Front Page Titles (by Subject) SPEECH ON THE CIVIL GOVERNMENT OF CANADA. DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON THE 2 d OF MAY, 1828. - The Miscellaneous Works
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SPEECH ON THE CIVIL GOVERNMENT OF CANADA. DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON THE 2 d OF MAY, 1828. - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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SPEECH ON THE CIVIL GOVERNMENT OF CANADA.
I think I may interpret fairly the general feeling of the House, when I express my congratulations upon the great extent of talent and information which the Honourable Member for St. Michael’s* has just displayed, and that I may venture to assert he has given us full assurance, in his future progress, of proving a useful and valuable member of the Parliament of this country. I cannot, also, avoid observing, that the laudable curiosity which carried him to visit that country whose situation is now the subject of discussion, and still more the curiosity which led him to visit that Imperial Republic which occupies the other best portion of the American continent, gave evidence of a mind actuated by enlarged and liberal views.
After having presented a petition signed by eighty-seven thousand of the inhabitants of Lower Canada—comprehending in that number nine-tenths of the heads of families in the province, and more than two-thirds of its landed proprietors, and after having shown that the Petitioners had the greatest causes of complaint against the administration of the government in that colony, it would be an act of inconsistency on my part to attempt to throw any obstacle in the way of that inquiry which the Right Honourable Gentleman* proposes. It might seem, indeed, a more natural course on my part, if I had seconded such a proposition. Perhaps I might have been contented to give a silent acquiescence in the appointment of a committee, and to reserve any observations I may have to offer until some specific measure is proposed, or until the House is in possession of the information which may be procured through the labours of the committee,—perhaps, I say, I might have been disposed to adopt this course if I had not been intrusted with the presentation of that Petition. But I feel bound by a sense of the trust reposed in me to allow no opportunity to pass over of calling the attention of the House to the grievances of the Petitioners, and to their claims for redress and for the maintenance of their legitimate rights. This duty I hold myself bound to execute, according to the best of my ability, without sacrificing my judgment, or rendering it subordinate to any sense of duty;—but feeling only that the confidence of the Petitioners binds me to act on their behalf, and as their advocate, in precisely the same manner, and to the same extent, as if I had been invested with another character, and authorised to state their complaints in a different situation.*
To begin then with the speech of the Right Honourable Gentleman, I may take leave to observe, that in all that was contained in the latter part of it he has my fullest and most cordial assent. In 1822, when the Canadians were last before the House, I stated the principles which ought to be maintained with respect to what the Right Honourable Gentleman has very properly and very eloquently called the “Great British Confederacy.” I hold now, as I did then, that all the different portions of that Confederacy are integral parts of the British Empire, and as such entitled to the fullest protection. I hold that they are all bound together as one great class, by an alliance prior in importance to every other,—more binding upon us than any treaty ever entered into with any state,—the fulfilment of which we can never desert without the sacrifice of a great moral duty. I hold that it can be a matter of no moment, in this bond of alliance, whether the parties be divided by oceans or be neighbours:—I hold that the moral bond of duty and protection is the same. My maxims of Colonial Policy are few and simple:—a full and efficient protection from all foreign influence; full permission to conduct the whole of their own internal affairs; compelling them to pay all the reasonable expenses of their own government, and giving them at the same time a perfect control over the expenditures of the money; and imposing no restrictions of any kind upon the industry or traffic of the people. These are the only means by which the hitherto almost incurable evil of distant government can be either mitigated or removed. And it may be a matter of doubt, whether in such circumstances the colonists would not be under a more gentle control, and in a happier state, than if they were to be admitted to a full participation in the rule, and brought under the immediate and full protection, of the parent government. I agree most fully with the Honourable Gentleman who spoke last, when he expressed a wish that we should leave the regulation of the internal affairs of the colonies to the colonists, except in cases of the most urgent and manifest necessity. The most urgent and manifest necessity, I say; and few and rare ought to be the exceptions to the rule even upon the strength of those necessities.
Under these circumstances of right I contend it is prudent to regard all our colonies and peculiarly the population of these two great provinces;—provinces placed in one of those rare and happy states of society in which the progress of population must be regarded as a blessing to mankind,—exempt from the curse of fostering slavery,—exempt from the evils produced by the contentions of jarring systems of religion,—enjoying the blessings of universal toleration,—and presenting a state of society the most unlike that can possibly be imagined to the fastidious distinctions of Europe. Exempt at once from the slavery of the West, and the castes of the East,—exempt, too, from the embarrassments of that other great continent which we have chosen as a penal settlement, and in which the prejudices of society have been fostered, I regret to find, in a most unreasonable degree,—exempt from all the artificial distinctions of the Old World, and many of the evils of the New, we see a great population rapidly growing up to be a great nation. None of the claims of such a population ought to be cast aside; and none of their complaints can receive any but the most serious consideration.
