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Canada under British Rule 1760-1900 By John George Bourinot Characters: 31775

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

SECTION I-Beginnings of the provinces of New Brunswick, Lower Canada and Upper Canada.

On the 16th August, 1784, as a consequence of the coming of over ten thousand Loyalists to the valley of the St. John River, a new province was formed out of that portion of the ancient limits of Acadia, which extended northward from the isthmus of Chignecto to the province of Quebec, and eastward from the uncertain boundary of the St. Croix to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It received its present name in honour of the Brunswick-Luneburg or Hanoverian line which had given a royal dynasty to England, and its first governor was Colonel Thomas Carleton, a brother of the distinguished governor-general, whose name is so intimately associated with the fortunes of Canada during a most critical period of its history. The first executive council, which was also the legislative council, comprised some of the most eminent men of the Loyalist migration. For instance, George Duncan Ludlow; who had been a judge of the supreme court of New York; Jonathan Odell, the famous satirist and divine; William Hazen, a merchant of high reputation, who had large interests on the St. John River from 1763, and had proved his fidelity to the crown at a time when his countrymen at Maugerville were disposed to join the revolutionary party; Gabriel G. Ludlow, previously a colonel in a royal regiment; Edward Winslow, Daniel Bliss and Isaac Allen, all of whom had borne arms in the royal service and had suffered the loss of valuable property, confiscated by the successful rebels.

The constitution of 1784 provided for an assembly of twenty-six members who were elected in 1785, and met for the first time on the 3rd of January, 1786, at the Mallard House, a plain two-storey building on the north side of King Street. The city of St. John ceased to be the seat of government in 1787, when the present capital, Fredericton, first known as St. Anne's, was chosen. Of the twenty-six members elected to this assembly, twenty-three were Loyalists, and the same class necessarily continued for many years to predominate in the legislature. The first speaker was Amos Botsford, the pioneer of the Loyalist migration to New Brunswick, whose grandson occupied the same position for a short time in the senate of the Dominion of Canada.

Coming to the province of Lower Canada we find it contained at this time a population of about a hundred thousand souls, of whom six thousand lived in Quebec and Montreal respectively. Only two thousand English-speaking persons resided in the province, almost entirely in the towns. Small as was the British minority, it continued that agitation for an assembly which had been commenced long before the passage of the Quebec act. A nominated council did not satisfy the political ambition of this class, who obtained little support from the French Canadian people. The objections of the latter arose from the working of the act itself. Difficulties had grown up in the administration of the law, chiefly in consequence of its being entrusted exclusively to men acquainted only with English jurisprudence, and not disposed to comply with the letter and intention of the imperial statute. As a matter of practice, French law was only followed as equity suggested; and the consequence was great legal confusion in the province. A question had also arisen as to the legality of the issue of writs of habeas corpus, and it was eventually necessary to pass an ordinance to remove all doubts on this important point.

The Loyalist settlers on the St. Lawrence and Niagara Rivers sent a petition in 1785 to the home government, praying for the establishment of a new district west of the River Beaudette "with the blessings of British laws and British government, and of exemption from French tenure of property." While such matters were under the consideration of the imperial authorities, Sir Guy Carleton, once more governor-general of Canada, and lately raised to the peerage as Lord Dorchester, established, in 1788, five new districts for the express object of providing for the temporary government of the territory where the Loyalists had settled. These districts were known as Luneburg, Mecklenburg, Nassau and Hesse, in the western country, and Gaspé in the extreme east of the province of Quebec, where a small number of the same class of people had also found new homes. Townships, ranging from eighty to forty thousand acres each, were also surveyed within these districts and parcelled out with great liberality among the Loyalists. Magistrates wore appointed to administer justice with the simplest possible machinery at a time when men trained in the law were not available.

