under these circumstances Lord Durham recommended, in the first instance, a federation of all the British American provinces—a federation in which the recalcitrant French element would be “swamped” by the largely preponderant British party. But colonial public opinion was not ripe for this sweeping change; and, moreover, physical obstacles, some of which are even not yet overcome, rendered this idea impracticable. Lord Melbourne’s Government therefore took up the second scheme presented by Lord Durham—viz, that of the present union, in the Legislature of which the 400,000 British Canadians of Canada West were to nominate as many representatives as the 700,000 French Canadians of Canada East. In this way it was supposed, or at least hoped, that the French element would be “swamped” by the British inhabitants of both provinces. In carrying this scheme through the House of Commons the Whig Government received the support of Sir Robert Peel and Lord Stanley; but it was opposed on one side by Sir Robert Inglis and Sir John Pakington, and six other high Tory members, as giving too much power to the French Canadians; and, on the other hand, it was condemned by Messrs. O’Connell, Smith O’Brien and Joseph Hume, as punishing the loyal majority of French Canada for the offences of factious few. The Hon. Edward Ellice, (a high authority on Transatlantic questions) and Sir Robert Pel, while supporting the bill, declared their preference for a federal system confined to Canada, and the latter even suggested the division of Canada into three provinces. In the Upper House the Duke of Wellington spoke, and entered a protest against the policy of the proposed union; and Lord Ellenborough placed his finger on the weak points of the Act in the following protest, on which the veteran orator may now look back with pride, as affording a signal proof of his power of forecast:—


1. Because it is the duty of Parliament, when it enacts the union of the Legislatures of Upper and Lower Canada, during the suspension of the Legislature of the latter province, to provide that such union shall take place on principles strictly just, to which it might be presumed that the Legislature of Lower Canada, if they acquiesced in the measure of union, would not unwillingly accede, and it could not be presumed that that Legislature would consent to the provision that Lower Canada, having 700,000 inhabitants and comprising the cities of Quebec and Montreal, should have no larger number of representatives in the united Legislature than Upper Canada which has 400,000 inhabitants.

2. Because the measure, affixing an equal number of representatives to two provinces so unequal, for the temporary end of outnumbering the French, tends to defeat the purpose of union and the perpetuate the idea of disunion; while, if emigration should largely increase the English population of Upper Canada, it will tend to give the same undue weight to the French which it now gives to the English inhabitants of the unified province.


No anticipation could have been more exactly verified by the event. Before ten years had elapsed Canada West, the British province, had outnumbered Canada East. At the termination of the second decade, which corresponds with the date of the census of 1861, British Canada had in round numbers, 1,400,000 inhabitants, while Canada East had only 1,100,000. The disparity of numbers increases with the lapse of each succeeding year.

Thus it has come to pass that far from having “swamped” the French Canadians the Act of Union has been the instrument whereby they have been able to dominate over the majority of the British and conquering race; for where as the British Canadians divided into a Conservative and a Radical party, the French Canadians (notwithstanding the outcroppings of a few rouges) acted in a more clannish manner, and by combining with a British minority were able to give a character to the colonial government highly distasteful to the majority of British Canadians. Indeed it was customary with these latter to liken the character of the Canadian Administration to that of the United States, as they were, when the party in power generally consisted of a large Southern majority and a small Northern minority.