In the first part of his speech the Right Honourable Gentleman declared, that the excesses and complaints of the colonists arose from the defect of their constitution, and next from certain contentions into which they had fallen with Lord Dalhousie. In any thing I may say on this occasion, I beg to be understood as not casting any imputation upon the character of that Noble Lord: I speak merely of the acts of his Government; and I wish solely to be understood as saying, that my opinion of the acts of that Government are different from those which I believe to have been conscientiously his.
I, however, must say, that I thought the Right Honourable Gentleman in one part of his address had indulged himself in some pleasantries which seemed ill suited to the subject to which he claimed our attention;—I allude to the three essential grievances which he seemed to imagine led to many, if not all, of the discontents and complaints of the colonists. There was the perplexed system of real-property-law, creating such a vexatious delay, and such enormous costs to the suitor as to amount very nearly to a denial of justice: this, he said, arose from adhering to the Custom of Paris. The next cause of discontent is the inadequate representation of the people in Parliament: that he recommended to the immediate attention of the committee, for the purpose of revision. Lastly, the members of the Legislature were so absurdly ignorant of the first principles of political economy, as to have attempted to exclude all the industry and capital of other countries from flowing in to enrich and fertilise their shores. These were the three grounds upon which he formally impeached the people of Canada before the Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled.
Did the Right Honourable Gentleman never hear of any other system of law, in any other country than Canada, in which a jumble of obsolete usages were mixed up and confounded with modern subtleties, until the mind of the most acute men of the age and nation—men who had, in a service of forty years, passed through every stage of its gradations—were driven to declare that they felt totally unable to find their way through its labyrinths, and were compelled, by their doubts of what was law and what was not, to add in a most ruinous degree to the expenses of the suitor? This system has been called the “Common Law,”—“the wisdom of our ancestors,”—and various other venerable names. Did he never hear of a system of representation in any other country totally irreconcilable either with the state of the population or with any rule or principle under heaven? Have I not heard over and over again from the lips of the Right Honourable Gentleman, and from one* whom, alas! I shall hear no more, that this inadequate system of representation possessed extraordinary advantages over those more systematic contrivances which resulted from the studies of the “constitution makers” of other countries? And yet it is for this very irregularity in their mode of representation that the Canadians are now to be brought before the judgment of the Right Honourable Gentleman’s committee. I felt still greater wonder, however, when I heard him mention his third ground of objection to the proceedings of the colonists, and his third cause of their discontent—their ignorance of political economy. Too surely the laws for the exclusion of the capital and industry of other countries did display the grossest ignorance of that science! I should not much wonder if I heard of the Canadians devising plans to prevent the entrance of a single grain of foreign corn into the provinces. I should not wonder to hear the members of their Legislature and their great land-owners contending that it was absolutely necessary that the people should be able to raise all their own food; and consequently (although, perhaps, they do not see the consequences) to make every other nation completely independent of their products and their industry. It is perhaps barely possible that some such nonsense as this might be uttered in the legislative assembly of the Canadians.
Then again, Sir, the Right Honourable Gentleman has alluded to the Seigneurs and their vassals. Some of these “most potent, grave, and reverend” Seigneurs may happen to be jealous of their manorial rights: for seigneuralty means manor, and a seigneur is only, therefore, a lord of the manor. How harmless this lofty word seems to be when translated! Some of these seigneurs might happen, I say, to be jealous of their manorial privileges, and anxious for the preservation of their game. I am a very bad sportsman myself, and not well acquainted with the various objects of anxiety to such persons; but there may be, too, in these colonies also, persons who may take upon themselves to institute a rigorous inquiry into the state of their game, and into the best methods of preserving red game and black game, and pheasants and partridges; and who might be disposed to make it a question whether any evils arise from the preservation of these things for their sport, or whether the safety, the liberty, and the life of their fellow-subjects ought not to be sacrificed for their personal gratification.
With regard to the observance of the Custom of Paris, I beg the House to consider that no change was effected from 1760 to 1789; and (although I admit with the Right Honourable Gentleman that it may be bad as a system of conveyance, and may be expensive on account of the difficulties produced by mortgages) that the Canadians cannot be very ill off under a code of laws which grew up under the auspices of the Parliament of Paris—a body comprising the greatest learning and talent ever brought to the study of the law, and boasting the names of L’Hôpital and Montesquieu.
Neither can it be said, that the Assembly of Canada was so entirely indifferent to its system of representation: for it ought to be recollected, that they passed a bill to amend it, which was thrown out by the Council,—that is, in fact, by the Government. At all events, this shows that there was no want of a disposition to amend the state of their representation; although Government might differ from them as to the best method of accomplishing it. A bill for establishing the independence of the judges was another remedial measure thrown out by the Upper House.