The grants of land made to the Loyalists and their children were large, and in later years a considerable portion passed into the hands of speculators who bought them up at nominal sums. It was in connection with these grants that the name of "United Empire Loyalists" originated. An order-in-council was passed on the 9th of November, 1780, in accordance with the wish of Lord Dorchester "to put a mark of honour upon the families who had adhered to the unity of the empire and joined the royal standard in America before the treaty of separation in 1783." Accordingly the names of all persons falling under this designation were to be recorded as far as possible, in order that "their posterity may be discriminated from future settlers in the parish lists and rolls of militia of their respective districts, and other public remembrances of the province."

The British cabinet, of which Mr. Pitt, the famous son of the Earl of Chatham, was first minister, now decided to divide the province of Quebec into two districts, with separate legislatures and governments. Lord Grenville, while in charge of the department of colonial affairs, wrote in 1789 to Lord Dorchester that the "general object of the plan is to assimilate the constitution of the province to that of Great Britain as nearly as the differences arising from the names of the people and from the present situation of the province will admit." He also emphatically expressed the opinion that "a considerable degree of attention is due to the prejudices and habits of the French inhabitants, and every degree of caution should be used to continue to them the enjoyment of those civil and religious rights which were secured to them by the capitulation of the province, or have since been granted by the liberal and enlightened spirit of the British government." When the bill for the formation of the two provinces of Upper Canada and Lower Canada came before the house of commons, Mr. Adam Lymburner, an influential merchant of Quebec, appeared at the Bar and ably opposed the separation "as dangerous in every point of view to British interests in America, and to the safety, tranquillity and prosperity of the inhabitants of the province of Quebec" He pressed the repeal of the Quebec act in its entirety and the enactment of a perfectly new constitution "unclogged and unembarrassed with any laws prior to this period" He professed to represent the views "of the most intelligent and respectable of the French Canadians"; but their antagonism was not directed against the Quebec act in itself, but against the administration of the law, influenced as this was by the opposition of the British people to the French civil code. Nor does it appear, as Mr. Lymburner asserted, that the western Loyalists were hostile to the formation of two distinct provinces. He represented simply the views of the English-speaking inhabitants of Lower Canada, who believed that the proposed division would place them in a very small minority in the legislature and, as the issue finally proved, at the mercy of the great majority of the French Canadian representatives, while on the other hand the formation of one large province extending from Gaspé to the head of the great lakes would ensure an English representation sufficiently formidable to lessen the danger of French Canadian domination. However, the British government seems to have been actuated by a sincere desire to do justice to the French Canadians and the Loyalists of the upper province at one and the same time. When introducing the bill in the house of commons on the 7th March, 1791, Mr. Pitt expressed the hope that "the division would remove the differences of opinion which had arisen between the old and new inhabitants, since each province would have the right of enacting laws desired in its own house of assembly." He believed a division to be essential, as "otherwise he could not reconcile the clashing interests known to exist." Mr. Burke was of opinion that "to attempt to amalgamate two populations composed of races of men diverse in language, laws and customs, was a complete absurdity", and he consequently approved of the division. Mr. Fox, from whom Burke became alienated during this debate, looked at the question in an entirely different light and was strongly of opinion that "it was most desirable to see the French and English inhabitants coalesce into one body, and the different distinctions of people extinguished for ever."

The Constitutional act of 1791 established in each province a legislative council and assembly, with powers to make laws. The legislative council was to be appointed by the king for life, in Upper Canada it was to consist of not less than seven, and in Lower Canada of not less than fifteen members. The sovereign might, if he thought proper, annex hereditary titles of honour to the right of being summoned to the legislative council in either province-a provision which was never brought into operation. The whole number of members in the assembly of Upper Canada was not to be less than sixteen; in Lower Canada not less than fifty-to be chosen by a majority of votes in either case. The British parliament reserved to itself the right of levying and collecting customs-duties, for the regulation of navigation and commerce to be carried on between the two provinces, or between either of them and any other part of the British dominions or any foreign country. Parliament also reserved the power of directing the payment of these duties, but at the same time left the exclusive apportionment of all moneys levied in this way to the legislature, which could apply them to such public uses as it might deem expedient. The free exercise of the Roman Catholic religion was guaranteed permanently. The king was to have the right to set apart, for the use of the Protestant clergy in the colony, a seventh part of all uncleared crown lands. The governor might also be empowered to erect parsonages and endow them, and to present incumbents or ministers of the Church of England. The English criminal law was to obtain in both provinces.