Hence, about ten years ago, there arose a demand in Canada West for a reform of the constitution, with a view of apportioning the representation according to population; but to this the French Canadians, both of the clerical and rouge parties, were unalterably opposed. They would never consent to hold all that makes them a distinct nationality subject to a British majority. Of the sixty-five representatives of Canada East, but one—and he a representative of a border county—was willing to concede the principle of representation according to population. This one vote was more than counterbalanced by a handful of Upper Canadian representatives, headed by the Hon. John A. Macdonald, who were either unwilling, quieta movere, or, as Liberals, refused to press upon their French Canadian colleagues an issue to which they were so repugnant. Still, it could not be expected that the progressive, expanding, democratic, and strongly Protestant people of the Western Province would consent forever to be governed by a French Canadian minority, Roman Catholic in their religion and stationary in their politics, thoughts and manner of life. This sectional antagonism has in a few years produced a dead-lock in the government of Canada. In the last two years there have been four changes of Ministry. Each successive dissolution of Parliament has only served to draw sharper the lines of division between the sections. The late Ministry, who leant on a majority of two, having been recently condemned by a similar majority, a remarkable event took place which bears some resemblance to that brought on in the French Legislature in 1792 by the sentimental French ecclesiastic Lamourette, who proposed that the Royalist, Constitutional and Republican parties should cease their feuds and give each other a fraternal accolade. The Conservative party of Canada West, led by the Hon. John A. Macdonald, and the Radical party led by the Hon. George Brown, the editor of the Toronto Globe dropped their weapons and agreed to a compromise. Dividing the Upper Canadian share of officed between them, they have formed what may almost be called a Provisional Government on the aforesaid basis of a new constitution, the details of which are not yet elaborated, but which will, it is said, provide for the division of Canada into three Provinces, of which Quebec, Kingston and Toronto will be the respective capitals, with Ottawa for the federal capital.

The Canadians are anxious to know how this intelligence will be received in the “old country.” We can only say for ourselves, that what pleases them pleases us. While we regard the resolution they have just takes as an escape from an intolerable situation, we do not blind ourselves to the fact that it is another step taken towards their independence of the mother country, at the same time that it is one tending to make more remote than ever the era of their annexation to the United States. Anything that developes a robust feeling of Canadian nationality is well received here, where we are much more desirous to save Canada from her being “swamped” by the United States than to make sacrifices to perpetuate her political connection with ourselves. The views of colonial policy first put forth by Adam Smith, and recently revived with great energy by Professor Goldwin Smith, have certainly made considerable headway since 1840, when, in the debate already alluded to, they were championed by such high authorities as Lords Ashburton and Brougham. The confession lately wrung from Earl Russell in the Dano-German debate, that the menacing aspect of our future relations with the United States continually hampered the freedom of our action and weakened our position in the European arena, has not fallen upon unhearing ears; nor do we fail to perceive that our most vulnerable point of contact with the United states is precisely the extended and exposed frontier of Canada.

We can also most confidently assure the French Canadians that the feeling which manifested itself here against them in 1840 has quite died out. Nobody talks now of “swamping” them. The Tory party, with whom the sentiment of distrust was most powerful a quarter of a century ago, now acknowledge that they have much more in common with the Conservatism of the French Canadian than with the Democratic Puritanism and philo-American proclivities of the Upper Canadian Radicals.

We cannot dismiss the old constitution of 1840 without acknowledging that, while it has signally failed to amalgamate the two stubborn and emulous nationalities represented in the two Provinces, it leaves on its decease the relations between the people of the United Kingdom and the people of both Canadas on a more fraternal footing than they held at the date of its birth, and, further, that the degree of self-government ensured to Canada by it has been largely extended during its sway by the Act rendering the Upper House of the Legislature elective, and by that awarding compensation for the losses incurred during the Canadian rebellion, while the cause of domestic reform has been powerfully promoted by the abolition of the seigneurial tenures and the secularization of the clergy reserves. It cannot be doubted that the imposing front presented by a united Canada was needed to secure assent to several of these measures on the part of the Imperial Government and Legislature. Nor can it be denied that the union of the Canadas has favoured the development of their fine system of railways, competing with those of New York and Ohio, and the consequent opening up and settlement of the country; the increase of the grain trade, which has made Montreal the second grain-exporting port on the Atlantic waters; and the establishment of the Montreal line of steamers. That union will continue to subsist, although under altered conditions.

The present constitutional crisis in Canada has revived the original scheme of Lord Durham for a grand federation of all the British American Provinces. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have already shown a disposition to form a confederation inter se; but until an intercolonial railway exists it is impossible that the Lower Provinces can unite with the Canadas. Hence, if this, which may be called the “grand idea” of British American haute politique, meets with general favour, we may expect to hear the scheme of an intercolonial railroad pressed upon the public on both sides of the Atlantic with new vigour and recommended as an urgent measure of Imperial policy.

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