As at present informed, however, without going further into these questions, I see enough stated in the Petition upon the table of the House, to justify the appointment of a committee of inquiry.
In every country, Sir, the wishes of the greater number of the inhabitants, and of those in possession of the great mass of the property, ought to have great influence in the government;—they ought to possess the power of the government. If this be true generally, the rule ought, à multò fortiori, to be followed in the government of distant colonies, from which the information that is to guide the Government at home is sent by a few, and is never correct or complete. A Government on the spot, though with the means of obtaining correct information, is exposed to the delusions of prejudice:—for a Government at a distance, the only safe course to pursue is to follow public opinion. In making the practical application of this principle, if I find the Government of any country engaged in squabbles with the great mass of the people,—if I find it engaged in vexatious controversies and ill-timed disputes,—especially if that Government be the Government of a colony,—I say, that there is a reasonable presumption against that Government. I do not charge it with injustice, but I charge it with imprudence and indiscretion; and I say that it is unfit to hold the authority intrusted to it. The ten years of squabbles and hostility which have existed in this instance, are a sufficient charge against this Government.
I was surprised to hear the Right Honourable Gentleman put the People and the Government on the same footing in this respect. What is government good for, if not to temper passion with wisdom? The People are said to be deficient in certain qualities, and a government are said to possess them. If the People are not deficient in them, it is a fallacy to talk of the danger of intrusting them with political power: if they are deficient, where is the common sense of exacting from them that moderation which government is instituted for the very purpose of supplying?
Taking this to be true as a general principle, it cannot be false in its application to the question before the House. As I understand it, the House of Assembly has a right to appropriate the supplies which itself has granted. The House of Commons knows well how to appreciate that right, and should not quarrel with the House of Assembly for indulging in a similar feeling. The Right Honourable Gentleman himself admits the existence of this right. The Governor-General has, however, infringed it, by appropriating a sum of one hundred and forty thousand pounds without the authority of the Assembly. That House does not claim to appropriate the revenue raised under the Act of 1774: they only claim a right to examine the items of the appropriation in order to ascertain if the Government need any fresh supplies. The Petitioners state it as one of their not unimaginary grievances, that they have lost one hundred thousand pounds by the neglect of the Receiver-General. This is not one of those grievances which are said to arise from the Assembly’s claim of political rights. Another dispute arises from the Governor-General claiming, in imitation of the power of the King, a right to confirm the Speaker of the House of Assembly. This right,—a very ancient one, and venerable from its antiquity and from being an established fact of an excellent constitution at home,—is a most absurd adjunct to a colonial government. But I will not investigate the question, nor enter into any legal argument with regard to it; for no discussion can in any case, as I feel, be put in competition with the feelings of a whole people. It is a fatal error in the rulers of a country to despise the people: its safety, honour, and strength, are best preserved by consulting their wishes and feelings. The Government at Quebec, despising such considerations, has been long engaged in a scuffle with the people and has thought hard words and hard blows not in consistent with its dignity.
I observe, Sir, that twenty-one bills were passed by the House of Assembly in 1827,—most of them reformatory,—of which not one was approved of by the Legislative Council. Is the Governor responsible for this? I answer, he is. The Council is nothing else but his tool: it is not as at present constituted, a fair and just constitutional check between the popular assembly and the Governor. Of the twenty-seven Councillors, seventeen hold places under the Government at pleasure, dividing among themselves yearly fifteen thousand pounds, which is not a small sum in a country in which a thousand a-year is a large income for a country gentleman. I omit the Bishop, who is perhaps rather too much inclined to authority, but is of a pacific character. The minority, worn out in their fruitless resistance, have withdrawn from attendance on the Council. Two of them, being the most considerable landholders in the province, were amongst the subscribers to the Petition. I appeal to the House, if the Canadians are not justified in considering the very existence of this Council as a constitutional grievance?
It has been said that there is no aristocracy formed in the province. It is not possible that this part of Mr. Pitt’s plan could ever have been carried into execution: an aristocracy—the creature of time and opinion—cannot be created. But men of great merit and superior qualifications get an influence over the people; and they form a species of aristocracy, differing, indeed, from one of birth and descent, but supplying the materials out of which a constitutional senate may be constituted. Such an aristocracy there is in Canada; but it is excluded from the Council.