In the absence of Lord Dorchester in England, the duty devolved on Major-General Alured Clarke, as lieutenant-governor, to bring the Lower Canadian constitution into force by a proclamation on the 18th February, 1791. On the 7th May, in the following year, the new province of Lower Canada was divided into fifty electoral districts, composed of twenty-one counties, the towns of Montreal and Quebec, and the boroughs of Three Rivers and William Henry (now Sorel). The elections to the assembly took place in June, and a legislative council of fifteen influential Canadians was appointed. The new legislature was convoked "for the despatch of business" on the 17th December, in the same year, in an old stone building known as the Bishop's Palace, which stood on a rocky eminence in the upper town of the old capital.

Chief Justice Smith took the chair of the legislative council under appointment by the crown, and the assembly elected as its speaker Mr. Joseph Antome Panet, an eminent advocate, who was able to speak the two languages. In the house there were only sixteen members of British origin-and in later parliaments there was even a still smaller representation-while the council was nearly divided between the two nationalities. When the house proceeded to business, one of its first acts was to order that all motions, bills and other proceedings should be put in the two languages. We find in the list of French Canadian members of the two houses representatives of the most ancient and distinguished families of the province. A descendant of Pierre Boucher, governor of Three Rivers in 1653, and the author of a rare history of Canada, sat in the council of 1792 just as a Boucherville sits now-a-days in the senate of the Dominion. A Lotbinière had been king's councillor in 1680. A Chaussegros de Lery had been an engineer in the royal colonial corps; a Lanaudière had been an officer in the Carignan regiment in 1652; a Salaberry was a captain in the royal navy, and his family won further honours on the field of Chateauguay in the war of 1812-15, when the soil of Lower Canada was invaded. A Taschereau had been a royal councillor in 1732. The names of Belestre, Valtric, Bonne, Rouville, St. Ours, and Duchesnay, are often met in the annals of the French régime, and show the high character of the representation in the first parliament of Lower Canada.

The village of Newark was chosen as the capital of Upper Canada by Colonel (afterwards Major-General) Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of the province. He had served with much distinction during the revolution as the commander of the Queen's Rangers, some of whom had settled in the Niagara district. He was remarkable for his decision of character and for his ardent desire to establish the principles of British government in the new province. He was a sincere friend of the Loyalists, whose attachment to the crown he had had many opportunities of appreciating during his career in the rebellious colonies, and, consequently, was an uncompromising opponent of the new republic and of the people who were labouring to make it a success on the other side of the border. The new parliament met in a wooden building nearly completed on the sloping bank of the river, at a spot subsequently covered by a rampart of Fort George, which was constructed by Governor Simcoe on the surrender of Fort Niagara. A large boulder has been placed on the top of the rampart to mark the site of the humble parliament house of Upper Canada, which had to be eventually demolished to make place for new fortifications. The sittings of the first legislature were not unfrequently held under a large tent set up in front of the house, and having an interesting history of its own, since it had been carried around the world by the famous navigator, Captain Cook.

As soon as Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe assumed the direction of the government, he issued a proclamation dividing the province of Upper Canada into nineteen counties, some of winch were again divided into ridings for the purpose of electing the sixteen representatives to which the province was entitled under the act of 1791. One of the first acts of the legislature was to change the names of the divisions, proclaimed in 1788, to Eastern, Midland, Home, and Western Districts, which received additions in the course of years until they were entirely superseded by the county organisations. These districts were originally intended for judicial and legal purposes.

The legislature met under these humble circumstances at Newark on the 17th September, 1792. Chief Justice Osgoode was the speaker of the council, and Colonel John Macdonell, of Aberchalder, who had gallantly served in the royal forces during the revolution, was chosen presiding officer of the assembly. Besides him, there were eleven Loyalists among the sixteen members of the lower house. In the council of nine members there were also several Loyalists, the most prominent being the Honourable Richard Cartwright, the grandfather of the minister of trade and commerce in t

he Dominion ministry of 1896-1900.

SECTION 2.-Twenty years of political development (1792-1812).

The political conditions of the two decades from 1792 until 1812, when war broke out between England and the United States, were for the greater part of the time quite free from political agitation, and the representatives of the people in both the provinces of Canada were mostly occupied with the consideration of measures of purely provincial and local import. Nevertheless a year or two before the close of this period we can see in the province of Lower Canada premonitions of that irrepressible conflict between the two houses-one elected by the people and the other nominated by and under the influence of the crown-which eventually clogged the machinery of legislation. We can also see the beginnings of that strife of races which ultimately led to bloodshed and the suspension of the constitution given to Lower Canada in 1791.

In 1806 Le Canadien, published in the special interest of "Nos institutions, notre langue, et nos lois," commenced that career of bitter hostility to the government which steadily inflamed the antagonism between the races. The arrogance of the principal officials, who had the ear of the governor, and practically engrossed all the influence in the management of public affairs, alienated the French Canadians, who came to believe that they were regarded by the British as an inferior race. As a matter of fact, many of the British inhabitants themselves had no very cordial feelings towards the officials, whose social exclusiveness offended all who did not belong to their special "set." In those days the principal officials were appointed by the colonial office and the governor-general, and had little or no respect for the assembly, on which they depended in no wise for their continuance in office or their salaries. The French Canadians eventually made few distinctions among the British but looked on them as, generally speaking, enemies to their institutions.

It was unfortunate, at a time when great discretion and good temper were so essential, that Sir James Craig should have been entrusted with the administration of the government of Lower Canada. The critical state of relations with the United States no doubt influenced his appointment, which, from a purely military point of view, was excellent. As it was, however, his qualities as a soldier were not called into requisition, while his want of political experience, his utter incapacity to understand the political conditions of the country, his supreme indifference to the wishes of the assembly, made his administration an egregious failure. Indeed it may he said that it was during his time that the seed was sown for the growth of that political and racial antagonism which led to the rebellion of 1837. It is not possible to exaggerate the importance of the consequences of his unjustifiable dismissal of Mr. Speaker Panet, and other prominent French Canadians, from the militia on the ground that they had an interest in the Canadien, or of his having followed up this very indiscreet act by the unwarrantable arrest of Mr. Bedard and some other persons, on the charge that they were the authors or publishers of what he declared to be treasonable writings. It is believed that the governor's action was largely influenced by the statements and advice of Chief Justice Sewell, the head of the legislative council and the official class. Several persons were released when they expressed regret for the expression of any opinions considered extreme by the governor and his advisers, but Mr. Bedard remained in prison for a year rather than directly or indirectly admit that the governor had any justification for his arbitrary act Sir James attempted to obtain the approval of the home government; but his agent, a Mr. Ryland, a man of ability and suavity, prominent always in the official life of the country, signally failed to obtain the endorsement of his master's action. He was unable to secure a promise that the constitution of 1791 should be repealed, and the legislative council of the Quebec act again given the supremacy in the province. Mr. Bedard was released just before the governor left the country, with the declaration that "his detention had been a matter of precaution and not of punishment"-by no means a manly or graceful withdrawal from what was assuredly a most untenable position from the very first moment Mr. Bedard was thrown into prison. Sir James Craig left the province a disappointed man, and died in England a few months after his return, from the effects of an incurable disease to which he had been a victim for many years. He was hospitable, generous and charitable, but the qualities of a soldier dominated all his acts of civil government.