There are then, Sir, two specific classes of grievances complained of by the Lower-Canadians; the first is, the continued hostility to all the projected measures of the Assembly by the Governor, the second is, the use he makes of the Council to oppose them. These are the grounds on which inquiry and change are demanded. I, however, do not look upon these circumstances alone as peremptorily requiring a change in the constitution of the province. These are wrongs which the Government might have remedied. It might have selected a better Council; and it might have sent out instructions to the Governor to consult the feelings of the people. It might have pointed out to him the example of a Government which gave way to the wishes of a people,—of a majority of the people, expressed by a majority of their representatives,—on a question, too, of religious liberty,* and instead of weakening themselves, had thereby more firmly seated themselves in the hearts of the people. On reviewing the whole question, the only practical remedy which I see, is to introduce more prudence and discretion into the counsels of the Administration of the Province.
The Right Honourable Gentleman has made allusion to the English settlers in Lower-Canada, as if they were oppressed by the natives. But I ask what law has been passed by the Assembly that is unjust to them? Is it a remedy for this that it is proposed to change the scheme of representation? The English inhabitants of Lower-Canada, with some few exceptions, collected in towns as merchants or the agents of merchants,—very respectable persons, I have no doubt,—amount to about eighty thousand: would it not be the height of injustice to give them the same influence which the four hundred thousand Canadians, from their numbers and property, ought to possess? Sir, when I hear of an inquiry on account of measures necessary to protect English settlers, I greatly lament that any such language should have been used. Are we to have an English colony in Canada separated from the rest of the inhabitants,—a favoured body, with peculiar privileges? Shall they have a sympathy with English sympathies and English interests? And shall we deal out to Canada six hundred years of such miseries as we have to Ireland? Let us not, in God’s name, introduce such curses into another region. Let our policy be to give all the King’s subjects in Canada equal law and equal justice. I cannot listen to unwise distinctions, generating alarm, and leading to nothing but evil, without adverting to them; and I shall be glad if my observations supply the Gentlemen opposite with the opportunity of disavowing,—knowing, as I do, that the disavowal will be sincere—that any such distinction is to be kept up.
As to Upper Canada, the statement of the Right Honourable Gentleman appears to be scanty in information: it does not point out,—as is usual in proposing such a Committee,—what is to be the termination of the change proposed. He has thrown out two or three plans; but he has also himself supplied objections to them. The Assembly there appears to be as independent as the one in the Lower province. I have heard of some of their measures—an Alien bill, a Catholic bill, and a bill for regulating the Press: and these discussions were managed with as much spirit as those of an assembly which I will not say is better, but which has the good fortune to be their superiors. The people have been much disappointed by the immense grants of land which have been reserved for the Church of England,—which faith is not that of the majority of the people. Such endowments are to be held sacred where they have been long made; but I do not see the propriety of creating them anew,—and for a Church, too, to which the majority of the people do not belong. Then, with regard to the regulations which have been made for the new college, I see with astonishment that, in a country where the majority of the people do not belong to the Church of England, the professors are all to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles: so that, if Dr. Adam Smith were alive, he could not fill the chair of political economy, and Dr. Black would be excluded from that of chemistry. Another thing should be considered:—a large portion of the population consists of American settlers, who can least of all men bear the intrusion of law into the domains of conscience and religion. It is a bad augury for the welfare of the province, that opinions prevalent at the distance of thousands of miles, are to be the foundations of the college-charter: it is still worse, if they be only the opinions of a faction, that we cannot interfere to correct the injustice.
To the proposed plan for the union of the two provinces there are so many and such powerful objections, that I scarcely think that such a measure can soon be successfully concluded. The Bill proposed in 1822, whereby the bitterness of the Lower-Canada Assembly was to be mitigated by an infusion of mildness from the Upper province,—failing as it did,—has excited general alarm and mistrust among all your colonies. Except that measure, which ought to be looked upon as a warning rather than a precedent, I think the grounds upon which we have now been called upon to interfere the scantiest that ever were exhibited.
I do not know, Sir, what other plans are to be produced, but I think the wisest measure would be to send out a temperate Governor, with instructions to be candid, and to supply him with such a Council as will put an end to the present disputes, and infuse a better spirit into the administration than it has known for the last ten years. I wish, however, to state, that I have not come to a final judgment, but have merely described what the bearing of my mind is on those general maxims of colonial policy, any deviation from which is as inconsistent with national policy as it is with national justice.
[* ] Mr. [now the Right Honourable] Henry LaBouchere—Ed.
[* ] Mr. Huskisson, Secretary for the Colonial Department, had moved to refer the whole question of the already embroiled affairs of the Canadian provinces to a Select Committee of the House of Commons, which was eventually agreed to.—Ed.
[* ] This alludes to his nomination some time previously by the House of Assembly of Lower Canada as the Agent of the Province, which nomination had not however taken effect.—Ed.
[* ] Mr. Canning.—Ed.
[* ] Alluding to the repeal of the Test Act.—Ed.