In the other provinces, happily, there were no racial differences to divide the community and aggravate those political disputes that are sure to arise in the working of representative institutions in a British country. In Upper Canada for years the questions under discussion were chiefly connected with the disposal of the public lands, which in early times were too lavishly granted by Simcoe; and this led to the bringing in for a while of some undesirable immigrants from the United States -undesirable because they were imbued with republican and levelling ideas by no means favourable to the development and stability of English institutions of government. One of the first acts of the legislature was the establishment of courts of law and equity, in accordance with the practice and principles of English jurisprudence. Another very important measure was one for the legalisation of marriages which had been irregularly performed during early times in the absence of the clergy of the Anglican Church by justices of the peace, and even the officers in charge of military posts. Magistrates were still allowed to perform the marriage ceremony according to the ritual of the Church of England, when the services of a clergyman of that denomination were not available. Not until 1830 were more liberal provisions passed and the clergy of any recognised creed permitted to unite persons legally in wedlock.

It was in the second session of the first parliament of Upper Canada, where the Loyalists were in so huge a majority, that an act was passed "to prevent the further introduction of slaves and to limit the term of contract for servitude within this province." A considerable number of slave servants accompanied their Loyalist masters to the provinces at the end of the war, and we find for many years after in the newspapers advertisements relating to runaway servants of this class. The Loyalists in the maritime provinces, like the same class in Upper Canada, never gave their approval to the continuance of slavery. So early as 1800 some prominent persons brought before the supreme court of New Brunswick the case of one Nancy Morton, a slave, on a writ of habeas corpus; and her right to freedom was argued by Ward Chipmim, one of the Loyalist makers of New Brunswick. Although the argument in this case was not followed by a judicial conclusion-the four judges being divided in opinion-slavery thereafter practically ceased to exist, not only in New Brunswick, but in the other maritime provinces, leaving behind it a memory so faint, that the mere suggestion that there ever was a slave in either of these provinces is very generally received with surprise, if not with incredulity.

The early history of representative government in Prince Edward Island is chiefly a dull narrative of political conflict between the governors and the assemblies, and of difficulties and controversies arising out of the extraordinary concessions of lands to a few proprietors, who generally infringed the conditions of their grants and retarded the settlement of the island. In New Brunswick the legislature was entirely occupied with the consideration of measures for the administration of justice and local affairs in an entirely new country. Party government had not yet declared itself, and the Loyalists who had founded the province controlled the legislature for many years until a spirit of liberalism and reform found full expression and led to the enlargement of the public liberty.

In Nova Scotia the Loyalists gradually acquired considerable influence in the government of the province, as the imperial authorities felt it incumbent on them to provide official positions for those men who had sacrificed so much for the empire. Their power was increased after the arrival of Governor John Wentworth-afterwards made a baronet-who had been the royal governor of New Hampshire, and had naturally a strong antipathy to democratic principles in any form. In his time there grew up an official oligarchy, chiefly composed of members of the legislative council, then embodying within itself executive, legislative and judicial powers. A Liberal party soon arose in Nova Scotia, not only among the early New England settlers of the time of Governor Lawrence, but among the Loyalists themselves, for it is inevitable that wherever we find an English people, the spirit of popular liberty and the determination to enjoy self-government in a complete sense will sooner or later assert itself among all classes of men. The first prominent leader of the opposition to the Tory methods of the government was one William Cottnam Tonge, who was for some years in the employ of the naval department. Sir John Wentworth carried his hostility to the extent of dismissing him from his naval office and also of refusing to accept him as speaker of the assembly-the first example in colonial history of an extreme exercise of the royal prerogative by a governor. Mr. Tonge's only crime appears to have been his bold assertion from time to time of the privileges of the house of assembly, as the guardian of the revenues and expenditures, against the interference of the governor and council. We find in Nova Scotia, as in the other provinces, during the period in question, the elements of perpetual discord, which found more serious expression after the war of 1812-15, and led to important constitutional changes.

The governors of those times became, from the very nature of their position, so many provincial autocrats, brought constantly into conflict with the popular body, and unable to conceive any system of government possible that did not place the province directly under the control of the imperial authorities, to whom appeals must be made in the most trivial cases of doubt or difficulty. The representative of the crown brooked no interference on the part of the assembly with what he considered his prerogatives and rights, and as a rule threw himself into the arms of the council, composed of the official oligarchy. In the course of time, the whole effort of the Liberal or Reform party, which gathered strength after 1815, was directed against the power of the legislative council. We hear nothing in the assemblies or the literature of the period under review in advocacy of the system of parliamentary or responsible government which was then in existence in the parent state and which we now enjoy in British North America. In fact, it was not until the beginning of the fourth decade of the nineteenth century that the Liberal politicians of Nova Scotia, like those of Upper Canada, recognised that the real remedy for existing political grievances was to be found in the harmonious operation of the three branches of the legislature. Even then we look in vain for an enunciation of this essential principle of representative government in the speeches or writings of a single French Canadian from 1791 until 1838, when the constitution of Lower Canada was suspended as a result of rebellion.

During the twenty years of which I am writing the government of Canada had much reason for anxiety on account of the unsatisfactory state of the relations between Great Britain and the United States, and of the attempts of French emissaries after the outbreak of the revolution in France to stir up sedition in Lower Canada. One of the causes of the war of 1812-15 was undoubtedly the irritation that was caused by the retention of the western posts by Great Britain despite the stipulation in the definitive treaty of peace to give them up "with all convenient speed." This policy of delay was largely influenced by the fact that the new republic had failed to take effective measures for the restitution of the estates of the Loyalists or for the payment of debts due to British creditors; but in addition there was probably still, as in 1763 and 1774, a desire to control the fur-trade and the Indians of the west, who claimed that the lands between the Canadian frontier and the Ohio were exclusively their hunting-grounds, not properly included within the territory ceded to the United States. Jay's treaty, arranged in 1794, with the entire approval of Washington, who thereby incurred the hostility of the anti-British party, was a mere temporary expedient for tiding over the difficulties between England and the United States. Its most important result so far as it affected Canada was the giving up in 1797 of the western posts including Old Fort Niagara. It became then necessary to remove the seat of government from Niagara, as an insecure position, and York, which regained its original Indian name of Toronto in 1834, was chosen as the capital by Lord Dorchester in preference to a place suggested by Simcoe on the Tranche, now the Thames, near where London now stands. The second parliament of Upper Canada met in York on the first of June, 1797, when Mr. Russell, who had been secretary to Sir Henry Clinton during the American war, was administrator of the government after the departure of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe from a province whose interests he had so deeply at heart.

After the declaration of war against England by the republican convention of France in 1793, French agents found their way into the French parishes of Lower Canada, and endeavoured to make the credulous and ignorant habitants believe that France would soon regain dominion in her old colony. During General Prescott's administration, one McLane, who was said to be not quite mentally responsible for his acts, was convicted at Quebec for complicity in the designs of French agents, and was executed near St. John's gate with all the revolting incidents of a traitor's death in those relentless times. His illiterate accomplice, Frechétte, was sentenced to imprisonment for life, but was soon released on the grounds of his ignorance of the serious crime he was committing. No doubt in these days some restlessness existed in the French Canadian districts, and the English authorities found it difficult for a time to enforce the provisions of the militia act. Happily for the peace and security of Canada, the influence of the Bishop and Roman Catholic clergy, who looked with horror on the murderous acts of the revolutionists of France, was successfully exerted for the support of British rule, whose justice and benignity their church had felt ever since the conquest. The name of Bishop Plessis must always be mentioned in terms of sincere praise by every English writer who reviews the history of those trying times, when British interests would have been more than once in jeopardy had it not been for the loyal conduct of this distinguished prelate and the priests under his direction.

I shall now proceed to narrate the events of the unfortunate war which broke out in 1812 between England and the United States, as a result of the unsettled relations of years, and made Canada a battle ground on which were given many illustrations of the patriotism and devotion of the Canadian people, whose conquest, the invaders thought, would be a very easy task.

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